|New York City borough of Brooklyn, New York|
Fort Hamilton Seal
|Controlled by||United States Army|
|Condition||partly demolished, remainder occupied|
|Built by||Simon Bernard|
|Col. Joseph Davidson as of July 2014|
|Major Benjamin Kendrick Pierce
Captain Abner Doubleday
Captain Robert E. Lee (post engineer)
|Garrison||Brooklyn, New York|
Historic Fort Hamilton is located in the southwestern corner of the New York City borough of Brooklyn surrounded by the communities of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, and is one of several posts that are part of the region which is headquartered by the Military District of Washington. Its mission is to provide the New York metropolitan area with military installation support for the Army National Guard and the United States Army Reserve. The original fort was completed in 1831, with major additions made in the 1870s and 1900s. However, all defenses except about half of the original fort have been demolished or buried.
On July 4, 1776, a small American battery (the Narrows Fort) on the site of today's Fort Hamilton (the east side of the Narrows) fired into one of the British men-of-war convoying troops to suppress the American Revolution. HMS Asia suffered damage and casualties, but opposition to the immense fleet could be little more than symbolic. The very significant event however marked one of the earliest uses of the site for military purposes.
The War of 1812 underscored the importance of coastal defense (since the British burned parts of Washington, DC) and helped to promote a new round of fort building. The new forts, including Fort Hamilton, were eventually termed the third system of US seacoast forts. The cornerstone for Fort Hamilton was set in place by its designer, Simon Bernard, on June 11, 1825. Bernard was previously a French military engineer under Napoleon, who had joined the US Army after Napoleon's defeat in 1815. Six years and a half million dollars later, the fort was ready to receive its garrison, initially Battery F of the 4th US Artillery.
Fort Hamilton (now the Casemate Fort, Whiting Quadrangle) was designed primarily as a landward defense for Fort Lafayette, although it had a sea-facing front as well. Fort Lafayette was offshore on Hendricks Reef, and was demolished in the 1960s to make room for the eastern tower of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Fort Hamilton was in the shape of a trapezoid, with the wide side facing the Narrows and the narrow side facing inland. It had two tiers of cannon all around: a casemated tier inside the fort and a barbette tier on the roof. Loopholes for muskets were provided on the three landward sides. A dry ditch also protected these three sides. A caponier, a rare feature in US forts, projected into the ditch to defend it against attack. Two smaller caponiers enclosed the ends of the ditch, projecting off the seacoast front. The fort's sally port was in the middle of this front. A square redoubt with its own ditch was located behind the fort to provide an initial landward defense position.
Though references to the structure as Fort Hamilton occur as early as 1826, it was not officially named for the former Senior Officer of the United States Army and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, until the twentieth century. In 1839 the Federal government gave permission to New York State's 27th Regiment to drill at the fort, thus qualifying it as the nation's first National Guard training camp. The following year, it allocated $20,000 to improve the fort's armaments, and Captain Robert E. Lee, then an officer of the Army Corps of Engineers, was assigned the task of improving the defenses of the fort as well as those of other military installations in the area. Lee served as Fort Hamilton's post engineer from 1841 to 1846. Lieutenant Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson also served at Fort Hamilton, and Captain Abner Doubleday served as the post commander in 1861, shortly after serving at Fort Sumter during the bombardment that started the Civil War.
During the Civil War, Fort Hamilton's garrison expanded. A ship barrier across the Narrows assisted Fort Hamilton and its sister forts on Staten Island, now called Fort Wadsworth, in protecting the harbor against the possibility of Confederate raiders. The forts also provided troops to help put down the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Fort Hamilton also served as a prisoner-of-war camp, and an exterior "New Battery" of guns was added.
Rifled cannon made vertical-walled masonry fortifications obsolete during the Civil War. The first response of the US coast defense forces to this was a series of new batteries, with guns in open positions behind low earth walls and brick magazines with heavy earth cover between the guns. Most of these were located near existing forts. In 1871 construction began at Fort Hamilton on an 8-gun water battery and a 15-gun mortar battery, but the latter was never completed or armed. Money for these projects ran out in the late 1870s, and US coast defense languished, with few improvements completed for nearly 20 years.
The 1885 Board of Fortifications, chaired by Secretary of War William C. Endicott and also called the Endicott Board, recommended sweeping improvements to US coast defenses, with a new generation of modern breech-loading rifled guns and numerous new gun batteries. Most of the Board's recommendations were adopted as the Endicott program, and that included major changes and improvements for Fort Hamilton. More than half of the old fort was demolished to make room for new concrete gun batteries. Fort Hamilton became part of the Artillery District of New York, renamed in 1913 as the Coast Defenses of Southern New York.
