Back in 2006, when I began dating my wife, she introduced me to Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, not far from her condominium on the outskirts of Old Town Alexandria. When I went to check out Fort Ward one morning, I was amazed at what I found. Despite living in the D.C. area on and off for around seventeen years, I had never heard of, let alone visited, the place. Now, it is one of my favorite Civil War sites around. In a region where governments and the private sector have done a relatively inadequate job of preserving and interpreting the Civil War defenses around the nation's capital, Fort Ward -- run by the City of Alexandria -- stands out as a gem. (See here, here, and here for a description of the woeful state of preservation of the D.C. forts.)
Fort Ward was part of the ring of defensive works around Washington that totaled 161 forts and batteries by war's end. The Union Army began construction of Fort Ward in July 1861 and completed work by September 1861. The initial earthwork fort was 540 yards in perimeter and had 24 gun emplacements. The fort was named after Commander James H. Ward, the first Union Naval officer to be mortally wounded in the Civil War. Scheduled for rebuilding in 1863, Fort Ward was expanded to a perimeter of 818 yards and 36 gun emplacements by April 1865. During the war, the fort was garrisoned by soldiers from many different units, including regiments of heavy artillery from Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Fort Ward, which stood guard over the approaches to Alexandria via the Leesburg Turnpike and the Little River Turnpike, never came under attack. The Army closed the fort permanently in December 1865 and sold any salvageable materials at auction.
|Map of Fort Ward (Courtesy of Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site)|
|Reconstruction of entrance gate to Fort Ward, originally completed in 1865. The arch is topped by a castle, the insignia of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which designed and constructed Fort Ward.|
|6-pounder James rifle (foreground) and 24-pounder howitzer (background) in the Northwest Bastion|
|24-pounder howitzer (foreground) and two 4.5-inch rifled cannon (background) in the Northwest Bastion|
|Exterior view of emplacement for 24-pounder howitzer in the Northwest Bastion|
|Exterior view of Northwest Bastion and ditch. Note gun emplacements. Fort Ward's walls were 18-22 feet high, 12-14 feet thick, and slanted at 45 degrees.|
|Remains of a rifle trench which extended from the North Bastion to a battery located beyond the Leesburg Turnpike. This ditch and wall were designed to protect infantry from enemy fire in the event of an attack.|
|Reconstruction of officers' hut, in typical board-and-batten style. At Fort Ward, the officers' huts, soldiers barracks, and mess hall were located outside the walls of the fort, near the present-day site of the Museum.|
|Fort Ward Museum, patterned after a Union Army headquarters building. There is no indication that such a building stood at Fort Ward, although structures like this were constructed at other forts around Washington.|
Note on Sources:
The Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site website, linked to above, has a wealth of material on the history of Fort Ward. In addition, the Historical Marker Database provides information on all of the markers at the site. The photos are from the author's personal collection.