|Rights||No Copyright - United States (NoC-US)|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Article Title||Half a Million Pounds of Power|
Rail a million Founds of Powder Enormous Quantity of High Explosives Stored Within New-York's New-York's Limits Were Fort Lafayette Naval Distrih- . uting Magazine to Explode, Everything Near Would Be Wrecked Confusion and Haste During the Spanish War. Few New- Yorkers know it, but the ! naval department of the United States government is maintaining today, virtually vir-tually well within the city's borders, a magazine containing enough high .explosives .ex-plosives to blow- half the town into smithereens. At the present time this magazine holds not far from 200 tons, or 400,000 pounds of black, brown and smokeless powders, and this is1 about its average, though there is room for at least 120 tons more, and there have been days since the breaking out of the war with Spain when, upw ards of half , a million pounds were stored there. Yet there is really little or no cause for alarm, since water surrounds the powder depositary de-positary completely and accident is guarded against with all the precautions precau-tions that ingenuity can suggest and the utmost carefulness enforce. - This little known storehouse of potential po-tential death and destruction is located lo-cated on a tiny island in the most contracted con-tracted part of the famous channel connecting the harbor of New York with the lower bay and through which all the deep sea and much of the coast - vvicf I'nmmn rvf th ti'a- wrrlf5 metropolis must of necessity pass. It is separate from the shore of States Island (borough of Richmond) by the better part of a mile of water, though some one, not long before the breaking out of the Spanish war, that save for one drawback it would be an ideal distribution dis-tribution magazine for the navy. The drawback was furnished by itn nearness to the open sea and consequent conse-quent danger from a hostile fleet in case of war. That drawback wasn't counted count-ed for much, though, since no one then thought war would come, and the navy being unable to find any other suitable magazine location, . the fort's transfer from the army to the navy was suggested sug-gested and accomplished. A.s soon as the transfer was made a big body of men was set to work making mak-ing repairs and fitting the place up for its new service. Tarts of walls had to be rebuilt, new roofs had to be put on. new floors had to be laid and the arched arch-ed casements that had served variously as barracks for troops, chambers for smooth bore cannon,, cells for prisoners and living quarters for army officers, had to be transformed to suit magazine purposes. In th. midst of this work came the war with Spain. Just what would have happened had the fleet of the Dons 'really attacked New York, and had its commander been aware of the old fort's contents, can only be conjectured, con-jectured, though it may be seen readily enough that one shot dropped into a magazine containing hundreds of thousands thou-sands of pounds of powder could raise no end of mischief. ' The days immediately following the war's beginning, were stirring ones. Hardly an hour of any day passed without the reception of an invoice of powder, black, "brown or smokeless; there was hardly an hour that a shipment ship-ment was not sent away. Relays of ordnance men were kept constantly at work, part of the time by night as well as by day. loading shells and cartridges and getting ammunition in order for its journeys across the continent to California, there to be shipped to Dewey on the Asiatic coast, to Fortress Monroe Mon-roe for Schley's flying squadron, to Tampa for Sampson's ships that, were to blockade Cuba, and other points where Uncle Sam's sea fighters needed war material. Much of the repairing and rebuilding was still undone, and the shell and cartridge loaders, the as- ' semblers of ammunition, the masons, the carpenters and the shipping forces were all busied in and about the fort at the same time. No doubt they some- times shuddered when they thought i what might be the horrible result of a little carelessness, anct mere isn t me shadow of a doubt that there, were some pretty frightened workmen at Lafayette Lafay-ette so long as there was a possibility that the Spanish fleet might pay its respects re-spects to New York. FORT LAFAYETTE TODAY. But today it is different at Fort Lafayette. La-fayette. As tho navy's chief distributing distribut-ing magazine, the old structure is still a pretty busy place in its way, but at this time there is none of the confusion which marked it