The following table shows the gun batteries completed at Fort Hamilton from 1898 to 1905. In most cases references do not indicate the precise model of gun or carriage at a particular battery, or the batteries' namesakes:
|Name||No. of guns||Gun type||Carriage type||Years active|
|Harvey Brown||2||12-inch gun||disappearing||1902-?|
|Neary||2||12-inch gun M1888||barbette M1892||1900-1937|
|Burke||4||6-inch gun M1900||pedestal M1900||1903-1917|
|Livingston||2||6-inch gun M1905||disappearing M1903||1905-1920?|
|Livingston||2||6-inch gun M1900||pedestal M1900||1905-1948|
|Johnston||2||6-inch gun M1900||pedestal M1900||1902-1943|
|Griffin||2||4.72-inch/45 caliber Armstrong gun||pedestal||1899-1913|
|Griffin||2||3-inch gun M1898||masking parapet M1898||1902-1920|
|Griffin||2||3-inch gun M1903||pedestal M1903||1903-1946|
Several batteries (Burke, Johnston, Brown, and Griffin) were directly in front of the remains of the old fort, with Battery Griffin in front of and below the others. The other batteries extended in a line southeast of the old fort, with Battery Piper, the mortar battery, well to the rear of the line. Battery Griffin seems to have been designed as a mixed battery of two each M1898 and M1903 3-inch guns. The 4.72-inch guns of this battery were hastily added after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898; they were British guns purchased because most of the Endicott program was still years from completion. The 4.72-inch/45 caliber guns were transferred to Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii in 1913 to concentrate this type of weapon in one area. Battery Livingston was also an unusual combination of two disappearing 6-inch guns and two guns on pedestal mounts. Batteries Gillmore and Spear were originally a 7-gun battery under the former name, but were split up in 1903, probably for improved fire control.
World War I
The American entry into World War I brought many changes to Fort Hamilton, as at most other coast defense installations. Numerous temporary buildings were constructed to house the influx of new recruits, draftees, and units in training prior to deployment overseas. As the Coast Artillery was one of the Army's few sources of trained personnel, the branch was chosen to operate almost all US-manned heavy and railway artillery in that war, most of which was French- or British-made. Most personnel at the forts were transferred to new heavy artillery regiments. Also, several of Fort Hamilton's guns were dismounted for potential service on the Western Front; however, very few Army Coast Artillery weapons were actually used in that war, due to shipping priorities and extensive training. Battery Spear's three 10-inch guns were dismounted for potential use as railway artillery. The eight 6-inch guns of Batteries Burke and Mendenhall were dismounted for potential use on field carriages. Two of these guns, along with four of Battery Piper's 12-inch mortars, were used as the first batteries of Fort Tilden in nearby Far Rockaway, Queens. The removal of half of the mortars was also part of a forcewide program to improve the rate of fire of the remaining mortars. None of the weapons removed from Fort Hamilton in World War I were returned to the fort.
Between the wars
The end of World War I also meant more changes for Fort Hamilton. Around 1920 Battery Livingston's pair of 6-inch disappearing guns were transferred to West Point to be used for training cadets. These two guns are preserved today at Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida and Battery Chamberlin at the Presidio of San Francisco, the last 6-inch disappearing guns outside of the Philippines. Battery Griffin's pair of 3-inch M1898 guns was removed in 1920, part of a withdrawal from service of some gun types. In 1921 two long-range batteries of 12-inch guns were completed at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, and by 1924 the installation of 16-inch guns at Fort Tilden relegated Fort Hamilton to the second line of New York's coast defenses. In 1937 Battery Neary's pair of 12-inch guns was removed.
World War II
In World War II Fort Hamilton primarily served as a mobilization center, as it had in World War I. Except for the two remaining 6-inch pedestal guns of Battery Livingston and the pair of 3-inch guns at Battery Griffin, the remaining guns were gradually scrapped; the pair of 16-inch guns at the Highlands Military Reservation in New Jersey along with Fort Tilden superseded the older defenses. An anti-aircraft battery, probably of 90 mm guns, was at the fort during the war.
Post World War II
Shortly after World War II it was decided that gun coast defenses were obsolete. In 1948, the last coast defense gun was removed from Fort Hamilton. A battery of four 120 mm M1 guns was at the fort 1952-54, part of the Cold War air defense system. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the now-disused gun batteries were demolished or buried for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Belt Parkway.
The following Regular Army units were established at Fort Hamilton:
- 12th Infantry Regiment: October 20, 1861
- 21st Infantry Regiment: May 20, 1862
- 5th Coast Artillery Regiment, 1924
In the 1960s, Fort Hamilton also served as the home for the United States Army Chaplain School as it moved from the recently closed Fort Slocum. Hundreds of Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard Chaplains and their assistants were trained here for active duty and reserve ministries to soldiers and their dependents. The school was later moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina where it now resides.
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Fort Hamilton is the last active-duty military post in New York City.
