Fort Mifflin: Wikis


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Coordinates: 39°52′31″N 75°12′47″W / 39.8753°N 75.213°W / 39.8753; -75.213

Fort Mifflin
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Soldiers' Barracks
Location: Fort Mifflin Road
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Architect: John Montresor
Pierre Charles L’Enfant
Louis de Tousard
Governing body: Local
Added to NRHP: August 29, 1970
NRHP Reference#: 70000554[1]

Fort Mifflin, originally called Fort Island Battery and also known as Mud Island Fort, was commissioned in 1771 and sits on Mud or Deep Water Island on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[nb 1] During the American Revolutionary War, the fort was a centerpiece of the British conquest of Philadelphia. The name "Fort Mifflin" became official in 1795. The fort was rebuilt at the start of 1794 during the presidency of John Adams to a design by Pierre L'Enfant, and added to in the 19th century.





Fort Mifflin's hospital

In 1771, Governor John Penn recognized the vulnerability of the port of Philadelphia to invasion and asked Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage to send someone who could design defenses for the city. General Gage assigned Engineering Captain John Montresor to the task. Montresor presented six designs to the Governor and Board of Commissioners to be constructed on Mud Island—also known as Deep Water Island—as proposed by the board.[2][nb 2]

When the Commissioners reviewed the plans, they thought them all to be too expensive and insisted on economy despite Montresor's protestations about budget.[3] Montresor stated that his preferred plan would cost about £40,000 and that he intended to mount "32 pieces of cannon, 4 mortars and 4 royal howitzers... which at 6 men each make 240 men required, 160 musketry, in all 400 garrison."[3] The General Assembly passed a bill releasing £15,000 for the construction of the fort and the purchase of Mud Island from Joseph Galloway, the Speaker of the House.[4] The board instructed Montresor to begin construction but failed to provide him with the funds he deemed necessary to properly do the job. On June 4 1772, Montresor left the head workman in charge of the construction project and, disgruntled, returned to New York. The project floundered on for about a year, when it stopped for lack of guidance and funding.[5] By this time only the south walls, which were built in stone, had been completed.[6]

Following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin headed a committee to provide for the defense of Philadelphia. Construction was restarted soon after by the Philadelphia Committee of Public Safety, and the fort was finally completed in 1776. During this period, the committee also constructed Fort Mercer on the eastern bank of the Delaware River across from Fort Mifflin.[7] The Americans intended to use Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer to control the activity of the British Navy on the Delaware River.[8]

Obstacles called "chevaux de frise" were assembled[7] and placed in 'tiers', spanning the width of the Delaware between the forts. These defenses were wooden-framed "boxes", 30 feet square, constructed of huge timbers and lined with pine planks. When lowered onto the riverbed, the frames were filled with 20 to 40 tons of stone to anchor them in place. Two or three large timbers tipped with iron spikes were placed in each frame, set underwater and facing obliquely downstream. The boxes were then chained together to maintain continuity. The chevaux de frise presented a formidable obstacle and could impale unwitting ships. The system was designed with gaps to allow passage of friendly shipping. Only a select few knew the locations of safe passage through this barrier. Forts Mercer and Mifflin would have been able to fire at anyone attempting to dismantle these obstacles.

Siege in American Revolutionary War

Hessian map showing campaign against Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer (Redbank) in 1777.

After the defeat of Washington at the Battle of Brandywine, the British took control of Philadelphia in September of 1777. The British forces then laid siege to Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer in early October 1777.[9] The siege was intended to open up the supply line for the British Army.[7] Captain Montresor, who had designed and led the early construction of the fort, led the siege, planning and building the siege works used against Fort Mifflin.[5] The siege, which lasted until the middle of November, destroyed much of Fort Mifflin.[7] During the siege, 400 soldiers held off over 2,000 British troops and 250 ships until November 10, when the British intensified their assault, launching an incessant barrage of cannonballs into the fort.[7] On November 15 1777, the American troops evacuated the fort. Their stand, which denied the British Navy free use of the Delaware River, allowed the successful repositioning of the Continental Army for the Battle of White Marsh and subsequent withdrawal to Valley Forge.[7] The bombardment the fort experience was the heaviest of the American Revolutionary War. Roughly 85 of the 406–450 men garrisoned at the fort when the siege started were killed or wounded.[10] The dead and wounded were ferried to the mainland before the final evactuation.[11] The siege was the only time the fort saw action in its entire history.[8]

