All else equal, when these types of forts were in use, was an adobe fort or a palisade fort more defensible?

A bit of what-if led to this question. Russians ostrogs such as Nizhnekamchatsk and Fort Ross had palisade perimeters while Spanish presidios such as Tubac and Santa Barbara had adobe perimeters. The two empires never battled (at least in the Americas) even though their most remote forts fell within about 100km of each other. Sample (not necessarily representative) images follow:

Adobe of a presidio Palisade of an ostrog

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    Where? In a forest a palisade is more easily repaired and defended, while in a more arid and sunny environment an adobe fort may be more easily repaired and defended. Oct 1, 2017 at 4:49
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    I suspect that the answer is not which is more defensible, but which can be more quickly constructed using available materials and is better suited to the opponents. Palisade will do better against arrows than cannon, and is generally faster to erect. I doubt there are many situations where the defending commander has the option to build one or th eother.
    – MCW
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:07
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    I think you are overlooking a highly significant point here. The Spanish build adobe forts where there were few trees and not much rain. The Russians (and Americans) built palisade forts where there were plentiful trees and lots of rain.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 1, 2017 at 17:09
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    @jamesqf, you're right about the general trends. the proximity of San Francisco and Fort Ross suggests that climate and vegetation were not the only factors at play, though. Oct 2, 2017 at 17:24
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    Aaron, could you add that to the question? I think it would help with the clarity bit. Oct 2, 2017 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


Adobe forts are more defensible. Perhaps the most famous one was the Alamo. During the war for Texas independence, it was defended by less than 200 Texans for nearly two weeks against odds of 10-15 to one.

A palisade fort was mainly a stopgap against relatively small bands of soldiers. It was vulnerable to artillery and even fire. One such fort was Fort Washington during the American Revolution, which was captured at odds of 8 to 3 in less than a day. After taking heavy casualties in the approach over rough ground, the British breached the walls on two sides, "overrunning" the American positions.

  • I could counter with Caesar's successful defence of his palisade siege-works at Alesia while outnumbered more than 5 to 1. Further, it is questionable if Santa Ana could have made Brigadier in le Grande Armee, never mind his delusion of being the Napoleon of the Western Hemisphere. Oct 2, 2017 at 21:42
  • Alesia was almost two millenia before the Alamo, and the Gauls did not have cannons, mortars or other "fire" weapons. Also, Alesia was considered a high point in siegecraft not exceeded for a long time. And sources dispute the more than 5 to 1 ratio; some say it was more like 3 or 4 to 1.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 2, 2017 at 22:24
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    The Alamo was hardly a good defensive position and some of the walls fell rather early into the battle. It was more a total lack of experience on the Mexican side that made the defense even possible. Having been to the Alamo many times, it is really not a fort by any stretch of the imagination, more like a church that occupied an advantageous position.
    – ed.hank
    Oct 3, 2017 at 1:13
  • @TomAu: Cannons are irrelevant as, due to the arrival of his mistress, Santa Ana declined to wait 48 hours more for his two 12 pounder cannons to arrive. Oct 3, 2017 at 1:15

This is a history what if question. Likewise I can counter that reinforced concrete with +15 cm artillery and machine guns trumps both adobe and palisade fortresses.

One builds a fortress with what is on hand. In dryer areas that can be adobe, in more wooded areas probably palisades. One isn't necessarily better than the other. They are what is available. Not only that, it's the men defending that do the job. not to mention their commander. The fortress is there to assist them.

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