views updated May 23 2018

Fortifications, both permanent and temporary, formed an important element of American military activity as early as the colonial period and remained a highly visible aspect of national defense well into the twentieth century.

A major threat facing isolated coastal communities in colonial times was seaborne attack by European forces. The defensive works built by the colonists were mainly small, primitive attempts to replicate the European bastion‐trace fortification with its prominent corner gun platforms. Most were constructed at the water's edge of port cities, using whatever local materials were available. The American Revolution triggered a revival of local construction, but with little change in either materials or design. Most fortifications built during the Revolutionary War itself were field fortifications rather than permanent works. Classed as either complex entrenchments (with small, reinforced earthen and timber works often connected by ditches to serve as trenches) or hasty entrenchments (the normal ground configuration supplemented by minimal construction), fieldworks also followed European models. Having no indigenous military engineers, the Continental army relied mainly on French‐trained officers, such as Louis La Bèque Duportail and Thaddeus Kosciuszko, for the expertise needed to construct larger works in the field—a tradition that would continue into the nineteenth century.

The emergence of a plausible threat in the 1790s during the French Revolution led to the first of two “systems” of coastal fortifications prior to the War of 1812. The “First System” of 1794 was the initial effort undertaken by the federal government, and it represented a continuation of past practices both in terms of design and materials and in reliance on European engineers (one of whom was Pierre L’Enfant, the future designer of Washington, D.C.). The “Second System” emerged in 1807, also in response to a foreign threat, this time from Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. This system included works built to a novel design advocated by Jonathan Williams, first U.S.‐born chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He endorsed the construction of works with high stone or brick walls, the guns arranged in multilevel tiers of internal chambers called casemates, and firing done through iron‐shuttered embrasures piercing the facade. This theory, based on the ideas of a French engineer, the marquis de Montalembert, meant two or three tiers, and thus more guns and greater defensive firepower within the same ground occupied by an older‐style, single‐level fortification.

A handful of American fortifications designed to Williams's ideas, including Castle Williams in New York Harbor, arose before 1812; but the impact of these ideas was far greater in following decades. During the War of 1812, British coastal raids—and the burning of the national capital—persuaded national leaders to establish a board of engineers in 1816 to examine the entire coast and recommend defenses. The Bernard Board Report of 1821, named after French engineer Simon Bernard, was the first comprehensive plan for American coastal defense. It led to construction of the “Third System” of some fifty American coastal forts, almost all of them casemated works built to designs of increasing sophistication.

The leading figure of this program was Joseph G. Totten, an 1805 graduate of West Point and later chief engineer of the U.S. Army 1838–64, the longest tenure of any chief engineer. As important was Dennis Hart Mahan, a professor of engineering at West Point in 1832–71. Basing his ideas on French models, Mahan taught two generations of soldiers Americanized theories of fortification and emphasized the role of field fortifications in actual operations to steady America's partially trained troops and militia. Totten's 1851 report recommended increasing the number of projected coastal fortifications from 50 (in 1821) to 186 (with 28 for the Texas Gulf Coast and the Pacific states). Estimated cost of this increased program was $25 million, with over $20 million already expended.

Coastal fortification planning inevitably touched on naval operations, and in every report the engineers remarked, usually in passing, that the navy was the first line of defense. Since actual invasion was unlikely, the engineers stressed that the proposed fortifications were to protect cities, potential anchorages, and intracoastal navigation routes, as well as to keep blockading vessels at a distance. Confronted by choice of attacking powerful defenses head‐on or landing far from their target, enemy forces might be discouraged from attacking at all. Many critics countered by asserting that fortifications alone were insufficient to protect coastal areas, suggesting various additional floating defenses or technological innovations, such as electrically detonated underwater mines demonstrated by Samuel Colt in the 1840s.

