Leaving Fort Inside the Moat, Fort Monroe National Monument, Hampton, Virginia
Fort Monroe (also known as the Fort Monroe National Monument) was a military installation in Hampton, Virginia—at Old Point Comfort, the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Within the 565 acres of Fort Monroe are 170 historic buildings and nearly 200 acres of natural resources, including 8 miles of waterfront, 3.2 miles of beaches on the Chesapeake Bay, 110 acres of submerged lands and 85 acres of wetlands. It has a 332 slip marina and shallow water inlet access to Mill Creek, suitable for small watercraft.
When it was operational as a United States Army post, Fort Monroe supported a work population of some 3000, including 1000 people in uniform. The major tenant unit was the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Along with Fort Wool, Fort Monroe guarded the navigational channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads—the natural roadstead at the confluence of the Elizabeth, the Nansemond and the James rivers. Surrounded by a moat, the seven-sided stone fort is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States.
During the initial exploration by the mission headed by Captain Christopher Newport in the earliest days of the Colony of Virginia, the site was identified as a strategic defensive location. In May 1607, they established the first permanent English settlement in the present-day United States about 25 miles further inland from the Bay along the James River at Jamestown. The land area where Fort Monroe is located became part of Elizabeth Cittie [sic] in 1619, Elizabeth River Shire in 1634, and was included in Elizabeth City County when it was formed in 1643. Over 300 years later, in 1952, Elizabeth City County and the nearby Town of Phoebus agreed to consolidate with the smaller independent city of Hampton, which became one of the larger cities of Hampton Roads.
Beginning by 1609, defensive fortifications were built at Old Point Comfort during Virginia's first two centuries. The first was a wooden stockade named Fort Algernourne. However, the much more substantial facility of stone to become known as Fort Monroe (and adjacent Fort Wool on a man-made island across the channel) were completed in 1834. The principal facility was named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe. Throughout the American Civil War (1861–1865), although most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands. It became notable as a historic and symbolic site of early freedom for former slaves under the provisions of contraband policies. For two years thereafter, the former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned at the fort. His first months of confinement were spent in a cell of the casemate fort walls that is now part of its Casemate Museum.
Fort Monroe decommissioned on September 15, 2011. Many of its functions were transferred to nearby Fort Eustis (which was named for Fort Monroe's first commander, General Abraham Eustis, a noted artillery expert). Several re-use plans for Fort Monroe after it was decommissioned are currently under development in the Hampton community.
On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to designate portions of Fort Monroe as a National Monument. This was the first time that President Obama exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law to protect sites deemed to have natural, historical or scientific significance.
Fort Monroe has become a popular historical site. The Casemate Museum, opened in 1951, depicts the history of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort, with special emphasis on the Civil War period. It offers a view of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' prison cell. Also shown are the quarters occupied by 1st Lt. Robert E. Lee in 1831–34, and the quarters where President Abraham Lincoln was a guest in May, 1862.