Delaware Military History
Fort Saulsbury

Fort Saulsbury is Delaware's most overlooked Fort. It stands, shrouded in the memories of
those still living among the thousands of men who served or were housed there from 1918
through 1945. Fort Saulsbury is located in the very northeast corner of Sussex County,
Delaware, six miles east of Milford, adjoining the town of Slaughter Beach. It is the only
known fort to be privately owned in the United States. The fort was purchased, and is still
owned, by the Kendzierski family in 1948.

The U.S. Army approached David W. Shockley and Mark H. Shockley about purchasing their
land for use as a fort in 1917. The Army decided that this particular location was the best
available to insure protection of the mouth of the Delaware Bay and River from any possible
enemy threats during World War I.

In 1918 the fort was completed very near the end of WW I. The fort included four 12-inch
guns capable of firing 975 pound shells 20 miles and two dirt and grass-covered concrete
casements. These guns were fixed barbette carriage model M1917 tubes. The casements were
constructed of 14 feet thick, steel reinforced concrete with six feet of earth on top for
camouflage. The fort was named for Delaware's U.S. Senator Willard Saulsbury, Sr. who
served in the U.S. Senate from 1859 through 1871 and as Delaware's Attorney General from
1850 through 1855.

The first casemate was named Battery Haslet after Delaware Revolutionary War Colonel and
Sussex County native John Haslet. Colonel Haslet was killed during the War on January 3,
1777 during the Battle of Princeton and served under General Washington. The second
casemate was named for Governor David Hall. David Hall, also a Sussex County native, was
with Colonel Haslet during the Revoluntionary War and succeeded him as Colonel of the
Delaware Regiment after the death of Colonel Haslet. Colonel Hall was wounded during the
Battle of Germantown.

Since the fort was completed so close to the end of WW I it was never fully manned. After the
armistice in November 1918 the fort was manned by 6 to 8 soldiers with the ranking soldier
being a sergeant.

When the threat of World War II surfaced changes were made to the fort. First, two of the
four 12 inch guns were moved to the newly constructed Fort Miles in Lewes Delaware. Eight
new wooden building were erected at Fort Saulsbury to include one as a barracks for officers
and three to be used as barracks for enlisted personnel. Also constructed was an infirmary,
recreation building, company storehouse and an administrative building. This construction
took place in 1940.

In May of 1941 the men of the 261st Coast Artillery Battery B, which was originally organized
in Georgetown, Delaware, were assigned to Fort Saulsbury for the purposes of coastal
defense. They watched the coast line from three steel towers that were built as part of the 1941
restoration. These towers were located at Stone Beach, Mispillion Light and Fowler's Beach.

The 261st continued their duty until the completion of Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen in 1942.
Then two of the 12 inch guns were sent to Fort Miles and the other two were sent to
destinations unknown. The story of Fort Saulsbury didn't end with the dismantling of the
guns however. The fort's new mission was that of a POW camp for German and Italian
soldiers. Hundreds of POW's spent time at Fort Saulsbury until the end of World War II.

On January 11, 1946 Fort Saulsbury was deactivated with the last POW leaving. The fort was
sold, as already noted, at a government auction to the Kendzierski family in 1948. The fort
was then rented by the Liebowitz Pickle Company for pickle processing and storage. Later it
was used as a storage spot for Milford Salvage Company's metal and surplus property.

Experts on American fortifications consider the fort to be the only surviving World War I-era
fort which is virtually un-altered and in its primitive state. Many people feel that it is a site
which is well worth preserving as a state, and perhaps a national historic landmark. Emanuel
R. Lewis, Librarian of the U.S. House of Representatives, in his book "Seacoast Fortifications
of the United States," describes Fort Saulsbury as a classic example of the East Coast fort of
the period and worthy of preservation. He wrote, "The only good surviving specimens within
the continental limits are two 12 inch gun batteries near Slaughter Beach, Delaware."

Maybe someday this forgotten and overlooked fort will finally get some attention and
preservation actions will take place.

Story by: Russ Pickett

See also