"The American Gibraltar"
Over one hundred and fifty years ago the first drops of sweat fell from the faces of men initiating construction efforts on what would be the stronghold on the Straits throughout the American Civil War. In hindsight, some historians feel that Fort Taylor, although not a single round was fired against the enemy, may have shortened the Civil War by one or even two years. Considering this war claimed the lives of more Americans than all other wars combined the possibilities are not something to be taken lightly. The Herculean task of building Fort Taylor would last some 21 years and see the cruel deaths of over four hundred of the forts’ defenders including some of the wives and children of these men. Numerous civilian laborers working on the fort would also die. Most, but not all, of Fort Taylor’s fatalities resulted from yellow fever or "yellow jack" and typhoid fever. Although Fort Taylor today is a mere shadow of the graceful bastion of strength once rising fifty feet above the oceans’ lapping waves, what remains is the living legacy of many of our nations’ heroes otherwise forgotten in unimaginable ways. As a direct result of the persevering efforts of Howard England, Navy architect, and Lew Schmidt, historical author, and his wife Jan, Fort Taylor can finally take its rightful place in history. And the stories of the forts’ forgotten souls can finally be told to those who will listen with compassion and sympathy in their hearts.
RELOCATION OF KEY WEST POST CEMETERY BURIALS IN 1927 TO BARRANCAS NATIONAL CEMETERY AT PENSACOLA, FLORIDA
Investigation and Report compiled by:
Lewis G. & Janeth E. Schmidt
1464 N. 39th St.
Allentown, PA 18104-2126
In 1982, as a result of an anticipated visit to Key West, Florida, my wife Janeth and I made plans to visit the grave of her great grandfather's brother, George Smith, who died from typhoid fever at Key West on July 6, 1862, as an 18 year old private serving with the 47th Pennsylvania Regiment during the Civil War. He was buried according to family oral history in the Key West Post Cemetery, which we discovered no longer existed.
Our inability to locate George's grave resulted in an intense five year research project during which we eventually identified 192 unknown dead at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, FL; and our publishing a 960 page history of the 47th Pennsylvania Regiment.
The regiment's 19 month service in Florida resulted in our publishing the four volume (six book, 4,559 pages) history of the Civil War in Florida, followed by a history of the regiment's first battle at Pocotaligo, SC. We were now involved in the Civil War in depth for 18 years and felt a need to publish a history of my great grandfather George Buchman's regiment, the 147th Pennsylvania.
After visiting Key West in 1982, and examining available records and period newspapers, it was determined that the military had abandoned the Key West Post Cemetery in 1927. A Jacksonville undertaker was engaged by the government to disinter the 468 burials in the cemetery and arrangements were made to transport them on the US tug Jenkins of the Army Quartermaster Department, to Barrancas National Cemetery at Pensacola, FL. The operation was commanded by Major Tilton of the 13th Regiment of US Coast Artillery, acting as inspector for the 4th Corps area.
While sailing north from Key West to the Florida Panhandle and Pensacola on February 19, 1927, it was planned to stop at Tampa and load twenty bodies disinterred at Fort Dade, according to contemporary newspaper reports. Unfortunately, at this point in our investigation, all evidence concerning the eventual location of the bodies was missing. The Tampa newspapers recorded a storm at sea during the time period of the voyage and we speculated that the tug may have been in trouble somewhere along the Florida west coast and may have been lost at sea.
Barrancas National Cemetery had no records or knowledge of the bodies being reburiedin that cemetery, and had no record of George Smith. The cemetery was unaware that such a group burial had ever taken place.
While conducting our investigation in Key West, we had discovered a microfilm of the Key West New Era newspaper of September 13, 1862, in which 41 soldiers were identified as dying from yellow fever over a period of twenty days, from August 23 through September 11, 1862. Using this list to examine the files at Barrancas National Cemetery, several men on the list were identified as being buried at Barrancas. We concluded that if one of the Key West military deaths was identified at Barrancas, then all were buried there, having arrived together aboard the tug Jenkins.
We spent several days reviewing the records and walking and mapping the cemetery at Barrancas to attempt to develop a burial plan for the 488 bodies. A pattern of small numbers on the back of some tombstones was noted and a plan made of these burials. Time had confused their relationship as the cemetery was filled with more recent burials, and rows between the original sections were filled with these later burials.
The National Archives was contacted and arrangements made for a special microfilm of the Key West Post Cemetery records to be created. Using this record and other information that had been collected, it was possible to identify 192 of the men from the Key West Post Cemetery as being buried in a group of 228 unknown graves at Barrancas National Cemetery. They were identified using the sequence of numbers on the back of the burial markers. We could not prove which man was buried in which specific grave, only that these 192 men were buried in a specific group of 228 graves. This was before we became involved with personal computers, and as a result, we had 1,000 file cards spread all over the floors of our residence.
The 228 unknown graves associated with this relocation are Section 17, graves 175 through 316; Section 18, graves 317 through 370; Section 20, grave 436; and Section 24, graves 371 through 375, 379 through 398, 403 through 408.
Additional information uncovered in the National Archives told a sad story of incompetence on the part of those in charge of the relocation, and their subsequent reprimand by the Inspector General.
Unfortunately, among other problems associated with the disinterment and relocation, the tug had left Key West with 64 unidentified bodies. When it arrived at Barrancas National Cemetery, there were at least 228 unidentified bodies on board, and another 26 that were lost to the records. Copies of our report and the records we gathered were donated to Barrancas National Cemetery and Monroe County Library in Key West, and to other interested archives and agencies.
*A list of Fort Taylor's soldiers and family members buried at Barrancas National Cemetery can be obtained by e-mailing the MSN group Fort Zachary Taylor managers at FortZacharyTaylor@groups.msn.com.This info. is very late, but I just found your post by running a googles search about our fort. I hope you get this.
Derika J. Zink, Park Ranger
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Key West, Florida