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The Early Forts

Ft. Pike at the Rigolets
Ft. Macomb at Chef Pass
Spanish Fort (Ft. St. John)

The Battle of New Orleans in 1814-1815, which concluded the War or 1812, highlighted the weaknesses in the coastal defenses of the United States. Determined that the country would be better protected, President Monroe directed that better fortifications be built along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Among those built were Fort Pike and Fort Macomb (originally known as Fort Wood). Fort Pike (and a sister fort, Fort Macomb) are two of the forts designed by French engineer Simon Bernard. They both have the same plans, design, and orientation, and serve the same function of protecting Lake Pontchartrain from invasion. It was built to replace another earlier defensive fortification, Fort Petite Coquilles, built by the French.

Fort Macomb overlooks Chef Pass, which is the southern access to the lake from Lake Borgne. Both were built to defend New Orleans, but neither saw battle, even through the Civil War. Built from 1819-1826, Fort Pike was manned sporadically in the years that followed. In the 1830's, it was used as a staging area during the Seminole Wars, and again during the Mexican War in the 1840's. By 1861, it was in the command of a solitary force of one Sergeant, who was persuaded to surrender the fort to the State of Louisiana, without firing a shot. The Union troops re-took the fort after the capture of New Orleans, but not before the retreating Confederate soldiers destroyed the guns, and burned the wooden structures.

Fort St. John, most often referred to as Spanish Fort, was built by the Colonial French to protect New Orleans and Bayou St. John (an important trade route), at Lake Pontchartrain. It was rebuilt by the Spanish in 1779, and later restored by the Americans in 1808.

The chronicle of this vital defensive location on the shores of the Rigolets goes back even further than the existing old structure. When General Andrew Jackson was preparing to defend New Orleans from a British invasion during the War of 1812, he sent an urgent message to Captain Francis Newman, Commander of Fort Petite Coquilles (the small wooden fort which was later replaced by Fort Pike). "Defend your fort to the last extreme," ordered the general, "and in case you should not be able to hold out, spike your guns, blow up the fort and evacuate to Post Chef Menteur." None of this became necessary, of course, because Jackson's force won the decisive battle at Chalmette on January 8, 1815.

Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler was the Union commander of Fort Monroe, at the entrance to southeastern Virginia’s vast natural harbor; he ordered the women of New Orleans to yield the sidewalk whenever Yankee soldiers approached; he was the officer who returned to oversee the occupation of Norfolk. Butler and Fort Monroe figured in one of the pivotal moments of the Civil War.

When he arrived on May 22, 1861, Virginians—that is, those men who qualified—were voting to secede from the Union. That night, three slaves slipped away from the nearby town of Hampton and sought asylum at the immense granite fort on the Chesapeake Bay. They told Butler that they were being sent to build Confederate defenses and did not want to be parted from their families. He allowed them to stay.

Two days later, their owner, a Virginia colonel, demanded their return. Butler’s answer changed American history: the self-taught Massachusetts lawyer said that since Virginia had voted to secede, the Fugitive Slave Act no longer applied, and the slaves were contraband of war. Once word of Fort Monroe’s willingness to harbor escaped slaves spread, thousands flocked to the safety of its guns.

“It has been so overlooked, but this was the first step toward making the Civil War a conflict about freedom,” says John Quarstein, Hampton’s historian. Soon, the escaped slaves were calling the forbidding stone structure “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler found them work, established camps and provided food, clothing and wages. Some former slaves were taught to read and some joined the U.S. Navy.

At first, President Abraham Lincoln balked at the idea, but on August 6, 1861, Congress approved an act allowing the confiscation of slaves used for military purposes against the United States. The next day, Confederate Col. John Magruder—who had read a New York Tribune report that Butler was planning to turn Hampton into a refuge for former slaves—had his troops burn the town to the ground.

Butler by then had been sent on to other theaters of the war—he suspected Lincoln relieved him of his Fort Monroe command because of his response to the Virginia colonel—but the fort remained a Union stronghold deep in enemy territory throughout the Civil War. Afterward, the fort’s dank casemate served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis while freed slaves such as Harriet Tubman enjoyed the liberty of the military base. The fort served a strategic purpose until after World War II, when it became a post for writers of Army manuals.

And now the Army is preparing to abandon the fort in September 2011. That move has been planned since 2005, as part of a Pentagon belt-tightening exercise. The fort sits on a spit of land totaling 570 acres, connected to the mainland by a short bridge and bordered on one side by swamp and on the other by the Chesapeake Bay.

