Travel

Three Historic American Forts

by D.J. Wilson –

Fortifications, or “forts”, are strongholds which serve to defend territories and protect troops and supplies during times of warfare. Reinforced to strengthen against attacks, many are surrounded by thick walls, deep ditches and moats, and other defensive works.  Historic forts of America, not to be confused with modern day military installations, share stories of war and are often declared National Historic Landmarks for their roles in shaping history.  Observe strong walls built to protect and keep the enemy at bay, see unique features and weaponry used for defense, examine remnants of war and collections, and walk hallowed grounds where blood was shed to protect and defend America.      

Fort Ticonderoga is one of the most well-known and historically important forts in North America.  It is located south on Lake Champlain and north of Lake George.  This important strategic 18th century star fort, previously called Fort Carillon, was built by the French during the Seven Years’ War to protect from British invasion.  In the 1758 Battle of the Carillon, French defenders were greatly outnumbered by an immense British military and repelled a large-scale attack in one of the bloodiest battles of the French and Indian War.    The following year, the fort would be captured by the British and renamed Fort Ticonderoga.  This northeastern New York fort played a key role in the American Revolution.  Early dawn of May 10, 1775, Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys waged a surprise attack on the fort, capturing the sleeping garrison.  It marked the first American victory of the Revolutionary war and helped the Continental Army to gain much-needed artillery. Cannons captured were moved to Boston for use in the war.  In June of 1777, British forces under General Burgoyne occupied high ground above the fort and forced the Continental Army to withdraw.  Only one direct attack occurred on the fort, when in September 1777, John Brown led an unsuccessful attempt to capture the fort.  Fort Ticonderoga was abandoned following the Saratoga Campaign, a failed attempt by the British to gain military control of the Hudson River Valley.  The fort, which fell into ruins, was restored in the early 20th century and now functions as a tourist attraction, museum and research facility. The fort forever stands as the sight of America’s first major victory in a quest for independence.  History buffs and nature lovers will enjoy learning about the people, places and events associated with Ticonderoga’s history.  Appreciate the vast and historic landscape and intriguing fort amid the serenity of the Adirondack Mountains of New York and Vermont’s Green Mountains.  Visit the living history museum to see the latest exhibits, including Founding Fashion: The Diversity of Regularity in 18-th Century Military Clothing, focused on clothing worn by the armies who served at the fort during the French & Indian War and Revolution.  The museum exhibition features extensive collections of art, artifacts and archives and preserves a rich slice of American history.  Enjoy fife and drum music performed daily during July and August, see reenactment events, tour King’s Garden, discover special programs and events at this National Historic Landmark.  To learn more, visit: http://www.fortticonderoga.org/visit/what-to-see

 

Construction of famous Fort McHenry began in 1799.  It was built on the site of former Fort Whetstone to improve defenses of the Port of Baltimore from enemy attack.  The brick fort was designed to resemble a five-pointed star and included barracks, buildings for enlisted men, Officers’ Quarters, a guardhouse and a Powder Magazine to safely store gunpowder.  During the 1830s, stories were added to the barracks and guardhouses were built to replace the old ones.  The fort was named for James McHenry, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland and signer of the United States Constitution who became Secretary of War.  Baltimore established itself as an important international seaport by the early 1800’s. As war took place between France and Great Britain, American rights, free trade and the rights of sailors became threatened.  British attack was imminent and resulted in the 1814 continuous 25-hour long Bombardment of Fort McHenry.  American defenders fired cannons and the British fired rockets and mortars at the fort, most of which landed inaccurately.  The British ran out of ammunition and ceased their attack.  Inspired by the American flag, which emerged intact during the bombardment, Francis Scott Key wrote the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”.  The poem later became America’s beloved national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”.  The area of Fort McHenry served as a military prison during the American Civil War and as artillery training grounds.  Additional buildings were added during WWI to serve as a U.S. Army hospital for returning troops.  Today, few of those buildings remain intact.  During World War II, Fort McHenry became a Coast Guard base.  In 1925, the fort was declared a National Park.  It receives acclaim for being both a National Monument and Historic Shrine.  Today, people can visit the original fort, restored to its condition during the War of 1812.   The popular tourist destination is accessible by Water Taxi from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  The Visitors Center is the perfect place to begin.  Watch an educational 10-minute orientation film shown every half hour.  Expect to spend up to two hours exploring the fort on a self-guided tour.  In the summer, listen to daily ranger talks and observe the living history of the fort.  Watch the Fort McHenry Guards perform drills, musket and artillery demonstrations and check out the extensive schedule of special events geared toward celebrating the historical significance of the park.  Plan your visit at http://www.nps.gov/fomc/planyourvisit/index.htm

