Forgotten Forts Series - Madison Barracks (NY)


Sergeant Major
Jun 21, 2012
Louisville, KY
This post is located in Sackets Harbor, New York. The town is situated on Black River Bay which branches off of the eastern end of Lake Ontario. When construction of the Madison Barracks began at the close of the War of 1812, Sackets Harbor was home to a major naval shipyard and had been the site of two battles during the War of 1812. The post was originally founded as Fort Volunteer and was located on the east side of Sackets Harbor to protect the ship yard's flank. This early earthwork fortification was later named Fort Pike in honor of Brigadier General Zebulon Pike who was killed in a magazine explosion during the Battle of York during the recent war. As seen in the drawing below, the post was one of many designed to defend the navy yard from a landward assault.


In 1816, under the command of Col. Hugh Brady, expansion of the post began with construction of new permanent structures. Soldiers from the 2nd US Infantry served as the manpower to construct barracks, a hospital and other post structures of limestone quarried from nearby lakeside cliffs with Madison Barracks being named after sitting president James Madison. Unlike other posts located on the Great Lakes such as Fort Ontario, Madison Barracks was not heavily fortified aside from nearby earthwork batteries to defend the harbor and a stockade constructed of cedar which would later be removed as the post expanded.


As the initial Madison Barracks were completed a number of additional structures were added over the years. Troops from various units were constantly shuffled between Madison Barracks and other posts bordering Canada such as Fort Ontario, Fort Niagara and Fort Wayne located at Detroit. The post was placed under caretaker status during the Mexican-American War and would not be regarrisoned until 1848 when the 4th US Infantry was assigned to the post. Among the officers with the 4th included Lt. Ulysses Grant until he was later sent to Detroit prior to the 4th's redeployment to the west coast after improvements and repairs were made at Madison Barracks. After the unit departed the post was once again placed under caretaker status.


(Post Hospital, photo by John Stanton July 25, 2012)

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the post once again came to life in 1862. Madison barracks became supply depot as well as a recruiting and training center for troops preparing to fight for the Union. One such unit I could find that was formed here was the 20th New York Cavalry which would go on to see combat during the closing days of the war during the Appomattox Campaign.


Following the Civil War, additional troops were sent to Madison Barracks during the Fenian Raids. The post would continue to expand through the late 1800s with the construction of more post buildings including a water tower and a number of brick structures such as officer's quarters, a mess hall and a guard house. The post was garrisoned until after the end of World War II when nearby Fort Drum took over as the primary army post in the region.


(Barracks & Officer Quarters, photo by John Stanton July 27, 2012)

Today, much of the Madison Barracks has been repurposed but much of it still stands. Original limestone barracks now serve as apartments while multiple brick structures serve as private housing or for businesses. Some of the original structures that can also be seen are the post hospital, headquarters/administration building, base theater, water tower and more. Nearby you can find the Sackets Harbor Battlefield dating to the War of 1812 with associated burial grounds.