Captain John Smith had seen the strategic potential of the site four centuries ago. “A little isle fit for a castle” is how he described the arrowhead-shaped piece of land pointing to the entrance of Hampton Roads, southeastern Virginia’s harbor. By 1609, the colonists had built a plank fort there and equipped it with seven pieces of artillery. It was there, at Fort Algernon, that a Dutch ship offloaded African slaves in exchange for supplies in 1619—the first recorded arrival of Africans in English North America.

Fort George, made of brick, replaced Algernon in the 1730s. “No ship could pass it without running great risks,” Royal Virginia Governor William Gooch wrote in 1736. But 13 years later, a hurricane devastated the structure.

After the British burned Hampton during the War of 1812, using the island and its lighthouse as a temporary base, Congress allocated money for a substantial fort. An aide to Napoleon, Gen. Simon Bernard, designed what is the largest moated fort in North America, a star-shaped masonry structure with 10-foot-thick walls enclosing 63 acres and, by the 1830s, bristling with more than 400 cannon. In time, it became known as the “Gibraltar of the Chesapeake.”

Now, the paint is peeling on the exterior of Quarters No. 1, an elegant 1819 building—the oldest on the post—but the interior retains its grandeur. The Marquis de Lafayette entertained his Virginia friends in the parlor during his triumphant return in 1824. Robert E. Lee, a precocious Army officer, reported for duty at the fort in 1831 to oversee its completion.

During the Civil War, Fort Monroe served as the key staging ground for Northern campaigns against Norfolk, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Southern capital of Richmond. “It was a keystone in the Lincoln administration’s strategy to wage war in Virginia and the Carolinas,”. “If Fort Monroe had fallen to Southern forces when Virginia seceded from the Union, the war would have no doubt lasted significantly longer.”

The latest in experimental guns, balloons and other military technologies were tried there. In early 1865, soldiers watched from the ramparts as Lincoln and senior Confederate officials failed to reach a peace agreement during a shipborne conference. It was from Fort Monroe a few months later that the news was telegraphed to Washington that Richmond was finally in Northern hands.

But the fort was also hailed, both before and after the Civil War, as one of the nation’s most prominent resorts, Quarstein says. Presidents Andrew Jackson and John Tyler summered there. And at the adjacent Hygeia Hotel, Edgar Allan Poe gave his last public recitation in 1849 and Booker T. Washington later worked while he studied at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural School. So the Fort Monroe Authority’s redevelopment plan doesn’t mark a complete departure from the past.

With nearly 250 buildings and some 300 housing units, there is plenty of room. As we finished our tour, he pointed at one long, stately building. “Those were Lee’s quarters,” he said in the casual way only a Virginian could muster. “And they are still occupied.”

Although the United States survived the War of 1812, the British destruction of our nation's capital and their attack on New Orleans emphasized the weakness of our country's defense. To prevent a foreign invasion from occurring again, President James Monroe ordered the placement of an extensive coastal defense system. These new fortifications, together with existing ones, stretched along the entire Atlantic and Gulf coasts and protected strategic ports and rivers such as New Orleans and the Mississippi. Forts Pike and Macomb were two of six new masonry forts built in coastal Louisiana. Together with Forts Jackson and St. Philip on the Mississippi River and Fort Livingston on Barataria Bay, these fortifications protected New Orleans from a seaborne invasion.

Begun in 1819 and completed in 1826, Fort Pike was named for the explorer and soldier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) whose name is also attached to Pike's Peak in the Rocky Mountains. The fort was designed to withstand attack from land or sea. Pointed bastions (fortified areas) flank the land facade of the structure and a curved wall faces the waters of the Rigolets. (The name Rigolets comes from the French word "rigole," meaning trench or gutter, and aptly describes this narrow passage between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain.) The fort originally featured two protective moats, crossed by bridges, around the main structure and a glacis or slope with a covered way between the moats.

The citadel, in the center of the fort, began as a one-story building designed to serve as a stronghold in case the walls were stormed. Used as a barracks, it was renovated in the 1850s, and a second floor was added to catch cool breezes from the lake. The citadel burned twice - first when retreating Confederate troops torched it in 1862 and again in 1887 - leaving the present brick shell. Also within the fort were the officers' quarters and service areas, such as a bakery and sutler's store, but later many of the service buildings were located outside the fort. These included a carpenter's shop, clothing store, ordnance and sutler's store, a blacksmith shop, bakery, commissary, and mess hall. The hospital stood about 3/4 mile away at the site of old Fort Petite Coquilles. None of these outside structures remain today.

