Saturday, 8 December 2012

The forts of New York: Castle Williams and Fort Jay (Governors Island)

Castle Williams
Another of the forts build to protect New York City was Castle Williams. This fort was built between 1807 and 1811, and its construction was supervised by Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Jonathan Williams. He was the Chief Engineer of the Corps of Engineers and later became the first Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, West Point. The fort was named in his honour.

The fort was retained by the US Army after the end of the War of 1812, and during the American Civil War it was used as a barracks for newly recruited Union troops and part of the city's garrison, and as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers and US Army deserters.

After the war it remained in use as a US Army prison for one hundred years until it closed in 1965. It was then taken over by the US Coast Guard, who used it for a variety of different purposes until 1997. In 2003 it was handed over to the National Park Service and became part of the Governors Island National Monument.

Fort Jay
The star fort shown above is Fort Jay. It was built on the site of an earthwork originally constructed in 1776 on the orders of General Israel Putnam. From 1794 onwards the earthwork was reconstructed by the State of New York, and the State handed it over to the Federal Government in 1800. It was then rebuilt by Jonathan Williams, and in 1806 it was renamed Fort Columbus.

The fort remained in US Army hands after the War of 1812, and during the American Civil War it was armed with a mixture of 10-inch and 15-inch Rodman cannons. One of the barracks was also used to house captured Confederate officers before they were transferred to other Union prisons.

In 1878 the fort became the headquarters of the Division of the Atlantic and later the Department of the East. These commands were in charge of almost all the US Army's activities east of the Mississippi River, and as a result command of the fort (and the headquarters it contained) was a prestige posting for high-ranking or aspiring army officers.

The fort was renamed Fort Jay in 1904, and it remained an important US Army post until its functions were transferred to Fort Meade, Maryland in 1964, by which time it was the headquarters of US First Army. Like Castle Williams, Fort Jay was used by the US Coast Guard until 1966, and in 2001 it also became part of the Governors Island National Monument.

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