Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Winfield Scott: Batteries Howe and Arthur Wagner
(Mortar Battery No. 1)
 
 
Battery Howe's Pit B (San Francisco Public Library)
 
Construction on Battery Howe began in 1893 and was completed two years later. Originally a single battery of 16 rifled mortars, it was named for Colonel Albion P. Howe, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, who died in 1897. Unlike the other mortar batteries in California which built in a straight line, Battery Howe was buildt in the shape of a cross, with a mortar pit in each quarter.
 
The battery was divided into two separate administrative entities, with Pits C and D becoming Batttery Arthur Wagner. The naming of the battery was to honor Colonel Arthur L. Wagner, Military Secretary of the Army, who died in 1905
 
In 1920, the mortars were removed and the two batteries became a storage site. At some time later, Battery Wagner and Battery Howe's Pit B was buried under an atrificial hill. This leaves only pit A visable today
 
Battery Wagner's Pit A
 
 
 
What are Seacoast Mortars?
 
Battleships and cruisers might have had more than a foot of armored plate on their sides, but their decks were reatively thin. Battery Alexander could exploit this weakness. Fired in groups, mortars hurled 700 pound projectiles in a high arc to drop onto the warships unprotected decks
 
 
 
Batteries Howe and Arthur Wagner
by Chuck Wofford

These batteries were named in G.O. 20 January 25 1906 for Col Arthur Wagner, Military Secretary, United States Army who served with distinction during the war with Spain, and who died June 17th 1905. Graduated from West Point, 1875. 2nd Lieutenant 6th Infantry, 16th June, 1875. 1st Lieutenant, October 18 1882. Captain 2nd April 1882, Major17 November 1896, Lieutenant Colonel A.A.G. 26th February 1898. For several years professor at Infantry and Cavalry School, Fort Leavenworth Kansas. Author of "Organization and Tactics", "Security and Information" and other military books, Born in Illinois, Appointed from Illinois.

In February of 1902, this battery was divided into two batteries, in G.O. 16 the two eastern pits were named in honor of, Brevet Major General Albion P. Howe, Fourth Artillery, veteran of both the Mexican and Civil wars, who died in 1897. Colonel Howe served at San Francisco. Graduated from West point 1841, 2nd Lieutenant, 4th Artillery, 1st July 1841. 1st Lieutenant, June 18 1846. Regimental Adjutant October 1 1846 to March 1855. Brevet Captain August 20 1847 , for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churuubus. Captain 4th Artillery, March 2, 1855. Brevet Major, July 1st 1862, for gallant and meritorious service in the battle of Malvern Hill Virginia. Brigadier General, Volunteers June 11th 1862. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel. May 3rd 1863 for gallant in the Battle of Salem heights Virginia. Major 4th Artillery August 11th 1863. Brevet Colonel November 7, 1863 for gallant service in the Battle of Rappahannock Station Virginia. Brevet Brigadier General and Major General March 13, 1865. Brevet Major General, Volunteers, 13th July 1865, for gallant and meritorious service during the war. Brevet Major General, Volunteers, 13th July 1865, for faithful and meritorious service. Mustered out of Volunteer Service January 15th 1866. Lieutenant Colonel 20th Infantry July 28, 1866, declined. Lieutenant Colonel 2nd artillery April 10, 1879, Colonel 4th Artillery, April 19, 1882. Retired June 30th 1882, Died January 25th 1897. Born in Maine, Appointed from Maine.

Ordnance

This was the first mortar battery of the Endicott era in San Francisco, and was armed with sixteen cast iron, 12" BL mortars were Model # 1886M (29 was the only 1886 in Pit A, Howe, the balance were 1886M1), nos 43,38,and 59, Model 1886M nos 35,44,46,47, (Pit B Howe). Model 1886, nos 5, 6, 7and 8, (Pit A Wagner) Model 1886M, nos 40, 42, 36 and 53 (Pit B Wagner) manufactured by Builder's Iron Foundry of RI. The weight of the mortar was 29,120 lbs, and each mortar cost $7,750.00, with a range of 15,000 yards. When the battery was divided, the name Howe continued to be the two eastern pits, the two western pits were named Wagner.

