Fort Ward Museum and Historic Park, Alexandria, Virginia

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By John Cowgill

During the Civil War, about 164 forts were erected to defend the nation’s capital.  Today, very few of these forts survive.  Most of these forts were destroyed by development of either housing, shopping centers, or office buildings.  Among the surviving forts is Fort Ward in Alexandria, Virginia.

Fort Ward is an earthen fort. It was named after James H. Ward, who established the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  An earthen fort is made from the earth itself.  Unlike Fort Washington and Fort McHenry, which were made with stone walls, the walls of Fort Ward were made by digging dirt from the ground and creating heaps of dirt forming a wall to enclose an area.  This fort had a moat.  (A moat is a body of water used for added protection.  You normally see moats surrounding stone forts and castles.)

The fort had over thirty gun positions and rifle trenches.  (A rifle trench was a ditch in the ground where soldiers fired their guns with some protection from the ground.)  It also had bomb shelters to protect soldiers from an attack and magazines to store artillery.  (A magazine is an underground storage place normally for artillery and gunpowder to protect the items from the weather, mainly dampness and rain.)  The fort also had two structures mainly for sleeping quarters, dining hall, and offices.  During its years as an active fort, Fort Ward saw no battles or skirmishes.

Today, Fort Ward visitors enter through the main gates, which are an exact replica of the original fort gates. Over the years, the walls have eroded, making them much lower than the original walls, which were twenty feet high. Other than the land erosion and trees growing within the fort walls, the entire fort has not been altered.

The Northwest Bastion

The fully restored Northwest Bastion depicts what the fort looked like when it was active.  As you walk the walls, you will see trees and high-rise apartments, but originally, you would have seen the Little River Turnpike (Virginia Route 236) and the Leesburg Pike (Virginia Route 7).

The Fort Ward Museum is housed in a replica building of what you would have seen in the fort.  There is a model of the original fort, along with the weapons used.  There is a map of the forts of the Defenses of Washington, and there is also a replica of an officer’s hut.

Fort Ward Museum

Fort Ward is located at 4301 West Braddock Road in Alexandria, Virginia.  Parking is on site for cars and buses.  Although the fort and park are open every day from sunrise to sunset, the museum and officer’s hut are only open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.  The museum is wheelchair accessible as is much of the fort itself.  A paved walkway gives wheelchairs access to the restored Northwest Bastion, but the walls are not wheelchair accessible.

Admission to Fort Ward is free.  It is the only fort of the Defenses of Washington that is owned and operated by the City of Alexandria.  You can learn more about Fort Ward and about its events here.

Visitors to Fort Ward Museum and Historic Park may not see much other than earthworks and replica cannons, and it may have been a place where not much happened. But with every step you take, you feel history happening.

John Cowgill frequently writes about regional attractions.

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