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Fort Hamilton is a Third System Fort, a US military base and home to the Harbor Defense Museum.
Fort Hamilton is a US military base in New York built between 1825 and 1831 as part of the city’s Third System defences. The Third System forts were coastal defences built in the US following the War of 1812.
Even before its construction, the site on which Fort Hamilton was built had already proven a vital strategic point. It was here that, on 4 July 1776, American forces attempted, but ultimately failed, to stop British forces from bringing in ships to quell the American Revolutionary War. Then, in the War of 1812, this was where American forces repelled British ships from docking.
As a garrisoned post, Fort Hamilton hosted some of the most famous figures in US history, including Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. It would go on to become a Union fortification in the American Civil War and an embarkation site in both world wars.
Today, Fort Hamilton is an active military base as well as housing New York’s only military museum, the Harbor Defense Museum. At this museum, visitors can see a range of historic weaponry, uniforms and exhibits such as about the Battle of Brooklyn.
It’s worth noting that Fort Hamilton was only named as such in the twentieth century, its namesake being Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795, Alexander Hamilton.
Fort McHenry was the site of a siege during the War of 1812 and the inspiration for the American National Anthem.
Fort McHenry in Baltimore was originally constructed as a defensive structure between 1799 and 1802. It was named after James McHenry, the Secretary of War from 1796 to 1800. However it was in the War of 1812 that this five pointed star shaped brick building served its most famous role.
The War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a conflict between the US and Great Britain which lasted to 1815. It was partially ignited by the fact that the British, who were at war with France, had instigated blockades against the French which had hit American merchant ships.
From 13 to 14 September 1814, the British attacked Fort McHenry. Over 1,000 American soldiers defended Fort McHenry, managing to repel the British. This clash, known as the Battle of Baltimore, was the inspiration for the words of the “Star Spangled Banner”, written by observer, Sir Francis Scott Key. This song would become the American National Anthem.
Civil War Prison
Fort McHenry was also at the centre of controversy in the American Civil War when it was the site of imprisonment of John Merryman. Merryman, who was accused of burning bridges in Baltimore to impede Union soldiers, was held at Fort McHenry without the right to legal counsel and without being charged. This was against the constitutional right of Habeas Corpus – generally the right to either be charged with a crime or to be released. However, at that time, President Lincoln had suspended this right as an emergency measure in light of the war and refused to release Merryman.
Today, Fort McHenry is a national historic site. Visitors to Fort McHenry can learn about its history and tour the fort as well as viewing a film about the structure. A trip to Fort McHenry usually lasts around two hours, an hour of which is spent touring the building itself. Tours are self-guided.