Seacoast Fortification - First System
The United States had only an uncoordinated collection of local fortifications and no permanent system of seacoast fortifications until Congress made the first appropriations for the purpose in 1794, in reaction to the increased threat of war with European powers. The fortifications that followed are collectively referred to as the first system of American seacoast fortification, and were constructed in relatively small numbers at sixteen commanding locations guarding the ports, naval shore establishments, and harborentrances along the eastern seaboard. Fort Norfolk, a brick and earthwork fort, is the last remaining of 19 harbor front forts authorized in 1794 by President George Washington.
Although a few substantial works were constructed incorporatingstone, such as Fort McHenry at Baltimore and Fort Mifflin near Philadelphia, fortifications consisted largely of barbette gun batteries emplaced for protection behind open works with walls of earth, wood andstone. When the threat of war with France receded, the defensive works began to fall into neglect and disrepair in the absence of ongoing garrison and maintenance.
In 1794 Charleston became one of 16 ports to receive the new defenses of the First American System of Fortifications. The second Fort Moultrie, part of this system, was a five-sided structure with earth and timber walls 17 feet high. The fort was completed in 1798, but soon fell into ruin from lack of upkeep. A hurricane in 1804 destroyed the fort.
IT is a singular fact that of all the plans submitted to Congress at the closeof the Revolutionary 'War looking to the organization of a peacetime militaryestablishment, not one took into consideration the necessity of providing forthe defense of the maritime frontier. During the war, coast defense had been afunction of the several States, the Government finding it necessary to devote itsentire attention to defeating the enemy in the field.It is probable that theproponents of the peace measures considered-if they thought of the matterat all- that the States could continue to furnish their own coast fortifications,but if so they neglected the obvious fact that the States had not theretoforeprovided effectivefortifications. Even during the colonial period, the defenseshad almost invariably been inadequate to the requirements; and at the closeof the Revolution there were few coastal works not in ruins, and none in aserviceable condition.In the years immediately following the disbanding of the Continental troops,the entire force--too small to be called an army-in the service of the UnitedStates was employed along the land frontiers. The artillery was armed asinfantry and served as infantry. The only difference between the two brancheswas that the artillery also served the guns in the frontier forts and those takenon expeditions against the Indians. Properly speaking, they were artificers,rather than artillerymen, and when the time came to take up their duties in coastdefense they were unprepared.The threat of war with Great Britain, growing out of disputes over unsettledboundaries and over British treatment of American seamen, turned the eyes ofthe infant nation from the depths of the backwoods to the undefended seaboard.Here was opening up an entirely new field of service for the artillery, onewhich brought about the reorganization and expansion of that branch of serviceunder the act of May 9, 1794.Before this date, however, the fortification of the coast had been begun. OnFebruary 27, 1794, a committee had recommended to Congress the fortificationof sixteen points along the Atlantic shore line--Portland, Portsmouth, CapeAnn, Salem, Marblehead, Boston, Newport, New London, New York, Phila-delphi.a, Baltimore, Norfolk, Wilmington (N. C.), Ocracoke Inlet, Charleston,and Savannah, to which Wilmington (Del), Annapolis, Alexandria, and George-town (S. C.) were subsequently added. On March 20, Congress appropriatedthe necessary funds, and by the end of the year the project was near comple-tion saye in Boston Harbor and at one or two other points.This first project contemplated the erection of earthen batteries, faced withtimbers at such places where earth of an adhesive quality could not be obtained.[134J