The Carriages were Model 1891, Pit A, Wagner, nos 31, 32, 33 and 34, and were made by Builders Iron Fdy. Pit B, Wagner Model 1891, nos 67, 72, 46 and 71 came from Robert Poole & Sons. Model 1891, Pit A Howe, nos 21, 22, 23 and 26, Model 1891, Pit B Howe, nos 46, 47, 48 and 51, all from Builders Iron Fdy. Number of Carriages built: 86 Original Emplaced: 84 Time Emplaced: 1893-1898, Number Of Bolts: 12 Inner- 12 Outer, Circle Of Diameter: 13' 7". All were replaced or removed by 1920. The carriage weighted 128,000 lbs, and the carriage cost $12,500.00. They were 25' between the mortars, with an elevation of 18�.

The following is information on the Model 1886 Mortar.

Ammunition Service

The shells were stored along the central gallery, which was 630' X 10' and the shells for the battery were stored four or five deep in tiers close to the side of the long gallery against the side wall, and the bases lying along the sides of the somewhat narrow passageway which was left, (there was about 1080- 800 LB shells-528-1000 LB shells- 100-Torpedo- in the magazines, and in the main gallery there were about 1700 shells).

The space in and under the central cross traverse was utilized for the powder magazine, of which there were two 58 X 10 feet. ( there was about 800 in the two large Powder Room, also there was 2 that were 16' X 20' ( there were about 1060 in these two rooms) and two smaller Powder Room , that were about 10' X 15' (there were about 550 in these two rooms), there was an overhead trolley, in the long hall that connected the two ends of the battery, the overhead trolley, carried the shells and was attached at an angle in the ceiling, being the ceilings, were arched and the carriers were close along the wall, and the tongs would pickup the shell and take to the firing rooms, as with the trolley for the powder it was a platform held by 3 wheels on overhead trolley, the powder was stacked on this platform, it would hold 8. The rails did not go into the powder room, they only ran in the main gallery. I would think the powder was placed by hand on the trolley. In the shell and shot and powder rooms in this battery there were no need for elevators or ammo hoists. Shells were brought from the magazines to the main hall via overhead chain hoist or trolley. The projectile weighted 1046 lbs and the propel weighted 60 lbs. The form of a trolley in this battery are four wheeled travelers, running on the lower flanges of I-beams suspended from the ceiling of the shot room and passages. Each trolley carried a half-ton Yale-Weston triplex block.

Construction

As with any battery is to be built in any Engineer district, as much information as may be necessary is sent to the district officer.

The appropriation of $335,647,15 was made on February 24 1891, (being the first appropriation for construction of coastal defense since February 10, 1875) for the construction of this battery, and on three10" guns and one twelve 12" gun emplacement.

Ground was graded and cleared for this battery on April 5 1893, and the work has been in progress on it every since. The excavation was effected by plowing and scraping on the shallow portions and by blasting the deeper ones. The excavation for the rooms and passages was completed June 20, 1891 with 43115 cu yds of earth and sand removed. The next thing was to build the timber forms used in making the foundation of the battery, the forms, in all cases dressed lumber will be used. While this was being done the concrete plant was moved to a position of the batteries repaired and set up at a cost of $2,469.00, including tramway over the excavation.

The concrete plant was run from June 21 to June 30, inclusive, the material for the concrete came from; Rock for the concrete from Fort Point, sand came from Fort Point beach and the gravel from Gravelly Beach. The drainage is complete over the portion excavated, consisting of a 10" water main drain, with 6" drain to pits and 3" drains around outside of masonry. A conduit for electric-firing wires was laid in the floor. In this fiscal year, the first step is to put in a foundation; so far as we are concerned a mortar emplacement is nothing more or less than a masonry structure. The reinforcing steel will be measured by the pound in place and ready for pouring concrete and will include allowance for minimum laps, splices and hooks, if any item needs to be embedded in the concrete such as bolts, anchor, pipes or other embedded items are firmly and securely fastened in place indicated on the plans, and they should be clean and free from rust, scale, oil. The pouring started soon after, and 7625 c y of concrete, and 44,124 c y of excutived dirt, + 6717 c y loam and, 4136 sand fot the top and backfill When the loam was in place it was sown with oats or barley and artificially watered, needed to sustain growth in the dry months. The slopes bounding two of the mortar pits were sodded at much greater cost as grass could hardly be relied upon to hold a slope of 3/4, as this particular slope needs to be held. The water supply for the work was derived from a conduit of Spring Valley Water Company, a private corp, which supplied the city, it was pumped by stream to tanks upon the hill from which pipes were led by the concrete mixer and to the masonry tank in the Boiler room and over the earthwork, the last necessary to make the grass grow on the slopes in the dry season. A spring of good drinking water having been developed in the excavation of mortar pit #2, it was bricked up for convenience of the cannoneers.