Fort Sumter is the infamous site where the first shots were fired to signal the start of the American Civil War.  This masonry sea fort is located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.  A 2.5 acre island was created suing 70,000 tons of granite and rocks to support the fort.  The five-sided and immensely thick walled brick structure is named for the Revolutionary War hero General Thomas Sumter. Despite construction beginning in 1829, the fort remained unfinished at the start of the Civil War.  In 1860, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson secretly relocated 127 men to Fort Sumter.   The fort was not yet complete and lacked adequate ammunition and food supplies.  Confederate orders to evacuate the fort were ignored as food supplies dwindled.  President Lincoln ordered fleets to attempt to supply the fort.  On April 11, 1861 Major Anderson declined Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s demand of surrender.  Three Confederate aides sent to the fort hesitated to take the fort by force.  Instead, they moved to Fort Johnson to open fire on Fort Sumter.  While controversy surrounds the story of who fired the first shot, two hours went by with no return fire.  Captain Abner Doubleday fired the Union’s first shot to defend the fort.  Confederate batteries fired for 34 straight hours on the fort.  The union fired slowly to conserve ammunition.  On April 13, the fort was surrendered and evacuated.  Union attempts to retake Charleston Harbor failed.  In 1863, the Second Battle of Fort Sumter was fought.  The Confederate Army remained in charge, though the fort was reduced to a pile of rubble.  In 1865, General William T. Sherman advanced through South Carolina and forced the Confederates to evacuate Charleston and abandon Fort Sumter, leaving the Federal Government in possession of the fort.  The U.S. Army restored it as a useful military installation, though no further combat took place at the fort.  From 1876 to 1897 it became an unmanned lighthouse station.  A visit to Fort Sumter National Monument is a step back into history.  Access to Fort Sumter is by 30-minute ferry ride from the Fort Sumter Visitor Center on Patriots Point.  Explore the Visitor Education’s museum to learn history of the fort and its role in the Civil War.  Be sure to visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island as part of the Fort Sumter National Monument experience to learn more about seacoast defense.  For more information visit www.nps.gov/fosu


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John Wayne
8 years ago

My personal favorite is Fort Jefferson.

Located 70 miles WEST of Key West (in the Gulf of Mexico), only motivated people ever get to see it.

It is worth all of the effort required.

Diana Erbio
8 years ago

Wonderful roundup of Forts! Have visited Fort Ticonderoga a few times while vacationing at Lake George. At the southern end of Lake George is Fort William Henry, another interesting fort to visit.

Larry Hughes
8 years ago

Fort Matanzas st Augustine, fl

Larry Hughes
8 years ago

Fort Matanzas in America’s oldest city, Saint Augustine,Florida.

