If you’re a history buff or just love checking out old places, Battery Russell at Fort Stevens is a must when you’re in the Oregon area. While this particular battery is no longer active, it once played an important role in the defense of the Oregon coast during WWII. It also happens to be one of our absolute favourite sites at Fort Stevens!
Battery Russell’s History
Fort Stevens itself was in service for 84 years, from the Civil War through to WWII. Battery Russell was constructed between 1903 and 1904 and was deactivated 40 years later in 1944. It was named after Bvt Major General David Russell who died during the Civil War in 1864.
Battery Russell was one of nine concrete batteries at Fort Stevens and once protected the mouth of the Columbia River. Together with Fort Columbia and Fort Canby in Washington, the three forts created the Triangle of Fire. This defense made it difficult for enemy boats to sneak undetected up the Columbia River.
Battery Russell was an unpopular station and was only manned full-time after the attack on Pearl Harbor in WWII. The housing was quickly built and soldiers rotated in and out every few days, leaving it with the unfortunate nickname of Squirrelsville.
An Attack on Fort Stevens
On June 21, 1942 at 11:30 pm, an enemy Japanese I-25 submarine attacked Fort Stevens. It snuck through the mouth of the Columbia River and surfaced about 10 miles offshore and began firing haphazardly towards the fort.
Soldiers manned their stations at Battery Russell but for unknown reasons they held their fire. Luckily most of the submarine's fire landed harmlessly and only a few touched down near Battery Russell. The attack didn't injure anyone but it did scare locals. They set up a citizen’s patrol and strung barbed wire up and down the beach – even through the Wreck of the Peter Iredale.
This unsuccessful attack was the only wartime action Fort Stevens ever saw. It was also the only U.S. mainland military base that had ever been fired upon since the War of 1812.
Ghosts at Battery Russell?
While I've never experienced anything akin to a ghostly sighting on my three trips to Battery Russell, there have been many reports that say otherwise. It's even topped lists of most haunted places in Oregon! Although no soldiers actually died at Battery Russell, Fort Stevens was active during the Civil War and may be what accounts for these sighting.
Many people have reported seeing a man in army fatigues holding a knife in the Battery, as well as a young man with a flashlight who searches for enemy soldiers along the bike paths. While these accounts are most often located in and around the Battery, some people have recounted tales of sighting elsewhere at Fort Stevens, including the campground. Rest assured, though, the worst that has ever happened is that these people went home running!
Although I’d be totally freaked out if I ever actually encountered one of these ghostly sightings, there's a little piece of me that wishes I had run into one of these ghosts. It would be quite the tale to tell!
Visiting Battery Russell
There are many batteries at Fort Stevens but Battery Russell is one of the few that's completely open to explore. Because of this, it’s our favourite. Make sure to pick up the brochure in the parking lot because it has lots of info on each room and some history on the Battery. Otherwise, you’ll just be wandering around wondering what everything was used for.
Most of the rooms are well lit but the deeper you venture into Battery Russell the darker the rooms become. Be careful of birds as they often make nests in the smaller rooms – we’ve had our fair share of mini heart attacks from birds flying out! Also, make sure you pack a flashlight if you're planning on exploring the deeper rooms because they can be extremely dark.
There are two levels to explore. The lower level includes old ammunition rooms, offices, guard rooms, and storage rooms. On the upper level, you can check out the old gun pit, which housed two 10-inch disappearing guns. These guns would retract from view while soldiers reloaded, which provided cover from attacking enemies. Each gun required a team of 35 men to run!
The Pacific Rim Peace Memorial is also at Battery Russell. It commemorates the American and Japanese soldiers involved in the attack on Fort Stevens and calls for everlasting peace between the two countries. The memorial is large and surprisingly difficult to read.
Information & Location
It's easy to spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour at Battery Russell. It's not usually busy so take your time exploring all the rooms and bring a picnic! For an added bonus, bike from the campground and leave your bikes at the bike rack.
|Duration||~ 1 hr|
|Difficulty||Easy, no hiking involved|
|Pricing||You'll need to purchase a parking permit to enter Fort Stevens.
|Notes||Battery Russell is unsupervised, make sure you watch kids as they can easily fall.|