The Guns of San Diego
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A. Endicott Board, 1885-1895

During the fifteen years that Congress refused to appropriate funds for new construction of coastal fortifications, it did allow for the "protection, preservation, and repair" of existing works. Lt. Col. Charles Stewart, in the Engineers' San Francisco office, became responsible for the maintenance of Fort Point batteries at the Presidio of San Francisco and the battery at Point Loma. About $1,500 was allotted annually for each area, most of which went to pay civilian "fort keepers." Stewart and his successors visited San Diego from time to time, but these trips involved mostly the Corps of Engineers' civil works responsibilities concerning San Diego Bay. [1]

By the 1880s, a sizable segment of the American public in government and out, and in the military, became increasingly alarmed at the deterioration of coastal fortifications and the development of modern steam battleships in foreign navies. At the same time, arsenals were employing steel in building guns; breech loading and rifling were perfected; improved gun carriages were devised; and new propellants were developed. E. Raymond Lewis has pointed out that a Civil War 10-inch Rodman smoothbore had a maximum range of 4,000 yards with a 123-pound shot, while an 1890 10-inch rifled gun had a range of 12,000 yards with a 604-pound shot. In the face of mounting concern, Congress passed a bill early in 1885 calling for the executive branch to review the matter of the United States' coastal defense. [2]

The newly elected President Grover Cleveland promptly appointed a Board of Fortifications or Other Defenses on March 3, 1885. Secretary of War William C. Endicott became president of the board, thus lending his name to the undertaking. Four army officers, two naval officers, and two civilians made up the rest. The board met regularly throughout the summer and fall and in December announced a list of twenty-two American ports arranged in order of importance and the urgency necessary for their defense. The first port on the list was New York; the twenty-second, San Diego. The Endicott Board's final report, issued in 1886, recommended four high-power, 10-inch rifled guns for San Diego, two to be emplaced at Point Loma and two at Ballast Point. [3]

Despite the thoroughness of the board's investigation, Congress was slow to act. Not until 1890 did it pass the first appropriation for the modernization to begin. The Endicott Board had estimated the total cost of the project at $126 million; through the 1890s, the annual appropriations averaged $1.5 million. [4] The next recommendation for San Diego came from an Artillery Board appointed by the commanding general of the Division of the Pacific in 1889. This board proposed four high-power rifled guns, three converted rifles, and eight rifled mortars:

Point Loma two 10-inch guns and four 12-inch mortars
Ballast Point three 8-inch converted rifles
North Island two 8-inch guns and four 12-inch mortars [5]

The next investigation resulted from a bill that the U.S. Congress passed in 1891 directing the Secretary of War to appoint a special board of officers to determine sites for a military post and harbor defenses in San Diego. The board's findings were transmitted to the Congress in December. It concluded that there should be batteries at Ballast Point and the west end of North Island. A mortar battery and a "few" guns were recommended for Point Loma. Also, batteries should be placed at the "Brickyard" southeast of the Coronado Hotel. As for a post, the board rejected the military reservation and recommended 1,030 acres of private land located two miles northeast of the reservation. [6]

These early boards set the stage for the Corps of Engineers to get down to serious business regarding the defenses of San Diego in 1894. This newest board was composed of six experienced engineers: Cols. George H. Mendell, Henry L. Abbot, Cyrus B. Comstock, and Lt. Cols. Peter C. Hains, Henry M. Robert (of parliamentary procedure fame), and George L. Gillespie. The colonels visited San Diego in May and finished their report early in 1895. They noted that San Diego's population now exceeded 30,000 and that it had railroad connections to the rest of the country. The party traveled to Point Loma on a road along the crest of the ridge and reached the summit near the old lighthouse. This summit commanded the harbor and its approaches. East of the lighthouse at an elevation of 70 to 100 feet they spotted a space sufficient for three or four guns. (The Army later called this site Billy Goat Point.) South of the lighthouse at 300 feet elevation they selected a site for a gun battery that commanded the ocean approach to the harbor (probably the later location of Battery Humphreys). The trip out to Ballast Point was on a difficult trail that wound among the steep escarpments. On examining the 1873 work, they concluded the site was suitable for a battery that would sweep the harbor entrance. As for the island across the channel (they did not know it as North Island), they disagreed with the 1891 board and recommended no battery there. The board also visited Coronado Beach where they selected a site 1-1/2 miles south of the Coronado Hotel for a mortar battery that would cover the ocean area in front of San Diego and National City. They summarized their findings thus:

Point Loma, south of old lighthouse, two 10-inch guns, non-disappearing carriages

Point Loma, east of old lighthouse, two 8-inch guns, disappearing carriages

Ballast Point, four 10-inch guns, disappearing carriages

Coronado Beach, sixteen 12-inch mortars protected by three quick-fire guns to repel landing parties.

