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Posted on Jul 3, 2005 in Books and Movies

Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America 1600 to the Present – Book Review

By Daniel Hines

Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America 1600 to the Present
J. E. Kaufmann, H. W. Kaufmann
Da Capo Press, December 2004

Fortress America, by J. E. and H. W. Kaufmann, details the progression of fortifications on the North American Continent. Its prologue begins with Native American and Spanish fortifications in the areas of the Caribbean, Mexico, and the American Southwest.

Fortress America then moves north, where it covers the fortresses and stockades of New France and Louisiana. The descriptions of these forts are incredibly detailed, where possible giving exact measurements, and pictures or drawings. The level of detail is also shown through the accurate descriptions of garrison sizes and artillery.

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This book looks at more than just colonial forts, however. Stockades, blockhouses, and private ventures that functioned as fortifications are covered in this work. Counting World War II era shore batteries and Cold War era missile emplacements and radar stations as forts, Fortress America covers nearly every position made for national or colonial defense. The Kaufmanns took care to show how progress in fortification construction happened, and why. Also detailed are the field fortifications erected outside of forts as well as the enemies siege dispositions, where available.

Even beyond simply covering the construction of forts, this work details many of the political situations surrounding these constructions as well as covering any battles that had an impact upon the fort, or that the fort had an impact upon. Particularly interesting are the forts in the New York area during the American Revolution, or the coastal forts during the War Between the States.

Fortress America is not light reading, though it would be enjoyable for the average to serious history student that has an interest in fortifications. Instead of a simple piece of nonfiction literature, I would say that the Kaufmanns’ work is more of a “ready reference”, that can be read cover-to-cover, or skipped through to find the specific information one is looking for. The progression of the book is purely chronological, and typically separated by nationality, so referencing a particular fort is simple.

A portion of the book that was a particular favorite of mine were the asides that noted special events or changes in technology that affected fortification construction in America. These sections were clearly bordered as not a part of the main work, but I feel are necessary to understanding several of the changes made in fortifications throughout the centuries.

In short, Fortress America is an enjoyable, thorough and detailed work on fortifications on the American Continent. It contains a balance of descriptions of the forts themselves and the methods used in attempts to defeat them. A dedicated student of American History, or a student of Military Engineering would definitely find this to be a quality addition to their library.

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