The Artillery of Fort Adams


Researched and Written By:
John T. Duchesneau


8-inch Converted Rifle at Fort Adams - Late 1800's.

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Introduction

The purpose of this page is to give the reader a basic understanding of the number and types of artillery pieces at Fort Adams over the years. Unless specifically stated otherwise - all images are NOT of guns at Fort Adams. They are, however, of the same types of guns which were at Fort Adams. As this is a broad and complex subject - the author is likely to make errors and ommissions. He would appreciate any corrections the viewer may wish to make.


Old Fort Adams (1799 - 1821)

When the first Fort Adams was dedicated on July 4th, 1799 it was armed with twelve 32-pounder cannons. (The designation means that the cannon fired a cannonball weighing 32 pounds.) Later in 1811 an official Army report lists the fort's armament as 17 guns but does not specify their sizes. A reasonable assumption would be that the twelve 32's remained and five more cannon were added. Unfortunately there is a problem with this assumption. That is that a total of seven 24-pounders were recovered from the waters near the fort.


Old 24 Pounders at Fort Adams

There are now at Fort Adams five 24-pounder cannons (identified as such by both weight markings, one is clearly marked 50.1.0, and bore diameter) which date from the late 1700's. (Such dating is reasonable as the cannons lack markings indicating their date and place of manufacture which was more common at later dates. They also lack trunion bases indicating manufacture before the War of 1812.)

These pieces were pulled out of the water off of Fort Adams in the 1970's. Two more cannon of this set were given to the Massachusetts District Commission in the 1980's and are now on display at Fort Revere Park in Hull, Massachusetts. It is the author's belief that these pieces were part of the armament of Old Fort Adams and were disposed of after the new fort was armed in 1841. The old design of these pieces was superseded by the 1819 model of 24 pounders and, therefore, would have been obsolete at that time.

It is possible that these seven guns are the largest surviving artillery pieces manufactured in the United States prior to 1800. (Incidently, these seven 24-pounders are identical in design, but not size, to the two 18-pounders at Stonington Village, Connecticut which defended that town during the War of 1812 indicating that all of the pieces were probably produced around the same time and place.

In 1821 Old Fort Adams was deactivated and construction of the new fort began in 1824. By 1841 the construction had advanced to the point where the fort was garrisoned and Fort Adams was again an active coast defense fort.


New Fort Adams (1841 - 1865)


24 Pounder Carronade at Fort Morgan, Alabama
(Photo by Andrew Bennett.)

In the 1840's Fort Adams was probably equipped with 24-pounder carronades instead of the flank howitzers. This is because the flank howitzers did not go into production until 1844 and the carronade was well adapted for short range anti-personnel work. Additional evidence is provided by a drawing of a carronade at Fort Adams in 1835. (Credit - Roundshot and Rammers; Stackpole Books, 1969 by Harold L. Peterson.)


32-Pounders Model 1829 on Barbette Carriages, Fort Moultrie, South Carolina

The earliest armament return of Fort Adams, discovered so far, is from 1854 which shows Fort Adams being armed with 100 32-pounders, fifty-seven 24-pounders and forty-three 24-pounder flank howitzers. (American State Papers, Volume 17.)


24-pounder Model 1819

This armament remained virtually unchanged until the Civil War. In January 1862 the fort had an armament of 100 32-pounders (5 mounted en barbette and 18 in casemates), fifty-six 24-pounders (16 mounted en barbette and 11 in casemates) and forty-three 24-pounder flank howitzers (nine mounted in casemates) as well as two 6-pounder field guns, two 12-pounder howitzers and one 8-inch mortar for a total of 204 guns. In addition to the guns mounted above there were 48 carriages without guns mounted on them. (Newport Mercury, January 18th, 1862)


Post Civil War (1866 - 1897)


15-inch Rodman at Fort Knox, Maine.

A report dated June 30th, 1866 shows that shortly after the Civil War the fort's armament underwent significant changes.

Although most of the old antebellum cannon remained, they were supplemented by eleven massive 15-inch Rodmans (two mounted on the southwest bastion of the exterior front by 1873 and an additional three mounted south of the fort's exterior ditch by 1894), thirteen 10-inch Rodmans (ten being mounted in the center tier in the southern most end of the west wall) and four 100-pounder Parrott rifles (mounted facing south in the northwest bastion). Article about Rodman cannon.


100-pounder (6.4 inch) Parrott Rifles at Fort Sumter, SC
(National Park Service photograph.)

These three types of guns formed the fort's major batteries from the end of the Civil War until 1898. The Parrott rifles were renowned for their long range and accuracy but were notorious for bursting after heavy use. From their south facing position they could cover the approach to Newport for miles out to sea and would probably be the first guns fired in the event a hostile fleet attacked Newport.


