The History of Fort Adams
Part Four (1897 - 1939)
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Training First World War Interwar Period
Endicott Period Fortifications (1897 - 1901)
10-inch Disappearing Rifle of Battery Reilly c. early 20th Century.
Although Fort Adams was built in the early 19th Century it was an active installation until the mid-20th Century. One of the most significant improvements to the fort was when modern gun batteries were installed at the fort in the late 1890's. These installations are commonly known as Endicott period batteries and are named after Secretary of War Endicott who, in 1885, issued a report calling for revolutionary improvements in nation's coastal defenses.
Work on two mortar batteries (with eight 12-inch mortars each) was started in 1897. In 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, these batteries were completed and Fort Adams was a match for any warship afloat at that time.
Between 1898 and 1917 several modern batteries were completed. These included batteries Greene and Edgerton each mounting eight 12-inch mortars (later reduced to eight), Battery Reilly with two 10-inch rifles, Battery Mansfield with three 6 inch rifles and Battery Talbot with two 4.7-inch rifles (one of which is on display at Equality Park in Newport, the other being at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina) and Battery Belton with two 3-inch mine defense guns.
12-inch mortar of the kind installed at Fort Adams in 1898. (This is a rare photograph in that it shows the mortar shell leaving the muzzel of the mortar as it is fired.)
These batteries complemented several other Endicott period forts in Rhode Island and were the primary coast defense installations until the outbreak of World War Two in 1939. These modifications led to the inevitable removal of the last cannons from the main body of Fort Adams. This marked the end of Fort Adams as a true fortification. Hereafter the main fort would be used as the primary enlisted housing area with barracks for junior soldiers in the brick dormitories over the southeast and southwest walls and non-commissioned officer housing along the east wall and in the northwest bastion.
During the Spanish-American War in 1898 Fort Adams was brought into a high state of readiness in the event of an attack on Newport. Although these fears were unfounded, the fort was used as a training site by 80 members of the Newport Artillery Company for one week when they came over to the fort to practice firing the fort's huge 15-inch Rodman guns. The fort also hosted a National Guard regiment from New York for some time while it was waiting to be sent overseas.
As the new century approached, attention turned to improving the living conditions of the soldiers at the fort. Prior to this time, most soldiers were quartered in the casemates along the fort's southeast and southwest walls. By all accounts these quarters were damp and unhealthy - especially in the winter months. It was decided to build new barracks on top of the southeast and southwest walls which would house the soldiers and the casemate quarters below were converted into latrines, messhalls, kitchens and offices.
A number of other improvements were made to the fort about this time. The bakery was moved from the southeast demibastion of the main fort to its own building north of the east gate. The fort's jail (or "guardhouse" in Army parlance) was relocated from the old redoubt near the east gate to a new building just south of the bakery - which was also near the east gate.
The west wall - no longer mounting cannon after about 1904 - was converted to a number of uses. The upper casemate tier served as the enlisted mens club and post exchange while the lower level contianed a boiler room, an indoor range for .22 caliber rifles and a bowling alley where boys living at the fort were employed as pin setters at two cents a string.
Southeast Barracks, Constructed circa 1900.
The barracks on the southeast wall were completed around 1900 and those on top of the southwest wall around 1907. This coincided with the removal of the last remaining guns from the main body of the fort when the more modern Endicott period batteries were installed. From then on the main body of the fort (commonly called the "quadrangle" - although it had five, not four, sides) would serve as the primary quartering area for the enlisted soldiers stationed at the fort.
Pre World War One Training Excercises
Battleship U.S.S. Kearsarge.
In September of 1902 the Army and Navy staged a joint wargame involving ships of the Atlantic Fleet as well as the forts protecting Narragansett Bay. The attacking fleet was commanded by Rear Admiral Higginson who used the battleship Kearsarge as his flagship. This exercise was significant in that it was one of the few peacetime co-operative efforts between the Army and Navy prior to the late 20th Century (although such operations are still a rare exception to normal training routines.) It also gave to opportunity for the new batteries to be tested under realistic circumstances. (See the Newport Journal for the dates August 30th, September 6th and 13th, 1902 for more details.)
