Civil War San Francisco

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
By the 1850s, sleepy little Yerba Buena had become the bustling seaport of San Francisco. Gold had been discovered at Sutter's Mill, and the port where all this was shipped out was San Francisco. It had become a very wealthy city, and had a great deal of monetary turnover - lots of money and extremely high prices for all types of goods. Spain, Russia, and England were looking very lustfully at the city.
The Fortifications Board, led by Joseph Totten, saw the importance of the city - as well as other West Coast ports - and devised an elaborate plan of defense. The entrance of the bay was defined by two promontories, Lime Point to the north and Fort Point to the south. The latter got its name from the ruins of an old Spanish fort that had stood on that point of land, though the old fort was no longer viable. These two points had light-colored rocky cliffs that reflected the setting sun, giving a golden glow. That, combined with the fact that this was the narrows through which all the California gold was shipped, led to this channel being called the Golden Gate.
This narrows was the logical place for the primary defense of the harbor, as the one-mile-wide strait was easily defendable by the cannon of the day. The only issue was the dense San Francisco fog that rolled in most evenings. On a foggy night, a sailing ship just might be able to slip through the strait undetected. The solution was the defensive strategy called the "triangle defense." Forts would be built on Lime Point and Fort Point defending the narrows, and a third fort would be built off the city on Alcatraces Island. If a ship should slip past the defenses of the narrows, it could not sit off the city and bombard it - the ship would be under the guns of the island fort.
While the preliminary survey called for two forts at the narrows, Lieutenant Ledbetter's final survey revealed that more solid ground existed on the southern side of the narrows that originally believed. It was then decided that the fort at Fort Point be enlarged to house more seacoast cannon and the fort on Lime Point be downgraded to a battery. Thus the triangle defense would comprise two forts and one battery.
Because of the importance of the city, a secondary defense was designed. It was to consist of three batteries - a secondary triangle defense. These three batteries would directly defend the city, with one located on Black Point (also called Point San Jose), one located on Angel Island, and the third battery located on Yerba Buena Island. By the opening shots of the Civil War, these defenses were in place - or in the case of two of the batteries - underway.
San Francisco Bay Map Rev02.jpg
 

Claude Bauer

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
By the 1850s, sleepy little Yerba Buena had become the bustling seaport of San Francisco. Gold had been discovered at Sutter's Mill, and the port where all this was shipped out was San Francisco. It had become a very wealthy city, and had a great deal of monetary turnover - lots of money and extremely high prices for all types of goods. Spain, Russia, and England were looking very lustfully at the city.
The Fortifications Board, led by Joseph Totten, saw the importance of the city - as well as other West Coast ports - and devised an elaborate plan of defense. The entrance of the bay was defined by two promontories, Lime Point to the north and Fort Point to the south. The latter got its name from the ruins of an old Spanish fort that had stood on that point of land, though the old fort was no longer viable. These two points had light-colored rocky cliffs that reflected the setting sun, giving a golden glow. That, combined with the fact that this was the narrows through which all the California gold was shipped, led to this channel being called the Golden Gate.
This narrows was the logical place for the primary defense of the harbor, as the one-mile-wide strait was easily defendable by the cannon of the day. The only issue was the dense San Francisco fog that rolled in most evenings. On a foggy night, a sailing ship just might be able to slip through the strait undetected. The solution was the defensive strategy called the "triangle defense." Forts would be built on Lime Point and Fort Point defending the narrows, and a third fort would be built off the city on Alcatraces Island. If a ship should slip past the defenses of the narrows, it could not sit off the city and bombard it - the ship would be under the guns of the island fort.
While the preliminary survey called for two forts at the narrows, Lieutenant Ledbetter's final survey revealed that more solid ground existed on the southern side of the narrows that originally believed. It was then decided that the fort at Fort Point be enlarged to house more seacoast cannon and the fort on Lime Point be downgraded to a battery. Thus the triangle defense would comprise two forts and one battery.
Because of the importance of the city, a secondary defense was designed. It was to consist of three batteries - a secondary triangle defense. These three batteries would directly defend the city, with one located on Black Point (also called Point San Jose), one located on Angel Island, and the third battery located on Yerba Buena Island. By the opening shots of the Civil War, these defenses were in place - or in the case of two of the batteries - underway.
View attachment 393345
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing! Looks like they had it pretty well planned. Are there any remnants of these defenses that you're aware of? Considering that so many people in Baltimore have no knowledge of Ft. McHenry, Federal Hill, and other historic sites in the area, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that very few residents of the San Francisco area are aware these forts and batteries.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
The terminology the Corps of Engineers used for an unnamed fort was to call it "The fort at" and the physical location - in this case Fort Point. (For example, if a fort were to be built at Lime Point, its temporary name would be "The fort at Lime Point.") Thus the temporary name of the fort on the south side of the Golden Gate was "The fort at Fort Point." The garrison, unofficially, shortened the name to "Fort Point," and that name persists to this day.
The point of land where the new fort was to be built was a tall cliff, but the technology of the day was to build a fort at water level so that shot could be skipped across the water en route to its target. The cliff, therefore, was blasted away leaving a flat area projecting into the narrows.
Since the blasting and construction of the fort was time-consuming and there was urgency in defending the Golden Gate, an unnamed battery of heavy guns was built on the cliff to the southwest of where the fort would stand. In the absence of a name, this battery was called the "12-gun battery." It remained in place until the 1870s when it was replaced by Battery West. Around the turn of the 20th Century, a series of Endicott Period batteries were poured in the area. What remains of the 1870s battery and magazines are currently buried under the Pacific Coast Trail.
Fort Point was designed as an irregular pentagon, with two long faces and four short faces. It had an impressive four tiers of cannon, three en casemate and one barbette tier. When the final survey indicated more solid ground on either end of the fort, two projections were added at the salients of the short faces. While these were called bastions, they didn't - for the most part - share the mission of conventional bastions. Except for one flank of the east bastion, they were simply platforms for more seacoast guns. The east bastion south flank mounted flank howitzers to control the land approach to the fort, along the shore of the bay.
The other land defenses comprised a counterscarp gallery at the southwest pan coupe of the fort and loopholes on three tiers of the gorge. The fourth tier held large cannon for counterbattery fire should a siege of the fort be attempted. Unfortunately, the counterscarp gallery, shown to the bottom left of the colorized photograph below, was demolished in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
16-2 Point Aerial McGovern 2 Rev02.jpg