The rooms and passages were built, plastered with mortar made of 1 part cement and 1 1/2 parts of sand. The exterior surface of masonry in contact with earth filling were coated with paraffin paint except a small portion coated with "Maltha" a bituminous preparation, which was applied hot (paraffin paint was considered the best of the two), floors of artificial stone laid in all the rooms & passages, except one passage. Masonry structure was covered with earth, sodded or planted in grass, completing the fill, except about 400 cubic yards. The mortar pits were excavated and the retaining walls of the slopes were built. Two platforms were laid in granite, and some of the work done on the other platforms, gates, doors, windows and ventilators were put in place. It is accepted the battery proper, with it 16 platforms will be completed this year.

The parade in the rear of pit 4 was filled into grade, being given a gentle slope from the edge of the concrete floor of the pit. The West traverse was filled in and topped dressed. The ground around the south, west and north sides of the battery was given a back slope of 1/15 from the crest of t battery slope for a width of 30 feet to a drain which cuts off all surface water from flowing into battery. This rain falls in both directions from the front of pit 1, and discharged into natural ravines on the east side. This drain is an open concrete gutter 490 feet at the south end, which is made of oval shaped sewer pipe 16 x 20 inches in cross section laid in a trench. The total length of the drains is 1,425 feet.

A roadway was built from McDowell Ave from a point in the rear of emplacement #13, past the north and around the east side of the battery, where it terminates in the parade in the rear of pit #4, this roadway is 2,000 feet long 18 feet wide and covered with an average of 8" of macadam. The road is provided with side gutters, and is crossed by three sewer pipe culverts. The parade and roadway connecting pits #2 and #4 were covered with about 6" of macadam. All macadamized surfaces were sprinkled and rolled. All the fore going work had been completed in October 1894 and the earthwork of the battery was practically completed.

The floor of the western passageway was finished in sidewalk finish. The floors of the four pits and the sixteen platforms pits were similarly finished. The total amount of floor finish for the year amounted to 8,526 square feet. The concrete steps leading to pit 1 were finished and plastered. Slight repairs were made to the retaining wall and floors of the passageway. For drainage there were built 322 linear feet of concrete retaining walls and gutter, 1135 linear feet of open gutter at the foot of the back slopes and 526 linear feet of sewer. A picket fence 7 feet high was built entirely around the battery; its total length is about 1,900 feet. It is proved with two wagon and three foot gates. The firing cabel obtained upon requisition from Willets Point was passed throught the firing pipe the switchboard firing and testing instrument installed in the firing rooms. Both the firing apparatus and the electric light plant have been tested during the year with satisfactory results. Wooden storm doors have been hung at the entrance to the passageway to keep out dust and water.

The various sheds used in the construction of the battery have removed and the entire battery policed. All gates and doors have been provided with brass padlocks. This battery was 925 feet long and 660 wide, there were two Firing Rooms that were 30 x 25 and two other rooms which were used for storage that were 10 x 15. There was also a Generator Room which was 11 x 27, one for the Boilers, which was 11' x 27', these two end Corridor were 8' x 70', in this battery there was a total room area Of 7,304 sq. ft, and a total interior volume of 55,776 cu ft, the main corridor from the floor to the top covering was 26', and the end corridor were 18', and it was 293'4" in length and 195' deep. By 1896 this battery was ready to turn over to the Coast Artillery, except the ammunition conveyors have yet to be installed and changes are required in the firing arrangements. When the structure is completed the district Engineer officer prepares the transfer drawing then the Engineer officer and the local Coast Artillery officer, make an inspection of the structure, and all was in order the keys, were transferred to the Artillery commander. The battery was turned over to the commander of the Presidio in September 1895, under departmental authority, dated August 7 1895, and has been used in regular target practice by the troops. And in January 18 1900, it was transferred to the Coast Artillery.

