There’s a lot of forting here

Today has been fine, just fine. The mercury settled at 69 degrees this afternoon, which is just slightly above average. The low tonight will be in the 50s, which is an improvement over last night. The sky was full of clouds for most of the day, but cleared up late in the afternoon.

We went for a 90-minute bike ride this evening, because we had the chance and that was lovely. Except I got dropped early in the ride, not too long after I said, “I think you’re about to drop me.” Sometimes you know.

And there was no catching back on. Sometimes you know that, too.

Usually there’s a fable attached to a ride, a simple tale about the time in the saddle, a vital lesson from the vibrations in the cockpit, maybe a pun that comes from pedaling, but not today. It was just a ride, not an especially bad one, but my lovely bride was just faster than me today. Sometimes you know that, and sometimes right away.

Things are growing well in the greenhouse. Here are some of the tomatoes at one of today’s custom water spritzings.

If we can keep them going we could have a great many sandwiches and salads and sides this summer, and thus the chore of the many spritzings is a happy one. I am currently using a spray bottle on the many tomato, squash, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, onion and pea seedlings. There’s a sophisticated three stage process to the watering. Can to cup to sprayer.

I’m reminded of the elaborate irrigation system my high school’s greenhouse had. It was an overhead pipe arrangement with sprinklers spread out to cover the whole of the thing. It was terrific. I wonder if I could make one that would work in our 6 x 9 space.

I imagine the problem would be weight, and attachment points. Probably impractical. But it’s fun to consider while spritz spritz spritzing.

We now return to We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 33rd installment, and the longest. We’ll see seven markers below, making the count in the We Learn Wednesdays series hit 60 markers. There’s so many because there’s some repetition here. Believe me, I’ve tried to figure out a way to break these up and yet keep some continuity to it. There’s not really a way, so we’re doing these in bulk. It’ll make sense as we go along.

Anyway, welcome to Fort Mott.

The sign says:

Fort Mott is an Endicott-era fortification (ca. 1896) that was begun prior to the Spanish-American War. Construction of an earlier fortification, known as the Battery at Finns Point, was begun in 1872 but never completed. Components of the earlier fortification were incorporated in the 1896 construction plan and are visible today at the west end of the main batteries. The fort was officially named in 1897 in honor of Major General Gershom Mott of Burlington, New Jersey, who served with distinction in the Mexican and Civil Wars. Fort Mott has five batteries which originally mounted twelve guns: Battery Arnold (three 12-inch disappearing guns), Battery Harker (three 10-inch disappearing guns), Battery Gregg (two 5-inch rapid fire guns), Battery Krayenbuhl (two 5-inch rapid fire guns), and Battery Edwards (two 3-inch case mates rapid fire guns).

This place is part of a three-fort system. Mott, Fort Delaware on an island in the river and Fort DuPont on the shore, opposite, defended the Delaware River, and the route to Philadelphia, during Reconstruction and the Endicott program. Endicott was Secretary of War William Crowninshield Endicott, who ran things during a time when the government found the coastal defenses to be woefully inadequate. Some $127 million was spent on a series of new forts at 29 locations. Many of them featured breech-loading cannons, mortars, floating batteries, and submarine mines. The project ran from 1885 to 1910 or so, hence Endicott era.

We’ll spend the next few installments of We Learn Wednesdays on Fort Mott, but today, we’ll focus on the gun batteries.

But first, let’s meet Gershom Mott. Born in New Jersey in 1822, he became a general in the Union Army, and was a commander in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. The family history has it that Mott’s grandfather, a man named Captain John Mott, guided General George Washington’s army down the Delaware River to the Battle of Trenton. This may or may not be true.

Mott was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Infantry during the Mexican–American War. He married, had one child, and worked as a civilian until the Civil War, during which he was appointed the lieutenant colonel, led men in the Peninsula Campaign and took command, as colonel, of the 6th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. He fought at the Battle of Seven Pines and the Second Battle of Bull Run, where his arm was mangled. Promoted to brigadier general, he missed Antietam as he recovered, but led a brigade in the III Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Wounded again, he missed the Gettysburg Campaign.

