Fort Monroe

Fort Monroe

Infobox_nrhp | name =Fort Monroe
nrhp_type =nhl

caption =Fort Monroe Aerial Photo 2004
location= Hampton, Virginia
area =
built =1819
designated= December 19, 1960cite web|url=
title=Fort Monroe |accessdate=2008-06-23|work=National Historic Landmark summary listing|publisher=National Park Service
added = October 15, 1966
governing_body = United States Army
refnum=66000912 cite web|url=|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]
Fort Monroe (also known as Fortress Monroe) is a Hampton, Virginia, military installation located at Old Point Comfort, which is on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Along with Fort Calhoun, later renamed Fort Wool, it guarded approach by sea of the navigational shipping channel between the Chesapeake Bay and the entrance to the harbor of Hampton Roads, which itself is formed by the confluence of the Elizabeth River, the Nansemond River, and the James River, the longest in Virginia.

During the initial exploration by the mission headed by Captain Christopher Newport in the earliest days of the Colony of Virginia, the site was identified as a strategic defensive location. In May of 1607, they established the first permanent English settlement in the present-day United States about 25 miles further inland from the Bay along the James River at Jamestown. The land area where Fort Monroe is located became part of Elizabeth Cittie [sic] in 1619, Elizabeth River Shire in 1634, and was included in Elizabeth City County when it was formed in 1643. Over 300 years later, in 1952, Elizabeth City County and Fort Monroe's neighbor, the nearby Town of Phoebus, agreed to consolidate with the smaller independent city of Hampton, which became one of the large Seven Cities of Hampton Roads.

Beginning by 1609, fortifications had been established at Old Point Comfort during Virginia's first two centuries. However, the much more substantial facility of stone to become known as Fort Monroe (and adjacent Fort Wool on a man-made island across the channel) were completed in 1834. The principal facility was named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe. Throughout the American Civil War (1861-1865), although most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands. It became notable as a historic and symbolic site of early freedom for former slaves under the provisions of contraband policies and later the Emancipation Proclamation. For several years thereafter, the former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned in the area now known as the Casemate Museum on the base.

Completely surrounded by a moat, the six-sided stone fort is the only one of its kind left in the United States that is still an active Army post. Fort Monroe is one of several posts selected to be closed by September 2011. Many of its functions are being transferred to nearby Fort Eustis (which itself was named for Fort Monroe's first commander, General Abraham Eustis, a noted artillery expert). Several re-use plans for Fort Monroe after it is decommissioned are currently under development in the Hampton community.


Colonial Period

Arriving with three ships under Captain Christopher Newport, Captain John Smith and the colonists of the Virginia Company who established the Jamestown Settlement of the British Colony of Virginia on the James River in 1607. On their initial exploration, they recognized the strategic importance of the site at Old Point Comfort for purposes of coastal defense. They initially built Fort Algernourne (1609-1612) at the location of the present Fort Monroe. It is assumed to have been a triangular stockade, based on the fort at Jamestown. Fort Algernoure burned in 1612. A second fort, known only as "the fort at Old Point Comfort" was constructed in 1632 and destroyed by a hurricane in 1667. In 1728, Fort George was built on the site. Its masonry walls were destroyed by a hurricane in 1749, but the wood buildings within the fort continued to be used by a reduced force until at least 1775. In 1781, during the siege of Yorktown, the French West Indian fleet established a battery on the ruins of Fort George. Throughout the Colonial period, fortifications were manned at the location from time to time.

Early 19th century

Following the War of 1812, the United States again came to realize the importance of protecting Hampton Roads and the inland waters from attack by sea, and construction was begun in 1819 on what would become the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. The fort, designed by Simon Bernard, features a moat completely surrounding the inner structures. As a young first lieutenant and engineer in the U.S. Army, Robert E. Lee was stationed there from 1831 to 1834, and played a major role in the final construction of both Fort Monroe and its opposite, Fort Calhoun. The latter, later renamed Fort Wool, was built on a man-made island called the Rip Raps across the navigational channel from Old Point Comfort in the middle of the mouth of Hampton Roads. The fort was briefly used to detain Black Hawk.

When construction was completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was referred to as the "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay." The fort accomplished this mission by mounting an impressive complement of the most powerful artillery of the time, 32-pounder guns with a range of over one mile. In conjunction with Fort Calhoun (later Fort Wool), this was just enough range to cover the main shipping channel into the area. (Decommissioned after World War II, the former Fort Wool on Rip Raps is now adjacent to the southern man-made island of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, initially completed in 1957).

American Civil War


Fort Monroe played an important role in the American Civil War. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Four months later, on April 12, 1861, troops of that state opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Five days later, Virginia became the eighth Southern state to withdraw from the Union, and join the newly formed Confederate States of America.

President Abraham Lincoln had Fort Monroe quickly reinforced so that it would not fall to Confederate forces. It was held by Union forces throughout the Civil War and several sea and land expeditions were launched from there by Union forces.

