Pivotal Forts In The Fight For American Independence

battle of long islandThe Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

New York City was pivotal in the battle for U.S. Independence from the British.The importance of the forts lining the city’s waterways cannot be overstated. Sure, they were seized, and overrun, and in the end did little more than symbolic damage to His Majesty’s warships, but the colonial fortifications gave the British something they weren’t expecting—something that likely unsettled them, perhaps undermined their ferocity, and gave the colonists a small edge when they needed it the most.

The American forts, and the cannons that belched from their walls inspired caution in the Royal Navy of the 1770s. And that bit of wariness along with George Washington’s wily tactics, and the colonials’ uniting hatred of the crown, eventually proved England’s undoing.

So in honour of this 4th of July we headed out to Fort Jay, Castle Williams, and Castle Clinton to better understand what the holiday really means to New York City.

As our National Park guide reminded us, one failed raid on Washington’s army at Brooklyn Heights is all that kept “God Save the King” from being sung at American baseball games today.

This is the southernmost section of Manhattan facing the path in from the Atlantic. To the left is Castle Williams and to the right is Fort Wood

And this is Castle Clinton. Together the three fortifications made up a triangle of protection for the New York City harbor

They stood guard over Manhattan when it looked more like this ...

... than like this

The oldest defensive structure on Governors Island is this earthenworks bulwark called Fort Jay

Cannons from Fort Jay fired on the British ships Phoenix and Rose, playing a pivotal role in reducing British presence in the East River

Fort Jay's soldiers were prepared to defend an attack, rushing outside the gates; firing from the law wall; and falling back across the dry moat if overcome

The Red Coats would have been exposed in a frontal attack, and equally exposed if they went for the back entrance

Secured by these steel plated oak doors ...

And accessible through this winding path that allowed colonial marksmen to fire at every turn

Inside is where America's fledgling army lived as it prepared to take the colonies from the British

Beneath the courtyard and down this tunnel is where the ordnance needed to take on the English Empire was kept

Musket balls, gunpowder and cannon balls would have filled this room

It wasn't until after the Revolution, when the British were beaten back from New York that Castle Williams was built next door

Castle Williams was a new generation of fort with three levels of firing positions, so that cannons could strike a ship's hull, the men on its deck, and its rigging

The cannon installed here was immense

Ships coming into New York had to pass guns like these along several points

The cannons were loaded with these 400 pound steel balls, many of which could be stuffed with gunpowder and stuck with a fuse

But the guns within these walls were never fired in battle

The fort served as a prison for much of its active life

Military planners preferred to keep ships out of the harbor, rather than attacking them in the harbor. This would mean beefing up fortifications here at the Verrazano narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn

And once the colonials got Fort Wadsworth back from the British following independence ...

... they built Fort Hamilton here on the opposing shore and both installations provided key defence to New York well through the Civil War

These stone creations were the seeds of what has become the largest military budget in the world

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