Forgotten Forts Series - Camp San Juan Island (WA)

NFB22

Sergeant Major
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Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
When one thinks of a military post located in the Washington Territory during the Civil War one would think there wouldn't be much of a connection but that isn't the case with this particular American camp. The post is located on San Juan Island of the San Juan Island chain in a channel that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland. From a strategic standpoint, the islands command the straits and therefore controlled access to much of Puget Sound.

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The post got its start during the infamous territorial dispute known as Pig War in 1859. It was during this incident that troops from the 9th US Infantry under the command of Captain George Pickett arrived in late July after being detached from the garrison at nearby Fort Bellingham aboard the USS Massachusetts. Pickett quickly deployed his troops near the shoreline as a show of force but later moved to higher ground as British warships anchored nearby with Royal Marines ready to land if needed. After choosing a new position, Pickett put his troops to work fortifying their position until more reinforcements arrived the second week of August under the command of Lt. Col Silas Casey who assumed command of all U.S. forces on the island.

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After Casey's arrival the site for a permanent camp was chosen and he also ordered a the construction of a redoubt for their artillery. Construction of this fortification was done under the watchful eye of 2nd Lt. Henry Martyn Robert. This earthwork fortification was situated on the southern end of the island and had a commanding view of the channel had British forces tried to land and attack the US force. It feature platforms for several heavy guns and was surrounded by a large ditch. Robert would go on to become a Brigadier General during the war and was later Chief of Engineers prior to his retirement from the army. This tense, bloodless dispute was finally resolved in November of 1859 when Winfield Scott arrived to negotiate with the governor of British Columbia. The agreement reached was that both nations would jointly occupy the island until their respective governments could resolve the boundary dispute.

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Upon reaching this agreement Lt Col. Casey left with much of the American force departed leaving a single company to occupy what was then known as Camp Pickett with Pickett remaining the CO of the post until his resignation in 1861. Casey would go on to become a division commander for the IV Corps of the Army of the Potomac early in the war. The post was built up significantly during Pickett's time as post commander. Wooden officers quarters were built along with a blockhouse/guard house, barracks, headquarters building, hospital, quartermasters building and storehouse as well as other buildings typical of military posts during that time. Meanwhile, on the northern end of the island a British post was built and garrisoned by Royal Marines.

With the outbreak of the war in 1861, the US government was still unsure of what Great Britain's involvement might be so instead of withdrawing troops from the post to send east, the garrison remained on the island throughout the war. The post was finally abandoned in 1874.

It appears that during the war and after, the US troops had good relations with the occupying Royal Marines with the two forces sometimes celebrating their respective holidays, such as Independence Day, together.

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Today both the remains of the American and British camps are part of the San Juan Island National Historic Park. The remains of the redoubt can be toured and several information markers are on the site. Nearby on the site of the camp, two original structures remain. There is also a visitors center that details the history of the Pig War and the post.

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A. Roy

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Raleigh, North Carolina
With the outbreak of the war in 1861, the US government was still unsure of what Great Britain's involvement might be so instead of withdrawing troops from the post to send east, the garrison remained on the island throughout the war.

This is an interesting tidbit I hadn't thought about before. I imagine there were a number of such forts that had to be maintained far from the actual battles, just on a contingency basis in case Britain or France decided to get involved.

Roy B.
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
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Location
Louisville, KY
This is an interesting tidbit I hadn't thought about before. I imagine there were a number of such forts that had to be maintained far from the actual battles, just on a contingency basis in case Britain or France decided to get involved.

Roy B.
A number of fortifications remained in use along the border in the west and in the Great Lakes region during the war. Some examples would be Fort Stevens, Fort Ontario, Fort Snelling, Fort Niagara, Fort Sullivan, etc

I know I've done writeups on Forts Ontario, Niagara & Sullivan.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 20, 2005
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Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
This is an interesting tidbit I hadn't thought about before. I imagine there were a number of such forts that had to be maintained far from the actual battles, just on a contingency basis in case Britain or France decided to get involved.

Roy B.

And there are still such "contingencies" in force to day.

When I was stationed at Ft. Drum, NY, 35 miles South of the Canadian border, the US had just reactivated the 10th Mountain Division and stationed at the newly established post.

In response, even though the Canadian Armed Forces no longer had any units above brigade size, they created in response to the 10th Mountain Division, their first division since WWII in response to this possible 'threat.'

Now, this was back in 1988, when I first was assigned to Ft. Drum, and I have no idea if this is the current situation anymore.

But I must say, it came as a complete surprise to me when Canada deemed it necessary to form and deploy such a formation to counter our formation.

Unionblue
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
And there are still such "contingencies" in force to day.

Unionblue

We had a similar contingency when I was stationed at Guantanamo Bay. The threat actually posed to the base by the Cuban military after the Cold War was negligible yet from what I understood, there are still always aircraft ready to scramble in Florida if something were to go awry. The base itself had an elaborate defense plan but we never drilled on it.
 
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