The History of Fort Adams
Part Two (1824 - 1861)

View of the East Wall of Fort Adams Circa 1895.

Index to Part Two

Construction Pre-Civil War Part 3

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Construction of the New Fort Adams (1824 - 1857)

After the War of 1812 the Army reviewed the fortification needs of the country. (The forts resulting from this review are commonly called the Third System of American forts.) It was decided by the Engineer Board that Newport required a major fortification. Fort Adams was designed for 464 guns, more than any other American fort and is second in size only to Fort Monroe in Virginia.

The rational for constructing such a large and complex fortification at Newport is best told by the report of the Engineer Board dated February 7th, 1821. (Congressional Serial Set Number 54, Section 98, pgs. 9-10.) In comments about Narragansett Bay it states "The projected defenses of Narragansett Bay will deprive an enemy of the possibility of occupying that excellent road-stead, and secure it to the United States. The pocession of this Bay will be to us of inestimable advantage. If Narragansett Bay was left in its existing state, as to defense, an enemy would seize it without difficulty, and, by aid of his naval supremacy, form an establishment in Rhode Island for the war. He might then defy all the forces of the eastern states; drive the United States to vast expense of blood and treasure; and, while his troops would thus put in alarm and motion all the population of the east, feigned expeditions against New York, by Long Island Sound, would equally alarm that state and the neigboring ones; and, if he merely contented himself with menacing the coast, it is difficult to calculate the expenses into which he would drive the government."

The designer of Fort Adams (as well as Fort Monroe and several other American forts) was a French engineer named Simon Bernard (1779 - 1839). Bernard, who had served as lieutenant general of engineers under Napoleon, came to the United States in 1816 and was given the pay and brevet (honorary) rank of a brigadier general in return for his services as a military engineer. He served in this capacity until 1831.

Bernard was a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and had studied the fortification techniques of the French masters Vauban and Montalembert and incorporated many of their ideas into the design of Fort Adams. In additon to his theorhetical education, in 1813 he directed the defense of Torgau, Saxony with 8,000 men, superintending the defense of that place for three months during a terrible siege. These were the primary factors which made Fort Adams a showcase of fortification design and technology. An on-line biography of Bernard is HERE.

Work was started on the new fort in August 1824 under the supervision First Lieutenant Andrew Talcott of the Army Corps of Engineers and on February 22nd, 1825 Major (soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) Joseph G. Totten (1788 - 1864) arrived to superintend the project.

Joseph G. Totten
An 1805 graduate of West Point, Totten had learned advanced engineering and fortification techniques from Bernard while they both served on the Engineer Board. This experience made Totten aware of the most advanced theories in fortification design and construction and the formost American born military engineer of his day.

In addition to military projects, Totten also worked on many civil engineering projects such as building dams and breakwaters and also designed the famous Minot's Ledge Lighthouse (constructed 1855 - 1860) near Scituate, Massachusetts. This lighthouse is considered to be one of the greatest engineering achievements of the nineteenth century and is still in active service to this day. In December of 1838 Totten left Newport to assume the position of Chief Engineer of the Army, which position he held until his death in 1864 with the rank of Brigadier General.

Despite having new responsibilities, Totten retained his interest in Fort Adams for the rest of his life. He is known to have returned to inspect the fort on August 20th, 1840 and probably did so on other occaisions at well. (For more information about Totten please consult this on-line Bibliography.)

Throughout Totten's tenure as superintendent of construction he was assisted by a number of lieutenants in the engineer corps who had recently graduated from West Point. These included John G. Barnard, who commanded the defenses of Washington during the Civil War, George W. Cullum, who would become the superintendent of West Point and Pierre G. T. Beauregard who would become a general in the Confederate Army and commanded the attack on Fort Sumter at the begining of the Civil War. (It is ironic that while Beauregard's first posting in the Army was to Fort Adams the last for his opponent, Major Robert Anderson, was also to Fort Adams.)

The construction of the masonry work at Fort Adams was overseen by Alexander MacGregor, a Scotsman and master mason. MacGregor would spend the rest of his life in Newport and passed away in 1870. His other projects of note in Newport include the Perry Mill, the Newport Artillery armory and the Swanhurst mansion.