The original armament of Fort Pike consisted of 32-pounder and 24-pounder cannons; the exact number of each type is unknown. At various times the fort held other types of cannons. The wartime garrison was approximately 400 men; in peacetime it varied between one and 80 soldiers. Fort Pike's role in the military affairs of the United States prior to the Civil War varied considerably. During the Seminole Wars in the 1830s, Fort Pike served as a staging area for many troops enroute to Florida, and also as a collection point for hundreds of Seminole prisoners and their black slaves who were being transported to Oklahoma. Cannons were removed from some of the casemates to convert them to cells. At one point in this conflict, only 66 soldiers guarded 253 Indian and black prisoners. Similarly, during the Mexican War in the 1840s, Fort Pike was a stopover for soldiers bound for Texas and Mexico. In between these wars, Fort Pike was largely abandoned and left in the care of a single ordnance sergeant.

In 1861 the silence of Fort Pike was broken. Before the actual start of the Civil War, the Louisiana militia captured the fort. Confederates held it until the Union forces took New Orleans in 1862, whereupon the Southerners evacuated Fort Pike. Federal forces then reoccupied the fort and used it as a base for raids along the Gulf coast and Lake Pontchartrain areas and as a protective outpost for New Orleans. In spite of all this activity, not a single cannon ball was ever fired in battle from Fort Pike.

Experts thought the fort was impregnable when built, but it became obsolete with the development of larger caliber and higher velocity artillery. This was demonstrated by the destruction of Fort Sumter late in the Civil War. Fort Pike was again left to the care of an ordnance sergeant from 1871 until it was officially abandoned in 1890. Fort Pike was an essential step necessary for the defense of a young American nation.

The early forts of Indian Territory were built almost simultaneously with the movement of Indian tribes. The first was Fort Smith across the Arkansas River from the territory's eastern border. Another was built in 1824 smack in the middle of Cherokee country. Fort Gibson was established to protect the Indians from white marauders and hostile Indian tribes. Established near present-day Muskogee in eastern Oklahoma, remnants of the fort still remain. It has been restored for visitors and tourists. In addition to Army troops, each of the five main Indian tribes each established its own police force to keep order and provide protection from outlaws and hostile Indians. These forces operated as militia for their tribes until statehood in 1907.

In 1852, Capt. R. B. Marcy visited a Wichita Indian site and recommended it as site for an Army post to keep the Comanches out of Texas. However, nothing was done. After the Civil War, one of the Army's top generals, Gen. Phil Sheridan, was sent to Indian Territory. Sheridan decided to build Camp Wichita on the same site recommended by Capt. Marcy. It was later renamed Fort Sill in honor of Gen. Joshua Sill, who had been killed during the war.

The Cheyenne uprising of 1874 lead to the establishment of Fort Reno near El Reno. In June of that year, the Comanches, Kiowas and southern Cheyennes began a year-long uprising, attacking white settlers and rampaging throughout the area. The U. S. Army then began the Red River campaign, a war of attrition involving relentless pursuit of the Indians by converging military columns.

Quanah Parker and his Quohada Comanches were the last to abandon the struggle and their arrival at Fort Sill in June 1875 marked the end of Indian warfare on the south Plains. During this period, Fort Supply was then constructed in the western part of the territory on the North Canadian River near present-day Woodward. If was from this fort that Lt. Col. George Custer made his infamous attack on Black Kettle's camp near Cheyenne in the Battle of the Washita.

Cavalry at Fort Reno played an important role during the 1880s as white settlers known as Boomers attempted to illegally annex open lands in central Oklahoma. The job of the Army cavalry was to round up these Boomers and escort them out of the territory Sometimes the settlers were taken to Fort Smith and sent before Judge Isaak Parker, but they never had the money to pay their fines. Usually, the soldiers simply escorted them back to the Kansas border.

Fort Sill was the scene of some blood-curdling frontier drama in those days before statehood, including the Indian uprising of 1874. It was here that Geronimo and 341 of his people were imprisoned in 1894 after they surrendered to the Army. The opening of the KiowaComanche reservation in 1901 provided new duties to soldiers stationed here. As the U.S. entered World War I, Fort Sill became the principal site of artillery training, a role it maintained through WW II.

