We love forts, especially the huge brick ones built before the Civil War. They are three dimensional history books, great for touring, exploring and crawling around. It’s like going back in time. Referred to as Second and Third System forts, they were the space shuttle programs of their day.
Out of the interior darkness, a 32 pounder cannon is positioned at its firing port at Fort Pickens, FL. Second and Third System brick forts were engineering marvels and several features can be seen here. The arch over the gun strengthens the walls around it and makes it less likely to collapse. Different brick patterns were used to strengthen specific areas depending on the forces they would be subjected to. The inward angle of the firing port gives the defenders good fields of observation and fields of fire, while limiting that of the attackers. Inside, the cannon was mounted on a semi-circular rail, so that it could be traversed right to left as needed. The rail allowed the gun to be moved smoothly by just a few men even though it weighed several tons.
This cannon would have been used to defend the fort against a land attack. The anti-ship batteries mounted on the seaward walls were huge. They could fire shells up to 15″ in diameter up to three miles away. Some of these forts fought furious battles, including the aforementioned Fort Pickens. Many others saw no action at all. Some became famous for other reasons – such as Alcatraz.
Many of these forts are now part of the National Park Service. Still others are maintained by the states. In addition to the history and learning opportunities, forts are a steady source of NPS Passport Stamps, benchmarks, geocaches, letterboxes and munzees for us.
Trying to nail down the Top 10 is sometimes elusive because as we travel around, we run into a lot of potential Top 10’s. Basically, to make the list, there has to be something extraordinary about the geocache under consideration. It might distance, difficulty, uniqueness, history or just the surroundings. Our #5 cache fell into all of these. From January 2012, welcome to the geocache at Dragoon Springs.
In the high desert Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains of southeast Arizona, a number of natural springs gurgle out from amongst the rocks. One of them was Dragoon Springs. This area was the homeland of the Apache, who didn’t take kindly to trespassers. Since water was critical, they watched and guarded the springs aggressively against interlopers from the Conquistadors to Mexican bandits.
The Gadsen Purchase of 1853 made the land part of the United States. White settlers, ranchers and miners began arriving in great numbers and a large military presence was also established. In the decade before the Civil War, the whites and the Apache, under Cochise and Mangas, observed an uneasy truce. In 1857, the Butterfield Overland Stageline began operation through the area on its way from St. Louis to San Francisco. They had way stations with food and fresh horses at each of the springs. One of them was Dragoon Springs. In 1861, the Apache ended the truce and started ridding their lands of whites. The Butterfield stages became prime targets, with 22 drivers killed in 16 months. The line was already in financial trouble. Apache attacks and competition from the Pony Express finished the job. It folded just after the Civil War began.
The way stations and the route itself were the only transportation and logistics infrastructure in the entire region, so they were used by both sides in the desert war of 1862. In this little known theater of the Civil War, the Union Army, the Confederate Army and the Apache all fought each other. The abandoned Butterfield Stage station at Dragoon Springs was the site of two fights between Confederate cavalry and Apache war parties.
On May 5, 1862, a Confederate patrol was foraging and rounding up stray cattle in the area around Dragoon Springs. They were jumped by an estimated 100 Apache at the now abandoned stage station. Four Confederate soldiers were killed and the livestock stolen. The rest of the patrol got away. This was the First Battle of Dragoon Springs and they were the western-most combat deaths suffered by the Confederacy.
Four days later, on May 9, came the Second Battle of Dragoon Springs. A larger patrol found and engaged the Apache war party in the same area, killing five and getting the livestock back. The four Confederates killed in the first battle were buried in shallow graves and covered with stones. Those graves are preserved and marked by the National Park Service along with the ruins of the relay station.
The geocache itself is a further hike from the station. We were able to drive to within 7/10 of a mile, then hiked in the rest of the way. An ATV can almost drive up to Ground Zero. The geocache itself is an easy find. Like they say, getting there is half the fun.
This one took us most of a day from our snowbird headquarters in Tucson. The Dragoon Mountains are spectacular and full of cool places to check out. We barely scratched the surface but are headed back in 2013. Can’t wait!