Located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol, the Pentagon Barracks are a complex of military and government buildings that have served significant roles throughout the history and development of the United States, including occupation by French, Spanish, and British colonial forces and use as a government site for the Republic of West Florida.
History and Permanent Attractions
The Baton Rouge area was the historic home of the Houma and Bayogoula indigenous peoples, who occupied much of what comprises modern-day Louisiana prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. European occupation of the Louisiana area began in 1699 with the expeditions of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, who dubbed the area le bâton rouge in reference to a 30-foot red pole erected at Scott’s Bluff, which marked the division between the two indigenous tribes’ hunting grounds. European settlement of the area dates back to 1721, when French colonists established a military post at Baton Rouge, and greatly increased following the 1755 exile of Acadian settlers from Canada’s Maritime provinces. These Acadian refugees would go on to form the basis of the Cajun ethnic group, who have maintained a separate language, culture, and religious faith from other Louisiana residents to this day.
The French retained control of the fort at Baton Rouge until 1763, when the city was seized by British forces. Following the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Seven Years’ War, France ceded its North American territory to Spain and Britain, with British colonists gaining control of all French lands in the eastern United States except for the city of New Orleans. Considering the city of Baton Rouge to be a site of strategic significance, British forces established Fort New Richmond at the site that encompasses the Pentagon Barracks today, which was seized by Spain following the 1779 Battle of Baton Rouge and renamed Fort San Carlos. The Spanish victory resulted in an uprising among citizens of the area, who organized a covert rebellion culminating in an attack of the fort on September 23, 1810. The rebels were able to successfully overcome the Spanish and established the Republic of West Florida, which existed for 90 days until the city was surrendered to United States authorities.
After its transfer to American forces, the barracks were renamed the Post at Baton Rouge, which operated as an assembly point for American troops throughout the early 19th century, assisting with the Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans. From 1819 through 1825, the fort’s barracks were expanded significantly, including the addition of four two-story brick buildings comprising an Arsenal Depot to serve the southwestern United States area. According to the design of Captain James Gadsden, the new construction was to develop the complex into a pentagon-shaped configuration that still exists today, with buildings intended to house enlisting United States Army soldiers. A commissary warehouse was meant to form the fifth side of the building area, but it was demolished a few months after its construction due to building defects and never rebuilt.
The United States Army continued its use of the Pentagon military barracks until the 1861 start of the American Civil War. Near the start of the war, the fort was seized by the State of Louisiana and turned over to the Confederate Army, although it was recaptured by Federal forces during an 1862 battle and renamed Fort Williams, in honor of the battle’s late Union commander. Though Confederate troops continued attempts to seize the fort again, Union soldiers used a Native American mound near the complex as a natural trench space and were able to prevent further turnover during the war.
Following the Civil War, the General Assembly of Louisiana transferred control of the Pentagon Barracks to Louisiana State University according to the regulations of an 1884 resolution. The barracks were used as University dormitory housing until 1951, when the State of Louisiana gained ownership of the barracks complex and converted the complex into government office space. Because of its historic significance, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Though several museums have been housed at the Pentagon Barracks site, the buildings are in private government use today, housing the offices for the state’s Lieutenant Governor, along with private apartment spaces provided for the state’s legislators. As a national historic site, however, visitors may explore the complex’s grounds and retrace the steps of notable American history figures who have stayed at the site, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, and President Lincoln. Rows of Doric-style columns adorn the buildings’ facades, supporting the upper floors’ balconies, and a plaza with a fountain connects the complex at its center.
The Pentagon Barracks complex is located within the Louisiana State Capitol grounds. Other nearby historic attractions at the Capitol include the Old Arsenal Museum, which contains exhibits about the state’s military and government history.
959 N 3rd St, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802, Phone: 225-342-7009
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