Barrancas National Cemetery

During a break in the flooding rains July 4 we visited Barrancas National Cemetery looking for grandmother and grandfather's graves. The cemetery is located within the boundaries of the U.S. Naval Air Station, eight miles southwest of downtown Pensacola, Florida.

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My grandparents, Gladys and Walter O. Lott at our homeplace in Seminary, Mississippi c1930

Their graves are in the first section of Barrancas very near Pensacola Bay

Resting side-by-side Granddad died in November of 1950 in a plane crash (below)

Grandmother would live another 40 years a stone's throw away at Navy Point (above)

"Barrancas" is a form of the spanish word "barranca" meaning a precipice or bluff. The name refers to the massive bluff (sand dune) where Fort Barrancas was constructed.

Flush with flags for Memorial Day 2016


The natural advantages of this location have inspired engineers of three nations to build forts. The British built the Royal Navy Redoubt here in 1763 of earth and logs. The Spanish built two forts here around 1797. Bateria de San Antonio was a masonry water battery at the foot of the bluff. Above it was earth and log Fort San Carlos de Barrancas. American engineers remodeled the Water Battery in 1840 and built a masonry fort on the bluff between 1839 and 1844, connected by a tunnel to the Water Battery. This is the current Fort Barrancas.

The Pensacola Naval Air Station is home to the U.S. Naval Air Training Command and encompasses almost 12,000 acres. It was established in 1914 on the site of the old U.S. Navy Yard at Pensacola. A small mostly Irish cemetery had been maintained here in conjunction with the Marine Hospital that was located near Fort Barrancas. In 1838, the cemetery was expanded and established as a naval cemetery. During the Civil War years, many casualties were interred in grave sites initially set aside for personnel on duty at the Navy Yard.

Following the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Florida seceded from the Union despite its entry only 16 years before. As it provided the best harbor along the Gulf of Mexico, possession of Pensacola Bay was a key mission for both the Union and Confederate forces. The Army guarded the entrance to Pensacola Bay with three fortifications: Fort McRae and Fort Barrancas on the land side, and Fort Pickens at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island.

Fort Barrancas is visible from all locations in the cemetery.

Army Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, commander of the 1st U.S. Artillery at Fort Barrancas, realized that if war proved inevitable and Southern forces attacked, his small force of 51 men could not possibly defend all four garrisons. On Jan. 10, 1861, the same day Florida seceded from the Union, Slemmer spiked the guns at Fort Barrancas, blew up ammunition at Fort McRae and concentrated all his troops at Fort Pickens, which he believed was the key to the defense of Pensacola Harbor. Two days later, Slemmer’s men watched as Southern soldiers moved into the other forts across the channel. When, on Jan. 15, soldiers from Florida and Alabama demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens, Lieutenant Slemmer refused. Within days the two sides reached a truce in which the South agreed not to attack Fort Pickens and the North would not reinforce the fort.

Above: Fort Barrancas

Click on any image to enlarge

Below: Fort Pickens, across Pensacola Bay, as seen from Barrancas Beach.

By the time Lincoln took office in March, both Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., and Fort Pickens needed supplies. Lincoln had pledged to continue federal occupation of both forts. If he withdrew the garrisons it would mean he recognized the legitimacy of the Confederacy; if he supplied the forts he risked war. The Union eventually did send ships but, under the terms of the truce, they dared not land. For 10 weeks, the Union ships waited, while inside the fort Slemmer and his men prepared for the inevitable strike. After ten weeks without an attack, Slemmer and his men learned of the firing on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War.

Part of the inscription above: Moontide of Glory

one of the graves in the old Irish cemetery.

On the mainland, the Navy Yard was surrendered intact to Confederate forces on April 12, 1861, but Fort Pickens remained under control of the Union forces throughout the Civil War. For the next year, Confederate and Union forces engaged in a number of skirmishes. In May 1862, Confederate forces abandoned the Navy yard, Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRae. The continuing presence of a strong federal force at Fort Pickens no doubt was a significant factor in the Confederate decision to abandon the Pensacola Bay area.

She bowed to the destroyer

Many Union and Confederate dead were interred in the Barrancas Cemetery. As the war continued, the remains of other casualties were brought to the cemetery for burial. By agreement between the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of War, on Jan. 30, 1868, the cemetery was transferred to the War Department to become Barrancas National Cemetery.

We found the graves of our relatives without using the National Grave Locator, but it would have come in handy if one had not been at the funeral and did not have a good idea of the general location of the grave sites.

We are not dead but sleeping here

natives of the Parish of Killimer, County of Galway, Ireland

Among other notables buried at Barrancas are GA-AH, the wife of Apache Indian Geronimo who died of Bright's disease on September 28, 1887, while being held prisoner at Fort Pickens (Section 18, Grave 1496).

Above and Below: The view across Pensacola Bay toward Pensacola Beach from Barrancas Beach.

Pensacola Lighthouse

The Pensacola Lighthouse is about a mile from the cemetery at Barrancas. Pensacola is Florida’s second oldest city, and has the deepest bay on the Gulf Coast. The mouth of the bay is bounded by Santa Rosa Island to the east and Perdido Key to the west. To guard the entrance, Spain established Fort Barrancas atop a 60-foot bluff on the mainland opposite the bay’s mouth. Soon after the United States took control of Florida from Spain in 1821, the federal government, recognizing the importance of Pensacola’s harbor, moved to establish both a naval yard and lighthouse there. The lighthouse is still in operation 192 years later.

No trip to a lighthouse would be complete without a little fun photography.

Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) on Barrancas Beach.

Sea Oats are a keystone species on all Gulf of Mexico beaches. They help to build

dunes naturally and to hold those dunes in place during high water and storm events.

Below: Storm clouds threaten across Pensacola Bay as seen from Barrancas Beach on July 4.

The persistent gale that brought more than 12 inches (305 mm) of rain to Pensacola and the Gulf Coast over the July 4 holiday was caused by an unusual jet stream that is becoming more common with global warming. A sharp trough of low pressure over the Central United States coupled with an equally sharp ridge of high pressure over the Western U.S.A. and the East Coast of North America caused the flooding rains as it pulled a moisture-laden flow of tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico over the Florida Panhandle.