Fort Ward is a former Union Army installation now located in the city of Alexandria in the U.S. state of Virginia. It was the fifth largest fort built to defend Washington, D.C. in the American Civil War. It is currently well-preserved with 90-95% of its earthen walls intact.
Occupation of Arlington
Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Alexandria County the closest part of Virginia to Washington, D.C., was a predominantly rural area. Originally part of the District of Columbia, the land now comprising the county was retroceded to Virginia in a July 9, 1846 act of Congress that took effect in 1847. Most of the county is hilly, and at the time, most of the county's population was concentrated in the city of Alexandria, at the far southeastern corner of the county. In 1861, the rest of the county largely consisted of scattered farms, the occasional house, fields for grazing livestock, and Arlington House, owned by Mary Custis, wife of Robert E. Lee.
Following the surrender of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 14, 1861, new American president Abraham Lincoln declared that "an insurrection existed," and called for 75,000 troops to be called up to quash the rebellion. The move sparked resentment in many other southern states, which promptly moved to convene discussions of secession. The Virginia State Convention passed "an ordinance of secession" and ordered a May 23 referendum to decide whether or not the state should secede from the Union. The U.S. Army responded by creating the Department of Washington, which united all Union troops in the District of Columbia and Maryland under one command.
Battle of Bull Run
Over the seven weeks that followed the occupation of northern Virginia, forts were constructed along the banks of the Potomac River and at the approaches to each of the three major bridges (Chain Bridge, Long Bridge, and Aqueduct Bridge) connecting Virginia to Washington and Georgetown.
Planning and construction
Gen. John Newton, who was in charge of the forts south of Four Mile Run, supervised the construction and managed the flow of men and material. Liberated slaves, also known as “contrabands”, helped build the defenses to protect Washington from invasion by Confederate forces during the Civil War. The Fort was named for the first Union naval officer to die in the war. Fort Ward never saw any attacks, and was dismantled in November 1865, though many African- Americans continued to live there into the 1900s.
Fort Ward Museum
The fort is now a part of the City of Alexandria's 45 acres (18 ha) Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site adjacent to Braddock Road, and the museum offers rotating exhibits on American Civil War subjects and a Civil War library. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments. The historic area now includes a museum, an Officer’s Hut, Ceremonial Gate, and reconstructed northwest bastion. The site can be found at 4301 West Braddock Road in Alexandria, Virginia.