During June 2007, I visited a fort called Fort Wool. I have visited army forts before but this one is really out of the ordinary. First of all it is on an island that was man-made. The only way to get to the island is by boat. The Fort Wool Ferry, the Miss Hampton II, offers a tour boat for the public to visit the fort.
Upon taking the boat to Fort Wool you have to cross over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel that’s under the ocean. Coming from the Midwest this just floored me knowing that I was on top of cars that were under the ocean! Hampton Roads is 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean so it is the main shipping channels for Hampton Roads harbor.
Upon arrival to Fort Wool you are amazed at the size of the boulders that surround the island and the cement wall that encloses half of the fort. Your tour guide greets you on the pier. Fort Wool is the only thing on this tiny island.
As our tour guide took us through parts of the fort he told us a little of the history of the fort.
The fort’s construction began in 1826 but it was still incomplete at the start of the Civil War. Robert E. Lee, as a freely new engineer, took part in the design and construction of Fort Wool. The fort wasn’t originally called Fort Wool. Its first name was Fort Calhoun; the name was changed to Fort Wool during the Civil War.
The original plans for the fort was for it to hold three tiers of casemates and a parapet with 232 cannons, but as construction took place, the island started to sink. More boulders were brought in to try to settle the island but the weight of the 2nd pier was too much, so only 10 guns could be mounted and 52 of the casemates of the first tier weren’t completed until 1866.
The island consisted of rock and stone, which was used to build the fort. There were no trees only grasses in the commons. Upon walking the island, where we were aloud, it seemed a very hard lonely place for someone to live in but before the Civil War President Andrew Jackson used Fort Calhoun for his summer retreat. I just couldn’t imagine this for a summer retreat, but if you visit this fort you will agree it is a very isolated place with access only by boat.
By the time the Civil War started the fort’s name was changed to Fort Wool. Named after Maj. General John Ellis Wool, a Mexican war hero and commander at Fort Monroe, which is within eye view. During the Civil War 187 men were stationed at the fort and a very powerful cannon called the Sawyer Gun was used at Fort Wool. It was used to fire at the Ironclads in 1862, but never did any damage. President Abraham Lincoln was in Fort Wool to watch the Union troops seize Norfolk.
From 1886 until World War I, Fort Wool wasn’t manned, but was reactivated during both World Wars.
During both World Wars the fort was manned, but never saw any action. The reason for the manning was if the eastern shores of the United States ever under attach Fort Wool and Fort Monroe were the defenses for Norfolk, Virginia, which are the United States’ biggest naval ports. During the World Wars, Fort Monroe commanded the fort. An aircraft radar station and a concealed radar tower were in the fort during World War II. There was also an anti-aircraft searchlight that was located in the center of the island. During World War II a submarine net was used to close off the harbor entrance between Fort Wool and Fort Monroe.
The fort was abandoned in 1953; 1967 the fort was decommissioned and given to the State of Virginia and in 1970 Hampton Roads developed it into a park. To this day the island is still sinking. Visitors to the park are only allowed to go where the tour guides will let you. We were only allowed to visit about half of the fort. On the western side of the fort it still has the original remains of the ramparts that form a semi-circle for gun positioning. There are still guns that are from the Civil War at Fort Wool that were never removed.
The southern side of the island, which is where the tour boat docks at a new pier that has been built, the southern wall of the fort has been demolished. In order to stop boats from coming and docking at the island they have moved boulders into the water.
Part of the fort was damaged and the original pier was destroyed by hurricane Isabel. It will never be rebuilt.
As soon as I dig out my pictures I will post a couple so you can see.