Monday, February 16, 2009

Quickie: A Legacy in Brick and Stone (Weaver, John)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2001
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Read again? Yes.

Subtitle: American Coastal Defense Forts of the Third System, 1816-1867

I've been a fort junkie since September of 1999, when I visited Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida. At first, I just wanted to make maps of it to build a deathmatch game level for the "Star Wars: Jedi Knight" video game. But as I measured and sketched, I got more and more curious about the history of the place. This turned to fascination and a desire to learn and see as much about these buildings as I possibly can.

Mr. Weaver did a short but enjoyable presentation at Fort Pickens around the time his book came out--and I had to have a copy. "Legacy" takes us briefly through the history of each of 42 forts built between 1816 and 1867, all intended to defend the American coastline against assault by sea.

He begins with a short overview of the systems of fortification, then explains some key terms and structures in the science of fort-building and fort-destroying, weapons, and politics.

Then it's on to the individual forts, going from the Northern Frontier, intended to keep those nefarious Canadians from invading via the Great Lakes and various rivers. Then we go from Maine south along the Atlantic coast to Key West, Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and finally Forts Point and Alcatraz in San Francisco, California.

Illustrations include photos from the author's own collection, maps of the general areas, and line drawings. The only down-side to the illustrations is that they can't convey how very large and beautiful these structures are.


Boomslang said...

Hi - I really enjoyed your post. Weaver's book is definetly the bible on this subject. While in Florida last summer, I spent a whole day at Fort Jefferson and the better part of a day at Fort Zachary Taylor. Where I live now (near Buffalo, NY - barf) is a good jumping off point for the 3rd system forts on Lakes Erie and Ontario. A bit of a drive takes me up to my hometown of Rouses Point, NY where the ruins of Fort Montgomery stand tall on Lake Champlain.
(Google the website America's Historic Lakes for a great treatment of this less recognized 3rd System (Inland) fortification. Your are right - this stuff gets in your blood and draws you to a sight. Fort Jefferson knocked my socks off! As the 400th anniversarry of the discovery of Lake Champlain is this summer, we will let Fort Montgomery keep silent watch over those nefarious Quebecois.

JW said...


Yes, Jefferson is incredible. I only had the one day at the place, and I know there's much that I missed--but I was busily measuring and sketching, hoping to make drawings later.

Taylor was impressive, but saddening, considering how much of it is left, and the condition.
Did you see either of the two Martello Towers along the south shore near there?

Keep an eye open for them furriners *grin* and an eye open here--I've got several fort books to do "quickie" reviews on, including the book written for Park Rangers at Fort Jefferson--the Historic Structure Report by Edwin C. Bearss. I have a National Park Service link, but that part of their site is down right now.