Fort Craig played a significant role in 19th-century New Mexico history. The fort was situated strategically on the primary north-south road in the Rio Grande Valley: on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands) - the 1,200-mile Spanish colonial trail connecting Mexico and New Mexico. Also host to the largest U.S. Civil War battle in the Southwest, Fort Craig was the epicenter of a battle that involved thousands of Union and Confederate troops, many of them New Mexico volunteers under the command of Kit Carson. Troops from Fort Craig include companies of Buffalo Soldiers who were garrisoned here while involved in struggles with Native Americans deemed at the time to be hostile, including Apaches under Victorio, Geronimo and Nana. In the mid-1800s the territory of New Mexico was crossed by a large number of trails. Located along the travel routes were numerous military forts, designed to protect travelers and settlers. These outposts played a key role in the settlement of the American frontier.

Fort Craig in its heyday was one of the largest forts constructed and most important forts west of the Mississippi. Fort Craig , was one of the largest and it played a crucial role in Indian campaigns and the Civil War. Established in 1854, the primary function of the fort was to control Apache and Navajo raiding and to protect the central portion of the Camino Real. The Camino Real was the passageway from northern Mexico to Taos, 70 miles north of Santa Fe, NM. Military excursions from the fort pursued such notable Apache leaders as Geronimo, Victorio, and Nana.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Craig remained a Union Army Post manned by regular army troops. In 1862, troops under the command of General H.H. Sibley continued up the Rio Grande after capturing military installations to the south. On February 21, 1862, Sibley's Confederate troops engaged Union troops led by Colonel R.S. Canby. The Battle of Valverde took place upstream from Fort Craig at Valverde Crossing. Although many consider the battle to have been a Confederate victory, Union forces succeeded in holding the fort and half of the Confederate's supply wagons were destroyed. The loss of the remaining supplies at the Battle of Glorieta, east of Santa Fe, on March 28, 1862 forced the Confederates to retreat to Texas and ended southern aspirations for military conquest in the West.

After the Civil War, troops stationed at the fort resumed their attempts to control Indian raiding. By the late 1870s, these efforts began to succeed and the surrounding valley prospered under military protection. The fort was temporarily closed from 1878 to 1880 and, because the fort's military function was no longer necessary, the fort was permanently abandoned in 1885. Nine years later, Fort Craig was sold at auction to the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company, the only bidder.

In the summer of 1862 an Army supply depot was established just east of present downtown Tucson. In August of 1866 this post was made a "permanent" base and named Camp Lowell in honor of Brigadier-General Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 6th U.S. Cavalry, killed during the Civil War. The garrison at Camp Lowell fluctuated between fifty and one hundred men, but by 1869 the base became the major supply depot for troops operating in Southern Arizona against the Apaches.

By 1872 it had become apparent to Army officers that the location of Camp Lowell was not a good one. It had turned into an area "unfit for animals, much less the troops of a civilized nation." Tucson had spread to the edge of the post, and officers noted increased sickness among the soldiers, particularly malaria. The post well had become contaminated, and the soldiers often misbehaved in town.

Brevet Major General George Crook recommended in 1872 that the post be moved. Early in 1873, Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Asa Carr, commanding the 5th Cavalry, was given the job of finding a new location. With Territorial governor Anson P. K. Safford, Carr selected a site on Rillito Creek, about seven miles northeast of Tucson. By March 20, 1873, troops of the 5th Cavalry were on the spot, clearing the ground for construction.

Lack of funds, and frequent bad weather delayed completion of the buildings at Lowell until 1875, and these needed constant repair and refinement. Roofs leaked and the dirt floors became mud puddles during the rainy season. Between 1875 and 1888, funds for repair amounted to more than double the original construction. Another continuing problem was acquiring a continuing supply of water. Rillito Creek did not provide a dependable quantity and it was not until 1887, with the introduction of a steam pump, that the problem was solved.

Not all the activities at the post were centered on improvement of living conditions. The garrison guarded depot supplies, escorted wagon trains to other posts, and made expeditions clear to the Mexican border chasing the elusive Apaches. The number of troops stationed at Lowell varied considerably during its fifteen year history, but military duty and social life remained the same.

The troops by no means lost contact with Tucson. Social activities were common, with dances, band concerts, picnics, parades, and baseball games involving towns people and soldiers. Soldiers frequented the stores and gambling halls of the town, and even constructed a roller skating rink over one of the buildings in Tucson. Telegraph communication between the post and Tucson was established in 1875.

