Civil War Day at Fort Point
|Fort Point. Photo by Frog Mom
While the East Coast battlefields were raging war night and day, San Francisco fortified its army outposts at Angel Island, Alcatraz and Fort Point. Steamers were sent through the Golden Gate and around the Horn loaded with millions worth in gold to finance the Civil War. Public meetings were held each time a letter arrived by stage coach. Is it hard to picture today? For a time travel experience, take your family to the Fort Point Civil War Days where docents in costume and park rangers celebrate this era with music, infantry drills, canon presentations and history re-enactments.
Walking through the big front gate of the brick fort at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, my girls and I felt giddy with excitement. From inside Fort Point we could hear the sound of drums resonating against the walls and walked in on an incredible scene.
Dressed in navy frock coats, gold buttons and felt hat caps, infantry soldiers in squad formation were practicing bayonet and musket drills in front of dozens of bystanders including us. It felt like entering a movie set!
My girls elbowed their way to the front steps and watched each different drill, mesmerized by the costumes, the shouting orders and the orderly parade. Despite the foggy crappy day, nothing would make them budge.
After half an hour I was the one getting fidgety and I suggested we walk out to the cannons on the other side of the court yard. “What for?” they whined. “To see how they were fired, what do you think?.”
The docent on duty was passionate about the topic and we got a full-on lecture on the various types of projectiles and shells fired by cannons. My girls even got to lift a few shells in their hands and they both gasped. They couldn’t believe how heavy they were! Even if they had not exploded on impact, I can only imagine the damage they would have done on a wall. let alone on people.
Next to the cannons stood a well-stocked pharmacy in a carrying case that looked so much like a cabinet of curiosities – oh the tiny glass vials and hand-written labels – that the girls started wondering if it was OK playing with it.
Of course it wasn’t but we loved hearing about the various remedies that doctors used on the battlefield. Well, loved – best to say we were intrigued because there’s nothing to love about a foot-long syringe.
Impatient to explore the upper levels, we left the courtyard and went up the steel staircases to the very top of the fort which is a level roof with a low wall. If you’ve never done it, it’s worth getting there if only to be outside, dwarfed by the giant structure of the Golden Gate Bridge arching over the strait.
Officers in Civil War uniform were patrolling around making for an interesting anachronism below the 1937 steel structure. On a clear day, look for Angel Island directly to the north and Alcatraz Island east of you in the Bay. You can spot with its tiny lighthouse on top in the direction of the Bay Bridge.
Chased by the wind chill or the fog chill, we went down a flight of stairs and started exploring the lower levels where the extra-thick stone and masonry walls keep the rooms warm.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that many of the rooms are furnished, presenting to young visitors snippets of life in the 1860s through the early 1900s when the fort was still garrisoned. Other exhibits cover the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge or women’s suffrage.
In one room we stumbled upon two elegant elegant ladies making rag dolls that they sold for $10 a piece. With buttons for eyes, yarn for hair and long dresses with aprons, the dolls shouted “Take me home!” to my girls. And that’s how we came back home with Geraldine and Molly, two young girls who won’t mind hiking with us.
Down and down we continued our journey til we entered the room under the main entrance of the fort. There, an officer was showing kids how to telegraph their names. ‘Do you want to try?” he asked my girls.
Before you know it, they stood in line, patiently waiting to use the Morse code to telegraph their first over to a mystery recipient who telegraphed something back. As a reward, the kids each got a paper reproduction of a Civil War era dollar. How cool!
As we got out of Fort Point, we enjoyed music by a quatuor of fifes and drums.
Feeling up for the adventure? Fort Point Civil War Days takes place this Saturday.
- Day: Saturday January 28, 2012
- Hours: 10am to 5pm
- What: Join the American Civil War Association, as part of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War 2011-2015 commemoration, as they bring Fort Point to life with music, marching and the colorful uniforms of Civil War soldiers.
- Cost: Free
- Parking: by the Warming Hut or if you get lucky, in front of the fort.