Castillo De San Marcos Part 4: Armament; Accommodation; Two Notables

Sorry for the long delay on getting this launched. More to come!  -Ed.

This is the fourth post in an irregular series on Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL, and in turn part of a larger series on American coastal fortifications. Once again it will primarily consist of pictures taken by Our Traveling Correspondent and captions for same.

The previous posts are:

Part I: America’s Spanish Fort – Castillo de San Marcos 9 Oct 15.
Part II: Exploring Castillo de San Marcos. 10 Oct 15
Part III: Castillo de San Marcos – Medical Instruments. 19 Oct 15

Without further ado, let’s get started.

A diorama shows how a Spanish gun crew would have served their piece during the Siege of 1740.


The might of a fort was in large naval cannon like that, and even in cannon too large to be part of the armament of ships.

This small field artillery piece (below) was one of the fort’s secondary armaments, for example, to defend the land side from a sally by enemy marines. The primitive, four-board-spoke wheels of the carriage were easy to make, but not suitable for a long campaign, just for local repositioning.  Perhaps the fort did not have a trained wheelwright on hand, or perhaps they lacked specialty tools such as spokeshaves that had to be imported all the way from Europe. (Although you would think that any blacksmith could make the tools, if he had an artisan to tell him what he wanted).


Like all such pieces, the guns large and small were muzzle-loaders, made by casting the rough shape and then boring out the, well, bore. There were many trade-offs in cannon design, of course, just as there are in any engineering discipline. A cannon could be light, easily maneuverable, and bear only lightly on the ground, but that meant it would throw a small ball a short distance at a moderate velocity. To throw a heavy ball a long distance at a higher velocity required a big, ponderous gun, and it in turn was hard to maneuver and needed a well-supported hard deck to rest upon.

No fortification, whether it’s such a mighty castle as San Marcos, or a rude rifleman’s foxhole, is built all at once. It is roughed out, and then improved. Conscious of the weight of mighty cast-iron fortress- and naval guns, the Spaniards initially built San Marcos to contain heavy guns inside and have light guns positioned on a top deck. Even then, the upper-deck artillery was better supported at the points where interior walls held up the upper deck, than in between the interior walls, where the upper deck was supported only by wooden joists. Circa 1730, between the two British sieges, the Spanish engineers converted the interior walls of the lower casemates to arched, vaulted walls that better supported the upper deck. The image below shows a bas-relief model of this vaulted design; now Spanish gunners could serve heavy pieces on the upper deck of the Castillo. The intermediate deck and stairs were added by the British, so that they could cram more troops in each room. Each room was a fighting compartment at “action stations,” but during everyday routine it was the soldiers’ barracks.


In the British Army, the men living together, who slept, ate, and if need be, fought together, were said to be “messing together” and were “mess mates.”

An artillery crew, in the days of muzzle-loaded black-powder artillery, had to be drilled to be safe and effective. In the days of black powder artillery, small mistakes could have large consequences. Artillerymen today probably don’t think about it much, but they have much safer lives than their 18th Century ancestors!

They used a variety of tools to swab the bore and ram powder and shot:


Explosion and fire were omnipresent hazards.

This next bunk is a replica of the ones used in the British period. It held two soldiers up and two down, with their muskets — Brown Besses, as Britain yielded the fort before percussion made it to this far colony —  and their equipment on the left end as we look at it. The short wooden strips visible at lower left rest on either side of the four muskets’ stocks. (This replica doesn’t seem to be thought out properly — even the shortest Brown Bess isn’t going to fit below the upper board. But “muskets” is what the plaque said).


It looks a little small for four of today’s troops, but the soldier of 1700 was a product of the working class of his day — he was, in most cases, short and lean.

One advantage of these solid wooden beds over the later GI modular steel bunk is this: someone who decides to adjust his “mess mate’s” attitude needs to go find something else — he can’t just latch onto a bunk adapter. Of course, he did have the Brown Bess at the end of the bunk, a stout club indeed.

Volunteer docents help visitors understand the life of people of that era. Here a docent displays some interesting things, which we’ll follow up:


In those days, money was more likely to be precious metal coins than scrip. So how did you make change? You cut a gold or silver coin into fractions with a sharp knife. You may have heard the expression, “pieces of eight.” That’s a reference to eighths of a Spanish silver doubloon.


Unscrupulous men would turn down the edges of a coin and collect the silver shavings over time. That’s why modern coins have inscriptions or knurling around the perimeter, to discourage that sort of “mining the coins”.

