Fort Adams is a historic Army post in Newport, Rhode Island. It was first established on July 4, 1799 during the First System of Coastal Fortifications. The name “Fort Adams” was given to honor President John Adams who was in office when the fort was first built. All of the original fort was destroyed in the 1820s to allow for a larger and more modern fort to be established. The current Fort Adams was built between 1824 and 1857 during the Third System of Coastal Fortifications. It was active during the Mexican–American War, American Civil War, Spanish–American War, World War I and World War II. Today, it can be found in Fort Adams State Park which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1970.
Building The First Fort
As part of the initial network of US fortifications, Major Louis de Tousard of the Army Corps of Engineers created the first Fort Adams. This fort was outfitted with 17 guns after some improvements were made in 1809. Rhode Island soldiers from Wood’s State Corps manned it during the War of 1812. The fort was described as “an irregular star fort of masonry, with an irregular indented work of masonry adjoining it, mounting seventeen heavy guns… The barracks are of wood and bricks, for one company” in the Secretary of War’s report for December 1811.
Following a careful examination of the country’s defensive requirements following the War of 1812, it was determined to replace the existing Fort Adams with a newer and significantly larger fort. This was a component of the US fortification system that came to be known as the third system.
Building The Current Fort
Brigadier General Simon Bernard, a Frenchman who had worked as a military engineer for Napoleon, planned the new fort. The rebuilt Fort Adams, which Bernard designed in the traditional manner, became the most intricate fort structure in the Western Hemisphere. It has a complex outer construction called a tenaille and crownwork on the southern side that was meant to divide and direct an assault force. 650 yards south of the main fort was a separate redoubt for the fort. When it was completed, only Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, and Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas in Florida can match its size in the US.
First Lieutenant Andrew Talcott oversaw the construction of the new fort, which was started in 1824 and lasted intermittently until 1857. The leading American military engineer of his era, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gilbert Totten, oversaw construction from 1825 until 1838. Totten was promoted to the positon of Chief of Engineers from 1838 and remained the chief until 1864, when he passed away. It was first manned in August of 1841.
Fort Adams During The Civil War
The United States Naval Academy was relocated from Annapolis to Fort Adams in 1861 due to concerns from the War Department regarding the political allegiances of individuals in Maryland during the American Civil War. The institution relocated to Newport’s Atlantic House Hotel in September 1861, where it remained for the duration of the conflict.
The 15th Infantry Regiment moved its headquarters and recruiting center to Fort Adams in 1862. This regiment was grouped with several others into a regiment of three battalions, each with eight companies, the third of which was established at Fort Adams in March 1864.
Fort Adams’ armament was upgraded with eleven 15-inch Rodman guns, thirteen 10-inch Rodman guns, and four 6.4-inch Parrott rifles in the 1870s as part of a significant upgrading to the US seacoast defenses. Three new emplacement were constructed to allow for the new 15-inch guns to be mounted. The 20 old 32-pound guns were removed during by 1873. Four 4.5-inch siege guns, four 3-inch ordnance rifles, and four 10-inch mortars were added for mobile defense. In a new battery south of the fort, four 8-inch converted rifles were added in 1894.
Fort Adams During The Twentieth Century
The fort’s arsenal was modernized over time to reflect advancements in technology. Muzzle-loading cannons from the 19th century, rifled breech-loading artillery pieces from the early 20th century, and anti-aircraft weapons from World War II and forward were the main types of ordnance employed in the fort. Under the Endicott and Taft plans, the fort received substantial armament in the shape of batteries to the south of the main fort from 1896 to 1907. As part of the Coast Defenses of Narragansett Bay, these were used to protect the East Passage of Narragansett Bay alongside the brand-new Fort Wetherill in Jamestown.
There were a total of 5 gun batteries added to Fort Adams during the Endicott Period from 1896 to 1907. These include:
- Battery Bankhead – Endicott Period coastal gun battery built in 1906. It was equipped with three 6-inch Armstrong guns mounted on Armstrong pedestal mounts. The battery was decommissioned and abandoned in September of 1913.
- Battery Belton – Endicott Period coastal gun battery built in 1905. It was equipped with two 3-inch M1903 on M1903 Pedestal mounts. The battery was decomissioned following World War 1. It was officially abandoned on February 7, 1925.
