Fort Monroe National Monument

Fort Monroe

Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe Aerial Photo 2004
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Coordinates: 37°00′13″N 76°18′27″W / 37.00361°N 76.3075°WCoordinates: 37°00′13″N 76°18′27″W / 37.00361°N 76.3075°W
Built: 1819–1834
Governing body: Commonwealth of Virginia
NRHP Reference#: 66000912
Significant dates
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966
Designated NHL: December 19, 1960
Designated NMON: November 1, 2011


Colonial period

Arriving with three ships under Captain Christopher Newport, Captain John Smith and the colonists of the Virginia Company established the settlement of Jamestown 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. Other small forts known as Fort Henry and Fort Charles were built nearby in 1610. Fort Algernourne burned in 1612.

In the latter part of August 1619 a Dutch ship, the White Lion, appeared off the coast of Old Point Comfort. Its cargo included more than 30 Africans captured from the slave ship Sao Joao Bautista. Traded for work and supplies from the English, they were the first Africans to come ashore on British-occupied land in what would become America. Although the Bantu Africans from Angola were considered indentured servants, their arrival is considered to mark the beginning of slavery in America. Two among the Africans arriving at Old Point Comfort in 1619 were named by the Spanish as Antonio and Isabella. In January 1624, she gave birth to the first African child born in America.

Another 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 realized the need to protect Hampton Roads and the inland waters from attack by sea. In March of 1819, President James Madison came up with a plan of building a network of coastal defenses. Construction of the fort began in earnest on the stone-and-brick fort which would serve as the safeguard for the Chesapeake Bay. It began construction in 1819 on what would become the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. Work continued for nearly twenty-five years. 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. Late in the nineteenth century, the Army briefly detained the chief Black Hawk here.

When construction was completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was referred to as the "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay". The fort mounted 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, first 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's legislature passed (subject to voters' ratification) the Ordinance of Secession of Virginia to withdraw from the Union, and join the newly formed Confederate States of America. On 23 May 1861, voters of Virginia ratified the state's secession from the union.

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, which launched several sea and land expeditions from there.

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, keeping Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort as the last bastion of the United States in Tidewater Virginia. The Confederacy's occupation of Norfolk gave it a 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 were mounted from the fort, notably the Battle of Big Bethel in June 1861.



Twentieth century

Coast Artillery School

Also in 1907 the Coast Artillery School was established along with the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps. New buildings were constructed for classrooms and barracks (the library and school buildings compleated in 1909)[3]. As part of the schools responsibility the "Coast Artillery Journal" was published under the supervision of the commandant. [4] The school opperated until 1946 when most of the coast artillery was disbanded, and the school was moved to Fort Winfield Scott

Commandants list

Base Realignment and Closure

Fort Monroe today

Redevelopment possibilities

See also


External links

Archival Records
Ships Places

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