It has been said that the conduct of warfare never change, only the weaponry and the men performing it does. This statement is mostly true. History is rife with the stories of men going to war with one another. In warfare, the strategies and tactics change when new weapons are introduced to the battlefield, but the overall concept remains largely unchanged. For centuries, nations utilized redoubts or military fortresses to protect their troops from their opponents. The Bible tells us stories of the Israelites laying siege to the Canaanites in the cities of Canaan, such as Jericho. The walls of Jericho protected both the inhabitants and the soldiers from the Israelite armies that is until the trumpets of the Israelites, with the aid of God, helped bring the walls down.
Before the age of gunpowder, castles mainly served as the redoubt for military and populations escaping from marauding armies. Historians note that the high walls of the city of Constantinople were nearly impenetrable. The Byzantine capital withstood many attacks from outside forces, and while the city did fall to the Latin armies of Venice, which was not the result of medieval artillery but instead the work of betrayal. The great walls of Constantinople would eventually fall with the advent of gunpowder. As the Ottoman Turks laid siege to the Byzantine capital, great bombards (medieval cannons) pounded the city walls. Gunpowder led to innovations in building defensive structures. The old castle walls of medieval Europe stood little chance in defending themselves against the powerful cannons of the gunpowder age.
By the 18th and 19th century, the fortress had largely been relegated to a military role. Because of professional armies, cities and towns were protected, and the fortress was instead used to protect the military from other military forces. During the French-Indian War and the American Revolution the key fortress of Fort Ticonderoga changed hands many times, as who held the fortress largely controlled the vital waterway into northern New York. The fortress was also utilized in the 20th century, with the French developing the Maginot line. The Maginot line was a series of fortifications along the French-German border that were interconnected and used to defend against a German invasion. During World War II, the Maginot Line encouraged the German war machine to invade France through Belgium, by passing the fortress complex.
While redoubts and fortifications are not used on such an extensive scale anymore, smaller versions remain in place among military forces. Combat outposts and Forward Operating Bases remain in use among today’s military and take their historical use and value from the fortresses of the past.
Look for more information regarding the history of fortifications in the American Civil War in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #294 with the article “Third System Forts in the American Civil War” and join the conversation on Facebook!