Forts of the United States: An Historical Dictionary, 16th through 19th Centuries,
by Bud Hannings, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, N.C., 2006, $95.
This offering, at 738 pages, only seems to be built like a fort. It is loaded with information about the fortifications erected in what became the United States during a 400-year period. The entries are arranged by state or territory and then listed in alphabetical (rather than chronological) order. Thus, the first entry is Apalachicola Fort in Alabama (not to be confused with the Apalachicola Arsenal in Florida), and the last is Willow Springs Station in Wyoming. Each entry includes when a particular fort was established and, if available, the date of its abandonment or destruction. When military actions occurred around a fort, these are included. Even so, no entry is over a page long, not even the one about the West’s most famous post, Fort Laramie.
Some forts, of course, changed their name over the years. For instance, Fort Laramie was originally a trading post called Fort William and then became known as Fort John. Some forts didn’t even last a year. Fort Walbach (or Camp Walbach) was a short-lived post (September 1858 to spring of 1859) in the vicinity of present-day Laramie, Wyo. A “camp” generally indicates a temporary post, while a “fort” signifies a permanent facility. Camp Robinson, established in Nebraska in 1874, soon was called Fort Robinson.
The appendixes provide some more interesting information, on the confusing Washington, D.C., Civil War defenses, the Florida Seminole Indian War forts, Spanish missions and presidios, chronological list of conflicts in America and Europe from 1492 to 1898, 20th-century forts and Pony Express depots. The author says one of the most difficult challenges was getting an accurate list of the latter, since the Pony Express only operated for 18 months in the early 1860s and locations changed often.
Obviously this is a book that will please more than just fans of history west of the Mississippi or aficionados of the 19th-century Indian wars. The index suggests that more than a dozen states have had a Fort Washington, which isn’t too surprising, but there were about as many Fort Williams through the years. All get their due here. Can’t find a certain fort in this vast volume? Well, it could be because Hannings couldn’t sufficiently verify some installations and camps. “That does not suggest,” he writes, “that they never existed.” Most readers, however, will be hard pressed to find even one missing fortification.
Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.