Fort Columbus


Fort Columbus

Infobox Military Structure
name=Fort Columbus
location=New York County, Governors Island, New York


caption=
type=
built=1795, 1806, 1833
materials=brick, granite, sandstone
used=1806-1904
controlledby=United States
garrison=
commanders=
battles=

Fort Columbus the name of a fortification and an army post on Governors Island in New York Harbor, in New York, New York from 1803 to 1904.

Origin of Name

Fort Columbus was originally built as Fort Jay and named in honor of New York governor John Jay in the 1790s. It was renamed Fort Columbus, after the discoverer Christopher Columbus in 1803, by Democratic-Republican Party (United States), the political party in power who objected his negotiations resulting in the Jay Treaty of 1794 with Great Britain, resolving outstanding issues from the American Revolution. The name Fort Jay was restored in February 1904 in one of his final acts as President Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, Elihu Root. Root, a New Yorker and admirer of the Federalist political party and of John Jay, ordered the fortification and the army post on Governors Island renamed Fort Jay.n Revolution. The name Fort Jay was restored in February 1904 in one of his final acts as President Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, Elihu Root. [cite book
last=Smith
first=Edmund Banks
title=Governor's Island: Its Military History Under Three Flags, 1637-1913
origyear=1913
url=
edition=1st
publisher=Edmund Banks Smith
location=New York
language=
isbn=
oclc=
doi=
id=
pages=112
]

Importance to New York City and the Nation

Fort Columbus played an important role in the military life of New York City as the city's largest and closest army post. The fortification, in concert with Fort Wood on Liberty Island, Fort Gibson on Ellis Island, Castle Clinton at the Battery in Lower Manhattan, and two other fortifications on Governors Island, South Battery and Castle Williams; provided protection for New York City and the Upper Harbor. This system of coastal fortifications discouraged the British from taking any naval action against the city during the War of 1812. In subsequent years, Forts Wadsworth, Hamilton and Lafayette at the Narrows of New York Harbor reduced the need for the Upper Harbor forts and in time all but those on Governors Island were transferred to other federal agencies or sold to the state of New York. Fort Columbus possessed a sufficient land mass for a modest garrison - 68 acres - and a reasonable proximity - 1000 yards - from Manhattan, making the most practical of the 1812-era forts to be retained.

For many years, Fort Columbus was the closest major army post to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and served as a first posting or a major departure point for newly graduated cadets shipping out to army posts along the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. Many future generals in the Civil War as young junior officers were posted to or passed through Fort Columbus. They included Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood, Theophilus H. Holmes Thomas Jackson, Henry Wager Halleck, James B. McPherson, John G. Barnard and others.

Changing Mission

In the 1830s, the the fort's protective value to New York diminished with the advent of weapons technology and other uses evolved for the army post. The U.S. Army's General Recruiting Service for infantry troops was located there in November 1852. [ Smith, Edmund Banks [1913] . 106.] The South Battery fortification became the U.S. Army School of Music Practice where young boys were trained to play military music with drums and fifes. While not a part of the post, the neighboring New York Arsenal, established in 1833, as a major depot taking delivery of privately manufactured arms and weapons and distributing them to army posts across the nation as well as disposing of surplus and excess cannons and munitions after the Civil War.

Civil War

Twice, in 1861 troops and provisions were secretly dispatched from Fort Columbus to relieve the besieged garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The first effort failed when the U.S. Army chartered the New York based steamship, "Star of the West" was fired on by cadets from the South Carolina state military school, The Citadel on January 9, 1861. The incident provoked a crisis as southern states began to actively consider succession from the Union. The second effort, a political provocation by President Abraham Lincoln, also failed when it prompted the early morning firing on April 9, 1861 by South Carolina forces on Sumter, provoking the beginning of the American Civil War. In both cases and along with others, Theophilus H. Holmes, the post's commanding officer and soon to be Confederate general, provided intelligence to pro-Southern parties about the secret resupply missions.

During the Civil War, Fort Columbus was a recruiting center, hospital and along with another fortification on Governors Island, Castle Williams, served as temporary prison for Confederate prisoners of war.

Division and Departmental Headquarters

In 1878, as part of a cost-cutting effort, the U.S. Army relocated many its administrative functions from rented quarters in New York City to Governors Island, becoming the headquarters for the Division of the Atlantic then later Department of the East. Both commands at times included almost all army activities east of the Mississippi River. As a premier posting for commanding officers, its prestige was second only to high ranking army positions in Washington, D.C. Its departmental commanders from the 1880s to the 1900s were many notable Civil War, Indian War and Spanish-American War combat commanders. Departmental commanders during the last half of the 19th century included Winfield Scott Hancock, Wesley Merritt, Oliver O. Howard, Nelson Miles, and Arthur MacArthur. [Smith, Edmund Banks [1913] . 158-159.]

For information about the fortification and army post at this location after 1904, see Fort Jay.

References

Additional resources

*Citation
last =Smith
first =Edmund Banks
publication-date =1913
date =
year =1913
title =Governors Island: Its Military History Under Three Flags, 1637-1913
edition =1st
place =New York
publisher =Edmund Banks Smith
pages =178

*Citation
last =Smith
first =Edmund Banks
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
publication-date =1923
date =
year =
title =Governors Island: Its Military History Under Three Flags, 1637-1922
edition =2nd
place =New York
publisher =Valentine's Manual
pages =243
page =
id =
isbn =
doi =
oclc =
url =
accessdate =

*Citation
last =Glen
first =Susan L.
author-link =
last2 =Shaver
first2 =Michael B.
author2-link =
publication-date =2006
date =
year =
title =Images of America: Governors Island
edition =
place =Mount Pleasant, SC
publisher =Arcadia
pages =
page =
id =
isbn =9780738538952
doi =
oclc =
url =
accessdate =

*cite web|url=http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1904&ResourceType=District
title=Governors Island
date=2007-09-11
work=National Historic Landmark summary listing
publisher=National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

*Citation
last =Hightower
first =Barbara
author-link =
last2 =Higgins
first2 =Blanche
author2-link =
publication-date =1983
date =
year =
title =Governors Island: National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination
edition =
place =Washington, D.C.
publisher =National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
pages =47
page =
id =
isbn =
doi =
oclc =
url=http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/85002435.pdf
accessdate =

*cite web|url=PDFlink| [http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Photos/85002435.pdf] Governors Island--Accompanying 76 photos, from 1982.] |15.5 MiB |title=National Register of Historic Places Inventory|date=1983|publisher=National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior]


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