Gary
8 years ago

Here’s another interesting Civil War fort, relatively unknown, but with some rather interesting facts. Ever wonder where the term “Hold the Fort” came from? It originated at the Star Fort during the Battle of Allatoona Pass on 5 October, 1864, just south of Cartersville, Ga. After Atlanta fell to the Union Army, the Confederates swung around to the west of the city and headed north trying to break Sherman’s lifeline, the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Sherman chased the Confederates back up north again. He was atop Kennesaw Mountain when the 3 hour battle took place watching the smoke and hearing the sounds 20 miles away. The Union defenders of the fort sent message to Sherman that they were about to be over-run. Sherman flagged back, “Hold on I’m coming”. The Confederates also read the same message and decided to withdraw from the battle, just as they were about to win. The press changed the message slightly to “Hold the Fort, I’m coming”, and then later, “Hold the Fort”.

Sherman chased the Confederate Army to a railroad town called Kingston, Ga. and then stopped. Then turned south again towards Atlanta, destroying the railroad and everything else in sight. Kingston is where his famous “March to the Sea” began, not in Atlanta as the history book depict. After the war was over, a Senator visiting the Allatoona Pass battlefield looked at the shot up and dying signal tree the famous message was received from, and decided to cut it down and gavels were made from it for all the Federal Courts in America.

There is so much rich and interesting history between Atlanta and Chattanooga that has never been told, or just plain told falsely. The winners of a war are always granted the rights to tell their side of the story. I feel for the Confederate Army, who fought just as bravely and devoted to their cause, but are today viewed as evil people just because they lost. That is so unfair to these young men, and to those civilians who stayed behind and suffered for many years after. I really wish Ted Turner or Tom Hanks would take on a project of making a factual movie like they did with Gettysburg or Band of Brothers. I think it would be great to tell the real story, for history’s sake.

Andrea Rogers
8 years ago

Very interesting information. We plan on visiting Fort Ticonderoga this summer!

John Higgins
8 years ago

What a nice interesting article for the 4th of July weekend. We need to teach our children and grandchildren more about our American History.
Perhaps they will begin to appreciate all the freedom we enjoy and to be on guard against those who would take our freedom away.

Gloria Sterling
8 years ago

You missed one. There is a fort “Fort Massachusetts” in the Gulf just above Gulport & Biloxi, MS. It can be reached by boat and there is an excursion boat that makes regular trips. There is a very beautiful area on the side of the island away from the shore where one can enjoy the water and a picnic. The island is called “Ship Island”.

Martha S
8 years ago

There are many other forts in USA, so he did not try to mention more.

Denise
8 years ago

The sad truth is that very little Colonial history istaught now in our classrooms. I have a grand daughter that will teach a fifth grade class this year as a first year teacher, and has been exploring the curriculum during these summer months. How to teach the history of America with so much to cover and so little time, she wonders. She came out of college as a Democrat. I wonder how long it will be before she understands that elementary school history classes have been turned into classes of current politics. We have such a wonderful story to tell our young people about how this nation came into being and why that happened. Pride in being American should be taught at every level of elementary school. Otherwise, when these children get to high school will that lesson be reinforced or forgotten?

Dan
8 years ago

Check out Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA. It is one of myriad historical attractions in the Virginia Tidewater area including Jamestown, Williamsburg and my favorite, the Yorktown Battlefield.

Frank Greene
8 years ago

Much additional Confederate artillery firepower was launched from both the battery in Charleston and another fort on Johns Island. Clearly, the US Army occupation of Fort Sumter was doomed from the triangulation of artillery units.

David Cole
8 years ago

The most important Fort of American history is a defensive position that won the war or at least changed its course toward victory is an area that is not called a fort at all. The place is Valley Forge, where George Washington, with his patriots of dying men (half died of disease and starvation related illnesses) and with inspired training was able to drive General Gates out of Philadelphia and at the same time saw a Congress that did little or nothing to help with direly need supplies. Makes one wonder about the congress that was and has been given so much power to help create the American experience and still today does little to inspire the solutions of fiscal responsibility, creation of new business, new jobs sought by unemployed skilled persons out of work since 2008?

Ron
8 years ago

Very interesting information. I hope a lot of people take time to read things like this and realize that these battles really happened in our history and that these beloved United States didn’t just suddenly “appear” as we know them today.

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