The buildings standing today were all built after 1795. The white stone walls of the fort are the only survivor of British construction prior to the Revolutionary War. Evidence of the 1777 British bombardment, the greatest bombardment of the American Revolution, can be seen by the pockmarks in these stone walls. This massive bombardment is also known as The Battle of Mud Island to local residents living near Fort Mifflin. The ruins lay derelict until 1793 when Pierre L'Enfant, who was responsible for planning Washington D. C., supervised the reconstruction and designed the rebuild in 1794.[8] and reconstruction work began on the fort in 1795.[7] After the construction of Fort Delaware in 1820, Fort Mifflin was relegated to secondary status. During the 19th century, the area around the fort was drained and filled until eventually Mud Island was no longer an island and became part of the western bank of the Delaware River.[8]

American Civil War

During the Civil War, Fort Mifflin was used to house Confederate prisoners of war, as well as Union soldiers and civilians accused of breaking the law. On November 24, 1864, LTC Seth Eastman, the great American Western frontier painter, was sent to Ft. Mifflin to supervise the discharge all of the over 200 civilian and military prisoners. On January 2 1865, Eastman reported his garrison consisted of B Company, 186th PA Vol, a detachment of recruits and the hospital staff. On August 20 1865, Eastman was relieved by CPT Thomas E. Merritt, with A Company, 7th US Veteran volunteers.

After the Civil War

In 1866 A Company of the 7th US Veteran Volunteers vacated the fort and was replaced by the District Engineer Office, Corps of Engineers. The fort was discontinued as an active post. Between 1866 and 1876 Fort Mifflin underwent intermittent repairs, armament upgrade, and modernization by the Corps of Engineers. The detached high battery south of the fort was constructed from 1870 to 1875, but it was never finished. The Torpedo Casemate was constructed in 1876. From 1876 to 1884, the fort was the custodial responsibility of the Philadelphia District Office of the Corps of Engineers.

During the Second World War, anti-aircraft guns were stationed at the fort to defend the nearby Fort Mifflin Naval Ammunition Storage Depot (NASD) and the US Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Marine Corps units out of the PNSY guarded the NASD, at the northern end of what was Mud and Cabin Islands, while regular Army troops were assigned to the historic fort proper. By April 24 1942, Battery "H" of the 76th Coast Artillery Regiment was stationed at the fort. The unit was the first Negro CA unit in US history.[nb 3] By the summer of 1942, the 601st CA was stationed at Fort Mifflin. In 1954 the fort fell out of use as a military post. When it closed, Fort Mifflin was the oldest fort in continuous use in the country (1771 to 1954). In 1962, Fort Mifflin was deeded back to the City of Philadelphia.[7]


Arsenal: restored in the early 1990s by Harold Finigan the fort's then executive director .

Artillery shed: re-roofed in the early 1980s by architect J. Dickey. Restored by Harold Finigan the fort's then executive director .

Blacksmith shop: Interior restored by John Dickey in 1969; Exterior by Harold Finiganthe fort's then executive director .

Sutler/storehouse: Interior renovated by G.E. Brumbaugh, 1960; Exterior by Harold Finigan the fort's then executive director .

Soldiers' barracks: restored in the 1990s by Harold Finigan the fort's then executive director

Officers' quarters: major restoration by the Harold Finigan, the fort's then executive director ,in the 1980s, and the kitchen wings were restored.

Hospital: restored by Harold Finigan,the fort's then executive director, in the early 1980s

Standing buildings

Artillery shed
The commandant's house

Arsenal: One story brick structure 24 feet (7.3 m) by 44 feet (13 m). It was built in 1815–1816 as a guardhouse and prison. By 1839 it was designated as an arsenal. (Historic American Building Survey (HABS) #PA1225.

Artillery Shed: Built in 1837 for the storage and protection of cannon on an interior raised platform. (As cited in a report from the Engineers Dept, 28 Nov 1837; American State Papers 7:580)

Blacksmith Shop: Built before 1802, it is probably the oldest structure in the fort. (RG77 NAB)

Sutler Building/Storehouse: A brick, one story building measuring 55 feet (17 m) by 20 feet (6,100 mm). It was completed on 27 December 1842 (Tompkins to Jessup, Consolidated Correspondence, Box 662, RG 92 NAB).

