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Forts of Southern Indiana
By Richard Day Historian Vincennes State Historic Sites
Considerations for building forts: • Protection from Indians rather than Europeans (Indians had muskets, not cannons) • For soldiers to “project force” into hostile area (built by army, with professional engineers) • For settlers to gather in times of danger (“stations” often built by settlers or militia) • Storage of supplies and ammunition
Additional Considerations • Number of troops available for defense (US Army was small—usually a company of 50 -70 at fort) • Ease of construction (time available, skill of men with axe, saw and shovel) • Location: need for high ground, near river or lake or road, or town (need for free fields of fire) • Degree of permanence (forts were usually built for emergencies, few lasted 10+ years) • Cost
Parts of a fort: Walls • Mostly wood, sometimes stone or earth • Usually “stockade” of vertical logs, 12 -16 feet long, 1 foot diameter, rough or squared, sharpened at top (sometimes horizontal logs) • Set 4 -5 feet in ground, connected with strips of wood, “lined” with boards or pickets • With firing platforms for muskets or small cannon • Shapes: simple rectangle, star, pentagon, triangle, circle
“Stockade” of vertical logs, 12 -16 feet long, 1 foot diameter
Stockades had raised firing platforms
Parts of a fort: bastions • Bastions were projecting parts of the wall, at two or four corners, providing cross-fire along the face of the wall • Half-bastions were smaller and easier to build (and cheaper) • Ravelins were pointed projections erected in the centers of each wall
Bastions (right) and half-bastions (left) were at corners of fort
Parts of a fort: Blockhouses • A blockhouse was a horizontal-log two-story building, with the second story often (but not always) projecting over the first. Blockhouses were at the corners of the fort, within, on top of, or in place of bastions. Blockhouses were often also part of the wall. They were used as barracks, officers quarters, and storage. A civilian fort often consisted of a two-story log residence with or without a stockade. Blockhouses had openings for muskets and cannon.
Blockhouses were 2 -story log buildings in the corners of the stockade, and sometimes part of the wall. They had openings for muskets and cannon.
Parts of a fort: Other structures • A powder magazine, usually sunk into the ground and with a fire-proof • Blacksmith’s shop • Well • Flagpole • Suttler’s shop • Guard house • Chapel • Gates, main and back
In 1732 Lt. Francois Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, built a small fort on the banks of the Ouabache River. It held his house and barracks for 10 men. Around it grew a French village named “Poste de Vincennes. ” The French troops left in 1764.
Fort Sackville, British fort built in Vincennes, 1777, 200 feet square, with ravelins in middle of sides. It had two 4 -pound cannon and two swivel cannon.
British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton in 1779 removed ravelins, added 2 blockhouses, 2 barracks, guard house, well, flag pole, and 6 -pound cannon
Fort Sackville was captured by Col. George Rogers Clark of Virginia on February 25, 1779. He renamed it Fort Patrick Henry. The fort was abandoned in 1782.
Fort Sackville stood about where the esplanade is in front of the George Rogers Clark Memorial
In 1970 -71 Indiana University archaeologists dug in the esplanade in front of the Clark Memorial
They found a “tinkle cone, ” silver brooch, cross, part of a clay pot, gun parts, chinaware, and part of a clay pipe.
They also found discolorations in the soil, indicative of stockade walls.
These “features”-- dubbed “Wall A” and “Wall B”-located Fort Sackville in front of the Clark Memorial.
In 1788 Fort Knox was built at Vincennes: A Officers barracks 2 stories, B Soldiers barracks one story, C Blockhouses 2 stories with platforms to mount cannons on the upper stories, hip-roofed, D Magazine sunk into the ground to the eaves, E Blacksmiths shop, F Main gate over which is built the guard house, G Sally port, . . …. . Palisades 14 ft. long, 11 ft. above ground.
Fort Knox was named for General Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War, under George Washington.
In 1800 William Henry Harrison was appointed governor of the new Indiana Territory. He decided to relocate Fort Knox north of Vincennes.
In 1803 the new Fort Knox was built 3 miles north of Vincennes.
Fort Knox II was located on a bluff overlooking the Wabash River.
In 1963 archaeologists found features of Fort Knox II
Subsequent digs revealed that Fort Knox II had an unusual fan-shaped stockade, with a full bastion and 2 half-bastions. Gaps in the stockade line marked the location of horizontal log structures.
Documents showed the fort had a 2 -story blockhouse and 1 -story barracks, powder magazine, and a blacksmith shop just outside the wall.
In 1813 Fort Knox II was dismantled, and the logs floated downriver to build Fort Knox III. It had a blockhouse, 3 bastions, 2 -story Officers Quarters and 1 story Barracks. It was closed in 1816.
Fort Vallonia was typical of many small forts and fortified houses used during the War of 1812.
General John Gibson led a company of Rangers from Fort Vallonia. He later became governor of Indiana.
In 1972 Fort Vallonia was reconstructed. It is now the site of “Fort Vallonia Days” festival on the 3 rd weekend in October