On April 5, 1879, Lowell was designated a fort, implying permanent status. During the 1880s, troops from Fort Lowell participated in the now famous Geronimo Campaigns, and the fort served as the major supply depot for the other installations in the area. Troops from Fort Lowell established Camps Huachuca and Thomas. When the struggle reached a climax in late 1886, Lowell was quartering four companies of the 4th Cavalry, and the 8th Infantry. For the first and only time in its history it was operating at full capacity - eighteen officers and two hundred and thirty nine enlisted men. With the surrender of Geronimo to Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles on September 4, 1886, troops were gradually withdrawn from Lowell. For several more years troops from the post pursued small renegade bands like those led by the Apache Kid, but the days of the Indian Wars were over.

In 1889 the Commander of the Department of Arizona recommended that Fort Lowell be abandoned, but for several years it remained a "prestige post," recognized in military circles as a fine place at which to be stationed. Finally on January 8, 1891 the Department of War ordered the abandonment of Fort Lowell. The troops were needed in New Mexico and in the north plains where General Miles was in pursuit of the Sioux Nation. On February 14, the last "taps" echoed across the parade ground. The following April, Fort Lowell was transferred to the Department of the Interior for disposal of property and scrap materials at public auction.

The U.S. Military occupation of the Verde Valley began in 1865 at the request of settlers who had established farms near the Verde River-West Clear Creek junction, five miles south of present Camp Verde. There they built a crude dam and diverted water to grow irrigated crops which promised to bring high prices at supply-short Prescott, then Arizona's Territorial Capitol, and its hungry mining camps in the nearby hills. The influx of Anglo and Mexican miners into what had been a hunting and gathering area of the Yavapai and Tonto Apache Indians severely disrupted native food-getting. When Indians raided Verde Valley fields for corn, settlers called on the army to end their depredations. The late 1860s and early 1870s saw major conflicts between army and Indians.

The first military post, in 1865, overlooked the farms at West Clear Creek. The next camp was named "Lincoln," one mile north of the present fort, and was used from 1866 to 1871. The present fort was the third post, built during 1871-1873. It contained more than 20 buildings arranged around the parade ground. Like other posts of the period, it never had a wall around it and was never attacked.

The fort served as a supply base and staging area for army operations in the surrounding countryside. During much of its life, two companies of cavalry and two of infantry were stationed here. The infantry built a wagon road, first to Fort Whipple near Prescott, then east to Fort Apache on the present day Apache Indian reservation. Later called the Crook Trail after General George Crook, it speeded troops and supplies along the Mogollon Rim.

As Indians were captured, they were placed on a reservation near the modern town of Cottonwood. From 1873 to 1875, nearly 1500 Indians from various tribes were kept on the 800 square mile reserve. The tribesmen built an irrigation ditch and had 56 acres under cultivation in 1874. However, the entire reservation population was moved in the middle of the next winter to the San Carlos Indian reservation near Globe. The ten-day walk to their new home resulted in death for nearly 200 of the 1500 people. The cold weather and lack of proper food and shelter were major causes for the loss of life. The majority of the survivors remained at San Carlos although some came back to the Verde Valley after 1900. The former reservation at Cottonwood was opened to miners and settlers in 1877.

After 1875, the army's main concern was keeping captured Indians on the San Carlos and White Mountain reservations. Scattered groups not on the reservations were hunted down by Indian scouts led by AI Sieber. By 1880, the Indian "troubles" were ended in North-central Arizona. A small outbreak of Apaches from the White Mountain reservation in 1881 produced the last battle in this area. The Indians who fled their reservation were tracked to a canyon 35 mites east of Fort Verde. The ensuing "Battle Ground Ridge" fight resulted in the death or capture of all Indians involved. Camp Verde was renamed Fort Verde in 1879 to signify more permanence to the garrison. Ironically, with the threat of Indian attack over after 1881, the fort became less important for the army. The post was abandoned in 1891 to the Department of the Interior which sold it at public auction in 1899.

Fort Monroe's Lasting Place in History Famous for accepting escaped slaves during the Civil War, the Virginia base also has a history that heralds back to Jamestown Andrew Lawler smithsonian.com July 4, 2011 Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fort-monroes-lasting-place-in-history-25923793/#u2uJdSSPVTQpI34M.99 Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on TwitterPendleton Woods-Contributing writer. Army forts established in Oklahoma to keep peace. The MidCity Advocate. August 31, 2006.


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