16-3 MHI Point with cannon.jpg

16-4 Point from Southeast .jpg

16-6 Point Sally Port Rev01.jpg

16-7 Point Casemates.jpg


16-9 Point Barracks.jpg

16-8 Point Bastion Arches.jpg
 

jackt62

Captain
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Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
The counterscarp gallery, shown to the bottom left of the colorized photograph below, was demolished in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge
At least most of Ft. Point was untouched during the construction of Golden Gate Bridge. Not so, Ft. Lafayette in New York Harbor, which was demolished to make way for one of the towers of the Verrazano Bridge in the 1960's.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing! Looks like they had it pretty well planned. Are there any remnants of these defenses that you're aware of? Considering that so many people in Baltimore have no knowledge of Ft. McHenry, Federal Hill, and other historic sites in the area, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that very few residents of the San Francisco area are aware these forts and batteries.
They were very well planned! There are a lot of remnants of the defenses; I've climbed around all of them. Fort Point is managed by National Park Service, and has been beautifully preserved. Alcatraz - the next post, probably tomorrow - has a lot of artifacts from the fort period. Point San Jose has a restored battery position. Lime Point has visible 1870s positions as well as Endicott batteries. There are a lot of remnants of the 1870s north of the bridge and on the east side of Fort Point. There are a number of concrete defenses north of the bridge and along the north shore south of the bridge. The old road Camino del Mar is closed to traffic at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, but continues as a hiking trail all the way to Land's End with Endicott batteries along the way. I can give you a lot of specifics if you are heading that way.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
At least most of Ft. Point was untouched during the construction of Golden Gate Bridge. Not so, Ft. Lafayette in New York Harbor, which was demolished to make way for one of the towers of the Verrazano Bridge in the 1960's.
So true! The architect of the bridge put in a special arch in the southern end of the bridge for the sole purpose of protecting Fort Point. Fortunately, he saw the historical significance of the fort! By the way, the engineer for the bridge was a Purdue University grad (I'm a retiree from Purdue).
IMGP8303.JPG

I'm currently working with Fort Hamilton on a plaque that will be placed overlooking the site of Fort Lafayette, giving interpretive information. We are also working on an interpretive display for the Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton regarding the details of Fort Lafayette.
Lafayette Eastman Print.jpg
 
