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Fort Mifflin Road, Philadelphia, PA
Open to the General Public throughout the year
Wednesday thru Sunday 10 AM to 4 PM

"The Fort That Saved America"

Only a few minutes from historic downtown Philadelphia lays the only Revolutionary War battlefield completely intact. Originally built in 1771 and continuously used by the U.S. Army until 1952, Fort Mifflin is one of the most unique tourism destinations in existence.

About the Fort

Within this 49-acre National Historic Landmark, you can see cannons and carriages, officers' quarters, soldiers' barrack, an artillery shed, a blacksmith shop, a bomb shelter, and a museum. Because of its Quaker origins, Philadelphia had no defenses until 1772, when the British began building Fort Mifflin. It was completed in 1776 by Revolutionary forces under General Washington. In a 40-day battle in 1777, 300 Continental defenders held off British forces long enough for Washington's troops to flee to Valley Forge. The fort was almost totally destroyed, but was rebuilt in 1798 from plans by French architect Pierre L'Enfant, who also designed Washington, D.C. In use until 1962, the fort has served as a prisoner-of-war camp, an artillery battalion, and a munitions dump. Special events include a reenactment of the siege of Fort Mifflin held on the second weekend in November. From Penn's Landing you can easily hop on I-95 to reach the fort.


The mission of Fort Mifflin is to celebrate a patriotic act of incredible courage by some 400 Colonial troops, many who sacrificed their lives for us in 1777. That deed enabled General Washington's Continental Army to survive and eventually win the war for independence. In their honor we have developed, preserved and interpreted Fort Mifflin as a National Historic Landmark whose unique history and its original fabric has been protected and used for the sole reason to educate and enrich students and their families and serve as a significant national and regional tourist resource. Physical and Architectural Preservation is in the periods of 1775 to 1952. Historical Interpretation and Education Programs are inclusive to the Fort's service in all U.S. major wars of that period. Restoration of the historic buildings and grounds are for the object of telling the stories of those soldiers to the school children and families that visit the fort.



In 1771, Governor John Penn recognizing the vulnerability of the port of Philadelphia to invasion and asked Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage to send someone who could design defenses for the city. General Gage assigned Engineering Captain John Montresor to the task. Montresor presented six designs to the Governor and Board of Commissioners to be constructed on Mud Island.
The General Assembly approved the plan releasing £15,000, which was way shorter than what Montresor needed(£40,000), for the construction of the fort. the board instructed Montresor to begin construction but failed to provide him with the funds he deemed necessary of the construction project and, disgruntled, returned to New York. The project floundered on for about a year, when it stopped for lack of guidance and funding.
Following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin headed a committee to provide for the defense of Philadelphia. Construction of the fort was restarted soon after by the Philadelphia Committee of Public Safety, and the fort was finally completely in 1776.

Fort Mifflin's Stubborn Stand

The autumn of 1777 marked a fuming point in the American Revolution, with the surrender of 5,800 British soldiers at Saratoga. At the time, however, the significance of that event was not yet apparent, counterbalanced as it was by the British occupation of Philadelphia and a series of de. feats for General George Washington's Continental Army. A critical factor in Washington's survival there after was the stubborn resistance offered by the American defenders of Fort Mifflin during a 40-day siege.
Fort Mifflin, with the help of Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side, successfully delayed Admiral Lord Richard Howe's 250-ship fleet in October 1777. The fort's defenders prevented the British fleet's supplies from reaching the army commanded by the admiral's brother, General Sir William Howe, and bought time for Washington's ragged Continental Army to move to winter quarters at Valley Forge.
After the defeat of Washington at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, a force of 20,000 British and Hessian troops marched in to Philadelphia. The British forces then laid siege to Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer in early October 1777. The siege was intended to open up the supply line for the British Army. Col, Montresor, who had designed and led the early construction of the fort and General William Howe led the seige. General Thomas Mifflin and Colonel Samuel Smith led the US troops to fight against the British attack.

The siege, which lasted until the middle of November, destroyed much of Fort Mifflin. During the siege, 400 soldiers held off over 2,000 British troops and 5 ships until November 10, when the British intensified their assault, launching an incessant barrage of cannonballs into the fort.

