More History of Our Nation's Defenses
The end of the Revolutionary war was a beginning. Of course it was the birth of the United States of America, but it was also the start of more wars and skirmishes that called for defenses. As mentioned elsewhere, the Army Corps of Engineers was established to build these defenses.
Since most of the threat came from Europe, the East and Gulf Coasts were to be fortified. In his book "The Defenses of the Lower Mobile Bay" (1), Dale Manuel points out the three systems of fortifications. Began in the late 1700s, the defenses graduated from open batteries behind earthen walls to protect strategic harbors (the first system) to masonry walls and encased guns, some with landside defenses (the second system) to the third system in 1817. This third system was permanent masonry forts with mutli-tierd gun emplacements, designed to engage the sailing ships of the era with smoothbore cannon, and to repel infantry attack. A line of forts was built from Grand Terre Island, Louisiana to Eastport, Maine. Forts were also built on Lake Champlain, and on the Great Lakes. The West Coast did see two forts built to protect San Francisco Bay.
Originally built to defend attacks from Europe, these forts played an immense role in the Civil War. The first shot of the Civil War was fired upon Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina. The fall of Fort Pulaski to the Union Forces began to signal the end of the era of these coastal fortifications, when the newly invented rifled cannon found new vulnerabilities. And the Naval Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 further sealed their fate. Shallow draft ironclads with rifled munitions from the Union attacked and eventually took Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. By 1870, no new forts were to be built. Some were abandoned, while some continued to see some service. Many on the coast were sited with some of the coastal batteries in the early 1900s. Fort Moultrie in Charleston, SC, was even used as recently as World War II, and it is here today that you can see renovated structures illustrating the history of the fort from the Revolutionary War through World War II. Fort Morgan, abandoned in 1924, was also reactivated for WWII, after being preserved as an Alabama State Park, as it stands today. Fort Gaines never saw reactivation, and deteriorated until 1955, when the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board restored the fort and opened it to the public. So here you have the State Government competing with a private group to preserve these forts as museums. At least two of the forts we have been to, Sumter and Pulaski, are operated by the National Park Service. You decide who does the best job, but the public wins in all cases. Be sure to check these and the other forts out whenever you get the chance.
We have collected several forts around the southeast. We will list them here, then add the pictures as we scan them (if we can find them, that is!).
Fort Pulaski
Fort Moultrie
Fort Sumter
Fort Screven
Fort Barrancas
Fort Pickens
Fort Morgan
Fort Gaines
Fort Frederica
(1) "The Defenses of the Lower Mobile Bay", by Dale Manuel, apparently self-published. We picked up a copy of this in the shop at either Fort Morgan or Fort Gaines, I forget which. While it is primarily a treatise about Mobile Bay in particular, the first several pages are devoted fort construction in general. At first we didn't know a Sally Port from a Bastion... now we have some help! You can probably find a copy at either fort, or you can write to the address given in the book: Dale Manuel, P.O. Box 517, Del Valle, TX 78617.