It is difficult to understand what you can see today at Butts Hill Fort. The landscape doesn’t quite make sense, but if you are fortunate to have a knowledgeable guide with you, you can imagine the fort as it used to be. Fortunately for me, the first time I saw the fort I was guided by Dr. Kathy Abbass and she understood the fort. At that time (2008 or 2009) Dr. Abbass was advocating for a restoration of the fort and I was the board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society assigned to see how we could work with her. I was overwhelmed with the moats and sloping hills (glacis), and it seemed incredible that the fort could be in Portsmouth and I hadn’t known about it. I did some research on the Battle of Rhode Island, but Abbass’ proposal seemed to go nowhere. I picked up my research again as the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee developed last year.

One goal I have is to help Portsmouth residents (and others) to understand what they see when they come to the fort. There is nothing better than a “field trip” – actually being at an historic site. The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee is working towards a time when there are marked trails, observation posts, signage and QR codes. Right now those things are admirable goals (that take planning and money). What I am trying to work out is how I could give a knowledgeable tour to a group coming in May or June of 2022. These next blogs are part of my brainstorming of materials I would need to write a tour script.

One thing I know from my research is that the Butts Hill Fort (or Windmill Hill Fort) evolved along the way. The outlines we are seeing date from the improvements made by the French (with the help of Americans) in 1780-1781.

Parts of the Fort:

Before I even begin I need to get my terms straight. My knowledge of military terminology is limited, but I am learning. The definitions I am using are adapted from the American Battlefield Trust and other military websites.

Battery: A fortified emplacement for heavy guns or artillery pieces; companies of artillery usually had six to ten guns used together or dispersed based on the situation.

Rampart: A large earthen mound used to shield the inside of a fortified position from artillery fire and infantry assault.

Glacis: A defensive feature which is simply a natural or artificial slope incorporated into the defenses of a fortification. The slopes were initially designed to deter attack on foot with steep man-made slopes

Moat: A depression surrounding the fort. Often the moat was created as a natural result of early methods of fortification by earthworks, for the ditch produced by the removal of earth to form a rampart made a valuable part of the defense system.

Parade Ground: Place where soldiers practice or have parades.

Dr. Abbass’ plan contains some helpful maps that help us understand the fort as we view it now. I tried to simplify a map that is an overlay of the fort outline on current terrain.

North battery ramparts: The oldest portion of the fort. It is intact except for its south wall which opens to the parade.

North Battery

South battery ramparts: The north, south and east faces of this battery’s ramparts are basically intact. The West ramparts were removed during the expansion of the fort when the French and Americans modified it (1780-1781).

Volunteers clearing South Battery Ramparts 9/2021

North and east ditch and glacis: At the base of the ramparts the moat is still recognizable, with the glacis descending to the north.

North and East Ditch and Glacis

Parade ground: In the center of the fort. This parade ground is maintained and mowed on a regular basis, and has been used for events and re-enactments.