Repairs

In June of 1915, Colonel Rees proposed strengthening some of the existing batteries, at this battery he wanted to increase the earth cover over the power room, shot galleries, and passages; gallery, this work was done the following year.

During December 1894, and January 1895, the rainfall was unusually heavy and continuous. The loam covering of the newly built slopes in pit Nos. 1 and 2 and of the roadway between pits Nos. 2 and 4 became saturated with water and in January a slide amounting to more that 1,000 cubic yards occurred. This loam covering had been borrowed from the surrounding ground and deposited upon the slopes to an average depth of 20 inches to support a growth of grass. This soil is very rich, but resembles a sponge in its capacity of absorbing and retaining water. Before the rainy season set in gophers and moles had honeycombed the slopes facilitating the entrance of water. The increasing downpour of rain gave the loam no opportunity for drying out, and it was eventually reduced to an almost semi-fluid state, which caused it to literally flow from the slopes.

More that 200 cubic yards fell into pit # 1 and more than 800 cubic yards fell in pit # 2 and in the roadway between pits Nos. 2 and 4.

The drainage of pit 1 was fortunately kept open and no harm was done to the mortars mounted in this pit, but in pit 2 the drainage was completely closed and the platform in progress of erection entirely buried under mud and water.

The fallen material was attacked at once at the only point where it could be reached, namely, the roadway. The confined space in which it was necessary to work and the character of the material handled made the work slow. By the end of February the fallen material had all been removed and the pits cleaned out. The damaged slopes restored, as the cause of the accident was the retention of the water by the loam, care was taken to provide for its escape. Before the loam covering was replaced the slopes were benched, and in the benches blinds drain were laid, discharging into the nearest convenient outlet. Two benches were made in the length of the slope. Instead of using loam only for backfilled it was mixed with about equal parts of fine sand, obtained from some sand heaps south of the battery.

The damaged slopes in pits Nos. 1 & 2 were sodded those in the roadway being top dressed and sown with oats as before. A low concrete retaining wall and gutter was built at the foot of the magazine slope to the roadway, behind which was made a blind drain discharging throught weepers into the gutter. A similar blind drain was laid in the rear of the gutter already built on the other side of the roadway. A layer of sod was placed at the foot of each slope of the roadway. The damaged slopes were all restored by June of 1895.

The blast of the mortars was observed to be especially severe at the intersection of the long and the short galleries immediately in front of the firing rooms. The firing was always conducted by a single mortar, the force of the blast suffice to snap off the heads of the hinges bolts on the firing room door, to bend the hinges and to dislodge the door casing. The employment of condemned single -conductor torpedo cable from Willets Point in the subways for firing circuits also proved unsatisfactory, owing to the collection of moisture in the subways and the consequent grounding in the firing currents.

A plan for an outside firing room in the slope of the roadway connecting the two southerly pits of the battery were submitted in connection with plans for ammunitions conveyor. In accordance with these plans, the present firing rooms will be converted to storerooms and the present firing circuits abandoned in favor of insulated wires stapled to the arch ceilings. These plans have been approved and work upon them commenced June 1896. At the close of the fiscal year 110 -2": holes, 7 to 18 " in depth, had been drilled in the arch of the long gallery to receiving the anchoring bolts of the ammunition conveyors. The total numbers of holes drilled was 166. These holes are being "jumped" into the concrete, using a heavy wooden frame to hold and guide the drill. Agreement has been entereted into for supplying gunmetal anchoring bolts and proposals invited for cement and ironwork. In 1910 they wanted to widen, & spread the mortars at a cost of $187,950,00, they instead took out two mortars per pit.

Also at the same time a latrine was constructed, it was made of concrete and was divided into separate rooms for officers and enlisted men. The fixtures (on the ground, but not yet installed) are all modern and of the best of there several kinds, those for enlisted men being especially chosen to with stand the careless treatment to which they are likely to be subjected.

The sewer connects with the Quartermaster's Dept sewer from the new quarters, now being built which runs to the bay. The plumbing throughout was designed in accordance with the most approved sanitary laws. The lost for the excavation, concrete, forms, door and windows and the fixture, came to a total of $1,830.67.