The labor force to construct the fort was supplied by over 300 Irish immigrant laborers who came over in search of a better life in the new world. The Army advertised for laborers in Ireland offering free passage to the United States and gainful employment. These workers were the beginning of Newport's large and proud Irish-American community who established Saint Joseph's parish (later renamed Saint Mary's) in 1828 which has the distinction of being the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Rhode Island.

The first stone of the new fort was laid on May 11th, 1825. (See National Archives Fortifications Records Group, Drawer 128, Sheet 116.) The May 28th edition of the Newport Mercury recorded - "The works constructing at Brenton's Point ... are now progressing with great activity."

Almost a year later, March 11th, 1826, the Mercury states - "The works at Brenton's Point in this Harbor, are now progressing with great rapidity. Upwards of 200 laborers are daily employed on the works."

President John Quincy Adams

On Saturday October 13th, 1826 President John Quincy Adams visited Newport. He made a stop at Fort Adams and, in the company of Colonel Totten, "spent some time examining the extensive works, as far as they have progressed". He must have enjoyed visting a fort which was named after his father. (Newport Mercury, October 21st, 1826.)

Naturally, a large construction project, such as Fort Adams, entailed a high degree of risk to the workers. On February 23rd, 1827 there was a large landslide at the fort. Two of the Irish laborers were caught by it. John Tracey was buried alive and killed whereas Patrick Kennedy was severely injured. (Newport Mercury, March 3rd, 1827.)

President Andrew Jackson

On June 19th, 1833 President Andrew Jackson visited Fort Adams while on a tour of the northeast states. He was accompanied by Vice President Martin VanBuren (who became president in 1837) as well as the secretaries of the war and navy departments. During Jackson's visit to the partly completed fort he "expressed himself highly gratified with the appearance of the extensive Fortification". (Newport Mercury June 22nd, 1833.)

Alexander Macomb

On June 30th, 1836 Major General Alexander Macomb, Commanding General of the Army and previously Chief Engineer, visited Newport and toured Fort Wolcott and the construction of Fort Adams.

The Newport Mercury of July 22nd, 1836 recorded that over 500 men were employed in building the fort and they had a monthly payroll of over $12,000 (an average of $24 per worker or about $1 per working day).

Guns and Carraiges drawn at Fort Adams in 1835.
Source - Roundshot and Rammers by Harold L. Peterson, Stackpole Books, 1969.
(Click image for larger view.)

Reactivation (1841 - 1861)

Fort Adams viewed from Goat Island circa 1850.
(This may be the earliest image of the fort after its completion.)
Click Image for Larger View

Fort Adams was mostly completed by August 25th, 1841 when the new fort was garrisoned by two companies (F and I) of the Second Artillery Regiment. The Fort was placed under the command of Major Matthew M. Payne.

On April 27th, 1842 Fort Adams was visited by Brevet Major General John Wool, commander of the Eastern Department. This would be the first of many VIP visits to the new fort. (Mercury April 30th, 1842.)

In the spring of 1842 there was some concern that the soldiers at Fort Adams would have to be deployed to supress the Dorr Rebellion in the northern part of Rhode Island but this was not necessary as the states militia units proved equal to the task.

On July 26th a sham battle was fought by the units at the fort. A number of local citizens and summer residents were invited to witness the spectacle. (Mercury July 30th, 1842.)

On August 4th work was suspended on the fort due to lack of funding. The entire labor force was laid off. (Mercury August 6th, 1842.)

On January 15th, 1843 an old farm house on the fort's property was consumed by fire. It was property of the US Government and the families of eleven soldiers stationed at the fort lived there. (Mercury January 21st, 1843.)

In early September 1843 Companies F and I and the band of the 1st Artillery Regiment arrived at Fort Adams under the command of Captain Taylor. The garrison of the fort was under to command of Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin K. Pearce and consited of two foot and one horse (aka. light) companies of the 1st Artillery. (Mercury September 11th, 1843.)

Rare Photograph of a Casemate Officer's Quarters at Fort Monroe in 1862.
(Similar to the casemate quarters at Fort Adams.)

Mexican War (1845 - 1848)

During the Mexican War Fort Adams served as a depot from which units being sent to the front were deployed.

