ALCATRAZ ISLAND AND PRISON





Alcatraz Island has quite a distinct history. Many people know that Alcatraz served as a
federal prison, but most are reluctant to know that this island served as fort. Built before
the Civil War, it served two main purposes. First, that it was to guard the San Francisco
bay area from enemy ships against a foreign invasion, and second, to hold hostage
prisoners of war or POW\'s as they were called. In this report, I\'ll show you how this
fortress came to be a federal prison, why it is no longer in operation today, and most
importantly, to show why it was built in the first place. When the great "Gold Rush" of
1849 first started, California grew from what would be considered a small, unpopulated
state, into what it is now. California is now one of the most populated states and it was
mostly the gold rush that brought attention to California. As the government saw all of
this happening, they realized that California was much more important than they ever
realized. In their realization, they decided that California must be protected. San
Francisco has one of the largest bays in all of California, and so this was where enemy
countries would most likely to try to invade the country. So this is where Alcatraz was to
lie, to serve as a military fort. It was supposed to serve as a secondary base in
companionship to another base located on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge. But
with severe problems trying to build this other base, Alcatraz was to remain alone. "Out
in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the island of Alcatraz is definitely a world unto
itself. Isolation is just one of the many constants of island life for any inhabitant on
Alcatraz Island. It is the most reoccurring theme in the unfolding history of Alcatraz
Island. Alcatraz Island is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area\'s most popular
destinations, offering a close-up look at a historic and infamous federal prison long
off-limits to the public. Visitors to the island can not only explore the remnants of the
prison, but learn of the American occupation of 1969 - 1971, early military fortifications
and the West Coast\'s first and oldest operating lighthouse. These structures stand among
the island\'s many natural features - gardens, tidepools, bird nests, and bay views beyond
compare." (1) Fortress Alcatraz ran in operation from 1850 - 1933. It served as San
Francisco\'s only major defense. It started off with only eleven cannons, that were
transported onto the island in 1854. By the early 1860\'s, Alcatraz had 111 cannons.
Some were enormous, firing a fifteen-inch ball weighing over 450 pounds. Defenses
included a row of brick enclosed gun positions called case mates to protect the dock; a
fortified gateway or a Sally Port to block the entrance road; and a three-story citadel on
top of the island. This served both as an armed barracks and as a last line defense
strategy. Even though Alcatraz was built to withstand a foreign invasion, its most
important use was during the Civil War, 1861 - 1865. Seeing as it was the only
completed fort in the entire bay, it was vital in the protecting from Confederate Raiders.
Early in the war, ten thousand rifles were moved to Alcatraz from the State armory, to
prevent them from being used by southern sympathizers. The crew of a Confederate
privateer were among the first inmates to be held within "The Rock." Alcatraz\'s notoriety
as a penitentiary overshadows its earlier, and longer use by the Army. Surprisingly, this
small island once was the most powerful fort west of the Mississippi River. There was
some limited modernization of the island\'s defenses after the Civil War. Rifled cannons
were mounted. In 1854 some 450 electrically controlled underwater mines were brought
to the island to protect the Bay. However, as the ships of potential enemies became
more and more powerful, the defenses were increasing! ly obsolete. In 1907 Alcatraz
officially ceased being a fortress and became Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison.
Alcatraz Island\'s use as a prison began in December 1859 with the arrival of the first
permanent garrison. Eleven of these soldiers were confined in the Sally Port basement.
The Army recognized that the cold water (53 F) and swift currents surrounding Alcatraz
made it an ideal site for a prison, and in 1861 the post was designated as the military
prison for the Department of the Pacific - most of the territory west of the Rocky
Mountains. The