Issue: February 2012
BYPOINTS: Six Degrees of Grover Cleveland

See? I knew that title would get your attention. What, you ask, could I possibly have to say about Grover Cleveland, our 22nd and 24th president, the only one to serve nonconsecutive terms? Well, first of all, did you know his actual first name was Stephen? It was. Stephen Grover Cleveland. That's neither here nor there, but I couldn't resist passing it on.

What is both here and there (there being pages 28 to 35 of this issue, where you'll find a stunning black-and-white photo essay, "The Forgotten Four, " by Vince Lupo) is that good ol' Steve Cleveland established the Board of Fortifications in 1885. And it was that board--led by then Secretary of War William C. Endicott and commonly known as the Endicott Board--that studied the country's coastal defenses, found them sorely wanting, and recommended a $127 million upgrade. That's about $3.5 billion worth in today's dollars.

Baltimore, being the only major U.S. city ever attacked by a foreign navy--not counting the unpleasantness of 1776-81--was naturally very high on the Endicott Board's list. So the Patapsco River got not one but three of these new-fangled forts in the late 1890s. These were not old-school behemoths, like McHenry. No, these were very different--just large, reinforced-concrete bunkers really, much smaller than the walled-in fortresses that preceded them, and with only a few guns each. But the guns, oh, the guns were so much bigger and deadlier than the smooth-bore cannon that had defended the star-spangled banner in 1814.

I would have loved to find one of those giant "disappearing rifles" still in place when I met Vince for a morning shoot at Fort Armistead, just downstream from the south end of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. But the guns are long gone; all of the Endicott fortifications were deemed obsolete and decommissioned in the late 1940s. Judging by the size of the turret beds (like "small amphitheaters," to quote Vince), I'd guess that the guns at Armistead were on the large end of the scale of those I've seen in photographs. Maybe even 12-inchers--40 feet long and three feet in diameter at the breech, sitting on a carriages the size of short school buses, with a crew of 15 men and a range of 15 miles. With weapons like that, the lads at Fort McHenry could have stopped Admiral Lord Cochrane at Bodkin Point.

So it was a toothless old fort we photographed that morning--which, as you'll see from Vince's splendid photos, makes it all the more haunting and mysterious. It certainly stoked my curiosity on the subject--and I was happy to learn that there are yet more Endicott batteries around the Bay--at Fort Washington on the Potomac and at Fort Monroe in Virginia, our newest national monument [see page 8]. The latter even still has two its guns--a pair of three-inchers enclosed in steel boxes, like something off the deck of a battleship. I intend to visit both places. Maybe you should too. Tell 'em Steve sent you.

 

Tim Sayles, Editor