Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Fort Wayne in Detroit served in the Civil War as a muster point, a training ground, and a support post. It continued in service for many years after the war, through World War II, and even through the Vietnam War. The "star fort" (as the locals call it) is in great shape, as are some of the other buildings on the site. Many buildings, however, have lost all or part of their roofs and are in bad shape. Work is underway to save some buildings, but unfortunately there is not enough money or volunteer labor to save them all. The Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, a large group of dedicated volunteers, is doing all that it can with its resources, and has even been able to make positive strides during the COVID crisis.

5-1 Wayne Aerial NARA Color Rev01.jpg


During the War of 1812 the British had taken Fort Shelby, and following the war it fell into disrepair and was destroyed by the city of Detroit. Fort Malden controlled the Detroit River from Amherstburg, Ontario, leaving American shipping on the Great Lakes vulnerable to Canada and the British. In response to negative activity along the border, Fort Wayne was built at the narrow point in the river, and area of South Detroit called Springwells.

Fort Wayne was originally built as a wooden fort with earthen ramparts behind the cedar beams. In 1848, a magnificent stone barracks was constructed. With the onset of the Civil War, the importance of the fort grew as there was concern that Canada would join with the Confederacy. In 1863, the wooden scarp was replaced with brick. The great engineer Montgomery Meigs, later Quartermaster General, superintended the construction - under the leadership of General Joseph Totten, now in the final years of his life. They used the new concept of a semi-detached scarp in his design, where the outside wall of the fort could be knocked down in a siege while the earthen ramparts would remain defensible.

A view of the original ramparts of Fort Wayne prior to the scarp being replaced with brick.
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Here is a sketch of the cross-section of Fort Wayne, showing the design of the semi-detached scarp.
Wayne Section sketch.jpg


Additional firepower was to be placed on the ravelin, which had a view both up river and down river. The squared-off point of the ravelin was very close to the original bank of the river. Subsequent land fill operations have moved the river bank a substantial distance from the fort, and that land is used by the Corps of Engineers as a boat wharf. The ravelin, called a demilune on the drawings, had emplacements for 12 large guns, and was equipped with a hot-shot furnace (now gone).

The ravelin of Fort Wayne now stands away from the river bank, but when built was very near the bank. There were six positions for large-bore cannon on each face of the ravelin. A magazine stood in the center of the ravelin, accessible from the ditch of the fort. The fort is on the right in the picture below.
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The ravelin was accessed through a postern in the flank of a bastion of the fort.
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On the ramparts of the ravelin stood a long-gone hot-shot furnace for heating cannon balls before firing them at wooden ships. This is an historic photo of the shot furnace
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The only casemates of Fort Wayne are in the bastions; all large cannon were to be mounted on the ramparts of the fort. The casemates in the eight bastion flanks were designed for flank howitzers – 24-pounder cannon designed primarily to fire canister shot. The fields of fire of these howitzers covered all the perimeter walls of the fort with no dead spaces. As Martha and the Vandellas put it, nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide!

A bastion flank showing the outside of the howitzer embrasures.
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An interior shot of the howitzer positions in the flank of a bastion
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In addition to the howitzer embrasures in the flanks of the bastions, a portion – about one-third of the length – of the face of each bastion contained loopholes for forward musket fire. These were tall enough to allow defenders to fire into the ditch or to the top of the glacis across the ditch. These galleries led to ready magazines, two in each bastion. As expected, the brick work in the casemates and rifle galleries is incredible.
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Uniquely, the sally port of the fort is located in the flank of a bastion. Since only the bastions were casemated, this cut way down on the cost of construction and provided a well-protected entrance to the fort. The path to the sally port was curved through the glacis to eliminate the possibility of cannon fire directly reaching the gate. It was closed by a typical three-layer door with opposing grains in the wood and iron studs every six inches to deter the use of an axe to breach the gate.

This plan shows the curved path leading to the sally port at the bottom of the drawing.
Wayne Aerial NARA sally port path.jpg


Inside the outer gate was a chamber closed by another three-layer door, with loopholes opening into that chamber. If an attacker breached the outer door, they were under fire while attempting to breach the inner door.
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A long gallery led from the sally port to the parade of the fort. Interestingly, grooves in the stone on the curve in this gallery can be viewed, where waggoneers cut the corner too close and the axels wore into the stone.
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The magnificent stone barracks stands on the parade of the fort, dominating the site. Designed for five companies, it is very large and consists of four stories of rooms. Of particular interest are the loopholes in the ends of the barracks that command the ramparts of the fort. While the front and rear have large windows for ventilation, the ends provide a defensive capability. A very good compromise in the design of the barracks.
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Fort Wayne is a wonderful place to visit, though due to Michigan COVID restrictions it is currently closed to the public. It is hoped that we will be able to re-open the fort this spring!
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Years ago one of the issues of Michigan History Magazie had an article by Dr. William Phenix. The article was reprinted in a sperate booklet. I see this both this booklet and the issue of Michigan History magazine off and on at used books stores here in Michigan. Both can often be had for a couple of dollars.

ft w.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Anyone interested in fort Wayne in Detroit might think about purchasing this book.
View attachment 392864

This is my signed copy and David F. Jamroz wrote a nice note to me thanking me for my military service.
I highly recommend this book! Both Jim and Dave are great historians and very dedicated to Fort Wayne. I'm proud to call both of them friends!
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Years ago one of the issues of Michigan History Magazie had an article by Dr. William Phenix. The article was reprinted in a sperate booklet. I see this both this booklet and the issue of Michigan History magazine off and on at used books stores here in Michigan. Both can often be had for a couple of dollars.