- Battery Greene-Edgerton – Endicott Period coastal gun battery built in 1898. It was equipped with fifteen 12-inch M1890MI mortars and one 12-inch M1890 mortar. All of these guns were mounted on M1896MI mortar carriages and arranged into four mortars pits. Each pit had four mortars. The battery was officially decommissioned and abandoned during World War 2.
- Battery Reilly – Endicott Period coastal gun battery built in 1899. It was equipped with two 10-inch M1888MII guns mounted on M1896 Disappearing carriages. These guns were capable of firing a 320 pound projectile over 6 miles. It was officially decommissioned and abandoned after World War 1 in the year 1920.
- Battery Talbot – Endicott Period coastal gun battery built in 1899. It was equipped with two 4.72-inch Armstrong guns placed on Armstrong Pedestal carriages. Official orders for the guns and carriages to be removed on July 22, 1919 and destroyed on May 26, 1920. It was abandoned in 1920 following the removal of the guns and mounts.
World War 1
Fort Adams functioned as a training facility for both world wars and the command center for the Coast Defenses of Narragansett Bay during World War I. The United States Army Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) was selected to man all of the country’s heavy artillery during that conflict because they were the only Army division with substantial training and experience with large-caliber weapons. At Fort Adams, two heavy artillery brigade headquarters and four heavy artillery regiments were formed and they went on to serve in France.
The two 10-inch guns from Battery Reilly were demounted in 1917 in preparation for possible railroad gun overseas. Ultimately, the guns sat waiting for shipment for a longtime and they were eventually transported to Fort Warren in Boston in 1919 to replace weapons that had been evacuated from that fort. Due of crowding in the mortar pits during reloading and the potential for railway artillery use, eight of the sixteen mortars at Battery Greene-Edgerton’s battery were removed in 1918. This was also done as part of a force-wide attempt to increase the rate of fire.
Battery Talbot’s guns were deactivated in 1919 and sent as memorials to Newport and Westerly when World War I was concluded. Three 3-inch M1917 anti-aircraft guns were installed in the fort at some point after the war, supplemented by two mobile 3-inch cannons (or maybe mobile 75 mm guns) mounted on White truck or Ford Model T chassis. In 1925, the two 3-inch guns from Battery Belton were moved to Fort Wetherill to replace the fort’s outdated M1902 weapons. The only weaponry left for Fort Adams was the eight mortars of Battery Greene-Edgerton.
World War 2
Over 3,000 soldiers were stationed at the Narragansett Bay Harbor Defenses during the Second World War. The 10th Coast Artillery Regiment of the Regular Army was reinforced at Fort Adams in September 1940 by the Rhode Island National Guard’s 243rd Coast Artillery Regiment, which was mobilized and dispatched there. The Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay included a number of coast defense forts and anti-aircraft batteries that were manned by the two regiments. The majority of the Endicott Period forts in Rhode Island, including Fort Adams, were replaced by new defenses focused on Fort Church and Fort Greene during the war, and their weapons were dismantled.
Fort Adams Abandoned
Following World War 2, the U.S. Army abandoned Fort Adams and turned it over to the U.S. Navy. This occurred in 1953. The Navy did not do much with the fort, but they did establish a housing community on a few acres adjacent to the fort. This housing complex remains today. In 1965, the Navy gave the State of Rhode Island the rest of the property, including the fort and the 5 Endicott Period coastal gun batteries.
In 1970, the fort received the major honor of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places with reference number #70000014. In 1976, Fort Adams was declared a National Historic Landmark due to its unique architecture which was not found in other forts in the country.
Fort Adams Today (Becoming A State Park)
For many years, the fort was not cared for. It was not until the 1990s that the Fort Adams Trust was established to focus on restoring and maintaining the property. Additionally, the trust sought to oversee public access programs such as tours of the building.
Since 1995, tours have been going on. From May to September, visits are offered at the fort by the Fort Adams Trust. Since then, the fort’s land defenses have been cleaned of vegetation and several of its interior spaces have been repaired. The park served as the America’s Cup World Series’ official location in Newport in 2012.
Learn more about the fort and tours at: fortadams.org
- Year Established: 1799
- Year Abandoned: 1965
- Original Function: Army post first established during the First System of Coastal Fortifications in 1799
- National Register of Historic Places: #70000014