A few weeks after the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1861, U.S. Army General-in-Chief Winfield Scott proposed to President Abraham Lincoln a plan to bring the states back into the Union: cut the Confederacy off from the rest of the world instead of attacking its army in Virginia. His plan was to blockade the Confederacy's coastline and control the Mississippi River valley with gunboats. In cooperation with the Navy, troops from Fort Monroe extended Union control along the coasts of the Carolinas as Lincoln ordered a blockade of the Southern seaboard from the South Carolina line to the Rio Grande on April 19, and on April 27 extended it to include the North Carolina and Virginia coasts.

On April 20 the Union Navy burned and evacuated the Norfolk Navy Yard, destroying nine ships in the process, leaving only Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort as the last bastion of the United States in Tidewater Virginia. Occupation of Norfolk gave the Confederacy its only major shipyard and thousands of heavy guns, but they held it for only one year. Confederate Brigadier General Walter Gwynn, who commanded the Confederate defenses around Norfolk, erected batteries at Sewell's Point, both to protect Norfolk and to control Hampton Roads.

The Union dispatched a fleet to Hampton Roads to enforce the blockade, and on May 18–19, 1861, Federal gunboats based at Fort Monroe exchanged fire with the Confederate batteries at Sewell's Point. The little-known Battle of Sewell's Point resulted in little damage to either side. Several land operations against Confederate forces also were mounted from the fort, notably the Battle of Big Bethel in June 1861.

Fort Monroe is also the place at which, on May 27, 1861, Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous "contraband" decision, by which escaping slaves reaching Union lines would not be returned to bondage. The order resulted in waves of enslaved people fleeing to Union lines around Fort Monroe, which was Butler's headquarters in Virginia, and earned Fort Monroe its other nickname of "Freedom's Fortress", as any slave reaching it would be free.

Under Gen. Butler's command, Fort Monroe was the site of a military balloon camp under the flight direction of aeronaut John LaMountain. While the Union Army Balloon Corps was being developed at Fort Corcoran near Arlington under the presidentially appointed Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, LaMountain, who was also vying for position as Chief Aeronaut, had gained the confidence of Butler in using his balloon "Atlantic" for aerial observations. LaMountain is accredited with having made the first successful report from an aerial station that was of practical military intelligence. LaMountain was later reassigned to Lowe's balloon corps, but after a period of in-fighting with Lowe he was released from military service. Lowe would eventually assign regular military balloons to Fort Monroe.


In March 1862, the naval Battle of Hampton Roads took place off Sewell's Point between the first ironclad warships, CSS "Virginia" and USS "Monitor". While the outcome was inconclusive, the battle marked a change in naval warfare and the end to wooden fighting ships.

Later that spring, the continuing presence of the Union Navy based at Fort Monroe enabled Federal water transports from Washington, D.C., to land unmolested to support Major General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. Formed at Fort Monroe, McClellan's troops moved up the Virginia Peninsula during the spring of 1862, reaching within a few miles of the gates of Richmond about 80 miles to the west by June 1. For the next 30 days, they laid siege to Richmond. Then, during the Seven Days Battles, McClellan fell back to the James River well below Richmond, ending the campaign. Fortunately for McClellan, during this time, Union troops regained control of Norfolk, Hampton Roads, and the James River below Drewry's Bluff (a strategic point about 8 miles south of Richmond).


In 1864, the Union Army of the James under Major General Benjamin Butler was formed at Fort Monroe. The 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry, mustered at Fort Monroe on December 22, 1864, and The 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry mustered the same day at nearby Camp Hamilton. The Siege of Petersburg during 1864 and 1865 was supported on the James River from a base at City Point (now Hopewell, Virginia). Maintaining the control of Hampton Roads at Fort Monroe and Fort Wool was crucial to the naval support Grant required for the successful Union campaign to take Petersburg, which was the key to the fall of the Confederate capitol at Richmond. As Petersburg fell, Richmond was evacuated in 1865 on the night of April 2–3. That night, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet escaped Richmond, taking the Richmond and Danville Railroad to move first to Danville and then North Carolina. However, the cause was lost, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House the following week.

After the last Confederate cabinet meeting was held on April 26, 1865, at Charlotte, North Carolina, Jefferson Davis was captured at Irwinville, Georgia, and placed under arrest. He was confined in an unheated, open casemate at Fort Monroe for two years. Some historians have speculated that his treatment in captivity was intended to be lethal. In poor health, Davis was released in May, 1867, on bail, which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had become convinced he was being treated unfairly. The federal government proceeded no further in its prosecution due to the constitutional concerns of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.

The "Journal of the United States Artillery" was founded at Fort Monroe in 1892 by First Lieutenant (later General) John Wilson Ruckman and four other officers of the Artillery School. Ruckman served as the editor of the "Journal" for four years (July 1892 to January 1896) and published several articles therein afterward. One publication by West Point notes Ruckman's “guidance” and “first-rate quality” work were obvious as the "Journal" “rose to high rank among the service papers of the world.” The "Journal" was renamed the "Coast Artillery Journal" in 1922 and the "Antiaircraft Journal" in 1948.