Elihu Root was the Secretary of War from 1900 - 1905. He was probably the most innovative man to hold the position in history. He advocated greater cooperation of the services and believed strongly in making practical use of National Guard troops as a ready reserve to augment the regular Army in time of war.
One program which was implemented after he left office was using National Guard troops to man coastal fortifications. As Rhode Island was a maritime state it was thought best to try the concept there.
The first was that the National Guard units were integrated with Regular Army units for training. This practice would regain popularity in the late 20th Century with the "One Army" concept designed to diminish the distinctions between the Regular and Reserve components. The second is that it foreshadowed the redesignation of the National Guard's infantry units as Coast Artillery units in a couple of years. The last was that it helped prepare these units for their actual mobilization mission of manning the state's coast defences - as was the case in both world wars.
From July 7th through 14th, 1907 several companies from the Rhode Island National Guard trained at Fort Adams as well as Fort Greble on Dutch Island. At that time the bulk of the Rhode Island National Guard was organized into the first and second infantry regiments. Each regiment had eight companies with an authorized strength of 3 officers and 47 enlisted men.
The First Regiment was sent to Fort Greble on Dutch Island and the Second Regiment was sent to Fort Adams. Each company was assigned to a regular army unit for training purposes. This was important because it was the first time the Guardsmen would train on the modern artillery pieces at each fort.
Monday, July 8th to Wednesday, July 10th were devoted to instruction on the artillery pieces. The men were organized into reliefs so that training could proceed continously. The training included night drill in which boats would run in and out of the harbor in order to test the fort's defenses. (Annual Military Reports, Rhode Island, 1907; pp. 39-58., Newport Mercury, June 29th, 1907.)
It is mildly ironic that 24 years before Brevet Major Henry Cushing, who had previously served at Fort Adams, was assigned to evaluate the Rhode Island Militia at their annual encampment in 1883. In his comments he mentions that the Rhode Island Militia should be reorganized as heavy artiller troops. He observed, correctly, that the militia of coastal states should be organized and trained to man fortifications in time of war. (Annual Military Reports, Rhode Island, 1883; pp.23-24.)
Colors of the Coast Artillery Corps c. 1917
(Source - National Geographic Magazine, October 1917.)
1907 also marked a major reorganization of the Artillery Corps of the Army. Instead of having units for both field and seacoast duties in the same branch of service the Army decieded that they should be separarted by forming the Coast Artillery Corps and the Field Artillery Corps. The Coast Artillery Corps did not have regiments until the 1920 and instead had numbered companies organized into districts. This reorganization marked an acknowlegement of significant differences between the Coast and Field Artillery.
In the early 20th Century the Fort returned to its peacetime routine. There were, however, several interesting events.
In September of 1906 Private Ephriham Lajoie of the 78th Company, CAC sleepwalked out of the second story window of the enlisted barrracks on top of the the southeast wall. He was severely injured by the approximately 30 foot fall and died soon after. His body was shipped home to his family in Hartford, Connecticut. (Newport Daily News, September 16th, 1906.)
A few months later a similiar incident occured. This time, however, it was suicide instead of an accident. Private Timothy R. Langdon of the 97th Company, CAC was seated with some of his friends and suddenly dashed for the window and fell head first out of it. He suffered massive injuries and died the next day. (Newport Mercury, March 17th, 1907.)
In early May 1907 the 102nd and 117th Companies of the Coast Artillery Corps arrived from the south at Fort Adams along with the 14th Company which was sent to Fort Greble.
They replaced three companies sent south on April 6th which were the 78th and 79th Companies from Fort Adams and the 72nd Company from Fort Greble. Apparently the Army had a policy of rotating units between regions of the country. (Mercury, May 11th, 1907.)
The above mentioned annual training at Fort Adams of both the National Guard and Regular Army continued in 1908 and 1909 but there were drastic changes in 1910. The well to do summer residents of Newport protested loudly that the firing of large guns at Fort Adams and Fort Wetherill was quite disturbing to them. United States Senator George Peabody Wetmore (himself a Newport summer resident) wrote a letter, dated June 13th, 1910, to Mr. John T. Spencer, Esquire informing him that there would be no firing of the large guns at Forts Adams and Wetherill with service (ie. full) charges during the summer months. (Newport Daily News, June 14th, 1910.)
