Military forts along our coastlines stand as sentinels over the security of our shores. They also provide a place to envision the unfolding of our history and the development of our national identity. From the first western settlers seeking safety in an unfamiliar land, to the revolutionary war that established a new democracy, to civil war that pitted brother against brother… through World Wars, a Cold War and beyond, national parks along our coasts and Great Lakes preserve places that both witnessed and influenced key military events that shaped our nation.

One of the first things early settlers did when they reached these shores was to build forts – both to establish ownership by their sponsoring nation and to provide security. National park sites along the eastern seaboard include many forts that chronicle clashes between the French, British, and Spanish in an attempt to claim this land. Some, such as Florida’s Castillo de San Marcos, built by the Spanish in 1672, still stand. Others, such as Jamestown, the first English settlement in America, are remnants, but archeological studies of the earthworks and artifacts provide invaluable insight into the establishment of the American colonies.

Coastal forts in our National Park System detail our fight for independence as well as our early struggles as a nation. Both the first and last battles of the revolutionary war are preserved in coastal parks – Bunker Hill in Boston National Historical Park and Yorktown in Colonial National Historical Park respectively. Fort McHenry memorializes the war of 1812 and the battle that inspired our National Anthem. Fort Sumter saw the first shots of the Civil War while far to the west Fort Point was built to defend San Francisco against the possibility of Confederate and foreign attack during the Civil War.


Last updated: May 23, 2017


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