The United States Army Garrison Fort Hamilton is celebrating the 194th anniversary of when its cornerstone was laid on June 11, 1825. That’s quite a milestone for the U.S. Army installation located in Bay Ridge, which is the closest military garrison to New York City and its last remaining active-duty military post.
During the 20th century, the fort was officially named after Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. The base was originally established to protect the Narrows on the Brooklyn side entrance to New York Harbor. The now-shuttered Fort Wadsworth, which closed in 1994, guarded the Staten Island side of the Narrows. Fort Wadsworth’s closing left Fort Hamilton the only active military base guarding the entrance to New York Harbor.
While the cornerstone was laid in 1825, Fort Hamilton was completed in 1831 with further additions made to the base in the 1870s and 1900s. The view of the Narrows from today’s Fort Hamilton is the same view Gen. George Washington’s troops had during the Revolutionary War in 1776, when they fought the British shortly before the Battle of Brooklyn. While the American army failed to win the battle, the British also failed to capture Washington and his army, who escaped across the East River and continued to fight and ultimately win the war.
The fort’s rich legacy includes protecting the harbor during the Civil War and serving as a processing point for troops during both World Wars and the Korean War. Throughout its history it has never been fired upon.
Among the notable figures that served at Fort Hamilton is Captain Robert E. Lee, at the time an officer of the Army Corps of Engineers who was assigned to improving the defenses at the fort. He served there from 1841 to 1846. Lee chose to follow his home state of Virginia when it declared its secession from the Union in 1861. As a general he led the Confederate troops until he realized the South had lost the war and ultimately surrendered his entire army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox rather than risk losing more lives on both sides.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson also served as a Lieutenant at Fort Hamilton and Abner Doubleday served as commander of the fort in 1861, after having served as a Union Major General at Fort Sumter, where he fired the first shot during the opening battle of the Civil War.
Today Fort Hamilton supports the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, and is also the headquarters for the New York City Recruiting Battalion, which welcomes new recruits into the military.
It is currently an active-duty Army post with 5,000 full-time personnel serving 126 Army Reserve units and 10,000 military veterans.