This past weekend Barry and I traveled to Fort Monroe for my college roommate’s wedding. The wedding was the main event, and initially I was just looking for a place nearby for us to stay. I ended up finding a campground at a really neat place called Fort Monroe, and it kind of turned our weekend into a mini vacation.
The fort is located in Hampton on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula. It is nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and Mill Creek, and is surrounded by a moat. From our campsite, I could see both bodies of water and at most I’d say the peninsula was a half mile wide.
I went on two different tours during our weekend stay. The first was on Saturday morning, when I went out for a five mile run. The run itself was just so-so, but getting to see the Fort Monroe area on foot was really neat. My run started along the boardwalk, which stretches three miles along the eastern side of the peninsula.
Fort Monroe is like a little small town, with lots of remnants of its old use still around, some as old as the Civil War (like the gun battery)…
While others are more recent (like the houses and child care center)…
The base was active from 1823 to 2011. Although it’s no longer active, there are still plenty of people who live there. They keep their houses and yards in immaculate condition!
I enjoyed coastal views and tree-lined streets during my run. It was pretty hot and humid out (due to my late start), but the shade from the trees provided a nice reprieve.
I also ran by a large marina area, a grandiose hotel (now used a senior center), and a gorgeous church.
My run wrapped up back at our campground, on the Mill Creek side of the peninsula.
On Sunday morning Barry and I spent time touring the actual fort, which is the largest stone fort built in the United States. Its location has strategic importance for defense of the Chesapeake Bay, which came in to play throughout history, from the Civil War up through coastal defense during WWII. Before all that, it was the point where Captain John Smith landed in 1607.
Fort Monroe is known as “Freedom’s Fortress” because it is where enslaved men sought refuge in the early stages of the Civil War. Major General Butler, the fort’s commander, reasoned that the Fugitive Slave Act did not apply since Virginia had seceded from the United States and deemed the fugitive freedom seekers “contraband of war” that would not be returned to the Confederates. This decision forever changed the legal status of enslaved people in the US and ultimately led to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification of the 13th amendment.
Nearly forty years before the Civil War, a young 24 year old Robert E. Lee, fresh from West Point graduation, arrived at Fort Monroe to oversee large engineering projects during the fort’s construction. He was married to Mary Custis Lee, the Great Granddaughter of Martha Washington. Their first son, Custis Lee, was born at the fort in 1832.
During the Civil War, former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe. He was initially kept in a small room inside the casemate. Later, he was moved to more hospitable quarters on the fort for his health, and held for a total of two years.
By the way, a casemate is a chamber in the wall of a fort. It’s used for gun position, storage, or living quarters. The casemate at Fort Monroe was used for all three during its lifetime. Once the casemate began being used as living quarters, cannons were used from the top of the fort. A part of the casemate today is used as a museum for Fort Monroe.
As we made our way out of the fort, we walked past the oldest house inside the moat. It was built in 1819 and served as the commanding officer’s quarters.
There is a lot of history in Fort Monroe and this post is already entirely too long, so I will leave it at the tiny sliver I have shared. However, if you would like to read more, you can do so HERE.
The area where the fort is located spans so much history. From when we first arrived here, in the early 1600’s, through the Colonial Days, the Federal Period, the Civil War, and on to further development in the 20th century. From the early 20th century through post-WWII era, it was used as an artillery school and the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. The fort was decommissioned as an active Army installation on September 15, 2011, and today is an “in progress” National Park as Fort Monroe National Monument. In the coming years, more facilities and services will be added.
Have you ever taken a trip for one purpose, only to find more than you expected? This has happened for us on several of our camping trips, where the main purpose of the trip was an event or race.