At present, U.S. Army Fort Hamilton Garrison is the home of the New York City Recruiting Battalion, the Military Entrance Processing Station, the North Atlantic Division Headquarters of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the 1179th Transportation Brigade and the 722nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, the latter organization being a geographically separated unit (GSU) of the 439th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command.
Fort Hamilton also supports many Army Reserve and New York Army National Guard units, These Army National Guard units include the 133d Quartermaster Company, Company C/642d Aviation Support Battalion, 222d Chemical Company, and the 107th Military Police Company. In October 1997, Fort Hamilton came under the command of the Military District of Washington and in October 2002, under Army Transformation, Fort Hamilton became part of the Installation Management Agency - Northeast Region.
Construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the early 1960s did away with several historic structures, including Fort Lafayette, which was located near the Brooklyn shore where the bridge tower now rises from the water. During the same period, efforts toward saving the historical heritage of the Narrows increased. Part of the U.S. Army's contribution to preserving this heritage is in the Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton.
The original fort later became the Officers' Club and now houses the Community Club. The caponier, a miniature fort guarding the main fort's gate, now houses the Harbor Defense Museum. Other notable landmarks include the Robert E. Lee House, where Lee, then a captain, resided while post engineer of the garrison, and Colonels' Row, six historic townhouses that used to house senior officers. All of these structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 2000s, the historic parade field that once lay behind the old New York Area Command (NYAC) Headquarters Building and the Military Personnel Office, former site of numerous ceremonies and festivities, was developed into swiftly built privatized housing. The historic flag pole and cannon are still present at the site, near the old headquarters building and across from the Post Exchange barber shop.
In 2007, the historic, brick barracks, located on the plot of land within Pershing Loop on the eastern portion of the base, which formerly housed the New York Area Command's Ceremonial Platoon and Military Police Company, was demolished. The ceremonial platoon, consisting of only infantrymen, once performed funeral honors and ceremonial functions (such as deployment as color guards in New York City parades, or firing cannons to start the New York City Marathon), in the greater N.Y. area, including Long Island, New York City, as well as parts of New Jersey, along with the 26th Army Band unit that was similar to the Old Guard in Washington, D.C.
A Civil War-era experimental 20-inch Rodman gun, one of only two remaining and the largest gun produced by either side in that period, is in a park immediately north of the fort. Numerous shells for this weapon are displayed on the fort grounds. An ex-Navy 12"/45 caliber Mark V Mod 8 gun is also displayed on post, representative of the type of weapon the fort had in the Endicott era.
In popular culture
- "Commanders of Fort Hamilton 1831-1987". Official Harbor Defense Museum of Fort Hamilton. Harbor Defense Museum of Fort Hamilton. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
- Roberts, p. 598
- Fort Hamilton at Fort Wiki.com
- Weaver, pp. 111-113
- Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999), Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 636, ISBN 0-195-11634-8
- Fort Hamilton at American Forts Network
- Berhow, p. 209
- Congressional serial set, 1900, Report of the Commission on the Conduct of the War with Spain, Vol. 7, pp. 3778–3780, Washington: Government Printing Office
- Gogolak, E.C. (23 July 2013). "Live in the Oasis, Money Won't Help, but a Uniform May". The New York Times.
- Freeman, Douglas Southall (1934). "Five drab years end in opportunity". R. E. Lee: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
...Reaching New York on the night of April 10, 1841, in a period of very bad weather, Lee soon discovered that his task was not as interesting as he had hoped it would be — that it was laborious but technically not difficult. His instructions were to institute somewhat elaborate repairs at Fort Lafayette, and to make various changes in Fort Hamilton, particularly in the parapet, so as to adapt it to barbette guns.
- Stewart, Henry (July 24, 2015). "The Bay Ridge Canon: Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille". Hey Ridge.
- Berhow, Mark A., Ed. (2015). American Seacoast Defenses, A Reference Guide, Third Edition. McLean, Virginia: CDSG Press. ISBN 978-0-9748167-3-9.
- Lewis, Emanuel Raymond (1979). Seacoast Fortifications of the United States. Annapolis: Leeward Publications. ISBN 978-0-929521-11-4.
- Roberts, Robert B. (1988). Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-926880-X.
- Weaver II, John R. (2001). A Legacy in Brick and Stone: American Coastal Defense Forts of the Third System, 1816-1867. McLean, VA: Redoubt Press. ISBN 1-57510-069-X.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fort Hamilton.|
- Fort Hamilton (U.S. Army Garrison)
- Harbor Defense Museum Official site (dead link 30 Nov 2016)
- Harbor Defense Museum at NYC Arts.org
- Fort Hamilton Family Housing
- North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- New York State Military Museum - Information about Fort Hamilton
- List of all US coastal forts and batteries at the Coast Defense Study Group, Inc. website
- FortWiki, lists most CONUS and Canadian forts