By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The forts presented in this month’s column were chosen after studying a huge body of information. The United States is a large nation, and it’s amazing how many forts were built since settlers first landed in North America more than five centuries ago. We finally chose 13 sites that represent the major periods of American history. We omitted those specifically related to the Civil War, however. We’ll investigate that topic in a later column.
1. Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona
This fort is located in the southeast corner of Arizona, between the surrounding Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua mountains, which were home to the Chiricahua Apache Indians. Fort Bowie preserves the story of the conflict between the Apaches and the United States military. In 1886, after a struggle that lasted more than 30 years, Geronimo surrendered and the Chiricahua Apaches were sent to Florida and Alabama. The remains of Fort Bowie have been carefully preserved, along with the ruins of a Butterfield stagecoach station. Nature lovers also will enjoy a visit here. The area has an astounding diversity of wildlife, with approximately 30 reptile species, 65 mammal species, and 150-plus bird species.
2. Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas and Oklahoma
At Fort Smith you’ll find the remains of two frontier forts and the federal court of the Western District of Arkansas. On this site, Judge Isaac Parker earned his reputation as the “Hanging Judge” for the number of death sentences he handed down. The visitors center recounts Fort Smith’s military history, the impact of federal courts on Indian Territory, and the Indian removal and the Trail of Tears.
3. Fort Point National Historic Site, California
Today Fort Point directs one’s eye toward the Golden Gate Bridge, but that wasn’t the case back in the 1850s. The Army Corps of Engineers was far more concerned about the possibility of a hostile fleet entering San Francisco Bay. The brick fort was active throughout the Civil War, but not long afterward the invention of more powerful cannons made it obsolete. By 1886 the troops were gone, leaving the fort useful only for storage and training. From 1933 to 1937 it served as a base of operations during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Soldiers returned to Fort Point during World War II to protect the entrance to the bay from possible submarine attack.
4. Fort Caroline National Memorial, Florida
You won’t see remnants of the original fort “” more than four centuries of wear and weather have seen to that. But the memorial has a replica of the second French attempt at settlement within the United States. In 1564 a French Huguenot colony landed and began building this fort, touching off two centuries of rivalry between France and Spain for dominance in North America. Today visitors will find the fort replica, a museum, and a self-guided trail. The memorial is located just outside of Jacksonville.
5. Fort Matanzas National Monument, Florida
Spain also had an empire in the New World, and in 1742 the Spanish erected this fort to guard the city of St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos from the British. Another reason to visit the park is its location on the barrier islands off Florida, which provide protection for endangered animal species just as the historic fort protected St. Augustine.
6. Fort Frederica National Monument, Georgia
In the early 18th century, the territory that is known today as Georgia was called “the debatable land,” because it was located between British-held South Carolina and Spanish-held Florida. Fort Frederica was established in 1736 by British General James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of the new colony of Georgia. Once the Spanish threat disappeared, the fort was disbanded. Today only archaeological remnants of Fort Frederica remain.
7. Fort Scott National Historic Site, Kansas
From 1842 to 1853 this fort guarded the “permanent” Indian frontier. Troops from the fort were sent to explore the West, to protect the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, and to provide a Union supply base during the Civil War. Twenty historic structures remain, 11 of which are open to the public. Visitors can enjoy exhibits, guided tours, and living history demonstrations.
8. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland
Fort McHenry has gained more fame as the birthplace of the “Star Spangled Banner” than for its military history. After all, it was the defense of this fort during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write those famous words. In fact, the two-day Battle of Baltimore was the only time the fort was ever attacked. Later Fort McHenry served as a detention center for captured Confederate sympathizers and soldiers during the Civil War, and then as a military hospital during World War I. All three phases of its history are interpreted to visitors. Of all areas in the National Park System, Fort McHenry is the only one designated as a National Monument and Historic Shrine.
9. Fort Stanwix National Monument, New York
Here you can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the 18th century. You’ll see how people endured the harsh winters along the Oneida Carrying Place “” a major transportation and communications route “” while aiding the American victory at Saratoga during the Revolutionary War and westward expansion across the state. The site’s museum features hundreds of archaeological pieces, while the visitors center includes a fort diorama, a theater, and a bookstore.
10. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, North Carolina
The first English attempts at colonization in the New World during the late 1500s are commemorated here. These efforts, promoted by Sir Walter Raleigh, ended with the disappearance of more than 100 men, women, and children. Over the years the park has grown to include preservation of American Indian culture, Civil War history, and the history of the Freedman’s Colony of former slaves. The park also hosts the outdoor symphonic drama, “The Lost Colony,” evenings between June and late August.
11. Fort Clatsop National Memorial, Oregon
This fort was not associated with war but with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After two years of travel, the Corps of Discovery finally arrived at the Pacific Ocean. It was November, so their first concern was finding winter quarters. They left the Columbia River for an inlet found earlier by Lewis and several scouts, and by Christmas Eve the entire group had shelter. Then, having named their fort after a friendly Indian tribe, they settled in until spring. Should you plan to visit Fort Clatsop from June 14 through September 6, a timed-entry ticket is required to enter the park. Call (800) 967-2283 or visit http://reservations.nps.gov to purchase tickets.
12. Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Pennsylvania
Here 22-year-old Colonel George Washington was defeated in his first battle, the opening engagement of the French and Indian War, thus beginning the seven-year struggle between Britain and France for control of North America. The park comprises approximately 900 acres in three separate sites. The main unit includes the visitors center, the battlefield with the reconstructed fort, and the Mount Washington Tavern. The other two units are nearby.
13. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Washington
Founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1824 as a fur trading post and supply depot, Fort Vancouver served as the most important settlement in the Pacific Northwest. As the primary trading post for British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, this fort contained large warehouses. Indians, trappers, and purchasers for smaller posts came here for supplies. Modern-day archaeologists have recovered nearly a million artifacts from the site. A visitors center, a museum, and a reconstructed stockade are on the premises.