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jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Fort Alcatraz stood in the middle of San Francisco Bay, consuming almost all of Alcatraz Island. It comprised a citadel in the center of the island, on the highest portion, surrounded by a combination of rock cliffs and brick perimeter walls. Along these walls were gun batteries, as well as two caponiers that provided a defense from someone attempting to scale the perimeter. A well-designed sally port provided the defense of the road leading from the dock up to the heights containing the fort. Later, a large defensive barracks with embrasures was built at the dock side. This structure has been modified on two separate occasions.
Alcatraz became a detention barracks for the army, then was taken over by the Bureau of Prisons to be an "escape proof" prison for the worst of the worst criminals. The citadel was torn down, but the lower level remains beneath the cell house. There are a number of structures, as well as many of the brick scarp walls, remaining from the fort. The sally port is well preserved, and has a howitzer mounted in one of the defensive positions.
This sketch shows the defenses of Alcatraz in a plan view. The dock area is at the bottom center of the sketch, and the road climbing to the sally port is just below the perimeter wall shown in orange.
16-10 Alcatraz plan.jpg


The stone barracks at the dock is shown in this 1902 photograph, with a wooden barracks addition atop the original structure. The embrasures for cannon are clearly visible.
16-11 Alcatraz 1902-barracks.jpg


The sally port was reached by a drawbridge over a ditch that was excavated in the roadway. It contained a rifle gallery defending the drawbridge from the flank as well as three howitzer positions. Two of the howitzers would have faced the dock area, and the third would have provided a defense along the scarp beyond the sally port. Note where the drawbridge was located just beyond the arch in the photograph below.
16-14 Alcatraz sally port interior.jpg


This howitzer would have provided forward fire down the road leading up to the sally port. Note the rifle gallery to the right of the photograph that would have provided flanking fire across the drawbridge. To the left of the gun position are loopholes that would have defended the interior of the sally port should an attacker breach the drawbridge.
16-13 Alcatraz Sally Port.jpg


The perimeter of the fort was a combination of rock faces and perimeter walls such as the one shown here. The artillery positions were mounted atop the walls; only the dock barracks building contained casemates.
16-12 Alcatraz Scarp 2 Rev01.jpg


One of the gun lines on Alcatraz is shown here, with a caponier standing in the background. The caponier still exists on the east side of the island, but the top portion has been cut down. The lower portion was used for oil storage during the prison era, and is both smelly and dirty (personal experience) today.
16-16 Alcatraz Caponier Historic.jpg


Another gun line on Alcatraz. Note the cannon balls beneath the carriages.
16-15 Alcatraz gunline Rev01.jpg


The citadel stood atop the highest portion of the island. It had two floors above ground and one floor - that still exists - below grade. Drawbridges connected the entrances to the citadel to the parade of the fort. Below is a colorized photograph of the citadel prior to its destruction to build the detention barracks that later became the Federal prison.
16-18 Alcatraz Citadel Rev04 Color.jpg


The entrances to the citadel were reused in the construction of the cellhouse. Note the openings for the cables of the drawbridge that still exist in the cellhouse doors.
16-19 Reused Citadel Facade.jpg


The interior of the lowest level of the citadel still exists, shown in the following photographs. Note the loopholes in the outer walls.
16-20 Citadel Interior 1.jpg

16-21 Citadel loopholes 2.jpg


Fort Alcatraz was a massive coastal fortification, designed for 105 guns. It provided a great defense of the city should a ship slip through the Golden Gate during one of the famous San Francisco fogs.
16-22 Alcatraz from water.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
The defenses of the Golden Gate included a fort on Lime Point, near what is now the northern landing of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort was downgraded to a battery when Fort Point was expanded. The original Third System battery was replaced by an 1870s battery in the same location, then an Endicott Period rapid-fire battery was constructed on the point as well. The picture below shows Rodman emplacements from the 1870s battery that now obscures any traces of the Third System battery.
Lime Point Battery.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
The secondary defenses of San Francisco comprised three batteries: one on the mainland just west of the city on Point San Jose; one on Angel Island; and one on Yerba Buena Island. Unfortunately, there is nothing left of the Yerba Buena Island battery or the Angel Island battery. A portion of the battery at Point San Jose, also called Black Point, however, has been restored and gives the viewer great views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and the bay beyond. A Rodman cannon has been emplaced there to show the design of the battery.
16-1 Point San Jose Panorama.jpg

