Fort Hamilton is the crown jewel of Bay Ridge, an active fort on the southwest tip of Long Island since it was completed in 1831. It is situated on the Narrows, a strait separating Long Island and Staten Island, and a strategic point for any enemy vessels that would attempt to enter Upper New York Bay and then the island of Manhattan from the south. In the Revolutionary War, British troops invaded Long Island in August 1776 by landing on property near the future fort owned by a Denyse Denyse. Patriots fired on the British warship Asia during the invasion, but it was of little hindrance.
It might be odd to hear that Robert E. Lee, the great general of the Confederacy, was once a major figure in Brooklyn. While still a captain in the US Army in 1839, Lee was given the task of improving armament at Fort Hamilton as well as other forts in the region, and served here until 1846. A major east-west street inside the military reservation is named for him, and he was a vestryman at St. John’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church at Fort Hamilton Parkway and 99th Street. The church is still there, now on its second structure.
Fort Hamilton defended the United States during the Civil War, a conflict that Lee’s conscience led to join the other side. During the war, great advances in military technology were made, a frequent consequence of war. A series of short streets north of the fort in Bay Ridge were named for a trio of military engineers who vastly improved US armament.
Today, Gatling and Dahlgren Places function mainly as service roads of the Gowanus Expressway as it approaches the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. However, they originated very early in the 20th Century when they were laid out and named for pioneers of weapon technology.
Richard Jordan Gatling (1818-1903) from Como, North Carolina, was interested in invention early, designing a screw propeller for steamboats in 1839, unaware that John Ericsson had beaten him by just a few months. He subsequently developed a rice grilling machine and a wheat drill, revolutionizing the agriculture industry. He then earned a medical degree from Ohio Medical College in 1850, but never practiced.
When the Civil War was on the horizon, Gatling turned his attention to the production of firearms. In 1861, he developed the Gatling gun, the first rapid fire weapon and a forerunner of all the machine gun models that have followed it. The Gatling gun, though it needed to be cranked and so was not an automatic weapon, produced a continuous and rapid fire without a frequent need to reload. Modern multi-barrel guns are based in principle upon the Gatling design.
Much more about the Guns of Bay Ridge on this FNY page.
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