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Contemporary illustration of Fort Montgomery under construction. Note the derricks and the dock near  bastion B (southeast).
Vestiges of the dock can be seen in several photos reproduced here.

  Following Fort Blunder...

Fort Montgomery
Rouses Point, New York

Part II
The Design and Construction of Fort Montgomery

By James P. Millard

Fort Montgomery is a good example of what is known as a Third-System fortification.*  These forts, the product of contemporary military thinking after the War of 1812, were notable for design and construction features based upon the ideas and designs of the great French engineer Vauban. Another Frenchman, Simon Bernard, was hired by the Madison administration to assist the young American Engineer Corps in designing a network of fortifications along the US coastline; other forts were to be constructed on the Northern Frontier. One of the most important American influences on Third-System fortification design was Joseph G. Totten. This capable engineer, who was also involved the construction of the ill-fated first fort on the island, was one of the leading military minds of his time.* *

Fort Montgomery was constructed over roughly a thirty-year period. While no expense was spared in its construction, appropriations for the actual work ebbed and flowed with the desires of Congress and the War Department. The fort never saw action and never was garrisoned (it was armed, heavily at times), yet an argument can be made that this formidable bulwark at the border was a deterrent to war. Given the uncertain times, a strong case can be made that this fort was not a “blunder” like its predecessor.

This fort, built under the direction of US Civil Engineer Henry Brewster and superintended by Capt. David White, was well-designed and constructed. Covering approximately 2.5 acres, it consisted of five walls or curtains, and five bastions, one at the junction of each curtain. The exterior walls, of limestone construction (the stone was quarried in Isle la Motte, Vermont and at King's Bay, New York) once stood a full 48 feet high. The western-facing front, known as the gorge, was adjacent to an enormous “coverface” or earthen bank, created by the builders as an aid to defense from a land attack. Between this coverface and the gorge was a moat, also referred to as a wet ditch, filled with water from the lake.

A fort with a moat

Fort Montgomery is one of nine forts in the United States to have a moat or "wet ditch".? There was one land entrance to the fort; a bridge crossed the moat into a massive gate or "postern" leading to the parade.

Digitally enhanced image of fort plans from 1872 showing outline of curtains and bastions and guns mounted and serviceable.
This plan does not show ordnance mounted on the lower tier or the barbette (upper) tier.

The fort was designed to mount 125 guns. There were three tiers of cannon; the bottom level was to mount twenty guns, all 24-pounder flank howitzers; the main level had casemates mounting an additional 52 guns. The very top level- the barbette tier- was built with platforms for 53 guns. 

Click on the thumbnail to see a large size image of the NW magazine by Roger Harwood.Click on the thumbnail to see a large size image of the NW magazine by Jim Millard.Within four of the five bastions were the powder magazines. The utmost care and state of the art design and construction went into these structures. Storing all of a fort's powder and ammunition, they were extremely vulnerable to sparks and flame. Each of the four magazines were fully lined with wood, there was an airspace of several inches between the wooden walls and the stone walls. Wooden pegs were used instead of nails, and each magazine was vented through a series of low chimneys. Each magazine was entered through  a wooden door several inches thick.2

The western-facing front, known in military parlance as the gorge, was unique in that it did not have emplacements for cannon within the casemated walls or ramparts. An attack from the landward western side was considered unlikely; the primary defensive strategy consisted of getting advance warning from a redoubt on The Commons, an enemy having to scale and then descend the enormous coverface into the moat. Any enemy who managed to cross the moat— the surface of which was some fifteen feet below the sill of the entrance to the fort— would face a withering fire from the many rifle slits or loopholes in the gorge and the six 24-pounder flank howitzers pointing into the moat from the flanks of the northwest and southwest bastions. In addition, the barbette tier did mount heavy guns and would play a key role in any attack from the west.

View of Fort Montgomery from the southwest.
Note the coverface to the left, the moat (wet-ditch), and the vertical rifle loopholes along the gorge or west-facing land front.