Power

The electric light plant for this battery constitud of one 20-HP locomotive boiler; Fulton Engineering and Ship building Co; purchased June 17, 1894. One 15-HP, horizontal steam engine; Armington & Sims; purchased June 17, 1894. One 4.4 KW, 125 volt, direct current, bi-polar,belted dynamo; Rockford Electric Mfg Co; purchased June 17,1894. This also encluder instruments and tools, and supplyed power for 68 incandescent lamps, which required 7.8 for this battery. This plant was put in operation, so far as relates to lamps setting and connections by Lieut. Flagler without technical assistance. There is a masonry water tank in the boiler room with connection of water supply pipes. Plant was transferred to Artillery January 18, 1900 at a cost of $1,967.91.

Fire Control

The first was on spur ridge behind Fort Point and below Battery Lancaster, was called "Battery # 4 of Fort Scott". This station was either all wood or with a concrete floor with wooden sides. In the "Taft" years there were stations at Rob Hill (high fog), Baker Beach(low fog) and to the right Battery Blaney, also keeping the original site behind Fort Point. There was a BC1 & B1S1 which were wooden station located on the left flank of the battery.

The firing cable was carried in a four inch pipe laid under the floor from the center of each group of mortars to the nearest firing room and connector and two firing rooms, each firing room was equipped with two Laflin and Rand 4 exploder, one detecting galvanometer, and a switchboard with four keys for firing all mortars. The plotting room was located on the left flank of the battery and was equipped with a 110 degree M1915 plotting board.

Miscellaneous

Data transmission was by telephone, and the battery had sewer and was hooked to a water supply, it had a syphon latrine. The datum plane was M.L.L.W, the elevation of the pits was 100.8. It had a natural draft ventilated throught an 8" vent from magazine, terminating in sheet metal pipe & cap, also required 4.3 k.w. of power for the lights.

Abandonment

This battery was dismounted in 1920, lTR W OCO, 400.702/445, May 26 1920. Under G.O. # 660.2-20, Dated September 1 1923, the above carriages were to be sold as scrap, retaining the parts listed, storing them locaily for use as spares in connection with the 48 carriages of this type to be retained in the Ninth Corp Area. The balance of this emplacement were salvaged under authority contained in Secret letter Services of Supply November 19 1942, File SPX 662 (11-18-42) GO-S-SPDDO, Subject "Proceedings of local harbor defense board October 5 1942, Salvage of obsolete armament. The Army covered three of the four pits with an artificial covering, the fourth pit (Northeast) still gives access to the service rooms, and magazines.

Loading the Mortars at Battery Howe-Wagner, National Archives, 111-SC-6740.
 
 
Batteries Howe and Arthur Wagner
by Justin Ruhge

Like the above described mortar batteries, this battery began as one battery of sixteen 12-inch rifled mortars. It too became divided into two batteries. This battery was located northeast of Battery Dynamite.

The eight mortars of Battery Howe were Models 1886 and 1886M, manufactured by Builder's Iron Foundry, Providence, R. I. Four of the carriages were made by Builders; the other four were manufactured by Robert Poole and Sons.

Builders made the eight mortars for Battery Arthur Wagner also. Builders provided four of the carriages and Robert Poole and Sons provided the other four.

This Battery was first named in honor of Colonel Albion P. Howe, a veteran of both the Mexican and Civil Wars who died in 1897. Later the two western pits were named in honor of Colonel Arthur L. Wagner, Military Secretary of the Army, who served with distinction during the war with Spain and who died in 1905.

Unlike the straight lines of Batteries Stotsenburg and McKinnon, these batteries were built in the shape of a cross with a pit in each quarter. The weapons were dismounted in 1920.

At some later date, the Army buried three of the four mortar pits under an artificial hill to accommodate new family housing. An entrance through the one remaining mortar pit leads to former magazine and service rooms.

 

Setting in Firing Coordinates, 1918, National Archives, 111-SC-6754.
 
Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications
 
 
Report of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications: Batteries Howe and Arthur Wagner
 
 
Battery Howe Today
 
Battery Howe's Pit A with the shelter for two Artillery Repair Trucks mention in the 1923 Report of Completed Works (October 2000)
 
Entrance to Battery Howe's magazine from Pit A (October 2000)

 
 
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Battery Arthur Wagner
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Harbor Defenses of San Francisco - A Field Guide 1890 to 1950
 
 
 
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016