early in 1S9S. It was done away with, in fact, long before the close of the war, though much is to be accomplished yet before Lafayette will be in ideal shape. Leonard J. G. Kuhlwein, who was gunner or Dewey's flagship Olympia when the battle of Manila was fought, and who has had years of experience with ammunition of aH sorts, has charsre of the magazine, and the force of men under him, thot gh not so numerous nu-merous as when the war was in progress, prog-ress, is large enough to prepare and ship most of the ammunition needed by Si - - FORT LAFAYETTE, WHEEE ENOH MOUS QUANTITIES OF EXPLOSIVES EXPLO-SIVES ARE STORED WITHIN THE LIMITS OF NEW YORK CITY. I the shore of the borough of Brooklyn is only a few hundred yards away. It is housed in a venerable diamond-shaped structure of solid masonry, built for defensive purposes nearly eighty-five years ago, just after the close of the last war with England, named Fort Diamond frorri its distinctive shape, and fitted with an armament of twer.ty-four-oounders. When, Lafayette visited the United States in 1S24, he inspected Fort Diamond and pronounced it one j of the finest defensive works he had ever seen, and said its guns were ample to stop any ship that ever sailed from proceeding up the harbor to the city. In his honor it was renamed Fort Lafayette, and for many years was held in high regard both by the general government and the people of the big town it was built to defend. Fort Lafayette ceased to be regarded seriously as a fortification long ago, however, its usefulnes'? having been done away with, quite by the invention of modern high power artillery. In fact, no defensive shot has ever been fired from its grim and solid walls, for shnce the foundation of the republic New- York has- never been attacked by a foreign.- fleet. Once or twice in the course of the civil war sea expeditions expedi-tions were planned against the town by the confederate authorities, but none of them came to anything, and it is certain now that Lafayette will never be a factor in New York's defense. de-fense. Fort Hamilton, a modern fortification forti-fication on the Brooklyn shore hard by, having been erected and fitted with heavy guns of the latest pattern to take its place. Fort Lafayette has served; a "useful purpose, however, nearly every year of its existence. While the civil war was in. progress the old fort was used for the confinement of political prisoners and others, and a complete story of the doings in those years within its walls and under its roof would make highly interesting reading. After the civil war Lafayette gradually fell into disuse, and virtually vir-tually was abandoned by the airmy, to which branch of the nation's service it belonged. Then, fire came along and destroyed all its wooden parts, and fcr some years it stood useless and idle, picturesque, indeed, but more or less a ruin, in the narrow channel, inter-, esting as a place for sight seers to visit and an instructive object lessen, compared with the modern Fort Hamilton, Ham-ilton, in the evolution, of the art of war, but nothing more. NAVY'S DISTRIBUTING POINT. Fort Lafayette might be falling into deeper ruin still had it not occurred to the ships on the various stations. Just prior to the breaking out of the war the powder in stock was all of the blac .and brown varieties, which make smoke and plenty of it, but, by the time actual hostilities had broken out, quantities of the new smokeless varieties, va-rieties, got from all soits f sources, had begun to pour in. Today, while there is still a heavy stock of the old explosives in the magazine, a goodly variety of the smokeless powder is also kept on hand, and, gradually as the old styles are used up for salute firing and target practice, they will disappear altogether. A fair stock of shells and cartridge cases is kept at Fort Lafayette constantly, con-stantly, in addition to the powder, so that the cartridge and shell fillers and assemblers, can have material to work on, but the main stock of shells, cases, etc., is stored at the Brooklyn navy yard, being sent down to the fort when needed. In value the contents of the fort are not particularly impressive say $100,000 or thereabouts, counting the powder at 20 cents a pound and allowing $20,000 for the cost of the shells and cartridge cases. This latter estimate esti-mate may seem, excessive, but is not. probably, since cartridge cases and shells, especially armor (piercing ones, cost money. Thus, each armor piercing shell for one of the biggest guns is worth $100. Five-inch shells are worth $15 apiece, and the cartridge cases cost from $1 for