The wharfs below are Fort Mason, now a National Park Service headquarters, where many American troops were shipped to Vietnam during the war. Originally, this battery had clear fields of fire from the Golden Gate to the inner portions of the entrance to the bay. It maintained a cross-fire with Angel Island and Yerba Buena Island.
All that is left of the Angel Island battery is this historic photograph. The defenses located there were replaced by Endicott Period defenses built around the turn of the 20th Century.
Point Stuart Angel Island.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
I've talked about the physical defenses of San Francisco during the Civil War, but there is a great story that I picked up while researching the forts. I've told this story as a presentation, called "Integrity is not just a word!"

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Albert Sidney Johnston was the commander of the Federal Department of the Pacific, based at Fort Point. San Francisco - especially the wealthy businessmen - had a Confederate bent, mostly because of the amount of commerce between the city and the Southern states. A group of Confederate-leaning businessmen asked to meet with Johnston. At the meeting, the businessmen, knowing Johnston was a Southerner, asked him to turn over the fort - and therefore the city - to the Confederacy.

Johnston summarily refused, stating that this was his command and he would defend it at whatever level was necessary. He stated that if he heard any more of this seditious talk, he would jail those participating! After leaving the meeting, he returned to the fort and moved several cannon from the seacoast side of the fort to the landward side, bolstering its defenses from the city.

Once these measures were in place, he contacted Winfield Scott in Washington, DC, and resigned his commission in the US Army. He moved to Los Angeles with his family and joined a Confederate rifle company. Rising to through the ranks, he became the highest ranking officer to be killed in action on either side when he met his fate at Shiloh. Jefferson Davis called him "The finest General Officer in the Confederacy."

Johnston demonstrated the highest level of integrity in his actions! He followed through on his position, securing the fort, even though his heart went with the Confederacy. He went with his conscience in strengthening the fort, and only when he knew that his command was secure did he follow his beliefs. He resigned from the US Army before turning his loyalty to the Confederacy. In my mind, he was the personification of integrity during that divisive time in American history.
 

Lubliner

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Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I've talked about the physical defenses of San Francisco during the Civil War, but there is a great story that I picked up while researching the forts. I've told this story as a presentation, called "Integrity is not just a word!"

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Albert Sidney Johnston was the commander of the Federal Department of the Pacific, based at Fort Point. San Francisco - especially the wealthy businessmen - had a Confederate bent, mostly because of the amount of commerce between the city and the Southern states. A group of Confederate-leaning businessmen asked to meet with Johnston. At the meeting, the businessmen, knowing Johnston was a Southerner, asked him to turn over the fort - and therefore the city - to the Confederacy.

Johnston summarily refused, stating that this was his command and he would defend it at whatever level was necessary. He stated that if he heard any more of this seditious talk, he would jail those participating! After leaving the meeting, he returned to the fort and moved several cannon from the seacoast side of the fort to the landward side, bolstering its defenses from the city.

Once these measures were in place, he contacted Winfield Scott in Washington, DC, and resigned his commission in the US Army. He moved to Los Angeles with his family and joined a Confederate rifle company. Rising to through the ranks, he became the highest ranking officer to be killed in action on either side when he met his fate at Shiloh. Jefferson Davis called him "The finest General Officer in the Confederacy."

Johnston demonstrated the highest level of integrity in his actions! He followed through on his position, securing the fort, even though his heart went with the Confederacy. He went with his conscience in strengthening the fort, and only when he knew that his command was secure did he follow his beliefs. He resigned from the US Army before turning his loyalty to the Confederacy. In my mind, he was the personification of integrity during that divisive time in American history.
I appreciate the story. I now understand why General Twiggs carries so much defamatory repercussions.
Lubliner.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Johnston demonstrated the highest level of integrity in his actions! He followed through on his position, securing the fort, even though his heart went with the Confederacy. He went with his conscience in strengthening the fort, and only when he knew that his command was secure did he follow his beliefs. He resigned from the US Army before turning his loyalty to the Confederacy. In my mind, he was the personification of integrity during that divisive time in American history.

A great story! The Civil War placed many people in ethical dilemmas, and it's instructive to study various examples of how they responded. I have a writing project I call "Civil War Nuances." Johnston might make a good story to include there.

