Book Review: Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861


by Mark. A. Smith

Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009. Pp. x, 266. Illus., maps, diagr., tables, notes, biblio., index. $54.00. ISBN:0817316655

A look at the development and evolution of America 's coast defense policy from the War of 1812 through the outbreak of the Civil War. 

Prof. Smith (Alabama), who has written extensively on the Civil War and the impact of innovative technology on nineteenth century America, opens Engineering Security with a discussion of the nation's early coast defense systems, various ad hoc, mostly state built works, such as at New York, Boston, and, most famously, Baltimore, with it's Fort McHenry, and the hasty fortification of many ports and coastal areas during the War of 1812. There follows a discussion of the rising consciousness of the need for a coherent national coast defense policy, which became a reality, though not without detractors, in the decades after the war. Designed by the Army's new professional engineers, these elaborate defenses became known as "The Third System," though the prior two periods of coastal fortification were hardly characterized by any systematic approach, and were still only be partially completed half a century later, on the outbreak of the Civil War.  Smith gets into the complexities of planning, funding, and building of what would become the world's most extensive system of coast defenses, which would in fact never feel the fire of a foreign enemy, but would play a significant role in the national struggle over secession and slavery.

At times rather technical, Engineering Security is well-written and quite readable, and will prove of value to anyone interested in the Civil War, especially in regard to operations in coastal areas.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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