On May 24, 1861, when Virginia's secession from the Union became effective, Federal forces immediately occupied Northern Virginia to protect the City of Washington, D.C. After the Confederate victory at the Battle of First Bull Run (First Manassas) in July 1861, the Federal government began construction of a defense system to guard the Union capital. By the end of the war in 1865, the Defenses of Washington consisted of 162 forts and batteries, with emplacements for 1,421 guns.
The initial construction of Fort Ward was completed in September 1861. The fort was built to protect the approaches to Union-occupied Alexandria via the Leesburg Turnpike (King Street) and Little River Turnpike (Duke Street).
By late 1864, the perimeter of the earthwork fort had been enlarged from 540 yards and 24 gun positions to 818 yards and 36 guns. Fort Ward was the fifth largest stronghold in the Defenses of Washington and was considered a model of 19th-century military design and engineering. The fort was named for Commander James Harmon Ward, the first Union naval officer to die in the Civil War. It ws dismantled by December 1865.
Defenses of Washington
At the end of the Civil War, the forts and batteries were dismantled and the materials sold at auction. Fort Foote, the last remaining earthwork fort in the Defenses, was deactivated in 1878.
Today, extant remains of many of these fortifications can still be found. The above map shows the 37-mile network of Union forts that protected the Federal Capital. The Defenses of Washington was the most extensive fortification system constructed in the Western Hemisphere.
Related albums • See other albumsWashington DC Area Forts
Related locationsVA, Alexandria, Fort Ward
Related peopleJames Harmon Ward