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
A great story! The Civil War placed many people in ethical dilemmas, and it's instructive to study various examples of how the responded. I have a writing project I call "Civil War Nuances." Johnston might make a good story to include there.

Roy B.
I think it would be great to tell Johnston's story in your Civil War Nuances. It's a beautiful story about integrity and duty, as well as a man following his conscience. Interestingly, when he joined the Confederacy he joined as a private! It didn't last long; his potential was recognized and he was promoted quickly, but the fact that he enlisted as a private demonstrated his humility.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
This narrows was the logical place for the primary defense of the harbor, as the one-mile-wide strait was easily defendable by the cannon of the day. The only issue was the dense San Francisco fog that rolled in most evenings. On a foggy night, a sailing ship just might be able to slip through the strait undetected.

Small personal story showing how effective a cover this fog could be: I was visiting San Francisco in about 1971, and friends took me up on Mount Tamalpais one afternoon. As dusk approached, we watched the fog move in, a kind of sight I had never seen before -- this white blanket of cloud moving in from the ocean and covering the land, until we were standing on the last island above the fog. Then it enveloped us, too. One of the magical experiences of my youth!

P.S. -- The drive back down the mountain was quite harrowing!

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Small personal story showing how effective a cover this fog could be: I was visiting San Francisco in about 1971, and friends took me up on Mount Tamalpais one afternoon. As dusk approached, we watched the fog move in, a kind of sight I had never seen before -- this white blanket of cloud moving in from the ocean and covering the land, until we were standing on the last island above the fog. Then it enveloped us, too. One of the magical experiences of my youth!

P.S. -- The drive back down the mountain was quite harrowing!

Roy B.
That would have been quite a drive down the mountain. I've driven that in no fog, and it can be an interesting drive even then.
When I was living out there, I crossed the Dumbarton Bridge one foggy night. I had to drive with my door open, watching the white line, to stay in my lane! It was the thickest fog I have ever been in!
When I took Carol out to San Fran for the first time, I took her to one of my favorite restaurants there, McCormick and Schmidt, on top of Ghirardelli Square. Not only is the food great, but you sit overlooking the Golden Gate. I planned our arrival so that the fog began to roll in about 15 minutes after we were seated, so we could watch it slowly envelop the headlands, then the bridge, and eventually the whole bay. I'd watched that many times, but she was enthralled with that incredible sight.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing! Looks like they had it pretty well planned. Are there any remnants of these defenses that you're aware of? Considering that so many people in Baltimore have no knowledge of Ft. McHenry, Federal Hill, and other historic sites in the area, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that very few residents of the San Francisco area are aware these forts and batteries.
Sorry for the late reply - I missed the question in your response! My bad!
Yes, there a lot of remnants of these defenses. A very nice preservation is at Fort Mason. Park at the Visitor Center and walk up the hill toward the bay. You'll see a Rodman gun mounted in a battery that has a Third System position, an 1870s position, and a Spanish-American War "emergency" position - a concrete emplacement for a Rodman cannon, temporary because they couldn't make the steel cannon fast enough.
Alcatraz has a lot of the original fort left, and they now give fort-period tours to show the remnants. Just looking at my post, though, you can probably find a lot of remnants walking the island yourself.
Above Fort Point there are nice remnants of Battery East. They are accessible from Lincoln Road just east of the spot where you cross under the bridge approach. Battery West has been hidden by the Endicott Period concrete emplacements, but those are interesting in their own right.
Finally, on the north side of the bridge there are two sites from Third System and 1870s period that are open to the public. The first one is the Lime Point Battery. Exit Route 1 at the first exit, then go west under the bridge approach and follow the shore up the hill. There's a parking area, then a short walk to Battery Spencer, a concrete emplacement. On the way you'll see the 1870s Rodman positions. From that same parking area, walk down the road to the west - it's closed to all but Park Service vehicles and it's a pretty decent walk, but the views are well worth it. You'll be going downhill, but that means you have to come back uphill to your car! You will end up at water level at a place called Kirby Cove. There are many remnants of the brick battery there, and the Endicott Battery is well preserved.
The whole area at Fort Cronkite and Fort Barry has a great selection of Endicott Period and later concrete emplacements, as well as the best views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. World War II Battery Townsley stands at the north end of Fort Cronkite, and has been fully restored. There is a 16-inch gun just outside the battery, waiting for the construction of a carriage to be able to mount it in the battery.
 
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