Fort Ward

    The fear of a Confederate attack on Washington, DC, particularly after the Union defeat at Manassas in July 1861, spurred efforts to fortify the national capital.  A system of 164 forts and batteries along 37 miles was eventually completed.  These defenses, only attacked in the summer of 1864, were in all likelihood too difficult for the Confederates to capture by siege or by storm.  Fort Ward, protecting Alexandria, Virginia, was completed in September 1861 and enlarged by late 1864 to hold 36 guns along an 818 yard perimeter.   Today, the fort is preserved as part of a city park, and the northwest bastion has been restored to its wartime appearance.  This, along with a small but excellent museum, makes the site well worth a visit.


Twelve to 14 foot thick earthen walls that rose 20 feet from the ditch to the parapet were fronted by a hedge and abatis, or felled trees.  Each of the five bastions covered the face of at least one other.  Inside, bombproofs, powder magazines, and filling rooms gave overhead protection from mortars and were also used as firesteps for infantry to use if the enemy suceeded in scaling the walls.  Between 300 and 400 men typically defended the fort, but as many as 1,200 could occupy the fort in an emergency.  During Jubal Early's raid in the summer of 1864, large centrally located formations of Union infantry would march to threatened portions of the defenses.  If sufficient troops were available, it would be very difficult for the Confederates to capture Washington, DC.

These views are from the rear of the fort.  Fort HQ, officers' quarters, and barracks were to the rear of the fort.  The bombproofs could shelter men during bombardment.

View from outside the restored Northwest Bastion.  In addition to the hedge, abatis, or felled trees, would have been to the right of the picture, to hinder assaulting infantry.

360 degree view.  

Northwest Bastion.  Magazines and filling rooms stored rounds and gunpowder for the guns.  Whitewash helped protect the wood and aided night vision.

The near cannon on the flank of the Northwest Bastion covers the face of the Southeast Bastion, obscured by the trees.  The Northwest Bastion was intended to hold three 4 1/2 in Rodmans, two 24 pounders, and a 6 pounder James rifle.

This is the view from atop the fort's rear curtain wall.  Distortion in this 360 degree panorama has curved the straight earthen wall.  The bastion at right contained guns which could fire along the length of the ditch, covering the bastions at either end of the wall.

The decorative entrance gate at the rear of the fort was completed only in May 1865, after Lee's surrender.

Back to Civil War Virtual Battlefield Tours