EARLY COAST FORTIFICATIONS135The strictest economy was necessary, and it was felt that a tenacious earth,properly sloped, sodded, and seeded with knot-grass, would be durable andwould afford sufficientprotection so far as naval attacks were concerned.Naval science had not then developed to a point where landings in forceon an open beach were considered practicable, and the coast batteries weretherefore required only to prevent the use of harbors and wharves by the enemyand to protect communities from bombardment. Small landings on beacheswere, nevertheless, practicable, and the batteries themselves required protectionfrom land attack or raids. This introduced into coast defense a conceptionfrom which the Coast Artillery is still suffering-local defense by the artillery-men themselves.In the immediate vicinity of each battery, or group of batteries, particularlywhere the battery occupied an exposed position at a distance from the townit defended, on a point of land, or on an island, there was to be erected a strongredoubt or other inclosed work (or a blockhouse for batteries of lesser im-portance), in which one or two pieces of light artillery would be mounted.This redoubt, or blockhouse, thus became a barrack for the garrison and acitadel protecting the battery from attack from the landward side. In case ofouch an attack, the apparent idea was that the gunners would retire to thecitadel, take up the small arms with which they were provided, and becomeinfantry for the time being-an idea which the Artillery accepted without pro-test until within very recent years.The weapons best suited for the coast forts were considered to be the 24 and32-pounders, of which the entire project called for about 450. Of these, it wasthought that 150 could be obtained from materiel on hand and 150 from gunsin possession of the States, leaving about 150 to be manufactured. To allowfor possible shortages, the purchase of one hundred of each of these heaviercalibers was authorized by Congress.At that time there was on hand a great variety of calibers remaining fromthe Revolutionary War. The return of ordnance, arms, and implements, ofDecember 14, 1793, shows 214 iron guns, 49 iron howitzers, 2 iron mortars, 2iron cohorns, 153 brass guns, 43 brass howitzers, 63 brass mortars, and 1 brasscohorn. The calibers included: Iron, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24-poundercannon, 3~ and 5~-inch howitzers, 13-inch mortars, and IS-pounder car-ronades; brass, 2,3,4,6, S,12, and 24-pounder guns, 2%, 4~, 5~, and S-inchhowitzers, and 4.4, 4~, 5~, 8, 10, 13, and 16-inch mortars. The followingwere available among the heavier types:24-pounderm_IS-pounder_12-poundermm_8-inch howitzern_5%-inch howitzer_16-inch mortard_d13-inch mortar_IronBrass12336491118217124
136THE COAST ARTILLERY JOURNAL10-inch mortar198-inch mortar351h-inch mortar1910392Prior to 1800 there was no noteworthy chan,gein the calibers of artilleryconstructed for seacoast artillery. The 42-pounders was added in 1801 and the50-pounder Columbiad in 1811. In the project of 1818, these, as well as the100-pounder, formed a part of the seacoast materiel.The guns available in 1794 were of both brass and cast iron. Though moreexpensive than cast iron, brass cannon were favored because there was lessdanger of bursting. The Revolution had practically compelled the colonists touse the iron and thus demonstrate its possibilities, and there ensued a longcontest between the two metals (the brass being substantially what was after-wards known as bronze), with cast iron steadily growing in favor. In the endit displaced brass, only itself to be superseded at about the opening of theCivil War. In the heavier guns for coast defense, the project of 1794 estab-lished cast iron as the metal to be used, and from that time until wrought ironappeared, no other metal was used for the heavy coast cannon.The multiplicity of calibers was not, of itself, a great inconvenience,butthere were many varieties of each caliber, owing to the fact that each foundrycast its guns according to its own plans. This led to great confusion in themanufacture of gun carriages. These c,arriageswere, as a rul~, wooden frames,although there were also carriages made in two parts-achassis and a topcarriage. In 1818 cast-iron carriages were adopted to replace those made ofwood, but in 1839 a reactionary spirit brought the wooden carriage again intofavor, where it held its place for fifteen years before being definitely and finallydisplaced.The project of 1794 contemplated the nse of two kinds of carriages for theseacoast armament-"coast" carriages (which might be casemate or barbette)and "traveling" carriages. These latter, which must not be confused with the"light field" carriages, are particularly worthy of note in view of the use ofmobile artillery in coast defensetoday.The term "traveling carriage" was not applied to the carriages of anyparticular calibers. There were "heavy" and "light" guns for every caliberin the service. Light field carriages were used with the light guns of whatevercalibers constituted the field artillery of a force in the field. The travelingcarriage, less mobile and more rugged in construction, was used to transportevery type of "heavy" gun, and was therefore as necessary with the heavy 6-pounder as with the heavy 24-pounder. Guns mounted on traveling carriageswere employed as siege or garrison artillery or, in battle, as guns of position.In coast defensethey were, as a rule, held in reserve, to be moved into positionwhen and where danger threatened.
