America’s Fortress: A History of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida
By: Thomas Reid
Known as the “American Gibraltar,” Fort Jefferson, located in the Dry Tortugas, Florida, was the most heavily armed coastal defense fort in United States history. Perceived as the nation’s leading maximum-security prison, the fort also held several of the accused conspirators in the Lincoln assassination. America’s Fortress is the first book-length, architectural, military, environmental, and political history of this strange and significant Florida landmark.
This volume also fills a significant gap in Civil War history with regard to coastal defense strategy, support of the Confederacy blockade, the use of convicted Union soldiers as forced labor, and the treatment of civilian prisoners sentenced by military tribunals. Reid argues that Fort Jefferson’s troops faced very different threats and challenges than soldiers who served elsewhere during the war. He chronicles threats of epidemic tropical disease, hurricanes, shipwrecks, prisoner escapes, and Confederate attacks. Reid also reports on white northerners’ perceptions of slaves, slavery, and the emerging free black soldiers of the latter years of the war. Drawing on the writings of Emily Holder, wife of Fort Jefferson’s resident surgeon, Reid is the first to offer a female perspective on life at the fort between 1859 and 1865.
For history buffs and tourists, America’s Fortress offers a fascinating account of this little-known outpost that has stood for over 150 years off the tip of the Florida Keys.