The CDSG PRESS presents



by Colonel ARTHUR P. WADE, U.S. Army

Written for his Ph.D. dissertation at Kansas State University in 1971.

This work covers a much-neglected subject in American seacoast defense references, the First and Second Systems. Col. Wade’s work is the only detailed reference-work in publication on the subject. Members of the CDSG should add this publication to their libraries.

Abstract from the Dissertation:

At the end of the Revolutionary War the seacoast defenses of the United States consisted of a scattering of forts and batteries of varying sizes constructed by the individual states. Early in the 20th century the federal system of seacoast fortifications was generally considered the finest in the world. This dissertation examines the beginnings of that federal system, from 1794 to the end of the War of 1812.

In 1794, faced with possible war with Britain, the federal government assumed responsibility for the construction and manning of seacoast defenses from Maine to Georgia. Construction was entrusted to French-born engineers, and a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers was raised to garrison the fortifications and to provide a source of native-born military engineers. The program was stimulated by the Quasi-War with France in 1798-99, but distrust of alien influences led to the dismissal of the foreign-born officers of the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers. Nevertheless, by 1801 the so-called First System of fortifications construction had been substantially completed. The Jefferson administration reduced the size of the Army in 1802, but retained a regiment of artillerists and created the Corps of Engineers, whose mission was both to construct fortifications and to train cadets as engineers at the newly-authorized United States Military Academy. Over the next four years, however, many companies of artillerists were deployed to occupy the Louisiana Purchase, and seacoast garrisons were reduced to a minimum. Beginning in 1806, Britain’s flouting of neutral maritime rights again threatened war, and Congress appropriated funds for additional seacoast fortifications. New construction activity was stimulated by the Chesapeake-Leopard incident in 1807. This era of coast-defense construction from 1806 through the War of 1812 was to be known as the Second System. Almost all design and construction was supervised by officers of the Corps of Engineers, most of them young graduates of the Military Academy. The Chief Engineer, Jonathan Williams, introduced new theories from France, and during this Second System the basic fortifications design, hitherto founded on the works of Marshal Vauban, began to reflect increasingly the perpendicular walls and casemated guns advocated by Montalembert.

By the eve of the War of 1812 the defenses of the Atlantic coast and those below New Orleans were substantially completed and manned by regular troops. But the United States was determined to seize Canada to force Britain to acknowledge American maritime rights, and when war was declared, the regular garrisons were withdrawn from most coastal forts to join the field armies poised to invade Canada, leaving the fortifications to be manned by local militia companies.

Britain was too involved in the Napoleonic Wars to reinforce her troops in North America until 1814, although the Royal Navy raided the New England coast, blockaded many ports, and ranged the Chesapeake Bay with relative impunity. In 1814 additional British ships and troops were sent to America and conducted several full-scale amphibious attacks on the coast, one of which resulted in the capture of Washington. Only four American seacoast fortifications were attacked: Fort Washington on the Potomac capitulated without firing a shot, but Fort McHenry at Baltimore, Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay, and Fort St. Philip below New Orleans all offered strong defenses and drove off the attacking fleets.

Concluding from the wartime experience that strong seacoast defenses were a necessity, the nation embarked in 1816 upon a system of permanent fortifications that lasted until the advent of long-range aircraft and nuclear weapons made surface coastal defenses obsolete.

Comments from CDSG members:

Kenneth Thompson:

“As one who is particularly interested in early federal seacoast forts (one article on First System Fort Sumner, another on early federal forts in Essex County, Massachusetts, and two in CDSG Journal on 1808 gun houses and early federal engineer manuals), I have long considered Wade’s dissertation to be without peer in chronicling the early artillery/engineer regiments and seacoast fortification construction. When I discovered the citation some twenty-five years ago, I ordered it on inter-library loan, and quickly copied it.”

“I found it to be of such use that I indexed the thirteen fortified New England harbors. It is well-researched in primary documents (with 580 footnotes), placed in proper historical context (including the disdainful political basis for officer appointments), detailed, and well-written. The extensive bibliography is extremely useful, and led me to discover the fine collection of the papers (including wonderful fort drawings) of the early 19th century Military Philosophical Society at the New York Historical Society in NYC. In writing my Fort Williams book, I found it necessary, as does Bill Gaines in his worthy histories of various harbor defenses, that you have to address all of the contemporary forts in the harbor, and, as well, the development of successive earlier forts and ordnance programs for a full understanding.”

“And, the Endicott/Taft concrete enthusiasts should remember that the multi-tiered brick and granite forts of the Third System were rendered obsolete by rifled guns during the Civil War, returning the designs of forts/batteries to earthen berms protecting guns and crews through World War II, strongly akin to the early forts discussed by Wade. To be a truly historically complete and all encompassing (in terms of American coast defenses) ‘coast defense study group,’ the CDSG should fill in the great hole in its published repertoire by reprinting Wade’s outstanding dissertation.”

Glen Williford:

“I strongly support the CDSG reprinting this work — it is a well-written, outstanding historical work which is very important to our group’s understanding of coastal defense.”

“This is a readable “book” about the early history of coastal defense. It is not a reference item where one goes to pages 127-128 to see the plan and description of Fort Whatever. Most of what we have reprinted to date have been technical reports or manuals, good things to have on the shelf (or better yet in a DVD or hard file) when one wants to look something up. Some projects (like the quartermaster pages, or the engineer series-124 maps, or the gun record cards) lend themselves to this type of treatment; frankly it would be a waste of paper or our dollars to do anything but put them on disk.”

“However, this particular work is an entertaining story, and it needs to be read entirely to understand what the author is trying to transmit. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t want to ‘read’ 300 pages on my computer screen; I want to do that with the book on my lap in my easy chair (or more likely on some airplane seat somewhere). It’s the reason I bought my first copy of Artillerists and Engineers as a paper reprint from the university rather than get a much cheaper microfilm version.”

Bolling W. Smith:

“I have been discouraged lately by the quality of the dissertations on coast defense subjects I have seen. Arthur Wade’s work, by contrast, is outstanding. It is the single major source on the 1st and 2nd Systems. I strongly support publication of Artillerists and Engineers. It is a major contribution to American coast defense history, the principal unpublished work available, to my knowledge. Joel Eastman has been beating his head against a brick wall for years, attempting to track down Col. Wade’s next of kin, and I am delighted that he has finally been successful. Again, I am wholeheartedly in favor of printing this book. It is definitely worth doing as a long-term contribution toward our mandate to support educational projects.”

The CDSG Press is pleased to be able to offer this reprint. The typewritten original copy of this doctoral dissertation has been scanned, converted to electronic typeset for printing in book format. The original illustrations have also been scanned and an index has been added. The book is in a 8.5 x 11 inch softcover perfect bound with 266 pages and 14 B&W illustrations. If there is interest we can also provide a hard cover copy option through

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