EARLY COAST FORTIFICATIONS137The construction and occupation of the works of 1794 demanded both en-gineers and artillerists, of which the Army possessed neither. Pending the or-ganization of the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, the Government employeda number of civilians as temporary engineers to put up the necessary works.Stephen Rochefontaine, assigned to the New England coast from New Londonnorth, was the most capable of the engineers so employed, and by the el'ld ofthe year had his works practically completed, except at Boston, where the Gov-ernor would ~ot approve the plans without the sanction of the Legislature,which delayed taking action. Charles Vincent, appointed engineer for NewYork; John Jacob Ulrick Rivardi, for Baltimore and Norfolk; and PaulHyacinte Perrault, for South Carolina and Georgia, had their portions of theproject well under way by December. Charles L'Enfant, engineer for Phila-delphia and Wilmington; John Vermonnet, for Annapolis and Alexandria; andNicholas Francis Martinon, for North Carolina, accomplished little.The project called for a battery, a redoubt, and a blockhouse each at Port-land, Portsmouth, Governor's Island (Boston), New London, Groton, Gover-nor's Island (New York), Paulus Hook, Baltimore, Norfolk, Wilmington (K.c.), Charleston (three sets), and Savannah; a battery and a blockhouse each atGloucester (Cape Ann), Salem, Marblehead, in New York City (several sets),and Ocracoke Inlet; traveling carriages, with no battery, at Newport; and repairof works only at Castle Island (Boston), Goat Island (Newport), and MudIsland (Delaware). The total estimated cost was $76,053.62 for the fortifica-tions, and $96,645.00 for the manufacture of two hundred cannon.With the dissipation of the war clouds there was a relaxation in the matterof coast defense, although some work continued. The first project may beconsidered to have been complete hy the end of 1795, but almost at oncepreparations on a second project became necessary, for war with France ap-peared to threaten. The earthen works of 1794 had deteriorated rapidly andlarge appropriations were necessary to effect repairs. Philadelphia, Kew York.Newport, Baltimore, and Charleston were considered inadequately defended andlarge sums were spent at these points in new construction. Ko new placesappear in the project of 1798, but Cape Ann, Wilmington (Del), Annapolis,Alexandria, and Georgetown (S. C.) disappear. At a few of the other harborsno funds were spent, but at most of them some repairs were found necessary.Later, the Louisiana purchase brought l\ew Orleans into the program.At this time the artillery was scattered in many small detachments alongthe seacoast and on the land frontier. The largest detachment, in December.1802, consisted of 118 officersand men at New Orleans; and no other exceededseventy-five. Ten stations were garrisoned by from fifty to seventy-fiveofficersand men; twelve had from twenty-five to fifty; and four numbered less thantwenty-five. It was therefore impractisable to keep the coast forts in goodrepair, especially those not garrisoned. In 1807, under the stress of imminentwar with Great Britain, the necessity for the repair of the coast defenses broughtabout an entirely new project.
138THE COAST ARTILLERY JOURNALIn December, 1807, the Government, in preparing this new program, classi-fied the harbors into the more important ports and those of minor importance.In the two groups it listed practically all the ports and harbors of the Atlanticand Gulf seaboards, and then, from fear that some might have been overlooked,it made provision for other places that might be found to require defense.Work was undertaken promptly and was advanced rapidly. By February, 1810,$640,000 had been expended. When the war actually broke out, the projectwas essentially complete; at which time the results of the three programs-1794, 1798, and 1807-were about as follows, all works being in good con-dition unless otherwise stated:Passamaquoddy: Fort Sullivan, erected on Moose Island in 1808-1809, wasa circular battery of stone, mounting four heavy guns, covered by a blockhouse.Machias: Under the project of 1807 there was erected a circular battery ofstone, mounting four heavy guns, covered by a blockhouse.Penobscot: Under the project of 1807 thpre was erected a small inclosedbattery, mounting four heavy guns.Castine: Fort George, at Robinson's Point, on the east side of St. George'sRiver, erected in 1808-1809, was a