On July 8th, 1910 the troops at Fort Adams were issued new Khaki uniforms to be worn until October. (NDN, July 8th, 1910.)
On July 12th, 1910 the troops from Fort Adams left the fort to conduct their annual two week encampment at Fort Wetherill. It was Army policy that coast artillery troops camp out at least two weeks a year and that would be in conjunction with National Guard troops. (NDN, July 11th, 1910.)
First World War (1917 - 1918)
Fort Adams Circa 1936 by J.L. Goodman.
(Click Image for Larger View.)
Illustration by H.A. Ogden from
A Career in the Army
Published in 1913
When the United States entered the First World War in August of 1917 twenty companies of Coast Artillery troops from the Rhode Island National Guard were activated and helped reinforce Regular army troops at Fort Adams and other Rhode Island coastal fortifications. Of the twenty Rhode Island companies fourteen were assigned to the Narragansett Bay forts (numbered the 9th through 18th companies), five were sent to Boston and one to New Bedford.
While Fort Adams did not see action during the war, it served as a vital headquarters for the coast defenses in Rhode Island as well as a training facility and as a depot for units departing for service in France.
The other forts defending Narragansett Bay, under the command of Fort Adams, included Fort Greble on Dutch Island, Fort Kearny in Saunderstown, Fort Getty on Beaverhead and Fort Wetherill in Jamestown. The number of coast artillery companies assigned to each fort at the beginning of 1918 was as follows - Adams - 9, Wetherill - 5, Greble - 7, Kearny - 1, Getty - 5, for a total of 30. About half of these units were mobilized Rhode Island National Guard coast defense units while the remainder were existing and newly formed Regular Army units.
Among the units formed at Fort Adams was the First Expeditionary Coast Artillery Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General George T. Bartlett, consisting of three Coast Artillery regiments (designated the 6th, 7th and 8th Provisional Coast Artillery Regiments) which were organized and trained at Fort Adams from July to August 13th, 1917 when they left the fort for duty in France.
The reason why coast artillery units were being shipped to France was that only the Coast Artillery had experience with heavy artillery pieces. The American forces employed artillery pieces which ranged up to 14-inch railway guns and the coast artilley was the branch of the Army to man these mammoth weapons.
In July of 1918 Fort Adams was home to the 7th Battalion of United States Guards. The United States Guards were units which were made up of soldiers who, by reason of age or disability, were unsuitable for frontline service. Instead they were assigned to provide security for military bases and defense plants. In October the battalion was split up to provide security for defense plant in Watertown and Allston, Massachusetts and Groton, Connecticut.
Other units which were activated at Fort Adams included the 66th Coast Artillery Regiment (which was organized in March of 1918 and left for France in July 1918 and was disbanded in March 1919) and the 34th Coast Artillery Brigade which stayed only for the month of July 1918. The Regimental Colors of the 66th Coast Artillery are on display at the Rhode Island State House. The 58th and 59th Coast Artilley Ammunition Trains were formed at Fort Adams in August 1918 which was too late for them to see overseas service so they were disbanded in December.
Sometime during the war, eight of the fortís sixteen 12-inch mortars were removed and sent to France for use railway artillery. This was common during the first world war as the Army had discovered that having two mortars instead of four in a pit was almost as effective as having four - without making additional manpower demands. The additional firepower was more than welcomed by the troops serving "Over There".
On November 11th, 1918 the armistice was signed which ended the First World War. National Guard units activated for the war were demoblized in December and smaller forts in the area deactivated over the next three years. As of January 11th, 1919 Fort Adams was garrisoned by five coast artillery companies. Fort Adams then entered a period of peacetime complacency which would last over two decades.
Interwar Period (1918 - 1939)
Company F, 13th Infantry Football Team in 1929.