Soldiers' Barracks: Built in the 1790s, the barracks measure 117 feet (36 m) by 28 feet (8.5 m) and consist of two stories. It originally had 7 rooms, of which 5 were designed to house 25 men each. The building was extensively renovated in 1836, and again later when the roofline was changed to add the second floor. (HABS # PA-1225E)

Officers Quarters: A two story building measuring 96 feet (29 m) by 28 feet (8.5 m) that was built in 1814. (#475, RG 77, NAB). Renovated in 1836, the building had a 2 two story kitchen wing added in the 1840s. These wings were removed before the 1920s (HABS #PA-1225F).

Commandant's House (Citadel): Originally a cross shaped hole in the ground in the center of the fort and designed as a last ditch defensive area, the presnt structure was built in 1796. This structure was completed by LTCOL Stephen Rochefontaine, who replaced Pierre Charles L'Enfant as chief Engineer at Ft Mifflin in 1798. Rochfontaine used L'Enfant's original designs and improved on them. Today, the Commandants House is partly restored after a 1983 fire and is one of the only Greek Revival structures of its kind situated on an Army installation in the United States. ASP 1:11

Hospital/Messhall Built about 1819 north of the fort walls, this building was converted to a messhouse in 1837. (ASP 7:632)

West Sallyport: Proposed in 1864, completed by 1866. (B-566, RG 77, NAB).

Casemates Built as defensive structures in the case of an enemy siege, the six cavelike structures were built in the reconstruction of 1798-1801. A "Bake Oven" just outside the Main Gate and the entrance to the Casemate or Bombproofs was used for baking bread and as a chapel and mess hall. Casemate # 1, the largest of the rooms was designed as a barracks and was used by the numerous Confederate prisoners that occupied the fort from 1863 to 1865. There are three smaller casemates that were used as storage areas and held political prisoners during the Civil War and Casemate #5, about half the size of Casemate #1 would have been utilized as the headquarters in the time of attack.

East Magazine: (Torpedo casemate) Noted in the 1875 Annual Report "The construction of the torpedo casemate has commenced", it first appears on a map in 1886. (RG77, NAB)

Casemate 11

The recently named "Casemate #11" was rediscovered and unearthed at Fort Mifflin in 2006 by Wayne Irby. The rooms in the farthest interior could be from the original construction in 1771, with the outer room built during the post Revolutionary war reconstruction of the fort (1794-98) and used as a "Proof Room", a room to make cannon charges. The nearby Torpedo Casement was built in 1874-75; its entrance sealing off access to the unused Magazine. There are several references to "Old Magazine Entrance " in this location, and the number 11 comes from a 1954 map legend associated with "Old Magazine Entrance ", but the only evidence known was the cap of what was believed to be a chimney and nothing more. Not until the rooms were uncovered in August 2006, by Dr. Don Johnson and a small group of volunteers, was the complexity of the inner rooms discovered, along with the trove of historical artifacts inside that had not seen the light of day in 139 years.

Casemate #11 housed Fort Mifflin's most famous prisoner, William H Howe, after he led an attempted escape of 200[12] prisoners from casement # 5. Howe was a Union soldier accused of desertion and found guilty of murder. Howe was held at Fort Mifflin from January 1864 until April 1864 when he was transferred to Eastern State Penitentiary, after being placed in solitary confinement in Casemate #11 in February 1864 and then transferred back to Fort Mifflin on the day of his execution on August 26, 1864. He was held in the fort's wooden guard house, just steps from the gallows where he would be hung. He has the distinction of being the only person ever executed by the army where tickets to the execution were sold to the public. Inside the casemate, the signature of William H. Howe can clearly be seen. Prior reports of Howe being illiterate are completely false. Howe wrote to President Lincoln twice in his own hand asking for clemency. The letters are filled with bad grammar and run on sentences, but are belived by some to be in Howe's own hand; the signature, belived by some to be Howe's, found in the cell is said to be a perfect match to the two letters to Lincoln.[13] Other artifacts found in the casemate include pottery, a tin cup, the cell doors with numerous graffiti written on the inside by various people in the 1860s, a tin chamber pot, period buttons, an 1864 wine token, a penny dated 1864 in remarkable condition and dozens of animal bones. Various graffiti of the Civil War period also grace the interior walls.