small inclosed battery, mounting threeheavy guns.Damariscotta: On the southeastern angle of Narrow Island, and in the townof Boothbay, on the Damariscotta River, there was erected, under the project of1807, a small inclosed battery, mounting three heavy guns, covered by ablockhouse.Edgecomb: On Davis' Point, on the east side of Sheepscot River, there waserected a small inclosed battery, with six heavy guns, covered by a blockhouse,as a part of the project of 1807.Georgetown: On Shaw's Point, on the west side of the mouth of KennebecRiver, there was erected in 1808 an inclosed work, with a battery of sixheavy guns.Portland:- Fort Sumner, authorized in 1794, was built on the hill formerlyoccupied by Fort Allen as a small inclosed work with parapets supported bystone walls and sod; largely rebuilt in 1798-1799, and kept in repair until1802; comprised also a blockhouse and a detached battery for heavy cannonnear the water; rebuilt in 1808 as a battery of five guns, with a brick gunhouse containing four and eighteen-pounders on traveling carriages.FortPreble (1808), on Spring Point, at the entrance to the harbor, was an inclosedstar fort of stone and brick masonry, with a circular battery with flanks, mount-ing fourteen heavy guns.Fort Scammel(1808), on House Island, oppositeFort Preble, was a circular battery of masonry, mounting fifteen heavy guns,covered in the rear with a wooden blockhouse mounting six guns.Portsmouth: Fort Constitution, on the eastern point of Newcastle Island, atthe entrance to Piscataqua River, three miles below Portsmouth, was begun in1794 as a fort of masonry and sods, with a citadel; practically rebuilt in 1300-1801, it was completed under the project of 1807 as an irregular work of
EARLY COAST FORTIFICATIONS139masonry, mounting thirty-six heavy guns. Fort McClary(1808), on KitteryPoint, opposite Fort Constitution, was a circular battery of masonry, inclosedby earth and palisades, mounting ten heavy guns. InPortsmouth,a brickarsenal (1808) contained three 24-pounders and three 18-pounders on fieldcarriages.Newburyport:On the east point of Plum Island, at the mouth of MerrimacRiver, an inclosed battery of timber and earth, mounting five heavy guns, wasbuilt as part of the project of 1807.Gloucester (Cape Ann): In 1794 a battery and a blockhouse were erectedat the head of the harbor on the site of an old fort. Omitted from the projectof 1798. An inclosed battery, mounting seven heavy guns, covered with ablockhouse, was erected under the project of 1807.Salem: Fort Pickering, situated on the west side of the harbor entrance, waserected in 1794 on the site of old Fort William as an inclosed work of masonryand sods; repaired in 1800 and improved in 1808 to mount six heavy guns.Marblehead: Fort Sewall, situated on the west point of the entrance to theharbor, erected in 1794 on the site of an old fort, was an inclosed work ofmasonry and sods, covered with a blockhouse; rebuilt in 1799 and improvedin 1808 to mount eight heavy guns.Boston: Boston Harbor was included in the project of 1794, but delay insecuring State approval of the plans prevented any work except a limitedamount of repairs among the ruins of Castle William, on Castle Island, on thesouth side of the inner harbor.Fort Independence,a regular pentagon, withfive bastions of masonry, mounting forty-two heavy guns, and two batteriesfor six guns, was begun in 1800, practically completed in 1803, and extensivelyrepaired under the project of 1807. Fort Warren, on the summit of Governor'sIsland, opposite Fort Independence, a star fort of masonry, mounting twelveguns, was erected under the project of 1807. On the south point and the westhead of the island, circular batteries of masorny, mounting ten guns each,~erealso constructed.Charlestown: Near the Navy Yard. on the point formed by Charles andMystic Rivers, a circular battery of earth, on a stone foundation, mountingeight heavy guns, was erected in 180S.Plymouth: On Gurnet Point, at the entrance to the harbor, an old inclosedfort, mounting five guns, was repaired with stone ~nd sod in 1808.New Bedford: On Eldridge Point, at the entrance to the inner harbor, aninclosed work of masonery, mounting six guns, was erected in 1808.Newport: In 1794, a fort on Goat Island, a guard house on Tammany Hill,and a battery at Howland's Ferry were erected.Fort Adams, on Briton(Brenton) Point, on the east side of the entrance to the harbor, was an irregularstar fort of masonry, with an irregular indented work of masonry adjoiningit, mounting seventeen heavy guns, begun in 1798 and repaired and extended in1808. Fort Wolcott, on Goat Island, in the center of the harbor, was a smallinclosed irregular work, with open batteries, extending from two opposite
