Fort Monroe Hampton, Virginia Visited 9.28.11 & 6.30.12
Visit the regular Starforts.com Fort Monroe page here! Click on any of the pictures for the full-sized image and more information!
I visited Fort Monroe in September of 2011 and June of 2012: The first visit was with a tour group (which I ditched as soon as politely possible), the second was on my own, and I've integrated pictures from both visits here.
Fort Monroe is awesome!! It's huge, and as it was deactivated as a military installation in 2011 (Fort Monroe's final incarnation was as the headquarters for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command), it's crammed full of cool stuff, but has been emptied of people.
Getting to Fort Monroe is a breeze. It's just off of US Route 64 south of Hampton, and all of the exits and turns you need to make are well-marked and easy to follow. Play your cards right and you'll get to drive through the weird little town of Phoebus, one of the many places John Smith landed in 1607, where he wished he could have a Chicken McNugget: In honor of this event, a McDonald's was built in Phoebus several centuries later.
There's no charge to get into Fort Monroe: In fact, I couldn't see any means by which Fort Monroe could be securely closed!
Other than stoplights at the three gates one can drive through to enter Fort Monroe, there doesn't seem to be anything to prevent one from just tooling on into the fort at 1am, should one so choose...unless they park tanks at each of the entrances at night, but if they do, those tanks are exquisitely camoflauged by day, because I sure didn't see 'em.
Walking through Fort Monroe is both delightful and surreal: so much infrastructure was built between the fort's walls (it's like a small city), and nobody's there any more.
Fort Monroe has an excellent Casemate Museum. And it has excellent casemates! If you like early 19th century brickwork as much as I seem to, you'll find the elegantly curved ceilings of endless casemates a joy to scamper beneath. The fort was completed in 1834, and much of it seems almost dungeonesque in its delightful dark dankitude.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was imprisioned at Fort Monroe for two years following his capture at the end of the US Civil War. He was initially held in an unheated, open casemate with four guards continually watching him suffer, and a visitor to the museum can walk into this casemate!
Some 3000 people worked at Fort Monroe when it was an operational army post, so just about every one of the casemates that honeycomb through the fort's walls was converted into office space! Today, all you can see of most of the casemates are sealed doors on the inside of the fort, endless gunports on the outside of the fort, and an array of clunky-looking air conditioners and ventilation pipes along the top of the walls.
Outside the fort, in addition to a lot of military housing, are three Endicott-era batteries: Irwin, DeRussy and Church.
Battery Ruggles, which operated eight 12" mortars, is the furthest up the island, and almost completely overgrown. All of these batteries are accessible to one degree or another, although only Battery Irwin is supposed to be open to the public. And while I would never under any circumstances go where I'm not supposed to, several pictures from in and around these batteries seem to have mysteriously wound up on my camera's memory card.
The island that constitutes Fort Monroe is dotted with lovely beaches, picnic pavilions, ball fields and playgrounds.
Fort Monroe played a vital role in just about every US military adventure that took place after the War of 1812, but it's an amazingly pleasant place to be whether you give a hoot about American militaria or not. Although it would surely be a little more fun for those of us who think old bricks and cannons are awesome.
If you haven't figured it out yet, please click on any of these pictures to see their full-sized versions and read more about my visit to Fort Monroe.
Click here to get a feel for what kind of coastal artillery coverage the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads had in the early part of the 20th century.