Forts of Southern Indiana
By Richard Day
Vincennes State Historic Sites
Considerations for building forts:
• Protection from Indians rather than Europeans
(Indians had muskets, not cannons)
• For soldiers to “project force” into hostile area
(built by army, with professional engineers)
• For settlers to gather in times of danger
(“stations” often built by settlers or militia)
• Storage of supplies and ammunition
Additional Considerations
• Number of troops available for defense (US Army
was small—usually a company of 50-70 at fort)
• Ease of construction (time available, skill of men
with axe, saw and shovel)
• Location: need for high ground, near river or lake
or road, or town (need for free fields of fire)
• Degree of permanence (forts were usually built
for emergencies, few lasted 10+ years)
• Cost
Parts of a fort: Walls
• Mostly wood, sometimes stone or earth
• Usually “stockade” of vertical logs, 12-16 feet
long, 1 foot diameter, rough or squared,
sharpened at top (sometimes horizontal logs)
• Set 4-5 feet in ground, connected with strips of
wood, “lined” with boards or pickets
• With firing platforms for muskets or small cannon
• Shapes: simple rectangle, star, pentagon, triangle,
“Stockade” of vertical logs, 12-16
feet long, 1 foot diameter
Stockades had raised firing
Parts of a fort: bastions
• Bastions were projecting parts of the wall, at
two or four corners, providing cross-fire along
the face of the wall
• Half-bastions were smaller and easier to build
(and cheaper)
• Ravelins were pointed projections erected in
the centers of each wall
Bastions (right) and half-bastions
(left) were at corners of fort
Parts of a fort: Blockhouses
• A blockhouse was a horizontal-log two-story
building, with the second story often (but not
always) projecting over the first. Blockhouses
were at the corners of the fort, within, on top of,
or in place of bastions. Blockhouses were often
also part of the wall. They were used as barracks,
officers quarters, and storage. A civilian fort
often consisted of a two-story log residence with
or without a stockade. Blockhouses had openings
for muskets and cannon.
Blockhouses were 2-story log buildings in the corners of the
stockade, and sometimes part of the wall. They had openings
for muskets and cannon.
Parts of a fort: Other structures
• A powder magazine, usually sunk into the ground
and with a fire-proof roof
• Blacksmith’s shop
• Well
• Flagpole
• Suttler’s shop
• Guard house
• Chapel
• Gates, main and back
In 1732 Lt. Francois Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, built a
small fort on the banks of the Ouabache River. It held his house
and barracks for 10 men. Around it grew a French village named
“Poste de Vincennes.” The French troops left in 1764.
Fort Sackville, British fort built in Vincennes, 1777,
200 feet square, with ravelins in middle of sides. It had
two 4-pound cannon and two swivel cannon.
British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton in 1779 removed
ravelins, added 2 blockhouses, 2 barracks, guard house,
well, flag pole, and 6-pound cannon
Fort Sackville was captured by Col. George Rogers Clark
of Virginia on February 25, 1779. He renamed it Fort
Patrick Henry. The fort was abandoned in 1782.
Fort Sackville stood about where the esplanade is in
front of the George Rogers Clark Memorial
In 1970-71 Indiana University archaeologists dug in the
esplanade in front of the Clark Memorial
They found a “tinkle cone,” silver brooch, cross, part of
a clay pot, gun parts, chinaware, and part of a clay pipe.
They also found discolorations in the soil,
indicative of stockade walls.
These “features”-- dubbed “Wall A” and “Wall B”-located Fort Sackville in front of the Clark Memorial.
In 1788 Fort Knox was built at Vincennes: A Officers barracks 2
stories, B Soldiers barracks one story, C Blockhouses 2 stories with
platforms to mount cannons on the upper stories, hip-roofed, D
Magazine sunk into the ground to the eaves, E Blacksmiths shop, F
Main gate over which is built the guard house, G Sally port,
..….. Palisades 14 ft. long, 11 ft. above ground.
Fort Knox was named for General Henry Knox, the first
Secretary of War, under George Washington.
In 1800 William Henry Harrison was appointed
governor of the new Indiana Territory. He decided to
relocate Fort Knox north of Vincennes.
In 1803 the new Fort Knox was built 3 miles north of
Fort Knox II was located on a bluff overlooking the
Wabash River.
In 1963 archaeologists found features of Fort Knox II
Subsequent digs revealed that Fort Knox II had an
unusual fan-shaped stockade, with a full bastion and 2
half-bastions. Gaps in the stockade line marked the
location of horizontal log structures.
Documents showed the fort had a 2-story blockhouse
and 1-story barracks, powder magazine, and a
blacksmith shop just outside the wall.
In 1813 Fort Knox II was dismantled, and the logs
floated downriver to build Fort Knox III. It had a
blockhouse, 3 bastions, 2-story Officers Quarters and 1story Barracks. It was closed in 1816.
Fort Vallonia was typical of many small forts and
fortified houses used during the War of 1812.
General John Gibson led a company of Rangers from
Fort Vallonia. He later became governor of Indiana.
In 1972 Fort Vallonia was reconstructed. It is now the
site of “Fort Vallonia Days” festival on the 3rd weekend
in October

Forts of Southern Indiana by Richard Day