Note: the photos of Fort Montgomery ruins were taken during an escorted tour courtesy of the property owners.
A liability waiver was required and we toured the ruins at our own risk.
Trespassing on the property is strictly forbidden.

Ruins of the western-facing gorge (curtain III) at Fort Montgomery.
(click on the thumbnails to see a full-size image)

Southernmost room, view from above towards west, showing rifle emplacements along the moat side.  Western (moat) side of the southwest bastion. This photo was taken from within the dried-up moat.  Close-up of rifle-slots or embrasures along the exterior of the western side of the sw bastion.  Interior view of musket loophole.  Another view of the gorge wall at the sw bastion.
 From left to right: Southernmost room, view from above towards west, showing rifle loopholes along the moat, or gorge, side. Gorge (moat) side of the southwest bastion. This photo was taken from within the dried-up moat. Close-up of rifle-slits or loopholes along the exterior of the western, or gorge, side of the SW bastion. Interior view of loophole Another view of the gorge at the SW bastion.
Photos by Jim Millard and Roger Harwood. Copyright © 2009 America's Historic Lakes.

Below: Left, view towards moat from within a room in the Officer's quarters section of the gorge. Right, view from a room adjoining the postern, or entrance to the Fort. Notice the loophole at the left.

View towards moat from within a room in the barracks section of the west wall.Within the postern, or entrance to the Fort. Notice the rifle slot at the left.There were only two entrances into the fort- a doorway to the lake just north of the southeast bastion (Bastion A), and the main entrance at the bridge into what was called the postern, or sally port, onto the parade. Were an invader to manage to cross the moat and find his way to the postern, he would then have to gain entrance through a heavy drawbridge and two outward-opening doors where the space between each was lined with rifle loopholes. The defenders would be firing at point-blank range at the intruders. This western curtain or gorge was the Officer's quarters of the fort.


Continued here...
Click here to go back to Part I  Click here to continue with Part III

Part III
A million dollar fort that was never garrisoned

Note: Fort Montgomery is privately-owned.
The Fort grounds are posted and trespassing is strictly prohibited.


* Though a good example of third-system design and construction, Fort Montgomery is "technically" not a third-system fort, since this term was applied primarily to coastal defense forts, not forts along the northern frontier.3

** For more information on third-system fortifications see the following online sources:

Mark A. Berhow. Coast Defense Study Group, Inc., United States Seacoast Defense Construction 1781-1948: a Brief History. The First, Second, and Third Systems, 1794-1860. Februrary 2002. <> (26 February 2003)

Berhow. Coast Defense Study Group, Inc., Key References and Source Documents
for the Study of Modern US Harbor Defenses,
February 2002. <> (February 26 2003), Fort Point Historic Monument, San Francisco, California. 2002. <> (26 February 2003)

Robert E. Duchesneau III, A Brief History of American Seacoast Fortifications, 1830-1945. Original publication date unknown. <> (26 February 2003)

? John R. Weaver II, "Re: Fort Montgomery, Rouses Point, New York", February 21, 2004. Personal email correspondence to author. I had originally stated there were only 2 forts with a moat in the United States. Noted Third System authority John Weaver pointed out that Fort Montgomery was actually one of several forts to have a moat, or wet ditch. John also pointed out my incorrect use of the term 'fortress'. Mr. Weaver's book "A Legacy in Brick and Stone..." [see bibliography] is an excellent work on Third System Forts. I recommend it highly for anyone interested in these structures. (March 4, 2004)

1 Plan of Casemate Tier Fort Montgomery, Showing its present armament, February 1st 1872. NA Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Fortifications Map File- Records Group 77. Courtesy of Powertex Inc., Rouses Point, NY.

2 John F. Ross,  Sidelight on History. 1978

3 John R. Weaver II, "A LEGACY IN BRICK AND STONE- American Coastal Defense Forts of the Third System, 1816-1867."  Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, MT 2001 66,67.

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