Fort Putnam

View east from Fort Putnam.  West Point is at left--Fort Clinton was located at the end of the point.  Note the commanding field of fire--while the fort was not intended to fire into the Hudson, it could easily reach the Plain below in order to support Fort Clinton.

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Constitution Island Fortifications

West Point Fortifications

The Great Chain 

Hudson River


 Sources and Author's Note  



West Point Fortifications Staff Ride Note Cards 44
USMA History Department 2d Edition, March 1998
Fort Putnam (Card #1)

Named for the commander of the militia regiment that built it. Although one of the most important forts at West Point, little is known about it. Barrels of records sold as waste paper. Reported by Augustus Pleasanton in diary on 22 Oct 1839: How true it is that the Americans are without the organ of reverence.

Purpose: To dominate the plain upon which Fort Arnold was built and to support Forts Meigs, Wyllys, and Webb. Not designed to fire on the Hudson.
Fort was one of the two principal works in the WP complex capable of withstanding a 10-day siege conducted with relatively heavy cannon.

Became the key fort in the defense
McDougall to Parsons (11 Apr 1778):

The hill which Col. Putnam is fortifying is the most commanding and important of any that we can now attend to . . . the eastern-most face of this work must be so constructed as to command the plain. . . Should the enemy force the regiments of Wyllis, Meigs, and Webb from their works. . . those corps should retire to defend to the last extremity, the avenues leading to Col. Putnams redoubt. . . the enemys possessing the works first mentioned, will not be so fatal to the Post as his getting possession of the Fort (Arnold), or Putnams redoubt.

- McDougall decided to fortify Crown Hill following reconnaissance of high ground in Apr 1778. Initially, McDougall followed recommendations of Parsons, James Clinton, and Radiere (10 Apr) not to fortify Crown Hill, but changed his mind the next day. May have been influenced by Kosciuszko, who recognized significance of high ground as a result of his experience at Fort Ticonderoga in 1777 when British occupation of surrounding heights rendered fort untenable.

View of exterior of northwest face of fort approaching from below.  The steep and rocky outcrop upon which the fort was placed would have significantly complicated an enemy assault 

West Point Fortifications Staff Ride Note Cards 45
USMA History Department 2d Edition, March 1998
Fort Putnam (Card #2)

- Assigned COL Rufus Putnam to move 5th Massachusetts Regiment to hill and to construct redoubt that would become one of the largest and a key fort in the system.
- Atop 50 high rock cliff that dominated plain and complemented other redoubts. Plan complemented the terrain on which it was located taking advantage of steep slopes and general rise in elevation from E to W across top of knoll.
- Current trace closely follows Kosciuszkos sketch from 1779.

- Secure against infantry assault, but vulnerable to artillery on Rocky Hill.
- Fort was to be large enough to contain a 10-day supply of salt meat and biscuits.
- Original rampart of dry stone masonry, reinforced and expanded with lime mortar in 1782 or 1783.
- W. walls higher to protect against artillery from Rocky Hill
- Three casemates
- Construction begins on 11 Apr 1778

Benedict Arnold to British(25 Sep 1780): 
Fort Putnam Stone wanting great repairs, wall on east side broke down and rebuilding from foundation. At the west and south side have been a Chevaux-de-Frise on the west side broke in many places. The east side open; two bomb proofs and Provision Magazine in the Fort,and slight Wooden Barrack.

Ordnance (5 Sep 1780): five 18-pdrs, two 12-pdrs (both types made of iron and mounted on garrison carriages); two 6-pdrs, one 4-pdrs (both types mounted on travelling carriages), and four 5.5 mortars

Manpower: 420 men probably housed in barracks and huts outside fort.



View from south corner of Fort Putnam looking north/northeast.  Gives some idea of the terrain upon which the fort was constructed, though the fortifications are of later, more elaborate design.



View of landward (southwest) face of Ft. Putnam, showing again how steep the terrain immediately surrounding the fort was.  Taking the fort by infantry assault would have been a difficult proposition.

 View to west from back wall of Ft. Putnam.  Arrow shows location of Redoubt 4 in cleared area atop Rocky Hill 750m to west.  Controlling this hill, some 300' higher than Ft. Putnam, was crucial to defending Ft. Putnam, as enemy guns emplaced upon it could fire down into the fort. 

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