Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hillsborough River Bridge at Fort Foster

In Letters from the Frontier, Major General George A. McCall wrote of his experience as a young officer working to open a military road from Tampa Bay to what is today Ocala in Marion County. This was the Fort King Road, traces of which can still be seen through central Florida's palmetto and pine forests.

In a 1828 letter to his brother, McCall recounted a story about building a bridge over the Hillsborough River

"...I was with my men one morning before breakfast; two of the three trestles upon which the bridge was to rest being set erect and pinned together temporaily, simply by boards tacked on to them and to a log upon the bank to keep them in position until the third trestle was raised, which the men with ropes were at that moment bringing to its upright position; I observered our most worthy and esteemed Surgeon seated on the trestle nearest to me. I had just thought of walking up the steep board leading from the river-bank to the trestle where the Surgeon sat, in order to have a little pleasnat chat with him before breakfast, when the third trestle, which the men were in the act of raising, and which our chief carpenter Plew, stanking on the middle trestle, was preparing to fasten to the one on which he stood -- lo and behold! trestle No. 3 swings beyond its perpendicular, through the over-strain upon the rope in the hands of the men on the opposite bank, who were raising it. It throws the men who hold the guy, by a sudden jerk, into the river, and striking with its great weight the middle trestle, drives that against No. 1 with sufficient force to send it with double velocity against the bank. The Doctor, who, as I have said, sat upon the last trestle, described the arc of the circle, still seated and with perfect composure, until the trestle rudely strikes upon the bank, when he is precipitated backwards into the water six or eight feet deep. As he rises again to the surface, I, with one of the men, spring to the spor, and we draw him out unharmed, though thoroughly chilled and minus his gold spectacles. Plew, who was on the highest trestle, at least twelve feet from the water, boldly jumped clear of the debris and swam to shore. The odd fellow, a private of company C, was lifted up the bank by some of the men, when the first words he uttered, as he shook himself like a great Newfoundland dog, were: "Chalk and all gone!" it having so happened that his chalk and line, which were lying on the trestle, were swept down the current, and could not be replaced short of Fort Brooke. The Doctor's spectacles were afterwards found by an Indian at the river-ford below, to which point they had been carried by the swiftness of the current and there stranded. I should add, that my excellent friend, the Surgeon, experienced no serious inconvenience from the accident; and, except that occassioned by the loss of his glasses, looked upon the thing as a fair subject for a good hearty laugh."

Since the bridge facilitated troop movement along the Fort King Road, it had strategic value during the Second Seminole War. It was rebuilt, but continued to be threatened by the Seminoles. On Christmas morning 1835, Major Dade was delayed on his journey from Fort Brooke to Fort King when his troops discovered that the bridge had been burned. The men managed to cross the river, only to meet their deaths near Bushnell on December 28. The Army built a wooden fort at the bridge, Fort Foster, to protect the river crossing.

Today Fort Foster and the wooden bridge are part of the Hillsborough River State Park; both have been recreated and are open to the public. Timbers from the 1835 bridge over the river are on display at the park. On February 14 and 15, 2009, re-enactors will stage a battle between the U.S. soldiers and the Seminoles at the bridge -- for more information, please visit the Fort Foster website.

1 comment:

  1. The Spanish Invasion of the mainland is history, but it appears that some explorers reached much further into the Appalachian Mountains and other areas of the South than some think: Oscar and/or Jasper de la Cruse, various spellings like Crossville, TN and Japser, GA, and Martinez ,Martinez, GA; and a coummunity named South America, KY, in southeast Kentucky, in present Bell County, or nearby, and, indeed, other upland communities not thought to be Spanish Indian connected are in fact linked to the Spanish Invasion of Cherokee Tribe and other tribes. - Cherokee Empire, June, 2010


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