10-inch Rodman at Fort Knox, Maine

In the event of an attack, the 15-inch Rodmans would have been the fort's main batteries and would have concentrated their fire on the larger enemy ships. The 10-inch Rodmans would have taken care of any smaller vessels as well as finishing off, at close range, any ships which survived the fire of the 15 inchers.


4.5-inch Seige Rifle at Fort Allen Park, Portland, Maine

For mobile defense Fort Adams was supplied with four 4.5-inch seige rifles. These were mounted on wheeled carraiges and could be deployed anywhere necessary for the defense of the fort or the city of Newport.

By 1873 all of the old 24-pounders and all but 20 rifled 32-pounders had been removed from the fort. Also, four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles on field carraiges and four 10-inch Seige Mortars Model of 1861 had been added to the fort's armament.

The return of 1883 showed even more types of ordnance being sent to the fort.

One 10-inch Seacoast Mortar Model of 1861, and four 30-pounder Parrott rifles had been added. The Parrotts were probably replacements for the 4.5 inch seige rifles as they had been dismounted from their carraiges.

By July 1st of 1894 four 8-inch converted rifles had been emplaced to the south of the main fort complex approximately where Battery Bankhead would be later located.


Endicott Period Batteries (1898 - 1916)

The Endicott Period refers to weapons developed as a result of the Endicott Board which was established in 1885 to access the nation's coast defense needs. The primary findings of the board were that the country need to build new fortifications armed with modern rifled breech-loading artillery pieces which were a quantum leap in fire power above the existing Civil War vintage artillery pieces then in service.

While the earliest Endicott Batteries date from 1895, the first battery at Fort Adams was not commenced until 1897.

February 15th, 1898 the Armored Crusier U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana Harbor and the United States was soon at war with Spain. This was untimely from the standpoint of coast defense as the modern weapons of the Endicott system were in the process of being developed and emplaced and few ports in the country were protected by modern guns.

At the outbreak of the Spanish American War the two batteries of 12-inch mortars at Fort Adams (named Green and Edgerton) were nearing completion and would be operational later in the year. Each battery had eight mortars for a total of sixteen. They were more than equal to any battleship afloat at that time and had a range of 12,000 yards.

In addition to the mortars an eight-inch breech loading rifle was emplaced in one of the 15-inch Rodman emplacements to the south of the old fort complex. These were modern weapons mounted on the older carraiges for the massive Rodmans. While the combining of the old and new may seem stange it was a quick fix for the need for modern rapid-fire artillery pieces. The gun was removed around 1900 and, presumably, installed at another fort.

Another report dated December 31st, 1899 shows that one 8-inch breech loading rifle mounted on a 15-inch Rodman carraige (only 23 of these guns were made and, unfortunately the author has been unable to find any pictures or surviving specimens) had been emplaced near the 8-inch converted rifles.


3.6-inch Breech Loading Mortar

Another weapon listed on the 1899 ordnance report is a 3.6-inch breech loading mortar, Model of 1890. This was a rare artillery piece (only 76 were made) and used for training only. It was probably used to train gunners in the use of indirect fire weapons without the expense of firing larger mortars.


Battery Greene in August 1937.
(Note - Two mortars were removed from each pit in 1917.)

In 1897 work began on the first of the new Endicott period batteries. This was the mortar pit located aproxomatately one quarter of a mile south of the main fort. These emplacements (named Batteries Greene and Edgerton) originally mounted sixteen 12-inch breech loading mortars which became operational on June 24th, 1898 - just in time for the Spanish-American War.


10-inch Disappearing Rifle of Battery Reilly Recoiling after Firing


4.72-inch Armstrong Rifle in Equality Park, Newport, RI.

The mortars were supplemented the next year (1899) by two 4.72-inch Armstrong rifles at Battery Talbot and two 10-inch disappearing rifles at Battery Reilly. These weapons, supplemented by new batteries at Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, gave Narragensett Bay its first modern direct fire weapons. With ranges of 11,800 and 15,000 yards respectively they greatly increase the effectivness of the Bay's defenses.


2.24 inch (aka. 6-Pounder) Field Gun

A report of the fort's ordnance dated December 31st, 1902 states the fort had two 6-pounder field guns. These were small, mobile guns to help defend the fort against attacking ground forces.

The old muzzle loading 10 and 15-inch Rodmans were removed from Fort Adams in 1902. These were followed by the 8-inch converted rifles in 1904. This marked the end of iron muzzle-loading smooth-bore cannon as part of American coast defense.


6-inch Armstrong Rifle at Fort DeSoto, Florida (Same type of gun mounted at Battery Bankhead.)