The time between the wars was one of the best in the fort's history. The soldiers at the fort lived a fairly easy and complacent life while the officers could look forward to having their official duties accomplished by noon time and spending the afternoon playing golf (a course of nine short holes was constucted near the southern boundary of the fort's reservation), riding or other liesure activities. As was the lot of the coast artillery, there was the curious irony of preparing for a war that would never be fought and waiting for attacking fleets of ships which would never come.
CMTC Camp at Fort Adams c. 1930's.
Company A, CMTC in 1940.
Between the wars Fort Adams was used as a training site by the Citizen's Military Training Camps (CMTC) starting in the summer of 1924. The CMTC program allowed young men to learn basic military skills without having to enlist in the army. The annual program took four weeks in the summer (usually in the month of July) for four years - although relatively few stayed to complete the whole four year course which would entitle them to an officer's commission. CMTC graduates provided an invaluable nucleus of trained soldiers around which combat ready units could be organized and trained.
General Lyman L. Lemnitzer
In 1922 a young lieutenant named Lyman L. Lemnitzer graduated from West Point. His first assignment was to Fort Adams the fort's recreation and commissary officer. While his first posting was inauspicious, he would go on to greatness. In 1955 he would be promoted to the rank of full "4-star" General and would be assigned successively as Army Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 1957 through 1969. These are the three highest postings an Army officer can receive and Lemnitzer is the only officer in history to have been assigned to all three.
In January of 1925 another tragic death occured at the fort. The victim was Miss Mary Gleason who worked as a maid in Newport. She had been dating a soldier at the fort, Private George Henderson, and went to visit him on the evening of Monday, January 19th. She never made it to their intended rendezvous at the Fort's fire station. Her body was discoverd by some children sledding on the ramps of the exterior front in the intertior ditch of the fort near the southwest gate. She had been there for several days and her body was frozen.
Despite initial suspicions of foul play, a cororner's inquest was held and the death was ruled an accident. (Newport Daily News, January 26, 27 and 28, 1925.)
On June 19th, 1925 three 155mm guns were towed from Fort Adams to Sachuestt Point in Middletown and fired at a towed target at a range of 12,000 yards. This was an experiment in using mobile artillery batteries to supplement permanent emplacements. It is worth noting that mobile batteries were used in the early days of World War Two while gun batteries were being built. (Newport Daily News, June 20th, 1925.)
13th Infantry Crest and Soldiers Medal
From September 1927 to 1939, in addition to coast defense troops, Fort Adams was home to the second battalion of the 13th Infantry Regiment. The other two battalions of the regiment were stationed at Boston and Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont.
The regimental headquarters joined the second battalion from October 1928 until sometime in 1931.
Late in 1938 six soldiers from the 13th Infantry were awarded the Soldiers Medal, the Army's highest award for non-combat heroism, for rescuing a family from their house on Price's Neck in Newport during the infamous hurricane which struck on September 12th of that year.
In October of 1939 the 13th Infantry was transferred to Panama and would later see action in Europe during the Second World War. Today, the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry continues to serve in the Army as a Basic Combat Training battalion at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Interior of Upstairs Barracks c. Early 20th Century.
The above photo illustrates very well the lifestyle of common soldiers at Fort Adams in the early 20th Century. It can be plainly seen that space and privacy were both at a premium. Non-commissioned officers had private quarters either in the old fort's casemates (which were, by all accounts, cold and damp during the winter) or in private cottages on the grounds to the south of the fort complex.
It is important to remember that Fort Adams was home to a number of women and children in addition to the soldiers. Army life was a lot of fun for a growing youngster as they were part of a closed society and could find ample opportunities for fun and mischief in a fort as large as Fort Adams.
Around 1930 Mrs. Maud "Maudie" Allen (1881 - 1953) was employed as the official hostess at the Fort Adams service club, where she had her own quarters. She would hold the job through the Second World War. In addition to her official duties of maintaining the club she was also the fort's unofficial ombudsman and would bring to the commanding officer's attention any complaints which the soldiers could not resolve through their chain of command. Maudie was well beloved by all who knew her. When she died in 1953 several retired sergeants who had served with her at Fort Adams served as her pall bearers. She was buried in the fort's cemetery.
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