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Fort Montgomery: When North America Made a ‘Monumental’ Mistake on the Other Side of the Border

BY Tanveer Khan March 28, 2019
Fort Montgomery.

Fort Montgomery. (Mfwills / Wikimedia Commons)

A fort is a living example of human history, which speaks of the great times it has seen over all the years. Yet there is one such military structure that was built in the year 1816, which not only brings embarrassment to a great nation like The United States of America but also brings back haunting memories of the goof up that the country had committed in constructing this structure. Fort Montgomery, also more famously known as Fort Blunder was built by North America, but a little on the other side of the border in Canada.

A brief history of two American wars significant to Fort Blunder

When the British began colonising the countries of the world to gain supreme control, they conquered the Thirteen Colonies along the north Atlantic coast and ruled over them for a very long time. It was only in the year 1776 that the Thirteen British Colonies declared independence from colonial rule and formed the United States of America as a single country. This American Revolutionary War was momentous in the nation’s history and the country was prepared to face its aftermath.

In the year 1812, Great Britain got into a major conflict with an infant United States and its allies again; this time due to America’s desire to expand its trade and territories much further. During this War of 1812, with the help of British Canada, the colonizers got into the heart of the United States that led to the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. The lakeside town of Plattsburgh, situated on the border between the states of New York and Vermont was one of the easiest passageways that led the British into the country, via Canada.

Fort blunder

Although the United States managed to win the Battle of Plattsburgh in a way, which went on for two years, Lake Champlain (by which the modern city of Plattsburgh sits) had become a site of war, through which the British had gained direct access into North America once. So this time, the Americans were not willing to let the British through their waters easily.

Immediately after the invasion, a structure was ordered to be built on Lake Champlain by the James Madison administration. In case an attack from the British Canadian border came in again, American forces would be ready to face them head on. A narrow strip of sandy land, north of New York called Island Point was chosen, where an imposing structure was to be constructed. This would fortify the shores of America from future invasions along its northern borders.

Construction work on an octagonal-shaped fort quickly began. It boasted 3000 square metres of land, walls as high as thirty feet and armed with a hundred and twenty-five cannons, until a glaring loophole in the geography was pointed out.

When the blunder came to the fore

In the July of 1817, a year after construction work on the stronghold began; the then President of USA, James Monroe resurveyed the area north of Rouses Point and found out that the fortification was mistakenly being built on the other side of United States. The anti-Canada fort was actually on the Canadian soil itself. As soon as the miscalculation was noticed, construction work came to a sudden halt and the unnamed military structure was abandoned, which spelled good luck for commoners residing in nearby areas. In the years that followed, locals began pilfering construction and building material from the fort and carried them away for use in erecting personal and public buildings for themselves. That is when the North American citadel without an official name (although Fort Montgomery is a misnomer) came to be known as Fort Blunder.

When Fort Blunder became Fort Montgomery

The fort lay abandoned and in shambles for a very long time until in 1842 when hopes to renew construction on the very site of Lake Champlain rekindled. After the Webster-Ashburton Treaty was signed between the USA and British-held Canada, it resolved the border issues between the two neighbouring nations. It was decided that the geographical border be shifted a bit towards the north. Fort Blunder would finally fall into North American territory and an accidentally-built stronghold would be back in the country where it originally belonged. So in the year 1844, construction work re-began on the fort, picking up momentum in the year 1848. It was rechristened Fort Montgomery in fond memory of the Revolutionary War hero General Richard Montgomery, who was killed in the Battle of Quebec.

Fort Montgomery during the American Civil War

While the work on the fort was still underway, another major war broke out between the northern and southern parts of United States of America between the years 1861 and 1865. Fort Montgomery played a crucial role during this American Civil War. Fort Montgomery held the American defense inside the garrison, in case Britain joined forces with the American slave-holding states.

Construction work on Fort Montgomery was finally completed in the year 1870, and despite the fort never being fully garrisoned at any point of time, its guns and cannons were scrapped off during the years 1900 and 1910. The land where the fort was built, which once bent boundaries, was put up for auction in the year 1926.

The years of Fort Montgomery after the Civil War

Finally complete with forty-eight feet high walls contrary to the original thirty feet, Fort Montgomery was armed with guns and cannons, ready to attack the northern border if ever a situation arose. But nothing of that sort ever happened afterwards and the ammo at the military stronghold became far too obsolete to be used in modern warfare. Once again, locals scavenged the wood, bricks and fixtures from Fort Montgomery for their own use and left it in a mess. Some years later, a large part of the fort was demolished and its stones were used in laying the foundation of a bridge across Lake Champlain. Finally, with nothing much left of the fort that once stood the test of time, was put up for sale.

A private shipping container tycoon from Montreal, who is also the current owner of Fort Montgomery, purchased the piece of history in 2006 and put up the ruins from the past on auction once again. Although nobody has come forward to close a bid ever since he made the purchase, the erroneous fort, which moved margins on the map, still sits on the land that marks the monumental mistake United States of America once made while constructing nothing short of a military memorial.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Kumbhalgarh Fort: Not Only China But India Too Has Its Own ‘Great Wall’ Built Centuries Ago“.

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