In June of 2007 my family and I visited a fort that has 5 entrances and all 5 are over water; the fort is Fort Monroe. Fort Monroe was built with a moat around the entire fort with entrances that were barley wide enough for our van to enter.
Fort Monroe’s history goes back to Captain John Smith in 1608 when he recognized this area would be a good defense in protecting the colony at Jamestown. Through the years the defense was inadequate when the British burned the White House in 1814 so a new coastal defense was needed. So the largest in the United States, hexagon-shaped stone fortress and last fort built was and is Fort Monroe.
Fort Monroe’s mission was to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads and the other cities that had access to the waters. It was named after President James Monroe. It had the biggest and most powerful artillery of the time, 32-pounder guns that had a grange of over one mile. In 1824 it became the Army’s new Artillery School of Practice.
In 1831 to 1834 Robert E. Lee was stationed at Fort Monroe. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the corps of Engineers and his first son was born at the fort. He has almost complete charge of construction and put the finishing touches on the fort. Edgar Allen Poe was also stationed here in 1828 as a Sergeant Major of Artillery. Edgar sold his enlistment in 1829 for $75.
During the civil war the fort was reinforced so that the Confederate forces could not take it. The Union troops from Fort Monroe along with the Navy controlled the coasts of the Carolinas. The reinforcement was secure enough that president Lincoln visited the fort at the height of the war.
The casemates were used for the soldiers and their families to live in up until World War II. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned May 22, 1865 in one of these casements for 2 years. He was accused of plotting the assassination of President Lincoln. His reading material was restricted to a bible and a Episcopal Prayer book. He was allowed only a spoon to eat his meal with. During the first 5 days of his captivity he was chained in ankle irons but was removed on May 28th due to a doctor. On May 13, 1867 Jefferson Davis was released on $100,000 bail. He was never brought to trial and the all charges were dropped in 1869.
Over the years the fort was improved and became the most heavily defended area in the United States. During World War II it served as headquarters for artillery guns that ranged from 3-inche rapid fires to 16-inch guns, capable of firing 2,000-pound projectile for 25 miles. The army also controlled the submarine barriers and underwater mine fields.
Since WWII the fort has been responsible for training soldiers for war. Since 1973, it has been the home for the Training and Doctrine command, which is the training soldier with development of operational doctrine and also of new weapons systems.
Upon entering the fort I just assumed you had to have a military ID, so my family pulled our out but you don’t. Anyone can visit this fort as long as you have a picture ID if you are 18 years old and older. We drove across the moat and parked to visit the Casement Museum. We parked right in front of the house that Robert E. Lee and his wife lived in.
The casement Museum is free; there is no admission charge. As you walk through the museum you get a feel of what it would have been like to live there during the times of war.
There are waxed figures portraying men that lived and fired the big guns. They almost look as if they could come alive; you expected them to move. There are artifacts, pictures and stories that have been collected from the families of these men and their families that actually lived at this fort. One picture showed where the family tried to keep the dust down by laying a large rug on the dirt floor. Many of the artifacts at one time or another were fished out of the moat.
There is also a film that you can watch and it will tell you the entire story of the fort. A lot of the information above is on this film.
Today the Army’s Training and doctrine command (TRADOC) continues to use fort Monroe for offices and housing. We had also heard that they are going to close the fort down sometime soon. I just hope they continue to have the Casement Museum for generations to come to learn about our history.