On November 15, a British bugle signaled the beginning of a lethal artillery and naval bombardment. The Royal forces fired. 1,000 shots every 20 minutes. Iron rained down on Fort Mifflin, and the British ships penetrated the obstructions in the river.
At 1 p.m., the fort ran out of ammunition. An officer lowered the flag, but a sergeant was cut in two by a cannonball while raising it again. The British bombardment ended only when darkness fell. The Americans' situation was hopeless. At midnight, boats began removing survivors to the Jersey shore. Before they left, the last 40 able-bodied men set fire to the wreckage that had once been a fort.
Rowing cautiously through the blackness among the lurking British warships, the last American detachment plainly heard a British seaman boast, "We will give it to the damned rebels in the morning." Young Joseph Martin thought to himself, "The damned rebels will show you a trick which the devil never will; they will go off and leave you." At that moment the burning fort flared up, revealing the Americans in their small boats. A hail of small-arms and cannon fire poured from the warships. Nevertheless, only one American boat was sunk, and the soldiers were pulled from the water by their comrades; all made it safely to New Jersey.
At dawn, the British saw the flag still flying over the smoldering ruins of Fort Mifflin. At 7:30 a.m., a British landing party cautiously entered the remnants of the fort. They reported finding "a great many dead bodies" and estimated American dead at 250 to 400. The number of British killed during the siege, depending on the source, was put at seven or 13, along with 24 wounded. The Americans abandoned Fort Mercer on November 19 and burned the ships of the Pennsylvania Navy. The first British ships reached Philadelphia on the 23rd. Meanwhile, Washington's army had withdrawn toward the harsh, frigid safety of Valley Forge. Due to lack of supplies from the fleet, the British declined to pursue Winter had come. Fort Mifflin's sacrifice had saved the American cause. Washington reported to Congress, "I am sorry to inform you that Fort Mifflin was evacuated, but only after a defense that does credit to the American arms, and will ever reflect the highest honor upon the officers and men of the garrison."
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After the Revolutionary War

Although American artillery was placed on Mud Island after the British left Philadelphia, the nearly demolished fort lay in rubble until 1794, when the new United States decided to rebuild its coastal defenses. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French engineer who would later design the city of Washington, was hired to plan the reconstruction. The U.S. Army officially designated the site Fort Mifflin.Brick walls were erected at the fort site, incorporating what was left of the British stone works. Barracks were built, a commandant's house was put up, and the heroic fortame back to life.
Fort Mifflin was an active military installation in every war from the Revolution until the Korean conflict. In the Civil War, the dank, lightless chambers under its walls became a prison for Confederate captives and Federal deserters.
A century later, in 1962, the Army deeded Fort Mifflin to the city of Philadelphia. Today, the fort is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between April 1 and November 30. With the help of volunteer military re-enactment organizations, the fort stages frequent exhibitions of drills, weaponry and lifestyles from Revolutionary War days through the Korean War.

Buried treasure at Fort Mifflin

W.H Howe

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Caretaker stumbles on buried jail cell

By Edward Colimore
Caretaker Waayne Irby was mowing the trass at Fort Mifflin this month when he was literally swallowed up by the history of the place - up to his knees. Irby "turned the mower loose" just as the ground collapsed beneath him. Curious, he shoveled aside a few feet of earth over the next couple of days and made a stunning discovery: a tunnel and a two-room jail cell recalling the sad tale of a decorated Civil War soldier, a murder, clemency pleas to President Lincoln, and the only execution at the fort. the barred cell at casemate No. 11 once belonged to convicted killer William H. Howe before he was hanged Aug. 26, 1864.
One hundred forty-two years later - almost to the day of Howe's hanging - Irby pointed a flash light above a doorway and eyed, with surprise, a name, both handwritten and printed: W.H. Howe. On a door nearby was another message: Shun this place, oh man, whom soever thou art.
"Finding the rooms was very exciting" said Irby, 55 who on Friday stood in the cell littered with bottles, a tin cup, a plate, a chamber pot, a cannon vent pick, and many other artifacts. "But the name identified the rooms with a function and personality. It gave them a story and took it from a great thing to a fantastic thing." Historians and fort officials were thrilled.
Howe, a Union soldier of German descent, had distinguished himself during the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862.
"He was a war hero," said Lee Anderson, director of public programming at the fort. "He picked up the standard and went forward; he rallied the troops, and they followed him." Wounded in the fight, suffering from severe dysentery and depressed by the loss of friends and separation from his wife in Perkiomenville, Montgomery County, Howe later deserted and returned home to recuperate.
An enrolling officer, Abraham Bertolet, and two provost marshals later went to Howe's house to arrest him, and a gun battle ensued. Witnesses said Howe fire a rifle from an upper window of the house, killing Bertolet. The soldier surrendered, was convicted of murder and was sentenced to death by hanging. He was held at Fort Mifflin and escaped, possibly from the newly discovered cell. Howe was recaptured, then transferred to the more secure Moyamensing Prison on 11th Street in South Philadelphia. His former commanding officer, Gen. St. Clair A. Mulholland, a Medal of Honor recipient, wrote to President Lincoln, seeking clemency for the soldier.
Howe also wrote to Lincoln, trying to put the best face on the desertion and shooting incident. The President declined to pardon him, and Howe was hanged at the fort between the arsenal and the sutler building, which still stand. (Part of the article)

Ghost Hunters

Haunted Fort Mifflin

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Fort Mifflin is said to be haunted by Eliza-beth Pratt, whose screams are supposedly heard at night, and Billy Howe, aka "The Man Without a Face," who was the only soldier to be hanged at the fort. Ghost tours are led by Lew Gerew, president of Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance.

