Second System

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Fort Edgecomb Blockhouse - 04.jpg
Fort Edgecomb Blockhouse

Second System Coastal Defenses (1808-1816)

In 1802 Congress separated the artillerists and engineers into separate corps and directed the Corps of Engineers to create a military academy at West Point, New York. One of the driving forces for establishing the new academy was the need to divorce the United States from its reliance on foreign engineers. In 1807-1808 new concerns over a possible war with Great Britain, prompted President Thomas Jefferson to renew fortification programs; the resulting program came to be known as the Second System.

One common weakness among the typical low-walled open bastion or star forts was exposure to enemy fire, especially to new devices designed to explode in mid air and rain shrapnel down on the gunners. Gun emplacements which were at an angle to the sea were vulnerable to a solid shot running parallel to the wall taking out a row of guns and gunners with one shot. In the late 1770s a French engineer, the Marquis de Montalembert, advocated a major change in the design of fortresses to address these problems. His design protected a fort's gunners by placing most of them in covered casemate walls with openings for the guns. By stacking rows of casemates in high walls more guns could be mounted along shorter walls. This was particularly important for seacoast fortifications, which had only a limited time in which to fire at passing enemy ships. To build these tall forts, walls had to be built of masonry, but be very thick in order to withstand the pounding of cannon fire.

The Second System was distinguished from the First System by greater use of Montalembert's concepts and the replacement of foreign engineers by American ones, many of them recent graduates of the new United States Military Academy.

Again several fine forts were produced, but generally projects went unfinished, and between the First System and Second System little was prepared to resist the British in the coming War of 1812. However, no First System or Second System fortress was captured by the British. The invasion of Baltimore was prevented by Fort McHenry, but undefended Washington was burned. In some cases even incomplete forts were sufficient to deter attack from the sea.

See Also:


Second System Fortifications (1808-1816) (edit list)
East Coast Florida & Gulf Coast

1. Fort Sullivan (1) (1808), Eastport, Washington County, Maine
2. Fort Machias (1807), Machiasport, Washington County, Maine
3. Fort Penobscot (3) (1807), Maine
4. Fort George (11) (1808), Chastine, Hancock County, Maine
5. Damariscotta (1807), Lincoln County, Maine
6. Fort Edgecomb (1807), Edgecomb, Lincoln County, Maine
7. Georgetown (1808), Shaws Point, Maine
8. Fort Scammel (1808), Cumberland County, Maine
9. Fort Preble (1808), South Portland, Maine
10. Fort Sumner (2) (1794, 1808), Maine
11. Fort McClary (1808), York County, Maine

12. Fort Constitution (2) (1794, 1807), Portsmouth, New Hampshire

13. Fort Pickering (1) (1794, 1808), Massachusetts
14. Fort at Gloucester (1794, 1808), Massachusetts
15. Fort Sewall (1794, 1808), Massachusetts
16. Fort Independence (1) (1800, 1803), Boston, Massachusetts
17. Fort Warren (2) (1807), Governor's Island, Massachusetts
18. Charlestown (1808), Massachusetts
19. Plymouth (1808), Massachusetts
20. New Bedford (1808), Massachusetts

21. Fort Wolcott (1798, 1808), Rhode Island
22. Fort Adams (1) (1798, 1808), Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

23. Fort Trumbull (1799, 1808), New London, Connecticut
24. Fort Hale (2) (1808), Connecticut

25. Fort Columbus (1807), New York
26. Castle Williams (1808-1812), New York
27. Fort Wood (2) (1809-1811), New York
28. Fort Gibson (2) (1809), New York
29. Castle Clinton (1809), New York
30. Fort Gansevoort (1808), New York
31. Humbert Battery (1809), New York

32. Fort Madison (2) (1809), Maryland
33. Fort Severn (1809), Maryland
34. Fort Washington (1) (1808-1809), Maryland

35. Fort Nelson (1794, 1808), Virginia
36. Fort Norfolk (1794, 1808), Virginia
37. Fort Powhatan (1808), Virginia

38. Fort Johnston (2) (1799-1806), North Carolina
39. Fort Hampton (1) (1808-1809), North Carolina

40. Fort Wingaw (1809), South Carolina
41. Fort Johnson (4) (1795, 1807), South Carolina
42. Castle Pinckney (1807), South Carolina
43. Fort Moultrie (1807), South Carolina
44. Fort Marion (2) (1809), South Carolina

45. Fort Jackson (3) (1808), Georgia

46. Fort St. Philip (1808), Louisiana

Inland Fortifications

47. Fort Pike (2), Sacketts Harbor, New York
48. Greenbush Cantonment, Greenbush, New York
49. Fort Niagara, New York
50. Fort Detroit, New York
51. Fort Mackinac, Michigan
52. Fort Scott (3), Georgia
53. Fort Gaines (3) (1816-1819), Georgia
54. Newport Barracks (2), Kentucky

Built During & After the War

55. Fort Lewis (6), New York
56. Craney Island Fort, Portsmouth, Virginia
57. Fort Scott (6), Point Petre, Georgia
58. Fort Marion (1), Florida
59. Fort Barrancas (1), Pensacola, Florida
60. Fort Bowyer, Mobile, Florida
61. Pass Christian
62. Fort Petite Coquille


  • Kaufmann, J.E. and Kaufmann, H.W., Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America, 1600 to the Present, DaCapo Press, 2004, ISBN 0-306-81294-0, page 394-395
  • Berhow, Mark A. ed, American Seacoast Defenses: A Reference Guide, 2nd Edition, CDSG Press, McLean, VA, 2004, ISBN 0-9748167-0-1, page 18-22
  • Berhow, Mark A. ed, American Seacoast Defenses: A Reference Guide, 3rd Edition - PDF, CDSG ePress, McLean, VA, 2012, ISBN 0-9748167-0-1, page 15-22

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