Totten's arguments for the Third System fortifications, though, overlooked the ways the Industrial Revolution was already spawning dramatic changes in artillery and ship design. Fortifications themselves were an evolved technology. In the years shortly before the Civil War, developments in metallurgy and ordnance design led to the production of heavy rifled and shell‐firing guns of enormous power. Previous heavy naval and siege guns fired shot weighing 32 to 48 pounds, the larger guns now possible fired shot weighing up to 100 pounds, with rifled artillery capable of accuracy at three or four times the previous ranges. During the Civil War, such guns, sited by engineer officers like Quincy Gillmore, smashed the thick brick and stone walls of Confederate‐occupied forts like Sumter and Pickens into rubble in hours or days. These developments were paralleled overseas, as was the development of the armored, steam‐powered, oceangoing warship.

By the end of the Civil War, it was clear that the Third System of coastal defenses was obsolete. At the same time, the rival armies learned to construct field fortifications at every opportunity. In some cases—notably the defensive works arrayed around Washington, D.C., ordered by George B. McClellan, or the trench systems created by both sides during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia—these fieldworks become enormously complex. Built of earth reinforced by heavy timbers, they proved less susceptible to artillery damage than the seacoast fortifications. For more permanent defensive works, however, there was no consensus on a proper design other than returning to lower structures protected by earth. The Indian wars of the late nineteenth century did not provide an answer. The few western forts with walls of any kind generally had palisades of wood that could not resist artillery.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, gun manufacturers, following William Armstrong in Great Britain, had successfully developed methods of compound manufacture to create increasingly powerful, long‐range cannon. Steel became the predominant material, and most of these new guns were breech‐loading instead of muzzle‐loading, giving them higher rates of fire. Studies suggested new, slower‐burning and more powerful propellants instead of traditional gunpowder. Warships increased in size, armor, and speed. Consequently, many army and navy officers urged improvements in U.S. armaments and urged a program of new coastal fortification. A persistent argument was that coastal defenses were a form of insurance against the destruction resulting from raids to major coastal cities.

In 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed a board headed by Secretary of War William Endicott to study the issue. The report of January 1886 endorsed much the same kind of system demanded by the engineers, dismissed the idea of a full‐scale invasion, and linked coastal defense to the protection of the commercial metropolises of the seacoasts. It stressed in particular the use of relatively new, and still unproved, technologies such as searchlights, steel breech‐loading cannon on disappearing gun carriages, armor plate, underwater naval mines, and auxiliary vessels, many of which did not yet exist in usable form. At the time, engineers estimated the total cost of the system at around $126 million.

The enormous cost of this effort meant that it was never entirely completed. Moreover, the original proposal underestimated the increasing power and range of artillery, and thus overestimated the number of guns needed. Eventually, some 700 heavy artillery pieces, mostly 8‐, 10‐, and 12‐inch long‐range guns, were emplaced, among them several hundred 12‐inch arching‐fire mortars, along with other hundreds of smaller‐caliber, rapid‐firing guns. The largest guns were capable of firing a 1,000‐pound shell to a range of 7 or 8 miles. These were installed in fortifications that encompassed a series of connected strongpoints and batteries rather than a single, massive structure, dispersed to lessen their vulnerability to naval guns. They were low‐lying, protected by thick berms of earth to absorb heavy, high‐explosive shells, and built to take advantage of ground contours to make them less visible from the ocean. In some cases, older fortifications were rebuilt to accommodate the newer guns; elsewhere the newer works went up in the same general vicinity.

During the Spanish‐American War, despite unfounded fears of coastal raids by Spanish warships that triggered the emplacement of several hundred artillery pieces, no raiders attacked any U.S. cities or harbors. Still, the acquisition of overseas territories during the war, along with the realization of advancing military technology, persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create another board, this one headed by Secretary of War William H. Taft, to review the coastal fortification program. Aside from suggesting the need for defenses to guard newly acquired overseas locations such as the Panama Canal, Hawaii, and Manila Bay in the Philippines, the Taft Board limited itself to modifying minor details, reestimating costs, and changing priorities slightly. It concurred with Adm. Alfred T. Mahan (son of Dennis Mahan) that the role of a navy was offensively to seek for command of the sea, not restrict itself to direct coastal defense.

