Civil War Forts


Third System of Forts

In order to prevent a repetition of the burning of Washington, President James Monroe wanted better coastal defenses. In 1816, the army had created a board to study the subject and recommend what fortifications were required. Membership included Brigadier General Joseph G. Swift, chief of engineers, and two other American engineers, Lieutenant Colonels William McRee and Joseph G. Totten. Monroe asked France for a distinguished engineer to head the board. The French sent Simon Bernard, a graduate of the École Polytechnique. Swift and McRee both considered Bernard's appointment to be an insult to American engineers and resigned from the board shortly in protest. Totten stayed to assist Bernard in planning what became known as the Third System of fortifications. The 1821 report recommended an extensive program to build almost 200 modern masonry forts on the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific coasts, but by the beginning of the Civil War only 30 of these forts were completed.

When Bernard returned to France in 1831, Totten became America's expert on fortifications. The first fort constructed was Fort Adams on Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island. In August 1825, Totten arrived at Fort Adams to take charge of the work. The fort features many sophisticated engineering features that makes it a showcase for the art of fortification and a tribute to Totten’s inventiveness. Totten conducted scientific experiments to determine the resistance of various materials used in fortifications to enemy fire, designed a greatly improved embrasure for seacoast forts, and made numerous contributions to civil engineering. Totten remained in Newport until December 1838, when he left to become chief of engineers of the United States Army. When Totten died in 1864, he was recognized as one of the country's greatest engineers.


General Information*


Photo Gallery3






Recommended Resources

1 National Park Service summary.

2 Classification:

  • A - having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war

  • B - having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign

  • C - having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign

  • D - having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives

3 Pictures are from the Corinth Interpretative Center

4 Third System of Forts - The Third System was established during a relatively peaceful time for the United States. These conditions provided for an unprecedented level of standardization in design and planning. For the first time, a professional board was appointed to oversee design and construction. Close to 200 forts were envisioned to guard the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, however only 30 were built between 1816-1867. Some structures were never completed in part because of events at Fort Pulaski during the Civil War. 

* Please click on the description to expand the outline

Revised 1/5/18