Military History

The US military has a long history on Angel Island since first taking ownership in 1848 as California became the newest state. Recognized for its strategic location in defending the Golden Gate and the bay, Angel Island has been home to the military through several eras and conflicts from the American Civil War, through the Cold War. Even with various civilian and other enterprises on the island at the same time, the military remained a constant on Angel Island for 99 years.

US Military (Pre-WWI)

Even on the West Coast, the Civil War was a threat. With vast wealth newly gained in the Gold Rush, and a substantial weapons depot in Benicia, the Bay Area was an attractive target for Confederate sympathizers.

In 1863, H.W. Halleck, the General-in-Chief of the Army, issued an order to install ten to twenty guns at Points Stuart, Knox, and Blunt. By September 12, Company B of the Third Artillery, consisting of fifty men and one officer, landed on Angel Island. The new Army post, an artillery garrison, was christened Camp Reynolds (West Garrison, named for the first officer to fall at Gettysburg. Dwellings and structures owned by civilians, such as a sandstone quarry on the east side of the island, were seized in 1867 for use in construction projects.

During the 1860s, the Army continued to develop Camp Reynolds, including its hospital, the large red building which still stands sentry over the camp. Over the next forty years, the Army’s construction program centered on artillery batteries, and discharge and detention camps, as well as on the enlargement of the post.

During times of increased troop movement, the Army enlarged or constructed temporary camps, which consisted of double stacked tents to house the troops, makeshift barracks or the officers, and other wood framed buildings.

In 1899, American soldiers were returning from the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. Some of these men had contracted contagious diseases during their tours of duty, and needed to be separated from the general population. Accordingly, a Detention Camp was established on Angel Island at Quarry Point. Soldiers were held there until the incubation period for suspected diseases had passed.

The Detention Camp was active until 1901, when it
was reconstructed for use as a Discharge Camp. At the Discharge Camp, the men were processed for separation, received their final pay and allowances, and were mustered out of service. During the first six months of 1902, 10,741 soldiers passed through the facility.

Endicott Batteries

In 1885, US President Grover Cleveland appointed a joint Army, Navy and civilian board (the Board of Fortifications), to be headed by Secretary of War William C. Endicott. The findings of the board illustrated a grim picture of existing defenses in its 1886 report and recommended a massive $127 million construction program of breech-loading cannons, mortars, floating batteries, and submarine mines for some 29 locations on the US coastline, including San Francisco Bay and Angel Island.

The Endicott Board’s recommendations would lead to a large-scale modernization program of harbor and coastal defenses in the US, specifically, the construction of modern, reinforced concrete fortifications, and the installation
of large-caliber breech-loading artillery and mortar batteries.

In April of 1898, work began on Angel Island’s first permanent Endicott Battery— Battery Drew—located just south of Camp Reynolds. The second new battery was Battery Ledyard, which was erected on the site of the old Point Knox Civil War battery, and armed with two five-inch rapid-fire guns. The third, and last, battery in the series was Battery Wallace, built above and behind Ledyard, and armed with a single eight-inch rifle on a disappearing carriage.

Angel Island’s three Endicott Batteries had been disarmed in 1909, but were not fully deactivated until 1915. In World War II, Batteries Wallace, Ledyard, and Drew were used for storage of military supplies (Hussey 1949).

US Military (WWI-WWII)

America entered World War I in 1918. Under ordinary circumstances, the basic training of new recruits took four months. However, because of the urgent need for fresh troops in Europe to combat the German forces, this period had to be shortened dramatically.

The Recruit Depot at Fort McDowell became a busy place. Both West Garrison and East Garrisons (Fort McDowell) were used during World War I.

Fort McDowell was known as the “Overseas Discharge and Replacement Depot” between World War I and World War II. An average of 30,000 men each year passed through the island to be trained to serve overseas, or processed for discharge when they returned. “For Several years around 1926, Fort McDowell processed as many as 40,000 men annually; more than any other US post (Claus, 1982 54).

Recreation was part of Fort McDowell’s program of activities for the soldiers. In 1925, Colonel Gatley, Fort commander, wrote, “It is believed that recreation in the Army should be so conducted that every available soldier will be required to participate in some form of athletics” (Van Sicklen Collection). Accordingly, the troops were offered pool, baseball, and basketball. More passive forms of relaxation included a library, concerts, movies, a Sunday school, church services, and Officers’ and Non-commissioned Officers’ Clubs.

In addition to the recreation facilities available after World War I, the following were added during World War II for the use of the troops: East Garrison Recreation Hall, North Garrison Recreation Hall, a bowling alley, a baseball field with hardball and softball diamonds, tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court, and horseshoe pits (Van Sicklen Collection).

World War II brought another surge in activity at Fort McDowell, which was used primarily to handle overseas replacements or to rotate troops returning from overseas duty. In this capacity, the island saw 69,756 troops and casualties in 1942 (McDonald, 1966: 126). Among the men processed were many on special assignments, such as military FBI, Intelligence officers, and Australian and New Zealand fliers (Van Sicklen Collection).

By 1946, the work of processing returning troops and prisoners of war to their respective homes was completed. Fort McDowell was no longer needed. The garrison of troops of the Transportation Corps was transferred to Camp Stoneman near Pittsburg, and Fort McDowell was turned over to the US District Engineer. On September 20, 1946, the War Department officially declared the island surplus.

Cold War

In 1954, the Army decided to return to Angel Island to construct and operate a Nike missile battery. The Nike missiles were designed to intercept high-flying strategic bombers. Construction began on the Nike battery in about 1957. The battery included:

• the launch area, where the missiles were stored in underground rooms, brought up on elevators, and launched;

• the control area, usually at a high elevation and with its radar, had to have an unobstructed view of the launch area;

• and the cantonment area, including quarters, mess hall, and recreation rooms (Thompson, 1979a: 411).

The Nike site at Angel Island was the largest of the four constructed in the Bay Area. It had no fewer than three underground storage rooms and twelve launchers. The site was south of East Garrison and inland on Point Blunt. The hospital building at East Garrison was remodeled to contain the base headquarters and the approximately 100 men and officers stationed there. Within five years, the Nike system had become obsolete. The Army decommissioned the base in 1962.

Our Community. Our Island. Our Legacy.

Angel Island Conservancy // PO Box 866 / Tiburon / CA 94920 // 415.435.3972// info@angelisland.org // FACEBOOK // FLICKR // INSTAGRAM