Martello towers (or simply Martellos) are small defensive forts built in several countries of the British Empire during the 19th century, from the time of the Napoleonic Wars onwards.
They stand up to 40 feet (12m) high (with two floors) and typically had a garrison of one officer and 15-25 men. Their round structure and thick walls of solid masonry made them resistant to cannon fire, while their height made them an ideal platform for a single heavy artillery piece, mounted on the flat roof and able to traverse a 360° arc. A few towers had moats for extra defence. The Martello towers were used during the first half of the 19th century, but became obsolete with the introduction of powerful rifled artillery. Many have survived to the present day, often preserved as historic monuments.
The United States government built several Martello towers at locations along the eastern seaboard. Two are at Key West, Florida; others were built at the harbours of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Charleston, South Carolina and New York City. Two more Martello towers stood at Tybee Island, Georgia and Bayou Dupre, Louisiana.
Although the Americans copied the design from the towers the British erected in Canada, the American Martello towers differed in some significant respects from the British. The Martello tower built at Tybee Island, Georgia was constructed around 1815 utilising wood and tabby, a common local building material at the time, instead of the brick or stone that the British towers used. Also unlike the British towers, the Tybee tower featured gun loops on the garrison floor that enabled muskets to be fired through the walls. It was never tested in battle and by the time of the American Civil War was in a state of disrepair. Its unfamiliar design confused local writers, who often said that the Spanish had built the tower when Georgia was Spain's colony. The Key West martellos were square instead of round and had thin walls with long gun loops. In addition, the Key West Martellos were encircled by a curtain wall of heavy guns, making them, effectively, keeps instead of standalone towers.
A Martello tower figures in the arms of the 41st Infantry Regiment of the United States Army
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