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The Jacksonville Wall Project

Did you know there used to be a wall around Jacksonville? We must have asked that question 1000 times over the past few years. Of course mostly what we get are puzzled looks & questions. But that’s what we expect and it has fueled our determination to record the wall's location. 

The goal of the Jacksonville Wall Project is to locate and test each of the nine forts that guarded the Civil War era wall and place a permanent historical marker at each fort location. The result will be a ring of markers around the urban core of the city so future generations will know a little of the history of the wall & the men who fought here.

So what was the wall?  Jacksonville had only a couple hundred inhabitants in the early 1860s but was an important city during the war because of its port and location to move men & supplies inland. During their fourth and final occupation of Jacksonville in 1864, the Union Army built a ring of vertically placed pointed logs and breastworks out of logs & earth  – the wall – around their present-day city to protect it from Confederate attack. Determined to keep the city from falling into Confederate hands, Union forces built nine armed forts or redoubts around the perimeter to protect the gates and other key points. The fort walls are believed to have been constructed the same as the encircling city wall. Some forts were small, purely defensive positions while others were large enough to support several hundred troops. Built just outside the westernmost gate to the city, Ft. Hatch was one of the larger forts and was located in what is now the La Villa section of town. In all, some 30 cannons of various sizes were positioned in the forts. In addition, trees were cleared for about 1000 yards outside the wall to inhibit concealment of any possible attackers. Coupled with the formidable navy patrolling the river beside Jacksonville, the defenses worked since the city wasn’t overtaken again. It remained under Union control through the end of the war. Remains of the wall or the forts are no longer visible, as they are now buried 2-3’ deep under 150 years of urban reconstruction. In addition, at the conclusion of the war, citizens of Jacksonville cleared the streets of the logs and wall debris. Nevertheless, artifacts from that period remain buried throughout the city.

Cowford Archaeology volunteers conducted a test excavation at Ft. Hatch in 2013. Several thousand man-hours were spent in the field excavating 60 test pits at the fort location, and in the lab, analyzing artifacts and preparing a research report. The report, along with other information about Ft. Hatch, is available elsewhere on this site.

 

In February, 2018, Cowford Archaeology cosponsored with the Jacksonville Historical Society the placement of a permanent historic marker at Ft. Hatch. This was just the first step in what promises to be a long journey of documenting the nine forts that guarded the city. Research into this little known but important part of Jacksonville's history will continue for years. Uncovering history is a slow process and if the markers and the research into the defenses can spark the interest of even one person to continue the research, it will all have been worthwhile.