Roman's Battery/The Grand Bastion
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Constitution Island Fortifications

West Point Fortifications

The Great Chain 

Hudson River


 Sources and Author's Note   

Info from West Point Fortifications Staff Ride Note Cards 11, 12, 13, 21, 22 USMA History Department 2d Edition, March 1998


The original foritifications on Constitution Island were part of "Fort Constitution," an elaborate plan devised by Bernard Romans, a Dutch-born novice engineer appointed in August of 1775 by the New York government.  Romans' plan called for 5 blockhouses and several batteries in four locations.  The centerpiece of Romans' design was "The Grand Bastion," a large European-style fortress built of stone.    Unfortunately, Romans' plans were more expensive than effective.  The effort required to build the Grand Bastion led other positions to be neglected, and review by more experienced military engineers pointed out grave problems with Romans' design.  There were two main problems.  To begin with, the unfortified Plain atop the cliffs of West Point loomed over the Constitution Island fortifications, offering a perfect location for an enemy's siege artillery.  Secondly, the Grand Bastion was poorly sited--while it dominated the narrowest part of the river, only 24 of its 61 guns would be able to engage a ship rounding the bend in the river from the south--as a result, a ship might be able to force the passage while facing only a few  salvos from the fort's heaviest guns.   While Romans sought to redress some of the criticisms of his design, he was  fired in January of 1776.

West Point Fortifications Staff Ride Note Cards 13
USMA History Department 2d Edition, March 1998

Romansí Blockhouse and Battery
ď Romansí Blockhouse
- Began in Oct 1775 and completed 11 Nov 1775
- Center of the Grand Bastion
-- mounted eight 4-pdr in upper story
-- Lord Stirling ě a log house or tower on the highest cliff,near the water, mounted with
8 cannons, pointed out of the garret windows, and looks very picturesque.î
ď Romansí Battery
- SW curtain of the Grand Bastion, began in Oct 1775 and nearly completed by Dec 1775
- Reported completed by Romansí replacement, CPT William Smith, on 1 Mar 1776
- 200í long
- mounted thirteen 6-pdrs, one 9-pdr
- 15 embrasures 12í apart
- 11í thick rampart, exterior face- dry stone masonry, interior face- mortared stone, core was
stone rubble
- Parapet was probably 10í thick (normal was 12í)
- stone scarp with timber cribs filled with earth 7í deep
- 12x18í brick powder magazine in SW corner (discovered during excavation in 1972)

Lord Stirlingí s Report (June 1776)
West Point Fortifications Staff Ride Note Cards 19
USMA History Department 2d Edition, March 1998

ď Third and final comprehensive review of early fortifications
ď Sent by rebel General Israel Putnam (in compliance with order from George Washington) to inspect Fort Constituion

 "Upon the whole, Mr. Romans has desplayed his genius at a very great expense and to very little publick advantage. The works in their present open condition and scattered situation are defenceless; nor is there one good place on the island on which a redoubt may be erected that will command the whole; however, I have marked in the plan (No. 3) those heights which are most commanding; yet every work on the island is commanded by the hill on the West Point, on the opposite side of the river, within five hundred yards, where there is a level piece of land near fifty acres i extent. A redoubt on this West Point is absolutely necessary not only for preservation of Fort Constitution, but for its own importance on many accounts."
ď Vulnerable to ground attack
ď Recommended some modifications of Gravel Hill and Hill Cliff batteries

The Fall of Fort Constitution, 1777 

In the later stages of the 1777 Saratoga campaign, Lord Stirling's worries about the susceptibility of the Constitution Island defenses to ground attack were borne out.  The British quickly chased the defenders away and seized the island; upon receiving news of the American victory at Saratoga, however, they destroyed the remaining fortifications and returned to New York City. 

When the revolutionaries returned to refortify the area, they chose to focus on the commanding heights of West Point.  Constitution Island remained undefended until May of 1778, when Greaton's Battery was constructed on the site of the previous Gravel Hill Battery.  In September of 1778, Alexander Duportail, Washington's chief engineer, initiated the construction Redoubts 5, 6, and 7 and the reconstruction of Marine Battery in order to protect the eastern end of the Great Chain.

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