By the outbreak of World War I, moreover, battleship ordnance could once more outrange most of the guns of the shore defenses, with the plunging trajectory of naval shells making open‐topped defensive works untenable. Engineers began siting defenses farther out toward the sea from the locales they defended and pushing development of more powerful 14‐ and 16‐inch guns. Fortifications became ever simpler in design and dispersed over wider areas; 1,000 feet might separate the guns of a single battery. During the 1920s and 1930s, engineers experimented with mobile railroad‐ and tractor‐drawn guns, utilizing war time stocks of 8‐ and 14‐inch guns. Employed as armament in two dozen permanent sites were newly developed 16‐inch guns, which fired a 2,000‐pound shell to a range of 30 miles. The new threat posed by aircraft forced planners to include antiaircraft guns, and led to a design that placed the entire battery structure under up to 30 feet of concrete and earth. The first such structure was erected outside San Francisco between 1937 and 1940, and it became the prototype for the defensive works constructed during World War II. The urgent demand for defenses early in that war could only be met by almost complete standardization into two‐gun batteries, emplaced within concrete bunkers and protected by steel shields. By 1944, however, with no direct threat to American shores, construction ceased.

Field fortifications also changed during World War II, with the complex, continuous trench lines of World War I giving way to small “foxhole” emplacements for individual soldiers and weapons crews, providing greater dispersal and thus survivability from modern ordnance. In both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, in the absence of aerial and armor threat, fixed defenses in the field (around bases and other strongpoints) reappeared to some degree, with works protected by earth or sandbags. Structurally, these were similar to the semipermanent, complex entrenchments of the nineteenth century, albeit with electronic listening devices and mines taking the place of cruder systems of detection and forward protection.

During the Cold War, the greater threat to American cities came from the sky, not the sea. Reliance on coastal fortifications gave way to dependence on antiaircraft guns and missiles and early warning radar networks against bombers and then missiles. The Reagan administration accelerated research on a satellite‐based laser defense system in an attempt to protect the United States against missile attack (the Strategic Defense Initiative). Between 1948 and 1949, nearly all the larger guns of the fortifications were scrapped, marking the end of relying on such fixed defenses for the protection of the American seaboard. In the 1960s, many of the old coastal forts were turned over to the National Park Service.
[See also Battlefields, Encampments, and Forts as Public Sites; Engineering, Military.]


Alex Roland , Underwater Warfare in the Age of Sail, 1978.
Emanuel R. Lewis , Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History, 1970.
Robert S. Browning III , Two If by Sea: The Development of American Coastal Defense Policy, 1983.
Marguerita Z. Herman , Ramparts: Fortifications from the Renaissance to West Point, 1992.

Robert S. Browning III


views updated May 18 2018


The development of new types of fortification during the Renaissance had far-reaching effects on military strategy and on political power. The new fortifications slowed down the pace of war by enabling cities to withstand attacks by gunpowder artillery and to use artillery in a defensive role. States on the offensive required large standing armies to carry out sieges and assaults against the fortifications. Supporting such armies may have contributed to the development of the centralized nation-state.

Evolution of Fortifications. Medieval* fortifications consisted of high walls and towers from which defenders shot missiles or dropped objects on attackers. The three traditional methods of attack against medieval walls all had distinct disadvantages. The first method, tunneling under the walls to collapse them from below ground, took a great deal of time. A second method, using battering rams to knock a hole in the wall, exposed attackers to arrows and stones from the defenders. The third method of attack involved building a wooden siege tower as high as the wall and moving it next to the fortification. However, siege towers could be damaged by fire or heavy stones hurled by catapults. Moreover, moving them into place required considerable effort and engineering work. These circumstances gave defenders the edge, and they could often hold out until help arrived or winter forced the attackers to leave.

The invention of mobile gunpowder artillery in the 1450s shifted the odds in favor of the attacker for a brief period. Cannons could easily punch through the high and relatively thin medieval walls. In addition, those defending the fortifications rarely used modern gun power because the older walls could not hold cannons. However, cities responded to the new weapons by making existing walls and towers lower and thicker. They also began to build platforms in front of the walls to hold defensive guns. Fortifications in northern and central Europe often added thick-walled towers specially designed for defense artillery.

