A recent search by Texas A&M researchers revealed a hidden Civil War fortress underneath the historic Alcatraz prison, in California. The fortress was long thought to have been destroyed but thanks to new technology, has been uncovered.
Professor of Geology Mark Everett and his team from Texas A&M were commissioned by the National Park Service to investigate the existence of the fortress in January. Using radar to penetrate the ground, the team began the search on the recreation yard of Alcatraz. A yellow cart was dragged across the ground in straight lines.
Everett described to BBC how the technology functions. “The cart…sends an electromagnetic wave into the ground that…reflects off all the different structures underneath.” He compared it to medical scans of the brain which reveal tumors. The results of the search uncovered the remains of a military fortress used during the Civil War.
Jason Hagin, the historical architect for the National Park Service, explained the origins of the fortress. In 1848 California became a destination for gold hunters. The San Francisco port became essential for the West Coast, and the fortress is believed to have been built to protect the country’s West Coast.
The Civil War soon broke out, and though the fortress never saw combat, it did house Confederate soldiers and sympathizers. Everett describes the years 1850-1907 as the “Era of Fortress Alcatraz.” The main prison building was erected in 1915.
The results of the radar showed subterranean tunnels running from the recreation yard to other parts of the prison. The tunnels would have used to pass ammunition between soldiers. They were intentionally built underground , according to Everett, so they could function as bomb shelters.
Historical photos and other evidence show that before Alcatraz was created, the fortress was used as a military prison, leading to the incarnation of the federal penitentiary. In the building of the modern Alcatraz, much of the fortress was destroyed or buried to make way for new structures.
Rumors of excavation have been swirling around, although definite action has not been decided yet. To uncover parts of the fortress, the modern Alcatraz, a widely popular tourist attraction, may need to dug into. “What we don’t…know is what exactly became of the [fortress],”said Everett,”…and although it is not always desirable to excavate, with geophysics we can…know what is below the surface without actually disrupting it.”
The materials used in the Alcatraz fortress are a matter of interest as well; it was revealed that the building construction used concrete, a material not yet used in the America at this time. “[It] probably came…in barrels from Europe,” said Dr. Tanya Wattenburg Komas, director of the Concrete Preservation Institute.”To find it [in a] mid-19th Century battery is very exciting.”
Komas was surprised that the concrete has kept its integrity. The harsh conditions like sea salt, moisture and winds at Alcatraz could have destroyed this shred of American history. The Concrete Preservation Institute is drafting a plan to preserve the concrete.
Alcatraz is known to have housed the worst of the bad criminals. The revelation of this Civil War fortress at Alcatraz Prison has turned out to be the best of historic discoveries.
By Erin P. Friar