Military History – U.S. Army Fort, est. 1859
Ideally positioned as a site for a fortress protecting San Francisco – and the new found wealth of the California Gold Rush – the U.S Army began construction of Fortress Alcatraz in 1853. When the island received its first garrison of soldiers in 1859, a three story brick fortress – complete with draw-bridges and a 9′ deep moat – stood watch over the Golden Gate from the commanding hill-top. Over 100 cannon and other heavy artillery were placed within extensive masonry walls, and on several defensive brick towers.
In 1850, the U.S. Army dispatched surveyors and engineers to San Francisco and the surrounding bay area to develop plans for a ‘triangular defense’ of the Golden Gate and the American West.
Sites were selected on the north and south sides of the narrow channel, and on the prominent ‘little island’ of Alcatraz -perfectly situated in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.
The first lighthouse on the west coast had been placed near the top of the hill several years earlier, and a three story brick and mortar ‘military barracks and fortification’ was constructed adjacent – and became known as ‘the Citadel’.
In 1861, when Confederate soldiers attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fortress Alcatraz became instrumental in protecting the gold reserves of the West from a very unlikely adversary – fellow Americans!
The installation at the south side of the inlet, Fort Point (shown below) was completed – and armed – but the companion fort across the Gate was never built. Alcatraz would play a vital role.