Fort Ward is one of the 68 forts
eventually built by the North during the Civil War that ringed
Washington D.C. as protection against southern invasion and raids.
As with many of the forts constructed
for this purpose, Fort Ward was strategically located astride
highways leading towards the Union Capital. Built near Alexandria
Virginia, it protected the potential southern invasion routes of the
Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike (modern route 7) and overlooked to
the northwest Bailey’s and Balls Cross Roads. It was named after
Commander James Harmon who was the first Union naval officer killed
during the Civil War.
Today the site is a 45 acre
municipal Park operated by the city of Alexandria. I visited Fort
Ward on the way to our annual field trip on September 22, 2016.
There is a modest sized visitor center and museum. A walking tour of
the perimeter of the site takes about 45 minutes and is well worth
the visit. The fortification is entered through the reconstructed
Fort Ward gate.
The reconstructed entrance gate
to Fort Ward
The highlight of the current site
consists of the fort’s rebuilt Northwest Bastion which is loaded
with cannons and howitzers similar to what were present during the
Civil War. In position are reproductions of three impressive
4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles noted by contemporary writers for their
accuracy and range, two large 24-Pounder Howitzers which would
generally have been used to protect against infantry attack on the
fort and a 6-Pounder artillery piece. By late 1864 the five bastion
fort had 36 guns of various calibers and had grown to become the
fifth largest fort protecting the Capital.
Importantly, Fort Ward included a
100-Pounder Parrot whose great range and hitting power when combined
with similar Parrots at nearby Forts Worth, Ellsworth and
Richardson, strategically covered a line below Alexandria from
Munson’s Hill across the range of heights south of Hunting Creek,
thus making an integrated defense controlling the previously
mentioned roads, the Little River Turnpike (modern Duke Street) and
the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
Construction of the fort began in
September 1861 and was improved extensively until the end of the
war. The angular bastion works were protected by moats and rifle
pits which were manned by the fort’s garrison. The garrison size
varied during the war, but to give an idea of what might have been
desired as an optimal number, bombproofs were constructed to protect
up to 500 troops. The final perimeter length of 818 yards made Ward
one of the largest forts built near D.C. and is twice the size of
the more famous Fort Stevens which has also been preserved.
Fort Ward's Northwest Bastion
Unlike Fort Stevens which protected
two highways approaching the Capital from the north, Fort Ward had
no similar challenge to that withstood by Fort Stevens. This
occurred when Jubal Early’s Confederate Corps invaded Maryland in
September 1864. After the Battle of Monocacy on July 9th, 1864,
Early’s troops advanced southeastwards to the Capital, but were
stopped by Fort Stevens and troops hastily transported from General
Grant’s army then located at Petersburg, Virginia. Perhaps making
Fort Stevens even more famous was Abraham Lincoln’s visit when the
fort was under fire.
Although never tested in battle nor
visited by the President, Fort Ward in conjunction with other forts
south of the Potomac were arguably completely successful as an
excellent deterrent to any potential plans the south might have had
to attack D.C. from that direction.
The Fort Ward site is located at
4301 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, Virginia and is easily reached by
taking I-395 for about five miles north from its intersection with
the I-495 Washington D.C. Beltway , just south of D.C. The fort is
only a few minutes from Exit Number 5 along I-395.
Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington;
1988; by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton J. Owen II; White
Mane Publishing Company, Inc.
“68 Forts: Why Confederates never
could have taken Washington”, America’s Civil War Magazine; May
2009; by Marc Leepson.
Mr. Lincoln’s City: an Illustrated Guide to the Civil War Sites of
Washington; 1981; by Richard M. Lee; EPM Publications, Inc.
Last Chance for Victory: Jubal Early’s 1864 Maryland Invasion;
2010; by Brett W. Spaulding.
“The Art of the Artilleryman”; Fort
Ward Museum Brochure; Alexandria, Virginia.
American Civil War Artillery 1861-1865 (2), Heavy Artillery; 2001;
by Philip Katcher; Osprey Publishing.
Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery; 1985; by Dean
S. Thomas; Thomas Publications.