Revolutionary Battle Reenactment

Educational Programs

Stars and Stripes: The American Flag Story
This program uses the theme of symbolism to tell the story of the national flags, in particular the American Stars & Stripes. Our flag history begins with the British and French colors, flies through Colonial and Regimental flags, and finally explores the many official flags of the United States throughout our history. Students will make a flag that symbolizes their distinct personality. We will also demonstrate the proper way to care and display the American flag. Cost $8 per student & chaperone (teachers free.)

A Soldier’s Story: Revolutionary War Soldier Life
Students will learn how late 18th century soldiers lived prior to the war, how they were recruited, what type of training they received, what items they were issued, and what conditions were like in the field, especially at Fort Mifflin in 1777. Of particular interest will be how these men survived what historians have called, “the greatest bombardment the North American Continent has ever witnessed.” A “volunteer soldier” will be recruited from the group and outfitted in a Revolutionary War soldier uniform and all of the equipment required by a soldier in 1777.
Cost $8 per student & chaperone (teachers free.)

A Soldier’s Story: Civil War Soldier Life
During the Civil War, soldiers were fighting for many different reasons and we explore most of them. Union soldiers who both served as the Fort Mifflin garrison and Confederates who were placed here as prisoners after the Battle of Gettysburg. Students will learn how soldiers from both sides were recruited and trained, and what items they were issued. We will also discuss the conditions at Fort Mifflin and share with students the challenges these men had in surviving sickness, harsh environment, and isolation from their homes and loved ones. A “volunteer soldier” will be recruited from the group and outfitted in a Civil War soldier uniform and all of the equipment required by a Union soldier in 1863.
Cost $8 per student and chaperone (teachers free.)

Blood, Sweat & Tears Civil War Medicine
This program incorporates the main components of military medicine and its practices during the Civil War. We will investigate its impact during daily life here at the fort, at the main hospitals, or on the battlefield. Soldiers did all they could to avoid being interred at the Civil War hospital, and for good reason. Conditions at Civil War hospitals were anything but hospitable early in the war. Students will also learn about the treatment prisoners received, whether from the North or South, as well as the roles nurses and field surgeons played, by taking on these roles first hand playing the role of doctors and surgeons. This interactive program will help students learn about the role Fort Mifflin and other forts served during the bloody and costly “War Between the States.”

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Volunteers Needed!!

Due to the recent economic downturn in the country, the first thing that people push aside is a historic site. They are the first bastions of our independence, but also the first for individuals and families to cut out of their budget. We understand that and sympathize and that is why there are other avenues to help support a National Historic Landmark, such as Fort Mifflin without increasing our attendance fees. As a 232 year old historic site with 42 acres and 14 historic buildings, there is always something that needs fixing or cleaning. Windows, floors, floorboards, walls, even the plumbing. We can also use a strong back and pair of hands for lawn maintenance and clean up. You don't have to be a professional in any of these fields, just have a wiliness to help a small non-profit struggling in these tough economic times. Fort Mifflin is a 501(c)(3) corporation that does not receive annual funding from federal, state or local agencies. We are self-sufficient and we like it that way. But that is not to say we can always use a little help from our friends. Won't you join us? (from Volunteer Way)

Why should this landmark be preserved for future generations?

Fort Mifflin is one of the forts that future generations should be able to visit. This should be preserved because there are many activities they do at the site to educate visitors on the history of this interesting landmark. Some activities are war reenactments, Freedom Blast (4th of July) and paranormal investigations to try to get in touch with the soldiers’ spirits. To see the schedule of events, you can visit the website http://www.fortmifflin.us.

Works Cited

Colimore, Edward. “Caretaker trips over history.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 27 Aug. 2006: B5.
Fort Mifflin. 28 May 2009 <http://www.fortmifflin.com/>.
“Ghost Hunters.” SciFi. 22 May 2009 <http://www.scifi.com/ghosthunters/episodes/episodes.php?seas=4&ep=0401&act=1>.
The Official Website of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware. 28 May 2009 <http://www.fortmifflin.us/>.
Smart, James. “Fort Mifflin’s Stubborn Stand.” History Reference Center. EBSCO. 23 May 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.