During the war Fort Adams was the scene of much activity. In late May 1845 it was reported that Lieutenant Colonel Pierce received orders to mount all the fort's cannon immediately. (Mercury May 31st, 1845.)

On July 4th two companies from the fort (one mounted and one foot) participated in Independence Day celebrations in Newport by demonstrating artillery drill. (Mercury July 5th, 1845.)

In August two companies stationed at the fort left for the front and were replaced by Company H of the 2nd Artillery under Captain Swartwout on August 19th. Lieutenant Colonel Pierce left Newport on August 18th to command troops in Tampa Bay, Florida. (Mercury, August 23rd, 1845.)

Companies K and I and the band of the 1st Artillery, under the command of Captain Taylor, left Fort Adams on Monday, September 15th for Boston where they would meet with two other companies and be sent to Mexico under the command of Colonel Ichabod B. Crane - formerly commander of Fort Wolcott in Newport Harbor. (Mercury September 20th, 1845.)

In late May 1846 Captain Swartwout's company was ordered to proceed to New York and be replaced at Fort Adams by Captain Marchant's company from New London, Connecticut. (Mercury May 30th, 1846.)

On Tuesday, September 29th Captain Marchant's company was ordered to New York. They left the next day and left the fort with a caretaking detachment of one corporal and three privates. (Mercury October 3rd, 1846.)

In April of 1847 Fort Adams was designated a "rendezvous and recieving depot for all troops raised in the Eastern States". In realitity the fort was used in this capacity only by the 9th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Truman B. Ransom of Vermont. Colonel Ransom was killed leading his regiment in battle at the storming of Chapultepec on September 13th, 1847. (Ironically, a captain in the 9th Infantry named John S. Slocum would become colonel of the 2nd Rhode Island regiment at the beginning of the Civil War. He, too, would die at the head of his regiment at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21st, 1861.)

The first troops of the 9th Infantry to arrive at Fort Adams were a company raised in Rhode Island commanded by Captain Joseph S. Pitman. They arrived on March 11th and departed for duty in Mexico on March 26th. Colonel Ransom attempted to delay their movement on the grounds that he had not given his ascent to the order but was unsuccessful. Captain Pitman later served during the Civil War as the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia from May to August 1861.

Other units of the 9th Infantry began to arrive on April 26th and continued to arrive until May 12th. The regiment shipped out for Mexico between May 21st and 28th. The regiment would see action at the battle of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847.

Franklin Pierce
Circa 1847

On May 19th, 1847 Brigadier General Franklin Pierce stopped briefly at Fort Adams on his way to Mexico. While at the fort the bulk of the 9th Infantry regiment was there awaiting transport to serve in Mexico. Pierce departed Fort Adams on the 28th, along with the last detachment of the 9th Infantry, and would serve with distinction in Mexico. He was elected president of the United States in 1852 and served from 1853 until 1857. (Newport Mercury, May 29th, 1847.)

At 10PM on Monday, July 5th, 1847 Fort Adams saluted president James K. Polk as his ship stopped at Long Wharf in Newport while he was returning from Boston to Washington. (Newport Mercury July 10th, 1847.)

On July 6th, 1848 Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Pierce (who had returned to the fort after being sent to Tampa, Florida earlier in the war), commanding officer of Fort Adams, suffered a stroke. The newspaper reported that he was "likely to recover".

Late in the 1840's, Lieutenant Ambrose Burnside was stationed at Fort Adams. He would rise to the rank of Major General during the Civil War and later be elected Governor of Rhode Island and serve as a United States Senator. Burnside and his family lived in one of the fort's casemates. (Similar to the one pictured above.) The casemate quarters (which, by all accounts, were cold and damp during the winter months) were the standard quarters for officers at Fort Adams until new houses were built for them in the late 1870's.

A report from 1851 records the fort's armament as consisting of 200 cannons of three major kinds - one hundred were 32-pounders (32's), fifty seven were 24-pounders (24's) and fourty three were flank howitzers. These were three common types of cannon until the Civil War when more modern artillery pieces were developed. The 32's were designed to fire at ships at long range (about a mile and a half) and the 24's at medium range (about one mile). The flank howitzers were designed to defend the fort against attacking infantry (foot soldiers) and fired canister shot which was a metal can filled with musket balls. The canister shot was effective to about 300 yards and would probably disable any soldier who got in its path.