Later service found him at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. He made major General at the Battle of the Crater and was wounded once more three days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. The next year he resigned his commission, worked on the railroad and as a banker, and in government. He was the state treasurer, warden of the state prison, a major general and commander of the National Guard.

And all of that’s enough to get a fort named after you — and a school and a street, but let’s stick with the fort. He died in 1884, aged 62.

So today we’ll concentrate on where the guns were placed. Just over this hill and these structures, you’d see the river. Between us, and on into the background for several hundred yards, are the gun batteries of Fort Mott. First, there’s Battery Gregg.

Battery Gregg is named in honor of Captain John C. Gregg, who served as Captain in the 4th Infantry and was killed in action near Mariquana, Philippine Islands, on March 31, 1899. Completed in December 1900, Battery Gregg was the fourth of Fort Mott’s five batteries to be constructed. This battery contained emplacements for two 5-inch rapid fire guns (model 1900) mounted on pedestal mounts with shields. Both guns were not mounted at the battery until 1906. In 1913, they were removed and later shipped to Benica Arsenal, California. Several years after the guns were removed a Battery Commander’s Station was built on emplacement No. 1 for the 10-inch guns of Battery Harker.

Lt. John Caldwell Gregg, was from Pennsylvania, and an 1887 graduate of West Point, he was promoted to Captain in 1899. It seems he was a quartermaster, and aide de camp to General R.H. Hall. He was killed 125 years ago, almost to the day, in the Philippines. You can see a photo of him here.

When they tested the guns in the Gregg battery in 1907, they shattered windows on the fort, and at neighboring farms.

And then the Edwards battery.

Named in honor of Captain Robert Edwards, who was killed in action near Frenchtown, Michigan in 1813. Battery Edwards has two casemates for 3-inch rapid fire guns, and was partially constructed using two magazines from the 1872 fortification. The magazines were converted into casemates by removing the fronts and replacing them with embrasures arranged to allow the guns to sweep the mine field in the river. The earth cover over the old batteries was cut down to render them less conspicuous and to make the slope in front of the parapet as uniform as possible.

Edwards was killed at the Battle of Frenchtown or, if you like, the Raisin River Massacre. It was a small conflict in the War of 1812. The Americans versus the British and their indigenous allies. Wikipedia:

On January 18, 1813, the Americans forced the retreat of the British and their Native American allies from Frenchtown, which they had earlier occupied, in a relatively minor skirmish. The movement was part of a larger United States plan to advance north and retake Fort Detroit, following its loss in the Siege of Detroit the previous summer. Despite this initial success, the British and Native Americans rallied and launched a surprise counterattack four days later on January 22. Ill-prepared, the Americans lost 397 soldiers in this second battle, while 547 were taken prisoner. Dozens of wounded prisoners were murdered the next day in a massacre by the Native Americans. More prisoners were killed if they could not keep up on the forced march to Fort Malden. This was the deadliest conflict recorded on Michigan soil, and the casualties included the highest number of Americans killed in a single battle during the War of 1812.

Down at the other end of the fortifications you’ll find Battery Krayenbuhl. And, boy, do these markers need refreshing.

Named in honor of Captain Maurice Krayenbuhl, who was killed in action near Meycausyan, Philippine Islands in March 1899. Battery Krayenbuhl’s two 5-inch rapid fire guns on the right flank of the heavy caliber battery, in conjunction with the rapid fire guns at Battery Gregg on the left flank, were an important component to the defensive scheme at Fort Mott. These guns were positioned to protect a minefield in the river from small fast moving vessels that could potentially evade the large weapons. In addition to sweeping the minefield, the guns were designed to protect the channel below and above the fort. An interior magazine was built below the gun platforms and an electric chain hoist was used to deliver ammunition.

I wonder if Krayenbuhl knew Gregg well.