140THE COAST ARTILLERY JOURNALflanks, of stone and earth, mounting thirty-eight heavy guns; principally builtin 1798 on the site of the 1794 fort, and repaired and extended in 1808. OnRose Island, situated to defend the north and south passages of the harbor, aregular work of masonry with four bastions (two of them circular), to mountsixty guns, was begun in 1798, but was left unfinished. On a bluff of rockscalled the Dumplins, on Conanicut Island, nearly opposite Fort Adams, a cir.cular tower of stone, with casemates,was begun in 1798, but was left unfinished.On Eaton's Point, at the north point of the town, an elliptical stone battery hadbeen erected, but was in ruins by the end of 1811. In Newport were some gunson traveling carriages.Bristol: Ten guns on traveling carriages protected this town under theproject of 1807.Stonington: A brick arsenal, with four IS-pounders on traveling carriages,was provided by the project of 1807.New London: Fort Tmmbull, situated on the west side of the harbor, wasan inclosed irregular work of masonry ann sod, mounting eighteen heavyguns, erected during the Revolutionary War, repaired in 1794-1795, restoredin 1799, and further improved in 1808.Groton: A fort of earth and sods was begun in 1794, but was left unfinished.New Haven: Fort Hale. on the eastern side of the harbor, was an ellipticalinclosed battery, mounting six heavy guns, erected in 1808-1809.New York: Fort Jay, on Goyernor's Island, within half a mile of the city,.was a regular inclosed work, with detached batteries for heavy cannon andmortars. The first fort, of earth, with two detached batteries, which had beenbuilt in 1794-1795,was rebuilt in 1798-1801at considerable expense; but in1806 the whole was demolished (except walled counterscarp, grate, sallyport,magazine, and two barracks) and removed as rubbish to make room for a newwork of the same shape. Fort Columbus, built on the site of Fort Jay, was aregular inclosed pentagonal work of masonry, with f?ur bastions and a ravelin,mounting sixty heavy guns. Castle William, on a projecting point of rocks atthe western extremity of the island, begun in 1808, was a stone tower, withfifty-two 42 and 32-pounders, mounted in two tiers, under a bomb-proof roof,with a terrace above intended to mount twenty.six 50-pounder Columbiads.Bedloe's Island, nearly opposite Governor's Island, was provided with a batteryin 1794. Fort Wood. a star f~rt of masonry, mounting twenty-four heavy guns,with a brick arsenal, was erected in 1809-1810. Ellis (Oyster) Island, oppositeFort Columbus, was also provided with a battery in 1794-1795. Fort Gibson,an inclosed circular battery of masonry, mounting fourteen heavy guns, waserected in 1809 to cover the entrance to North River. In New York, a formid-able battery of heav-ycannon and mortars, erected at the southwest point of thecity in 1794-1795,was in ruins by 1806.Castle Clinton, an inclosed circularbattery of stone, mounting twenty.eight heavy guns, was erected in 1809 abouta hundred yards in front of the west head of the grand battery. Humbert Battery
EARLY COAST FORTIFICATIONS141an inclosed circular stone battery, mounting sixteen heavy guns, was built in1809 one mile up North River. Within the city was a brick arsenal, with onebrass 24-pounder, seven 12-pounders, 4 brass howitzers, and twenty-two ironl~-pounders, all on traveling carriages; and three miles above the city was abrick arsenal and laboratory.Sagg Harbor: Under the project of 1807, a brick arsenal, with four 18-pounders on field carriages, was provided.West Point: Fort Putnam was repaired and altered iJ;l1794-1795.Philadelphia:A fort on Mud Island, seven miles below Philadelphia, wasbegun in 1794, and a large pier, as a foundation for a battery, was laid on asand bar opposite the island.Fort Mifflin, principally built in 1798-1800 andextensively repaired in 1808-1809, was an irregular inclosed work of masonry,defended by bastions, demi-bastions, etc., mounting twenty-nine heavy guns,with a water battery without the works, mounting eight heavy guns.Wilmington, Del.: A site was selected and surveyed in 1794, but no workswere erected. A brick arsenal, with four 12-pounders on field carriages, wasbuilt in 1809.Newcastle: A brick arsenal, with