More information about the fort's armament can be found at the Artillery of Fort Adams webpage.

Redoubt at Fort Adams, constructed in 1840's.

Construction of the fort continued during this period. The most significant improvement was the completion of the redoubt about 1/4 mile south of the main fort. The constuction of the redoubt was mostly completed under the supervision of First Lieutenant Isaac Ingalls Stevens who would rise to the rank of Brigadier General in the Civil War and be killed in the battle of Chantilly, Virginia. His son, Hazard, who was born during his father's posting to Newport, would earn the Medal of Honor and be breveted to Brigadier General. The redoubt qualifies as a fort in its own right and has a number of sophiticated features including an outer ditch, and inner ditch, reverse fire galleries, inteconnceting tunnels and an unique dual spiral granite staircase.

In 1859 the fort was garrisoned by the Headquarters and three compnanies of the 3rd US Artillery under the command of Colonel William Gates. They stayed until October 1853 when they were ordered to California. Most of the regiment was placed aboard the ill fated SS SanFrancisco which was struk by a massive wave which swept over 100 passengers to thier deaths. Details of the disaster can be found at the above link.

A detailed history of the 3rd Artillery Regiment from 1821 to 1864 can be found HERE.

After the departure of the 3rd Artillery the fort was placed in caretaking status until 1857 when the fort was garrisoned by Company I of the 1st Artillery under the command of the flamboyant Captain (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel) John B. Magruder (1807 - 1871).

John B. Magruder
Magruder practiced his native southern hospitality and made Fort Adams a center for social events. He held "fort days" on a regular basis. Contemporary newspaper accounts record that the sound of music could be heard in downtown Newport coming from Fort Adams. One travelling band was called the Germanians performed frequently at the Fort and they composed Fort Adams March for Colonel Magruder. Fort days were greatly popular with the residents of Newport and attracted many visitors to the fort.

Sadly, in keeping with the customs of the culture in which he was raised, Magruder's hospitality did not extend to all of the city's citzens. There is a report of a carriage occupied by a group of blacks being summarilly turned away while attempting to attend one of the fort days. (Newport Daily News, July 26th, 1901.)

Further insight into Magruder's character can be gleaned from an article in the Newport Daily News on September 14th, 1863. It makes a false report of Magruder being killed by a jealous husband. The article further states - "Those who knew the traitor when he resided in Newport will consider the story far from improbable. Magruder's reputation as a libertine was almost as patent as that which he bore as a drunkard and he certainly deserved a much worse fate than is said to have befallen him."

On September 11th, 1859 Magruder was host to Major General Wool, commander of the Army's Department of the East, and former President Millard Fillmore when they inspected Fort Adams. The dignitaries, as well as many onlookers from the general public, would be treated to a fine demonstration of light artillery drill by Colonel Magruder's battery. The only mishap was when a caisson carrying four soldiers hit a rock and was overturned. One soldier suffered a broken thigh bone but was expected to make a full recovery. (Mercury, September 17th, 1859.)

Magruder is reputed to have used Fort Dumpling in Jamestown for target practice for the fort's guns. (See Cullum's Historical Sketch of the Fortifications of Narragansett Bay.) However, the bulk of the old fort remained until it was demolished in November of 1898 to make room for Fort Wetherill. When the Civil War broke out, Magruder resigned from the Army to take a commission with the Confederate Army. In serving the Condederacy he rose to the rank of major general and commanded the Department of Texas. After the war he was commissioned to the same rank in the Mexican Army under Emperor Maximilian.

Magruder and his company departed Fort Adams on October 31st, 1859 and the fort reverted to caretaking status until the Civil War.

An Ordnance Sergeant During the Civil War
(Click for Closer View)

The caretaking detachment was commanded by Ordnance Sergeant Mark W. Smith. Ordnance Sergeant Smith was a veteran of both the Seminole and Mexican Wars and would later serve at Fort Griswold in Groton Connecticut where he died in 1871. In October of 1863 he was offered a commission as a captain in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery but he had to decline the offer on account of injuries suffered in the Mexican War. Ordnance Sergeant Smith and his wife had five sons, one of whom was killed during the Civil War.

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