1870s System

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1870s System (1870-1876) - Began with the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 and extended to the cutoff of Congressional funding for Seacoast fortifications in 1876. Followed by the Endicott Period. Little or no Congressional funding for seacoast defenses was provided in the years between the periods (1876-1890).

Fort Baker, Battery Ridge Facing Alcatraz
Fort Alcatraz Rodman Guns
Battery Cavallo Built in 1870s, Armed in the 1890s, Shown here in a 1938 Aerial Photograph. Originally on Fort Lime Point later renamed as Fort Baker.

Technological changes during the U.S. Civil War clearly obsoleted the Third System coast and harbor defenses. The masonry Third System fortifications could not stand up to large caliber rifled shipboard guns and ironclad vessels. The huge profile of these forts made them attractive targets and they could be besieged and reduced to rubble in a short span of time with little cost to the attackers.

Temporary fortifications surrounding major cities during the war had been constructed of earth and log works providing a relatively cheap and easily constructed defense. Earth and especially sand proved to have much more stopping power than masonry walls and any damage done could be repaired overnight. The Third System forts were expensive to build and almost impossible to repair under battle conditions.

After the war these lessons were applied to coastal and harbor defenses so that instead of constructing large masonry forts, dispersed gun batteries with protective earthworks backed with stone or concrete instead of logs were built. The old forts were retained but only to provide strong points and suport for outlying batteries with occasional guns mounted on the barbette tier. In places where there was no Third System fort the batteries provided their own defense.

The transition from masonry coastal forts to earthworks coastal forts and batteries began during the U.S. Civil War and can be seen in new fortifications built on the west coast. Fort Stevens was begun early in the war but not finished until April 1865. It was built as an earthworks with a few masonry elements but mostly with log, plank and earth elements. Unmaintained after the war the gun platforms soon deteriorated and the fort was placed in caretaker status. It was not until the Endicott Period refortification brought eight large caliber concrete gun batteries that Fort Stevens was resurrected. The Old Fort Stevens became the site of one of these batteries.

Even later construction at Battery Cavallo and Battery Ridge reflected the 1870s System concept of detached earthworks batteries. These batteries contained internal masonry elements (communications tunnels, magazines and gun mounts) but were surrounded with earthworks and covered where possible with earth and/or sand to create bombproof structures. This combination proved very successful and was carried forward through World War II with reinforced concrete batteries fronted and covered with earth and sand. Some of the early 1870s structures still survive and examples can be seen at Battery Cavallo and Battery Ridge on the north side of the Golden Gate at Fort Baker.

The end came for the 1870 System improvement in 1876 when a cost conscious Congress cut off construction funding for harbor defenses. Funding would not resume until technology again forced the massive Endicott Period construction program.

See Also:


  • Berhow, Mark A. ed, American Seacoast Defenses: A Reference Guide, 3rd Edition - PDF, CDSG ePress, McLean, VA, 2012, ISBN 0-9748167-0-1, page 54-55


Coastal Forts of the United States in 1879 (edit list)
East Coast Florida & Gulf Coast & West Coast
  1. Fort Sullivan (1), Eastport, ME
  2. Fort Knox, Bucksport, ME
  3. Fort Popham, Parker's Head, ME
  4. Fort Gorges, Portland, ME
  5. Fort Scammel, Portland, ME
  6. Fort Preble, Portland, ME
  7. Portland Head Battery, Portland, ME
  8. Fort McClary, Kittery, ME
  9. Fort Constitution (2), Newcastle, NH
  10. Jerry's Point Battery, Portsmouth, NH
  11. Fort Independence (1), Boston, MA
  12. Fort Lee, Salem, MA
  13. Fort Warren (2), Boston, MA
  14. Fort Winthrop (1), Boston, MA
  15. Long Point Battery, Provincetown, MA
  16. Long Island Battery, Provincetown, MA
  17. Fort Andrew, Plymouth, MA
  18. Fort Standish, Plymouth, MA
  19. Fort Phoenix, Fairhaven, MA
  20. Clark's Point Fort, New Bedford, MA
  21. Fort Adams (1), Newport, RI
  22. Fort Wolcott, Newport, RI
  23. Dutch Island Fort, Jamestown, RI
  24. Fort Griswold, New London,CT
  25. Fort Trumbull, New London, CT
  26. David's Island, New Rochelle, NY
  27. Fort Schuyler (1), Long Island, NY
  28. Willett's Point, Long Island, NY
  29. Fort Columbus, New York Harbor, NY
  30. Fort Wood, New York Harbor, NY
  31. Fort Wadsworth, Narrows, New York Harbor, NY
  32. Fort Hamilton (1), Narrows, New York Harbor, NY
  33. Fort Lafayette, Narrows, New York Harbor, NY
  34. Sandy Hook Fort, Sandy Hook, NJ
  35. Finn's Point Battery, Salem, NJ
  36. Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, PA
  37. Fort Delaware, Pea Patch Island, DE
  38. Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD
  39. Lazaretto Point Fort, Baltimore, MD
  40. Fort Carroll (1), Baltimore, MD
  41. Fort Washington, Fort Washington, MD
  42. Fort Foote (1), Opposite Alexandria, VA
  43. Fort Monroe, Old Point Comfort, VA
  44. Fort Wool (1), Old Point Comfort, VA
  45. Fort Whipple (1), Georgetown, VA
  46. Washington Arsenal, Washington, DC
  47. Fort Macon, Beaufort, NC
  48. Fort Caswell, Smithville, NC
  49. Fort Johnston (2), Smithville, NC
  50. Fort Sumter, Charleston, SC
  51. Fort Moultrie, Charleston, SC
  52. Fort Johnson (1), Charleston, SC
  53. Castle Pinckney, Charleston, SC
  54. Charleston Barracks, Charleston, SC
  55. Fort Jackson, Savannah, GA
  56. Fort Pulaski, Savannah, GA
  57. Oglethorpe Barracks, Savannah, GA
  1. Fort Clinch (1), Fernandina, FL
  2. Fort Marion, St. Augustine, FL
  3. St. Francis Barracks, St. Augustine, FL
  4. Fort Jefferson, Key West, FL
  5. Fort Taylor, Key West, FL
  6. Key West Barracks, Key West, FL
  7. Fort Brooke, Tampa, FL
  8. Fort Pickens, Warrington, FL
  9. Fort Barrancas, Warrington, FL
  10. Fort McRee, Warrington, FL
  11. Fort Gaines (1), Mobile, AL
  12. Fort Morgan (1), Mobile, AL
  13. Ship Island, Mississippi City, MS
  14. Fort Macomb (1),Lake Borgne, LA
  15. Fort Livingston, Barataria Bay, LA
  16. Battery Bienvenue, New Orleans, LA
  17. Tower Dupre, New Orleans, LA
  18. Jackson Barracks, New Orleans, LA
  19. Fort Jackson, Below New Orleans, LA
  20. Fort Pike (1), Below New Orleans, LA
  21. Fort St. Philip, Below New Orleans, LA
  22. Fort San Diego, Corpus Christi, TX
  23. San Diego, San Diego, CA
  24. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA
  25. Angel Island, San Francisco, CA
  26. Fort Point (3), San Francisco, CA
  27. Lime Point Fort, San Francisco, CA
  28. Point San Jose MR, San Francisco, CA
  29. Presidio, San Francisco, CA
  30. Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco, CA
  31. Fort Stevens, Astoria, WT
  32. Fort Canby, near Astoria, WT
  33. Fort Townsend, Port Townsend, WT
  34. Vancouver Barracks, Vancouver, WT
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