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03.06.04 Reid, Thomas, America’s Fortress: A History of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida (Florida History and Culture), published in 2006 g

Notes Concerning the Author

Thomas Reid is retired from the U. A. Army and holds a M. A. in history from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.  He is the author of several articles in publications as well as the book recommended here on the Dry Tortugas.    His interests focus on Texas history during the War Between the States and the Political Reconstruction that followed.  He is expecially expert on Tyler, Texas history and the 13th Texas Cavalry, and experiences of black slaves progressing to freedom and independent living.  Mr. Reid is a member of the Society of Independent Southern Historians.

Our Review

The following review is taken from

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 attack. 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 which has stood for over 150 years off the tip of the Florida Keys.

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