The true revolution in fortifications occurred in Italy. Large, low gun platforms called bastions were built at the same height and thickness as the walls that connected them. This allowed defenders to mount heavy guns in the bastions and to move them quickly around on the walls as needed. Early bastions were circular, but by the late 1400s they assumed triangular or multisided pointed shapes. The pointed bastion eliminated the unavoidable blind spots of round towers and enabled defenders to shoot at attackers anywhere along the wall. Furthermore, the bastions and their connecting walls were set in deep ditches, making them lower and harder to hit. The pointed bastion was the key element in the new system of fortification, known as "the Italian trace."

The earliest pointed fortifications were not part of city walls but detached buildings defending city gates. They also appeared as "pillboxes" attached to the bases of round medieval towers. In the late 1400s some fortifications had round medieval towers combined with the newer thick, low walls and gun platforms. The first fortifications to include all the Renaissance elements were not built until the early 1500s. By the late 1500s bastions and their connecting walls had grown much larger and thicker, and they were set in wider ditches.

Complete Renaissance Systems. The first complete system of Renaissance fortifications was built in Italy between 1516 and 1520 at the papal* naval base of Civitavecchia. In 1544 Antwerp became the first northern European city with bastions around its entire city wall. During the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands (1568–1648), both sides built bastions in many towns in the Low Countries*. Milan was the largest Italian city to be completely fortified by bastions, and various Mediterranean cities exposed to Turkish attack also rebuilt their defenses.

The best examples of complete Renaissance systems appeared in small or recently built towns because refortification presented difficulties in large, established cities. Rebuilding thicker walls around a city was extremely costly and often required taking over or destroying existing property. Some cities were simply too big to encircle with a new wall, which meant that sections of the city would remain unprotected. Plans for refortifying Rome collapsed in 1540 because of such problems. The size of the challenge is reflected by the fact that it took the city of Lucca over 100 years to complete its refortification.

A more practical solution to complete refortification was the construction of small citadels within the walls. In cities such as Paris and London, royal fortresses of this type provided defense and served as symbols of power. By the 1500s, the rulers of Italian city-states and cities began to build their own urban strongholds for the same reasons.

Some scholars suggest that the changes in warfare caused by the new fortifications changed the political organization of European countries. The new fortifications made it much harder to capture cities, allowing small powers to stand up to larger ones. In addition, states needed large standing armies to carry out long sieges. The planning and financing required to support such armies forced European governments to centralize and streamline their operations, leading to the rise of the nation-state during the 1600s.

(See alsoArms and Armor; Cities and Urban Life; Nation-state; Warfare. )

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

* Low Countries

region bordering on the North Sea, made up of present-day Netherlands and Belgium


views updated May 23 2018


FORTIFICATIONS. Throughout the colonial period, fortifications in the Western Hemisphere strongly reflected the origins of the various European settlers. Colonists

of many countries—including Spain, France, England, Holland, Sweden, and Russia—erected defensive structures ranging from small, improvised earthworks and palisaded stockades to masonry works of substantial size.

As a young nation, the United States faced defensive requirements quite different from those of most European countries, whose chief concern was protection of inland cities against mobilized land forces. The United States, instead, needed to protect frontier settlements and outposts and to secure coastal harbors and river mouths against foreign naval forces.

Americans established frontier forts in large numbers until about the end of the nineteenth century. Built to resist Indians equipped with nothing heavier than small arms, these forts generally consisted of timber or adobe construction. Many modern communities trace their roots back to such frontier posts, which have become crucial to the folklore and romantic history of the American West.

The army, however, directed its principal engineering efforts toward the defense of harbors and river mouths. From the 1790s until after World War II, constructing fortifications for protection against naval attack constituted a major item in the nation's defense expenditures—and the principal representation of the country's military architecture. Among the best known of these fortifications, all completed before the Civil War, were Fort Monroe, Virginia; Fort Sumter, South Carolina; Fort Pulaski, Georgia; Fort Morgan, Alabama; and Fort Jackson, Louisiana.

The appearance of rifled artillery, which had its first widespread test in the Civil War, ended the construction of these massive, vertical-walled masonry forts. The wartime defenses for both North and South were simple, low-profile earthwork forts revested by timber or sandbags. Hundreds of such forts sprang up, in a few cases to ring large cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington—the one instance in American history of fortifying cities against land attack, somewhat in the fashion of continental Europe.