The board also suggested some rapid-fire guns at Ballast Point to cover the submarine minefield and repel landing parties. The colonels estimated the total cost for San Diego Harbor to be $882,000. [7]

B. The First Batteries, 1896-1900

Of the four sites selected by the 1895 board, engineers constructed a battery only at Ballast Point, the four 10-inch guns on disappearing carriages. In September 1897 Col. Charles R. Suter, the Pacific Division Engineer, visited the contractor's work at Ballast Point. "Three emplacements for 10-inch guns on disappearing carriages are being built on Ballast Point, and also a torpedo [submarine mines] casemate. This latter was well advanced towards completion and nearly ready for back-filling. The two left-hand emplacements, contracted for last year, were about completed so far as the concrete work is concerned, but the earth filling of parapets and traverses had not been commenced. The third emplacement had been begun, excavation completed, foundations laid, and erection of forms begun." Suter was generally pleased with the work which 1st. Lt. James J. Meyler, CE, supervised. [8]

Suter considered the roads on Point Loma terrible. He recommended construction of a road along the harbor shore from a wharf at La Playa to Ballast Point and beyond to Billy Goat Point and on up the ridge to the old lighthouse. Also, the old road from Ballast Point up to the old lighthouse, which had been built for the Lighthouse Board in the 1850s, should be reconstructed. He thought the road on top of Point Loma should be strengthened for the transport of heavy ammunition. [9]

A month later, the Fortifications Board in New York, which reviewed all plans for coastal defense in the nation, had some additional thoughts on the defense of San Diego. In addition to rapid-fire guns at Ballast Point, it recommended six for "The Island" east of the entrance channel. As for the defenses on Coronado Beach, the board thought that work could be postponed until all the batteries for the protection of the entrance channel were completed. [10] By March 1898, the third 10-inch emplacement was completed and work had begun on the fourth. When completed the battery was named in honor of Bvt. Lt. Col. Bayard Wilkeson, an artilleryman killed at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. In 1915, the battery was divided; guns 1 and 2 on the right flank retained the name Wilkeson, and rifles 3 and 4 were named in honor of Col. John H. Calef, another artilleryman who had fought in the Civil War. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1900 and died in 1912. [11]

Battery Wilkeson
Battery Wilkeson, four 10-inch guns, 1903. As of then, Ballast Point had not been widened with fill. The magazines of this battery are said to be in excellent condition. Old Ballast Point Light Station in background. Courtesy of National Archives, Photo No. 77-CD-22D-1.

No. 2 Gun, Battery Wilkeson
No. 2 Gun, Battery Wilkeson, firing. These 10-inch guns were mounted on disappearing carriages. At the moment this photo was taken, the gun tube was beginning to retract — note the soldiers at the rear ducking. Photo taken between 1904 and 1911. Photo courtesy of Maj. Gen. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret.

A sketch showing how fire control is coordinated. From the R.O.T.C. Manual, Coast Artillery, Basic, p. 15.

Calef-Wilkeson base-end station
Calef-Wilkeson base-end station, located in the northeast quadrant of Cabrillo National Monument. Station is located to the west of the Bayside Trail/Sylvester Road. Photo courtesy of George R. Schneider.

interior of base-end station
Interior of base-end station with bench and ring on floor intact. Photo courtesy of George R. Schneider.

Fort Rosecrans' Coast Artillery
General Tasker H. Bliss, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, reviewing Fort Rosecrans' Coast Artillery in 1911. Battery Wilkeson in background. Photo by Col. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Photo courtesy of Maj. Gen. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret.

Battery Fetterman, 3-inch guns
Battery Fetterman, 3-inch guns. Note apparent censorship effort in lower right. No date. Photo courtesy of Maj. Gen. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret.

Fort Rosecrans
Fort Rosecrans, 1911. Officers' row in foreground; enlisted barracks in distance. Photo by Col. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Photo courtesy of Maj. Gen. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret.

Battery James Meed
Battery James Meed, Fort Pio Pico, 1911. A 3-inch gun firing. These weapons were later moved to Battery McGrath, Fort Rosecrans. Photo by Col. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret. Photo courtesy of Maj. Gen. George Ruhlen, U.S.A. Ret.

The cost of the battery amounted to $217,300. Data on the guns and their carriages follow.

GunsCaliberModel Serial No.Manufacturer
110-inch18958Watervliet Arsenal
210-inch1888 M110Bethlehem Iron Company
310-inch1888 M110Watervliet Arsenal
410-inch1888 M14Watervliet Arsenal

CarriagesModelSerial No. ManufacturerMotor
1189653Watertown Arsenal8 hp
218967Niles Tool Works8 hp
318965Niles Tool Works8 hp
418966Niles Tool Works8 hp

The destruction of the battleship USS Maine in La Habana Harbor on February 15, 1898, resulted in a fresh sense of urgency to provide additional defenses on all coasts. Within a month, Congress voted $50 million for defense. In April, the Spanish-American War began. At San Diego, three additional batteries at the harbor entrance were completed by 1900: Battery McGrath, two 5-inch rapid-fire guns on balanced pillar mounts on Battery's right flank, its primary mission being the defense of the minefield; Battery Fetterman, two 3-inch guns on Wilkeson's left flank, for sweeping the channel in case of attack by boats or small vessels; and Battery James Meed, also two 3-inch guns, across the channel on North Island (Fort Pio Pico). Battery McGrath was named in honor of Maj. Hugh J. McGrath, Fourth Cavalry, who died of wounds received in the Philippines in 1899. In 1902 the Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor for heroism. Battery Fetterman was named in honor of 2nd Lt. George Fetterman, 3rd U.S. Artillery, who died in 1844. Battery James Meed was named for Capt. James Meed, Seventeenth Infantry, who was killed in action against the British and Indians at Frenchtown, Michigan, 1813. [12]

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2005