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brief history of the fort and surrounding area
site of the fort has been occupied since 1689 as an important military defensive
position. The area at one time was called “Battery Pasture” and was acquired by
William Pepperrell, a merchant and landowner. The first structures were probably
no more than simple earthworks and a small block house known as Pepperrell’s
Garrison or Fort Pepperrell.
of Massachusetts Bay voted in 1715 to erect a permanent breastwork of six guns
for defense of the river although the fort may not have been built until around
1720. The position of a naval officer was also established for collecting a duty
from ships coming into the harbor. This fort was named Fort William
In 1775 local citizens confiscated the property and the fort from
the Pepperrell family as they were still loyal to the British Crown. The fort
was manned by the New Hampshire militia until 1779, then abandoned.
In 1808 the
“Second System” was built and was named Fort McClary after Major Andrew McClary,
a New Hampshire native. The Major was the highest ranking officer killed at the
Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The block house that stands today was built in
1844 and was the last to be built in Maine.
Civil war period saw a fifty man company called the Kittery Artillery commanded
Captain. The Kittery Company was very soon replaced by Battery B 1st New
Artillery in 1863. If the fort had been completed it would have resembled Fort
Knox, all work was ended in 1868. Fort Knox is located in Bucksport Maine.
At one time there were barracks, Officers Quarters, and a
cookhouse with mess hall, a powder magazine and two rifleman’s houses. A shot
furnace stood on the Lower Battery at one time as well. A guard shack and
hospital stood just north of the fort.
Fort McClary was
manned during five wars:
War of 1812
World War I
Maine Forts and the Civil
By Tom Desjardin
Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands
Maine Department of Conservation
The effects that the Civil War had on Maine and its people are wide and varied.
The period that included the war is the only one that saw a drop in Maine’s
population from one census to the next, and Maine’s two key industries, lumber
and ship building, began a decline from which they never recovered.
Thousands of men came home from the war with scars, both physical and emotional,
that they bore for the remainder of their lives, and the home front to which
they returned had changed as well.
The war also had a physical effect on the coastline of Maine, as the threat of
raids by Confederate ships caused the U.S. Congress to hasten appropriations to
fortify the coastline around important industrial ports.
These seacoast fortresses remain today as state historic sites operated by the
Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Maine Department of Conservation.
Today these wonderful structures, as remnants of a bygone era, welcome thousands
of visitors each year.
To protect the shipbuilding industry of Bath, the War Department began
construction of Fort Popham at the mouth of the Kennebec in 1862 and garrisoned
it with a company of “unassigned infantry” through the end of the war.
Another of Maine’s largest rivers became the site of a granite behemoth with the
construction of Fort Knox. Work on this fort at the mouth of the Penobscot River
began in 1844 but was accelerated by the Civil War. While workers continued to
build, detachments of men from the 7th Maine Infantry and then the 1st Maine
Heavy Artillery garrisoned the fort between 1863 and 1865 but never totaled more
than about 100 men.
In August of 1864, the ironclad Confederate raider Tallahassee cruised off the
Maine coast raising great alarm in many coastal towns. It captured and scuttled
the bark Glenarvoz out of Thomaston, the coaler James Littlefield out of Bangor
and the schooner Restless out of Boothbay. It also captured the Maine schooner
Carrol which was bonded and released.
Under this threat, the people of Edgecomb and Wiscasset re-garrisoned the
1812-era Fort Edgecomb and kept it on alert for about a month until the danger
There has been some sort of fortification at the mouth of the Piscataqua River
in Kittery since before the American Revolution but, as with Fort Popham,
construction of a larger granite fort, known as Fort McClary, began in 1862. The
octagonal blockhouse there was rebuilt (to its current form) in 1864. Like Forts
Popham and Knox, Fort McClary never saw action and was never completed, but its
Civil War story includes something that is unique in all of U.S. history.
In its July 8, 1864 edition, the New York Times reported the following:
“Fort McClary Garrisoned: Vice President Hamlin Among the Privates. Company A,
State Guard, which was ordered to garrison Fort McClary, left this afternoon
with 103 men. Among the privates was Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin.”
When the war began in 1861, Hamlin had enlisted as a private in Company A of the
Maine Coast Guards. His unit was called to active duty in 1864 and ordered to
report to Fort McClary. Although Hamlin could have opted out of this service, he
insisted on fulfilling his duty. Hamlin reported for duty on July 7, drilled,
and did guard duty and kitchen patrol along with the rest of the enlisted men.
"I am the Vice-President of the United States,” Hamlin wrote, “but I am also a
private citizen, and as an enlisted member of your company, I am bound to do my
duty." He added, "I aspire only to be a high private in the rear ranks, and keep
step with the boys in blue."
After a few nights of guard duty, Hamlin was made the company cook which allowed
him to enjoy the "excellent salt water fishing," catching cod, haddock, hake,
cunners, and mackerel in abundance, and adding to the flavor of the soldiers’
One exception was made, however, for the vice commander-in-chief who was given
better quarters than a private’s bunk.
Hamlin returned to Bangor on furlough in August when there was a fire in his
stables, but he returned to Fort McClary to complete his tour of duty, which
ended in September. When he was relieved of duty, he left the company to
campaign for the Republican ticket.
Most of these forts were rearmed and re-garrisoned when the U.S. declared war on
Spain in 1898, but then became obsolete when modern battleships with
high-explosive shells began to patrol the seas.
Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors take the time to stop and see these
unfinished fortresses and marvel at the workmanship and ingenuity of the
builders who labored in an era before hydraulic equipment, when men and oxen did
most of the heavy lifting.
Maine Department of Conservation