the one-pounders to $6 Tor the siix-inch. Shells once fired are gone forever, cf course, but cartridge cases I are preserved after firing and used over againi after being reshaped, being available for seventeen or eighteen firings fir-ings before being sent to the eld metal heap, and there are cartridge cases at Fort Lafayette today that"" were fired at the battle of Santiago. There maybe may-be some that saw eervice at Manila, but that is not certain SMOKELESS POWDER. Owing to the fact that smokeless powder still is new, comparatively, and the methods of its manufacture are undergoing un-dergoing changes, that in stock at Lafayette La-fayette is in various shapes, and i-.ee.ms to be of several radically different osrts to the layman, though with the exception of tho "cordite" on hand, it is all of virtually the same composition. The cordite was obtained from England, Eng-land, together with the warships bought there just before the beginning of hostilities. Its name suggests Us appearance, of which you can get an excellent idea by Imagining brown jelly pressed into cylindrical strings cf various' var-ious' sizes front lesa than a sixteenth or an men (tor user in the rmall guns) to nearly half an inch, and then hardenad somewhat, but not enough to destroy their flexibility. The oddest appearing explosive now at Lafayette is the smokeless powder, so called, first made in America for the heavier guns. Like the English cordite, it is a "powder" in name only. It looks for all the world like carefully cut strips of slippery elm bark, being light brown in color. It is made in slabs, so to speak, each being about a quarter of am inch thick and from eighteen to twenty-four inches long. This powder is much safer to handle than common black or brown powder, and will bear quite a blow, providing no sparks are struck. Like all smokeloss powder, it will burn without special danger if a match be applied to it. with a clear, steady flame, not flashing up with a big s-s-s-s like the old sort, for the smaller guns there are also quantitie3 of powder at Lafayette in shorter, narrower strips, but put up in the same way practically as these great bark like pieces, but the quantity of neither style is large, and manufacture thereof was stopped some time, ago in favor cf a string-like form. This powder pow-der resembles the smaller sizes of cordite, cor-dite, somewhat, though the color, a light yellow, gives it an appearance not unlike vermicelli and macenroni But the use' of explosive strings in Uncle Sam' gun will not be continued long, ' for a new and preferable form and with which Fort Lafayette is already al-ready fairly well stocked, has been devised. de-vised. ; Smokeless powder of the new form, intended for smaller guns, appears, on casual inspection, to be gained, and presents a blue-black or violet appear-aiu appear-aiu e. The grains appear to be of a remarkable re-markable uniformity as to size- Look at them closely and the secret of their form becomes apparent at once. The powder is first turned out in string form and then cut up- into lengths, each ' one being approximately a perfect cylinder. cyl-inder. After being cut up it is put into a receptacle along with powdered black I lead or plumbago, such as is used in lead pencils, and then the mass is thor- ! oughly shaken together, so that the' 1 plumbago forms a coating on the little cylinders. It is this coating which gjy them their blue-black color. nrid lt applied for the same reason that phlm bago is used, sometimes as a Ini.rj, ;,rit in, "machinery because it is s!i j.ry It is the theory of the government ' coating its cylinders of smuk- kss plosives with plumbago, that so t.'-,j it Is less likely to generate luat f,-,.l1( ; 'friction when roughly handled. ah, .-, ,' less liable to unexpected exp!.... Powder of this sort for the larger -nrnl ' is plainly cylindrical in appear-in. t!v. cylinders being about half an in. h ,. diameter and of the same lengt'i. . s more than probable that there v. iii .: many changes in the enmposit .i ,, the smokeless powder used i.y United States navy, but the last v., ..j j has been said, apparently, with : ; to its form, the plumbago coated ' , !,,, dersbeing much more easily n-anipii- f lated than any other form vet vi...i or likely to be. LOADING AMMUNITION. Every home station of the States navy has a distributing- n zine. but that at F"ort Lafayette : t!, -largest, undoubtedly, its stock .v. plosives being exceeded only by i1, a the great storage magazine. ... it.., near Dover, among the New . -, hills, miles from the sea and ail ;,. . sible danger from a hostile fleet -,n , ...... of war. Gunner Dugan. who saw . ice in the civil war, as dinner Knl.i-wein Knl.i-wein saw it in the Spanish w;i:, i,.,s charge of th Dover magazine. there are times when he has a r . j million pounds of powder in s .. k . enough, it would seem, to blow ;i ... northern part of ersey into ki-;--!.,;:, come. Naturally, the most important v.rk at Layfayette is loading sin;:;- :,... cartridge cases and assembling an n u. nition. Loading shells is sample. !. a k j grain powder being used altoi;, ,. (for smoke at the point of exnl...