Twentieth century

Over time the armament at Fort Monroe was improved, taking advantage of new technologies. In addition, the fort controlled several sub installations around Hampton Roads, making the area one of the most heavily defended in the United States.

The Jamestown Exposition held in 1907 at Hampton Roads, featured an extensive naval review, including the Great White Fleet. Beginning in 1917, the former exposition site at Sewell's Point became a major base of the United States Navy. Currently, Norfolk Navy Base is the base supporting naval forces operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Indian Ocean. It is the world's largest naval station based on supported military population.

Fort Monroe and Fort Wool stood guard during World War I and World War II, and successfully protected Hampton Roads and the important military and civilian resources located inland.

By World War II, Fort Monroe served as headquarters for an impressive array of coast artillery guns ranging from 3-inch rapid fire guns to 16-inch guns capable of firing a 2,000 pound projectile 25 miles. In addition, the Army controlled submarine barriers and underwater mine fields. But this vast array of armaments was all made obsolete after the second World War by the development of the long-range bomber and the aircraft carrier .

After the operational armament was removed, Fort Monroe received a mission that it still maintains to this day. Since World War II, it has served as the major headquarters for training soldiers for war. In 1973, Fort Monroe became home to the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which combines the recruitment, training and education of soldiers with the development of operational doctrine.

Fort Monroe today

Fort Monroe supports a daytime population of about 2,096, including 1,105 people in uniform, 1,991 civilian and contract employees, and about 814 family members residing on post. The major tenant unit is the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

In addition to continuing to serve as an active military installation, Fort Monroe has become a popular historical site. The Casemate Museum, opened in 1951, depicts the history of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort, with special emphasis on the Civil War period. It offers a view of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' prison cell. Also shown are the quarters occupied by 1st Lt. Robert E. Lee in 1831-34, and the quarters where President Abraham Lincoln was a guest in May, 1862.

Fort Monroe is the scene of many running events, including for many years, the Shamrock Sportsfest Marathon.

Nearby, Fort Monroe's companion guardian of Hampton Roads, Fort Wool, located at Rip Raps is also available for tours.

"Note: Fort Wool is located adjacent to one of the man-made islands of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and is accessible only by water. The availability of public tours of both Fort Wool and Fort Monroe are subject to Homeland Security Alert conditions."

Base Realignment and Closure, 2005

The Department of Defense released a list on 13 May, 2005, of military installations recommended for closure and/or realignment--among them is Fort Monroe. The list was approved by President George W. Bush on 15 September, 2005, and submitted to Congress. Congress failed to act within forty-five legislative days to disapprove the list in its entirety, and the BRAC recommendations subsequently became law. Installations on the BRAC list must close within six years.

Redevelopment possibilities

It is unclear as to what will become of the post after closing. Generally, surplus military installations are turned over to the respective states. Redevelopment will be facilitated by the fact that most of the land on which the fort stands was loaned by the state of Virginia to the federal government, and will revert to the state once Fort Monroe closes.

Virginia historically has given local government strong consideration in determining disposition at that point, such as occurred at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County (near Blackstone) in the Southside region. Given the historic significance of the post, the decommissioned fort will be a good candidate for portions to become one of the preserved historical sites located throughout the greater Hampton Roads area. Redevelopment to help offset the economic loss of a base closure is usually a priority as well.

The City of Hampton has recently received numerous unsolicited proposals for high-end residential and commercial development on the site once Fort Monroe is decommissioned. Because of the scarcity and desirability of waterfront property, the fort area is prime development property. The historic Chamberlin Hotel, for example, has already been sold to a developer and is being renovated as retirement apartments.

There are several groups competing for control of the site. The Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park [] are advocating turning the National Historic Landmark site over to the National Park Service to ensure its historic preservation. Several public meetings have been held, with no clear plan as to which faction will or should control of the Gibraltar of the Chesapeake.

[] []


*A man-made island across the navigational channel of the mouth of Hampton Roads from Old Point Comfort was created for Fort Calhoun (a portion of the Fort Monroe complex later renamed Fort Wool). This man-made island found a new purpose in 1957, when it was used to anchor the south portal of the 7,000 foot tunnel of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
* The quarters occupied by Robert E. Lee while stationed at Fort Monroe are still in use as military family housing.

ee also

*Fort Wool
*Sewell's Point
*Battle of Hampton Roads
*United States Army Training and Doctrine Command


External links

* [ Fort Monroe official website]
* [ Fort Monroe, Fortress, Hampton, VA: 57 b&w photos, 1 color photo] , at Historic American Building Survey

* [ Fort Monroe webpage]
* [ Fort Monroe Casemate Museum]
* [ TRADOC website]
* [ U.S. Department of Defense website]
* [ Site for Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park (]
* [ 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry]
* [ 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry]
* [ Photograph from the Library of Congress collection]
* [ Google Earth KML File]

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