View attachment 392865
This is a nice little booklet! I have my copy.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I don't know if Britain had any in Canada, but some of those Armstrong, Blakley, and Whitworth guns would've pounded it to rubble in no time I bet.

There could be an interesting "what if" thread this.

During the Civil War the fort had earthen walls faced with timber. Most artillery of the period could destroy the timber facing but earthen walls would take a fair amount of punishment.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
I don't know if Britain had any in Canada, but some of those Armstrong, Blakley, and Whitworth guns would've pounded it to rubble in no time I bet.

There could be an interesting "what if" thread this.
Not likely! There was an earthen coverface around the fort, and the brick façade used the Carnot concept of a sacrificial scarp. If the brick was destroyed - again, it was protected - then the earthen ramparts would remain. The gun positions on the fort were mounted behind these earthen walls.
During this period, no masonry forts were destroyed by naval firepower. It was only land-based guns that could reduce a masonry fort. That said, guns mounted in Sandwich (now Windsor) would have had the range to fire on Fort Wayne, but with the 10-inch and 15-inch Rodman guns the fort was designed for, it would have mounted a heck of a resistance. In my personal opinion, it would have driven off any field works the British put up.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
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Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
The squared-off point of the ravelin was very close to the original bank of the river.

Just a detail. I was questioning this, because on the first image you show, the ravelin looks to have a regular salient point. But now I see that on the modern photo, it is squared-off like what I would call a pan coupe (maybe not the right term). Maybe it was built with a salient at first, then squared off later? Just wondering -- this related to other studies I'm doing of fortifications.

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Just a detail. I was questioning this, because on the first image you show, the ravelin looks to have a regular salient point. But now I see that on the modern photo, it is squared-off like what I would call a pan coupe (maybe not the right term). Maybe it was built with a salient at first, then squared off later? Just wondering -- this related to other studies I'm doing of fortifications.

Roy B.
Great catch. I went back to my drawings, and the wooden/earthen Fort Wayne had a salient on the ravelin, and the brick rework of the fort blunted the salient like a pan coupe. I had noticed something funny there, but hadn't put my finger on it until your comment! Thank you!
Wood Fort Wayne plan and sections.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Great catch. I went back to my drawings, and the wooden/earthen Fort Wayne had a salient on the ravelin, and the brick rework of the fort blunted the salient like a pan coupe. I had noticed something funny there, but hadn't put my finger on it until your comment! Thank you!
View attachment 394796
This is the 1864 drawing that shows the configuration as it is today, with the brick fort.
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There was a proposed modification, not implemented, that placed a gun on a center-pintle mount at the "blunt salient" (I think that's a contradiction in terms, like a portable fixture LOL). Unfortunately my copy doesn't have a high enough resolution to be able to read the date, but I presume it was after the Civil War.
download (55).png
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
All this information in this thread makes me want to drive down to Historic fort Wayne. I wonder if it will be open this summer or fall? Has anyone heard if Historic Fort Wayne will have their Civil War reenactments this year?
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
All this information in this thread makes me want to drive down to Historic fort Wayne. I wonder if it will be open this summer or fall? Has anyone heard if Historic Fort Wayne will have their Civil War reenactments this year?
The jury is still out regarding opening and events, at least as of two weeks ago. I spoke with Tom about it, and they are awaiting the lifting of restrictions by the state and city. It certainly will be opened as soon as we are allowed.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Inside the outer gate was a chamber closed by another three-layer door, with loopholes opening into that chamber.
Interesting to see this. I've read about these three-layer doors (maybe you've mentioned them in other threads), but I think this is the first time I've seen one from the edge. I can see that would be a formidable obstacle to an attacker! Do you think this door design goes back to ancient times? Seems like an idea that could have developed over the years as a way to strengthen a particular weak point in fortresses.

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Interesting to see this. I've read about these three-layer doors (maybe you've mentioned them in other threads), but I think this is the first time I've seen one from the edge. I can see that would be a formidable obstacle to an attacker! Do you think this door design goes back to ancient times? Seems like an idea that could have developed over the years as a way to strengthen a particular weak point in fortresses.

Roy B.
Very possibly, but I really don't know. I do know that they were used throughout the Third System, and some during the Endicott Period. The Endicott Period also used two-layer doors - just two grain directions.
My good friend and great historian John Martini preserved a number of original doors from Fort Point is San Francisco. Here's a picture of an original pair of doors. John took them down and preserved them, then built replica doors to put on the sally port.
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