four heavy guns on field carriages, wasbuilt in 1809.Baltimore: Under the project of 1794, a battery was erected and some gunsmounted. Fort McHenry, at the entrance to the harbor, erected principally in1798-1800, was a regular pentagon of masonry, mounting thirty guns, with awater battery, mounting ten heavy guns.Annapolis: A site was selected and surveyed in 1795 and some preliminarywork was done, but an unfavorable report caused the project to be abandoned.Fort Madison, at the western entrance to the harbor, erected in 1809, was aninclosed work of masonry, comprehending a semi-elliptical face, with circularflanks, mounting thirteen guns. Fort Severn, on Windmill Point, a circular bat-tery of masonry, mounting eig~t heavy guns, was erected in 1809.Washington: Fort Washington, at Warburton, on the east side of PotomacRiver, between Alexandria and Mount Vernon, erected in 1808-1809, was aninclosed work of masonry, comprehending a semi-elliptical face, with circularflanks, mounting thirteen heavy guns, defended in the rear by an octagon towerof masonry, mounting six guns.Alexandria:Some progress had been made in the construction of works in1795, but an unfavorable report npon the plans caused the project tobeabandoned.Norfolk: Fort Nelson, on the western side of Elizabeth River, begun in 1794,extensively repaired and improved in 1802-1804, and again repaired in 1808,was an irregular work, defended by whole and half bastions, built of brick andsods, inclosed in the rear by a brick parapet, mount~ng thirty-seven guns.Fort
142THE CO:\ST ARTILLERY JOURNALNorfolk, on the northeastern side of Elizabeth River, a thousand yards distantfrom Fort Nelson, erected in 1794-1795 and rebuilt in 1808-1809, was anirregular inclosed work of masonry, comprehending a semi-elliptical battery,defended on the flanks and rear by irregular bastions, mounting thirtyheavy guns.Hood's Point: Fort Powhatan, on James River, begun in 1808, was a strongbattery of masonry, intended for thirteen guns, but unfinished in 181l.Ocrac.oke Inlet: The foundation of a fort was laid on Beacon Island in 1794,but no further work was done; in 1799 an inclosed work was ordered on theruins of the former work, but none was erected.Wilmington, N. C.: Fort Johnston, on the right bank of Cape Fear River,twenty-eight miles below Wilmington, was originally a colonial fort. In 1794,a battery was erected on the site of the old fort, and in 1799-1800 some pro-gress was made in constructing new works. Delays prevented the completionof the fort until after 1806. As finished, it was a flank battery of tapia,mounting eight heavy guns.. Beaufort: Fort Hampton, on Old Topsail Inlet, erected in 1808-1809, was asmall inclosed work, mounting five guns.Georgetown, S. C.: A battery was begun in 1794, but was abandoned becauseof the unhealthfulness of the site.Fort Wingaw, a small battery and block-house, was erected in 1809.Charleston: Charleston was included in the projects of 1794 and 1798, but,since the State had not then ceded any sites to the United States, little wasaccomplished until the project of 1807. Fort Johnson, on James Island, FortMoultrie, on Sullivan's Islands, at the entrance to the harbor, and Fort Pinckneywere colonial or Revolutionary War forts. In 1794 Fort Johnson was orderedrepaired and foundations for forts were laid at Forts Moultrie and Pinckney.Work was soon suspended, except for a battery (Fort Mechanic) in Charleston,which was completed by the mechanics. In 1798-1799 the old works wererepaired and improved but were practically demolished by an unusual storm in1804. As rebuilt under the 1807 project, Fort Johnson was a marine batteryof irregular form, built of brick and wood, mounting sixteen guns;FortMoultrie was a brick work of irregular form, presenting a battery of threesides on the sea front, with the whole inclosed with ramparts, parapets, etc.,mounting forty guns; Castle Pinckney was a brick work of elliptical form, withtwo tiers, mounting thirty guns; Fort Mechanic (Mecho~ric),on the point ofthe city, crossing its fire with that of the Castle at nine hundred yards, was atemporary masonry battery, falling into decay; inCharleston was a brickarsenal.Beaufort, S. G.: Fort Marion, a work of tapia, circular of form in front anda straight line in rear, was begun in 1809 but was unfinished in 181l.Savannah: Fort Green, on Cockspur Island, near the mouth of SavannahRiver, erected in 1794-1796, W
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list