In 1907 batteries Belton with two 3-inch mine defense guns (also called 15-pounders) and Bankhead with three 6-inch Armstrong rifles were added completing Fort Adams' modern armament. They had a range of 14,000 yards.


First World War (1917 - 1918)

When the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917 most of the Endicott batteries remained at Fort Adams. It was quickly realized (as it was in both the Civil War and Spanish-American War) that there were no defences to guard the east side of Aquidneck Island.

In response the two 4.72-inch guns of Battery Talbot were moved to Sachuest Point in Middletown. This battery covered the entrance of the Sakonnet River as well as providing an early warning station in the event of an approaching fleet. (In the days prior to radar and long range aircraft coastal watch stations were of great importance in detecting hostile fleets.) When the war concluded the battery was deactivated and the guns declared obsolete in 1920.

In 1923 one was put on display at Equality Park in Newport where it remains to this day. The other was displayed at the Westerly, Rhode Island National Guard Armory until it was traded for an 8-inch Parrott rifle from Fort Moultrie at an undetermined date.

These pieces are unique in that they are the only surviving guns documented to have armed Fort Adams and they are possibly the only matched set of 4.72-inch Armstrong rifles known to be in existence. They are also the only two artillery pieces in existance which are authenticated to have been emplaced at Fort Adams.

Other batteries at Fort Adams were stripped to provide heavy artillery pieces for the Army in France. The 10-inch guns of Battery Reilly were removed as were eight of the twelve inch mortars of Batteries Green and Edgerton.


Interim (1917 - 1938)

By the end of the First World War only the eight 12-inch mortars and the two 3-inch guns of Battery Belton remained at Fort Adams. In 1925 Battery Belton was deactivated.


World War Two (1939 - 1945)

When the Second World war broke out in 1939 the only remaining major caliber guns at Fort Adams were the eight 12-inch mortars. These were never activated during the war and were scrapped in 1942.

Sometime between the wars the fort had recieved three 3-inch M1895 anti-aircraft guns. Two were emplaced on the outfront of the fort's redoubt and the other between the redoubt and the commanding officer's quarters. They could fire at aircraft 27,900 feet up and reflected the changes in warfare which would dominate the second world war.


90-Milimeter Anti-Aircraft Gun during World War Two.

These were replaced in 1944 by two M1 90mm anti-aircraft guns, which could shoot at aircraft up to an altitude of 33,800 feet. The 90mm guns were also supplemented by 40mm anti-aircraft guns as well as .50 caliber machine guns. These guns were finally removed before Fort Adams was deactivated in 1950.

Conclusion

During the course of Fort Adams' history weaponry had progressed from cannonballs to atomic bombs. As the world entered the late 20th Century old forts were no longer needed and the guns of Fort Adams quietly faded away as new weapons were developed to deal with the challanges of a new era in human history.

THE END


Appendix

Armament of Fort Adams from 1898 through 1943 from Coast Defense Study Group Data Base.

FORT ADAMS/ Newport/ 1824/ state park, Navy housing/ MD, MC/ KKKK


Unnamed/ 1- 8"/ Rod/ 1898- c. 1900 (8-inch breech loading rifle mounted on 15-inch Rodman carraige.)
Greene/ 8- 12" Mortars 1898-1943. (Renamed Battery Gilmore in WWII.)
Edgerton - 8 -12" Mortars 1898-1943.
Reilly - 2 - 10-inch Rifles on Disappearing Carraiges 1899-1917.
Bankhead - 3 - 6" Armstrong Rifles 1907-1913
Talbot - 2 - 4.72-inch Armstrong Rifles 1899-1917 (One 4.7 gun is in Equality Park, Newport the other is at Fort Moultrie, SC.)
Belton - 2 - 3-inch Pedestal Mounts 1907-1925


References

American State Papers.

Coast Defense Study Group Database Lists all know coast defense batteries of the United States from 1885 through 1945.

Armament Returns from Fort Adams in the National Archives.


Related Websites


Fort Adams Homepage

History of Fort Adams

Center for Fort Presevation and Tourism

Encyclopedia of Civil War Artillery

The Civil War Artillery Sites are the best resources on the net about Civil War Artillery.

Civil War Artillery.com Profusely Illustrated.

History of Rodman Cannon


Recommended Reading

Defenses of Narragansett Bay in World War II by Walter K. Schroder, 1980.

The Big Guns by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark and Spencer E. Tucker is the most comprehensive book ever written about heavy artillery of the Civl War.

Roundshot and Rammers by Harold L. Peterson. Contains general information about artillery prior to the 1870's.

Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War by Warren Ripley. A good general reference about the artillery of the Civil War.


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