Effective national defense policies often require that a new threat be met with a new response. Fort Hamilton entered service in 1831 to defend New York City against attack by wooden ships powered by sail. The fort's seacoast batteries later received a major upgrade during the Civil War. But in the decades the followed, America's system of masonry fortifications was rendered obsolete by major advances in naval and ordinance technology. By 1885 a new coastal defense board was convened that resulted in a modernization program remembered today as the Endicott period (1885-1905).
The signature innovation of the Endicott period was the disappearing gun.
Hidden behind massive open concrete emplacements, that were concealed by the surrounding landscape, disappearing guns were resistant to direct fire. Their complex carriages employed huge lever arms, with the large gun mounted on one end and massive counterweights on the other. When the counterweights were engaged, the gun rose to its firing position. Conversely, when the gun was fired, its recoil overcame the resistance of the counterweights, moving it back and down into the safety of the loading position.
The 12-inch naval gun displayed here is representative of the largest coastal defense guns mounted at Fort Hamilton. The fort's defenses were completely modernized during the Endicott
period. Eleven new batteries containing 33 guns and 8 mortars were constructed between 1898 and 1905. Among them were four 12-inch guns on disappearing carriages and two 12-inch guns on barbette carriages. A 12-inch gun from this period, firing a 1.070 projectile, was capable of sinking any contemporary warship.
Insert, top - Loading 12-Inch Gun, Fort Hamilton: Regular Army and National Guard units jointly participated in live-fire exercises at Fort Hamilton in 1908. During these exercises companies from the New York National Guard manned Battery Brown's 12-inch disappearing guns, and fired full service charges for the first time. (LOC)
Insert, center - Firing 12-Inch Gun, battery Brown, Fort Hamilton: Surprisingly shipping traffic of the busy harbor was not halted during these exercises. And although no major accidents occurred, local newspapers detailed reports of the discharges causing significant collateral damage in nearby communities. (LOC)
Insert, bottom - 10th (k) Company, 13th Regiment, NYNG, Loading 10-Inch Gun, Fort Hamilton, 1908: In 1909 community complaints resulted in a moratorium on live fire exercises and the other Narrows' forts. In the decades that followed their gunners would have to travel to batteries in less densely populated areas to practice their arts. (LOC)