-.j. ,,. ,s not objectionable), and black p. u j, r can be poured in with little s. Loading cartridges, with the oid sry!- prismatic: powcier is more teoious u .i k, the .octagonal grains having to be j.;! j carefully in a brass form, so that ea. it 1 cartridge for a heavy gun presr.:s ;l good part of an hour's steady and skilful skil-ful work. Loading cartridge:- with f-.n new plum bago-coated cylinders is as 5 simple as leading shells with inn k. 4-powder, 4-powder, for cylindrical powder can i.., "poured." The big strip powd-r f t heavy guns bundled into bags, a:, I i this is a simple operation als... I.iw. loading the small strip powder int i I cartridge cases is another matter. This has to be broken up as loaded, and there are few persons, unused t. saving sav-ing high explosives handled with m-ing m-ing carelessness who can watch rh cartridge loaders without a momentary ; feeling of fear. The ordnance men who d this wnrk are all experienced hands, not en!i t..i men- but mostly old men-of-war's men wh have served in the navy for year.-; and been honorably discharged. When loading cartridges half a dozen or m ir.r of them sit about a long tabic, fonn.-l ; of boards resting on trestie. with an 1 open box of the powder handy. Enough. . ! explosive material is weighed out n i little scales for a charge first, in ea.-h instance, and then if the strip powder I is being used, the ordnance man tak- ; a handful in his hands and breaks it I into pieces that look more lik th preparation of potatoes called "Saratoga "Sara-toga chops" than anything else, after i which he stuffs the cartridge case full i with apparently as little caution as if ; he were handling Saratoga chins in i very deed. In the majority of cas f he has to jam the stuff into the cas ?' with a short stick of special shape, and J sometimes he has to pound it in with a small mallet. But the earelessm-.-s i-s only apparent, for the mallet is -f i wood, 'which will not strike sparks and the scoop with which small piece ar ; taken up is also wooden, while "th-' ' metal pan of the scales L covered and S no particle cf iron or steel with which the powder might come in contact is allowed in the room. In this respect there has been great ' improvement at the Fort Lafayette-magazine Lafayette-magazine since the breaking out of the Spanish war. Then the floors were uneven and in, many places the nails which held the floor boards to the joists projected above the surface. Long ago this was changed by driving all the nails down below the upper sur- i face of the floor boards, after which ,". the holes were filled with putty. After that the floor was covered with thick I linoleum, which was cemented iS.twn, ? not nailed, cement being applied al.--. at all seams. Today it would be im- i I possible- for a spark to lw j I struck by the contact of iron in any ! of the parts of Fcrt Lafayette where j powder is stored or loaded, for all th f floors are linoleum covered and no on is allowed to enter the storage rooms !' in the casemates or the loading and assembling rooms on the ground floor t wearing anything but "magazine ; shoes," which are sewed and contain no nails. Of ccairse no smoking is al- I lowed, and the enly explosives which J could be set off by a blow, the prirrrera and detonators, containing fulminate of 5 mercury, are stored outside the walls ' of the fort proper, in a little structure built specially to hold them. In spite of the fact that enough high. grade powder to destroy a fleet fre- t quently passes in a single day throuch the hands of each ordnance man em- : ? ployed at Fort Lafayette, they are a ; : cheerful lot. telling stories to one an- ; other as they work and cracking jokes : exactly as they would were they hand- : . ling the most harmless substances, and j the storage tocrns containing tier on tier of ordinary looking packing cases. i would suggest nothing so little as a. i powder magazine to most persons- wer it not for the frowning appearance r ? the arched windows, pierced throusn ; , stone walls six feet and m.-.re in thick- - ; nesa. OSBORN SPENCER.