Fort Point and the defense of San Francisco

About the same time as the business depression occurred, efforts by the United States government to fortify the harbor at San Francisco got underway. While measures to this end had begun soon after the end of the Mexican War very little had been accomplished. The Spanish fortifications, which would have worked well in former times, were of no avail against the more modern war ships of the 1850s. In addition, the old Spanish cannon they contained, while still not worn out, had been spiked by John C. Fremont when the American forces took the city in 1846.

South view of Fort Point

During the early days of military occupation directly after the war several batteries brought from the east around Cape Horn had been placed at a few places along the bay, but these batteries were not permanent nor were they adequate for a proper defense. So, under the plan adopted, the real work of protecting the harbor began. There were to be two lines of defenses, the outer one at the Golden Gate consisting of a fortress on Fort Point of one hundred and fifteen guns in eight and ten inch calibers mounted in four tiers, and a battery of one hundred guns on Lime Point directly across the straight of the Golden Gate.

Postcard of Ft. Point and the Golden Gate

Black Point looking toward Fort Point

The inner line was made up of a fortress on Alcatraz Island with batteries on Black Point and Angel Island. This arrangement would result in a gauntlet of crossfire that would continuously pour shot and shell on any intruder all the way from Point Lobos to Telegraph Hill, a distance of some six miles. In those days no warship made could survive such withering fire. However it was not so very long until the Civil War and the advent of steel plated warships that would cause the first of many improvements in the defenses of San Francisco to be undertaken.


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