Monday, January 10, 2011

Fort Monroe

Because of our interest in Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis we stopped at the old and famous fortress called Fort Monroe.
Fort Monroe is a Hampton, Virginia, military installation located at Old Point Comfort, which is on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Along with Fort Calhoun, later renamed Fort Wool, it guarded approach by sea of the navigational shipping channel between the Chesapeake Bay and the entrance to the harbor of Hampton Roads, which itself is formed by the confluence of the Elizabeth River, the Nansemond River, and the James River, the longest in Virginia.
In the earliest days of the Colony of Virginia, the site was identified as a strategic defensive location. In May of 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 City 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 Fort Monroe's neighbor, 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, fortifications had been established at Old Point Comfort during Virginia's first two centuries. However, the much more substantial facility of stone to become known as Fort Monroe were completed in 1834. The principal facility was named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe.
Robert E. Lee also served here, married here, and had their first son here. 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 are still in use as military family housing.
During the Civil War, Fort Monroe was quickly reinforced so that it would not fall to Confederate forces. In cooperation with the Navy, troops from Fort Monroe extended Union control along the coasts of the Carolinas. Several land operations against Confederate forces also were mounted from the fort, notably the battle of Big Bethel in June 1861, Major General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of 1862 and the siege of Suffolk in 1863. In 1864 the Army of the James was formed at Fort Monroe. Fort Monroe is also the place at which Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous “contraband” decision, by which escaping slaves reaching Union lines would not be returned to bondage.
Throughout the American Civil War, 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 and later the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the last Confederate cabinet meeting was held on April 26, 1865, at Charlotte, North Carolina, Jefferson Davis was captured at Irwinville, Georgia, and placed under arrest. He was briefly confined in an unheated, open casemate until the Union Surgeon John J. Craven recommended more humane care for Mr. Davis. General Nelson A. Miles approved changes and even moved Mr. Davis to more hospitable quarters. He was held at Fort Monroe for two years.
In poor health, Davis was released in May, 1867, on bail, which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had become convinced he was being treated unfairly. The federal government proceeded no further in its prosecution due to the constitutional concerns of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.
Completely surrounded by a moat, the six-sided stone fort is the only one of its kind left in the United States that is still an active Army post. Fort Monroe is one of several posts selected to be closed by September 2011.
Not far from here was where one of the most notorious pirates to haunt Virginia waters, William Teach, better known as Blackbeard was found. Teach, like many other pirates, was attracted to the lower Chesapeake Bay by the lucrative Virginia-England tobacco trade. It was here at the sight in Hampton, Virginia, where Blackbeard's head had its final resting place.
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; Deuteronomy 30:15 (KJV)

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