This past Saturday my friend and I joined a small group led by David Farner, Park Manager of Fort C.F. Smith Park, for an excellent tour of some of the Civil War forts of Arlington. (We also visited Ft. Marcy, which is technically in Fairfax County, right across the county line from Arlington.) Readers may remember that I have blogged a few times now about the Civil War defenses of Washington, so I won't go over all of the background. By the end of the Civil War, around 68 forts, 90 batteries, and 20 miles of rifle trenches had been constructed to defend the nation's capital. The line came under a major Confederate attack just once, during the Battle of Ft. Stevens in July 1864. Following the war, many of the forts, in Arlington and elsewhere, were dismantled and eventually swallowed up by development. Arlington County has made an effort to preserve at least a few of these forts.
Ft. Ethan Allen
Our first stop was Ft. Ethan Allen Park (3829 N. Stafford St., Arlington, VA 22207). In September 1861, Federal troops under Brigadier General William "Baldy" Smith began construction of Ft. Ethan Allen on land belonging to Gilbert Vanderwerken, a New York transplant who owned and operated Washington's omnibus line. This fort, along with Ft. Marcy, protected the approaches to Washington across Chain Bridge. The fort's perimeter was 736 yards, with 36 gun emplacements. Many famous units were involved with the construction of Ft. Ethan Allen, including the 19th Indiana that was eventually assigned to what became known as the "Iron Brigade"; the "Cameron Highlanders" of the 79th New York, which had seen action at Bull Run and Lewinsville; and the 2nd and 3rd Vermont that wintered at Camp Griffin as part of the Vermont Brigade. Throughout the remainder of the war, heavy artillery units from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and other northeastern states garrisoned the fort.
|The Vermont soldiers who helped to build the fort named it after Ethan Allen (1738-89), Revolutionary War hero from that state. Here, Allen is seen demanding the surrender of Ft. Ticonderoga in 1775 (courtesy of Wikipedia).|
|Historical marker at the entrance to the park. The southern exterior wall of the fort is visible in the background, behind the treeline.|
|View along the southern wall of the fort (right), with the ditch clearly visible in the middle of the photograph. The ditch helped to impede access to the fort's walls.|
|The mound of earth around tree #9 is the remains of a magazine, where ammunition and powder were stored. This magazine was located just behind the fort's southern wall.|
|Remains of another magazine, close to the eastern side of the fort.|
|A bombproof in the interior of the fort. Only one of two bombproofs remains. A bombproof was a structure where soldiers at the fort could take shelter during an attack.|