The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1996, Volume 42, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

A Harbor Worth Defending: A Military History of Point Loma. 

By Barry Alan Joyce. San Diego: Cabrillo Historical Association, 1995. Illustrations. [70] pages. $16.95 (paper).

Since it was settled by Spanish-speaking colonists in 1769, San Diego has been the site of at least one military facility. The Point Loma peninsula, which borders a portion of San Diego’s famous bay, has played a particularly prominent role in the community’s military history. Barry Alan Joyce’s little volume is a highly readable guidebook to Point Loma’s military history from the Spanish period to the years following World War II.

The military presence on Point Loma has, much like the ebb and flow of the Pacific waters which bathe its shores, waxed and waned according to the needs of defense. During the 1790s, a little battery of cannon named “San Joaquin” was constructed at Punta de Guijarros (Ballast Point, a southern appendage of Point Loma) to thwart the designs of British naval forces. “San Joaquin” fell into ruin by the mid-1830s when San Diego rancheros were welcoming the appearance of foreign ships as partners in a burgeoning hide and tallow trade. Several decades later, when U.S. and various European powers began to militarize themselves as a means of asserting global imperial designs, attention was once again turned to fortifying Point Loma. Building at Ballast Point was initiated in 1898 as a consequence of the war fever with Spain, and the U.S. Army facility was named one year later after Civil War Major General William Starke Rosecrans.

Most of Joyce’s history concerns the history of Fort Rosecrans from its inception until it was transferred from the Army to the Navy in 1959. The construction history of the facility during these sixty years was inextricably joined with the various military postures the United States assumed during this period. As the author explains in some detail, the fort was enlarged prior to and during the two world wars, only to be reduced to caretaker status in the early postwar years of both global conflicts.

Joyce has adeptly placed the history of Fort Rosecrans within a context developed by events both local and national. While some readers may find the absence of full citations (save for the illustrations) vexatious, A Harbor Worth Defending is a worthy contribution to the history of the San Diego community as well as to the history of the United States military.