Following the Civil War, construction of fortifications was limited for a time to new earthwork defenses of a more durable style, although fort armaments developed markedly. In the 1890s a new era of fortification began with the installation of powerful 10-and 12-inch breech-loading rifles, mounted on disappearing carriages that lowered the guns after each firing to protected positions behind many feet of earth and concrete. Along with several hundred 12-inch mortars, which fired projectiles in high arcs to descend onto the decks of naval targets, such armament arrived between 1893 and 1918 in forts along both continental coasts, in the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands, and at both entrances to the Panama Canal.

Between 1937 and 1945, the country carried out a final fortification effort, characterized by concrete and steel emplacements that provided overhead cover for even more powerful guns of up to 16-inch caliber. Included in the program were defenses for several points in Alaska and in the Caribbean area, as well as for the Atlantic bases acquired from Great Britain in exchange for destroyers. Within five years of the end of World War II, however, the country disarmed and abandoned all such fortifications, which were replaced by newer defense systems utilizing aircraft and guided missiles.


Lewis, Emanuel R. Seacoast Fortifications of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970.

Peterson, Harold. Forts in America. New York: Scribners, 1964.

Robinson, Willard B. American Forts. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976.

Emanuel RaymondLewis/c. w.

See alsoAir Defense ; Army on the Frontier ; French Frontier Forts ; Frontier Defense ; andnames of individual forts.


views updated Jun 11 2018


Medieval fortifications made siege warfare a costly business during the Middle Ages. Thick vertical walls of stone, raised on high ground and defended by armies of archers and infantry, could protect a city indefinitely while an army had to forage in the surrounding countryside. The innovation of gunpowder and cannon in the fourteenth century turned the tide, however. Although defenders could return fire through gun ports, in time heavy artillery would always crumble high stone walls. A new strategy and design was needed.

To absorb cannon fire, military engineers of the Renaissance tore down the medieval fortifications and rebuilt them with lower walls, protected behind high ramparts of earth. They redesigned forts in a star-shaped pattern, with triangular bastions and ravelins allowing defenders to rake attacking positions from several points at once. Batteries were some distance from the main citadel, in order for cannon within the fort to fire from a forward position and make it more difficult for an attacker to reach the main walls.

Smaller cities surrounded themselves with walls and bastions, and allowed limited access to their streets through heavily defended gates. Larger cities had a series of defensive works, sometimes ranged as far as neighboring towns in the countryside that served as a first line of defense. In the Renaissance, fortifications became so effective that outright military conquest was made nearly impossible for all but the largest armies. Especially in Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, where heavy fortification was commonplace, war became a tool of last resort, employed only after the failure of negotiation and diplomacy.


views updated May 23 2018


Fortification is the addition of nutrients to foods to enhance their nutritional value. Enrichment , on the other hand, is the addition of nutrients to foods to restore nutrients lost during processing. Examples of fortification include the addition of folate and iron to grain products, calcium to juices, iodine to salt, and iron to infant formulas.

Decisions to fortify foods are often population-based to address geographical inadequacies, such as lack of iodine in the soil, or to increase the intake of key nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D . Challenges involved in fortification include identifying suitable foods to deliver the nutrients, selecting appropriate forms of the nutrients, designing appropriate processing techniques, and implementing systems to monitor the efficacy of the fortification.

see also Additives and Preservatives; Functional Foods.

M. Elizabeth KunkelBarbara H. D. Luccia


views updated May 21 2018

for·ti·fi·ca·tion / ˌfôrtəˌfəˈkāshən/ • n. (often fortifications) a defensive wall or other reinforcement built to strengthen a place against attack. ∎  the action of fortifying or process of being fortified: the fortification of the frontiers.


views updated May 18 2018

fortification The deliberate addition of specific nutrients to foods as a means of providing the population with an increased level of intake. Generally synonymous with enrichment, supplementation, and restoration; in the USA enrichment is used to mean the addition to foods of nutrients that they do not normally contain, while fortification is the restoration of nutrients lost in processing. See also wine, fortified.