Krayenbuhl was from Minnesota, went to West Point, and became a 2nd Lieutenant in 1890. He was an artilleryman, and he was killed on March 26, 1899, just before Gregg, again, 125 years ago, almost to the day. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

(As an aside, Krayenbuhl had a son Col Craigie Krayenbuhl, who served in both World War I and World War 2. He was also an artilleryman, was a candidate of OCS, and spent time in the Pacific. He died in 1978. The man this battery was named after, his father, died 1899, and there are still people with us who knew his son. His grandson also served, as a captain in the Air Force. I wonder if anyone else visiting Battery Krayenbuhl knows that.)

In between the batteries Gregg and Edwards and, on the far end, battery Krayenbuhl, there’s the sign telling us about two batteries in one.

Battery Harker and Battery Arnold share the continuous 750 foot long parapet wall. Battery Harker (right) contains three 10-inch gun emplacements and Battery Arnold (left) has three 12-inch gun emplacements.

So let’s take a quick look at Harker and Arnold.

Harker had three 10-inch gun emplacements, each with their own individual powder and shell magazines. Electric hoists lifted ammunition and charges in place. At first, they used speaking tubes to talk between the guns and the magazines below. Later, they put in telephones.

Down this way is Battery Arnold.

Arnold housed a 12-inch gun, which was 36 feet long and weighted 58 tons. It could put a 1,000 pound shell down range out to 9.8 miles. Remember, that’s just the one gun, at just this one fort. Remember, there are three forts protecting the river entry.

Lewis Golding Arnold was a Union general, graduating from West Point in 1837, in a class that had four other Civil War generals among his classmates. As a young man he fought in the Seminole War in Florida and manned posts along the Canadian border. He also fought, and was badly wounded in the Mexican War. After that, in the 1850s, he fought the Seminole in Florida again, before manning Fort Pickens, off Pensacola, Florida. (I’ve been there!) He refused to surrender the outpost during three different Confederate artillery bombardments and in 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general, before eventually taking command of New Orleans. In November of 1862 he suffered a stroke, and left the army in 1864. He died, at 54, in 1871 in Boston.

And here’s the sign for Battery Arnold. I show you this so we can zoom in on two of the photos that show the gun itself.

If the gun weighed a bit more than 58 tons, I wonder how much of that was the barrel. No small task of engineering was this.

Here it is, archaic 19th century weapons technology. Looks quite nifty, doesn’t it?

And here’s another view of a gun emplacement today.

From behind the weapons embankment. The river is over that little hill, the guns would be pointing away from us.

Today it is a nature trail. Enjoy getting bitten by every insect in the western hemisphere.

Which brings us back around to Battery Harker, named after Brigadier General Charles G. Harker. He’s from nearby, and his fate was sealed as a kid. He worked in a store owned by a congressman, who helped him get admitted to West Point.

He graduated in 1858 and was garrisoned in New York and later served in Oregon and Washington. When the war came, he was sent to Ohio to train new troops. He went from 1st lieutenant to captain to colonel from May to November of 1861. He was at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi, the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky and the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.

In 1863, after Chickamauga, he was promoted to brigadier general. Then he led men at Chattanooga and the Siege of Knoxville. He was killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, on June 27, 1864. He was 26.

Not just this weapon installation, there’s an elementary school in his hometown named after him. They’re nicknamed the Comets.

Here’s a slightly closer look at where the guns would have waited.

From that same spot, you can see how much of the river this installation could command. Sail left to head to sea, sail to the left to go up toward Philadelphia. It’s a panorama, so feel free to click to make it larger.

All told, there were three 12-inch guns, three 10-inch guns on disappearing carriages, four 5-inch and two 3-inch mine defense guns here. They were never fired in anger.

And to the far right of the panorama, there’s this little command and observation hut. Here, we’re standing directly behind it.

But we’ll learn more about how the soldiers protected the river with their observation technologies next week, and that’s going to be fascinating.

Fort Mott was rendered obsolete when another nearby fort, Fort Salsbury was ready for business after World War I. Soldiers served there from 1897 to 1922. It became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

That’s enough for now. Tomorrow … who knows what we’ll have here, but it’ll be delightful. See you then!

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