Fort Zachary Taylor Picture Gallery

Construction of Fort Taylor began in 1845. The fort was located 1,200 feet offshore of Key West.  The fort was strategically important because it defended the waters around Key West, the Straits of Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. 

The fort took 21 year to complete because of a lack of construction materials.  Hurricanes and diseases also delayed finishing the fort.  By 1860, it was ready for troops and cannons.

Fort Taylor was occupied by Federal troops during the Civil war thanks to the actions of Captain John Brannan.  The artillery unit was quartered at the Key West barracks. As Florida prepared to leave the Union, Brannan and his men of Company B, First U.S. Artillery marched into the fort and claimed it for the Union.

The fort served as a base of operations for the Union Navy's East Coast Blockade Squadron.  The squadron prevented supply ships from reaching Confederate ports.

Fort Taylor served as a coastal artillery fort during the Spanish-American War, World I, and World War II.  It was also used during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

The Sally Port is the door or entrance to the fort.  The fort was built a quarter mile off shore.  Through the arched door was a long causeway that connected the fort to Key West. Stairways on each side of the Sally Port lead to the second and third levels which served as sleeping quarters for the troops.  The small cells on each side of the entrance doorway were used for confinement of drunk and disorderly soldiers. 

Barracks Building - This section of the fort was used for housing and offices.  Enlisted men occupied the second floor and the officers occupied the third floor.  There were six mess halls on the ground floor with kitchens and two washrooms. The fort was able to house 600 soldiers.  A hospital was located near the northeast corner.  At the southwest corner of the fort stood a hot-shot oven, where cannonball were heated.  Hot-shot was launched to set fire on board ships and explode the ship's powder magazine.

Parade Ground - This area of the fort would have been used for troops to assemble for inspection or drill. The post commander would also use the parade ground when he wanted to inform the entire fort of items of importance.

Casemates - These are the rooms where the cannon were placed.  Each cannon was placed in its own casemate.  Each cannon required a crew of 6 to 8 men.  The crew was able to reload a gun and have it ready to fire again in around one minute.   Inside the casemates are the cistern wells.  There were 40 cisterns built below the fort with a total capacity of 750,000 gallons of rainwater. Unfortunately, the cisterns did not work as designed.

Cannon - Inside the casemates are the seacoast cannon that defended the fortress.  Included are the 8-inch and 10-inch Columbiad, 10-inch Rodman and a 10-inch Parrott Rifle.  The Columbiad and Rodman are smooth bore cannon.  These cannon fired a ball that weighed up to 100 pounds and could travel upwards of three miles.  The Parrott Rifle fired a 300 pound bullet-shaped round which could embed itself into a fort's walls and explode.

Bastion - The purpose of the bastion was to protect the walls of the fort in the unlikely event that an attempt was made to scale them.  The bastions contained smaller guns called Flanking Howitzers.

Top of North Curtain - This level of the fort would have looked exactly like the casements on the lower level.  Cannon would have been placed in the cannon ports atop gun platforms and carriages.  There was a third level that had no roof.  The walls rose 50 feet above the ocean floor and had a commanding view of Key West Harbor.

In 1898 the top two tiers of the fort were removed and building began for two new batteries.  The Army used the Civil War cannons that were still at the fort as in-fill to help support the never battery walls.


Fort Zachary Taylor is located in Key West, FL.  Key West is a great place to visit and enjoy several days.  For ideas about your trip, please see The Florida Keys and Key West.

Another fort in the area is Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas National Park. During the Civil War, Union warships used the harbor in their campaign to blockade Southern shipping. The fort was also used as a prison, mainly for Union deserters. Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth. The island is accessible by boat as part of day excursion that includes meals and snorkeling.

If you want to enjoy your trip even more stay at The Artist House.  It's a short walk from the historic district and waterfront restaurants.  We stayed in The Eugene Studio Suite on our trip in June 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Revised 04/06/2013