Reports of Paranormal Activity

Claims that the fort is haunted have been featured on The History Channel's Hauntings, Weird USA and Cities of the Underworld, and the Sci-Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters and "Ghost Hunters Academy", which are promoted by Fort Mifflin on the Delaware . [14] In 2009 Lee Anderson,the fort's executive director at the time, said that he "welcomes supernatural-seekers, whose yearly efforts raise nearly 40 percent of the fort's $250,000 budget."[15]

See also



Further reading

  • Alotta, Robert I, “Old Fort Mifflin: The Chain of Command” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1977, 20 pages
  • Alotta, Robert I, “The Spirit of the Men of Mifflin” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1971,
  • Alotta, Robert I, “The Men of Mifflin” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1971
  • Alotta, Robert I, “Old Fort Mifflin (1772-77 to 1972-77) Living History: A Meaningful Bicentennial” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1972 10 pages
  • Alotta, Robert I, “Old Fort Mifflin: The Defenders” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1973
  • Alotta, Robert I, “Old Fort Mifflin: The Buildings and Structures” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1973 36 pages
  • Alotta, Robert I, “Historic Old Fort Mifflin” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1973
  • Alotta, Robert I, “A Glossary of Fortification Terms as they relate to Old Fort Mifflin” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1972 12 pages
  • Alotta, Robert I, “A Fort Mifflin Diary” Shackamaxon Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America 1973 36 pages
  • Dorwart, Jeffrey M., Fort Mifflin of Philadelphia: An Illustrated History, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, May 1998, ISBN 978-0-8122-1644-8, 264-pages
  • Hardway, Ronald V., Benjamin Lemasters of Nicholas County, West Virginia : his ancestry, his war record, his descendants
  • Jackson, John, Fort Mifflin: Valiant Defender of the Delaware James & Sons, Norristown, PA; 1986, 206 pages
  • Jackson, John, The Pennsylvania Navy, 1775-1781 Rutgers University Press
  • Martin, Joseph Plum, Private Yankee Doodle Western Acorn Press, 1962
  • McGuire, Thomas J., The Philadelphia Campaign, Vol. II: Germantown and the Roads to Valley Forge, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8117-0206-5, pages 181 to 222.
  • Selletti, Anthony L., Fort Mifflin : A Paranormal History, A. L. Selletti Press, Chester, PA, 19013, October 2008, ISBN 978-0-615-22847-1, 248-pages


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ The island's back channel has since been filled in.
  2. ^ The details for the six different designs can be found at the David Library; "Montresor Papers" catalogued by Harold Finigan.
  3. ^ The oral history of one of these soldiers, Mr. Isaac Wright, has been preserved in the Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection (RJB #665) at Howard University.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  2. ^ Scull 1881, pp. 414–415.
  3. ^ a b Scull 1881, pp. 415–416.
  4. ^ Scull 1881, pp. 416–417.
  5. ^ a b Scull 1881, p. 417.
  6. ^ Liggett & Laumark 1979, pp. 41–42.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h City of Philadelphia. "The History of Fort Mifflin, the Fort that saved America".   Retrieved on 11 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d Liggett & Laumark 1979, p. 41.
  9. ^ Jackson, John, Fort Mifflin: Valiant Defender of the Delaware James & Sons, Norristown, PA; 1986, 206 pages
  10. ^ Peckham, Howard, ed., "The Toll of Independence: Engagements and Battle Casualties of the American Revolution," University of Chicago Press, 1974, page 43-44.
  11. ^ "Olde Fort Mifflin Historical Society: A few facts about Fort Mifflin". Olde Fort Mifflin Historical Society. 2007.   Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  12. ^ "Philadelphia Inquirer" February 26, 1864 "Excitement at Fort Mifflin"
  13. ^ Stop the Evil: A Civil War History of Desertion and Murder By Robert I. Alotta Published by Presidio Press, 1996 Original from the University of Michigan Digitized Sep 19, 2008 ISBN 089141018X, 9780891410188 202 pages
  14. ^ Fort Mifflin website paranormal event page
  15. ^ [1]

External links


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