The coins were among a display of everyday items for a Spanish soldier of the period, including a musket, balls and cleaning tools, and a sword.


Spanish muskets are interesting. They were only standardized very late, compared to other world powers of the day (Spain standardized caliber, not pattern of musket, for many years), but the 1752/1757 flintlock is an elegant piece, lighter than some of its European competitors, with distinctive brass furnishings. English, French, and American muskets all had bands of steel. (Brass would come back during the Civil War — in the Confederacy, where steel mills were rare in the 1860s. The steel city of Birmingham, AL, was built after the war).

The Chapel

One center of life at the Castillo during its Spanish era was the chapel. It was set in one of the casements. Little remains of the period decoration, but archaeologists working with traces that remain think they can envision — and reconstruct — what it looked like. Here’s the chapel, today. This is the altar side.


This is a digital reconstruction of what the chapel probably looked like at the height of Spanish occupation. (Apologies for the reflection of the camera’s flash). The statue in the niche would probably have been San Marcos — St. Mark.csm21_chapel_reconstruction

Here’s the door side. On the left is the Holy Water font; on the right, a confessional booth, both markers of a Catholic place of worship. A Catholic dips his fingers in the holy water and makes the Sign of the Cross on entering the consecrated place; the booth is used to make confession of sins to the priest, in privacy; the priest then issues a penance and grants absolution for the sins; placing the worshiper into a State of Grace to receive Holy Communion. Some Protestant churches have similar rituals, but many do not.  csm21_chapel_reconstruction_door

This is the Holy Water font in its condition, today:


The British, who replaced the Spaniards, probably reconsecrated the chapel to Saint Mark as a Church of England chapel. During the fort’s long American ownership, the chapel fell into disuse when the fort lost its importance to harbor defense — and lost its garrison.

Two Key 19th-Century Personalities

During the 19th Century, the forbidding castle was used as a prison for obstreperous Indians. Key figures from the long and bloody  Seminole Wars — the Union’s most costly Indian fights — were incarcerated here, as were chiefs of the Plains Indians.

The chief of the Seminoles, Osceola, was one such unwilling guest. He was only held for a short time before being shipped to Fort Moultrie in Savannah, Georgia, where he died. Osceola was not even a Seminole by blood: born Billy Powell, the son of a Creek woman and a Scots trader, he came to lead the Florida indians by sheer force of personality and character.


It’s a bit sad that such a noble warrior met such a sad end. Osceola was only 34 when he passed away in 1838.

Years later, when the Plains Indian chiefs were incarcerated here, their captor was Army Captain Richard Henry Pratt. Pratt was a humane man, but sure that his culture was superior to that of the Indians. He was assigned to the Castillo — by then, Fort Francis Marion — in 1875 and charged with responsibility for the Indian captives.


Pratt believed that the best hope for the native peoples was to integrate them into American culture. He developed a program of education and training aimed at assimilating the Indians to the American way of life.

At the time, Pratt’s approach was controversial. Many Americans did not believe that Indians were their equals, and yet Pratt was trying to raise them to full citizenship. (They were not citizens under US law at the time!)


3 thoughts on “Castillo De San Marcos Part 4: Armament; Accommodation; Two Notables

  1. 6pounder

    We have been there a few times and it’s really a fantastic fort to go through. Fort Matanzes guarding the “back door” is worth a visit also. It requires a short boat ride from the park service to access. Most people don’t seem to know about it though.

  2. Aesop

    1) Thanks for the newest installment in the series.
    2) -5 pts. for imagery interpretation skills: In the bunk photo, note that a better examination of the upper board above the Brown Bess musket rack has holes in it for the barrels and forestocks of each musket to protrude through: four slots at the bottom, four corresponding holes above. QED.
    We’re beginning to question your absolute martial infallibility here, and possible status as merely mortal. Alas.
    We suppose you could skip down to the chapel photo and ask for absolution, and do a worthy penance.
    3) So, when all the installments are finished, I figure we each owe you and the fort a 50/50 split on admission price. Thanks again for the virtual tour.
    So, got any blogfriends visiting Falmouth or any of the other Channel castles anytime soon?

  3. Cannoneer No. 4

    They used a variety of tools to swab the bore and ram powder and shot:

    Cannoneers call those tools Implements. Looks like two rammers, a worm and a sponge. Field pieces had sponge and rammer at opposite ends of the same staff.

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