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Completed on Nov. 1, 1834, historic Fort Monroe became much more than a national military landmark

Robert E. Lee was many years removed from fame when -- as a young officer in the Army Corps of Engineers --he packed up and left his quarters at Fort Monroe in late October 1834.

But the report he gave when he reported for his new job at the office of the Army's chief engineer in Washington, D.C. a few days later left no doubt that one of the nation's largest building projects to that date had resulted in a nationally important military landmark.

Spawned by the embarrassing destruction wrought by the British during the War of 1812, the "Gibraltar of the Chesapeake" was pronounced complete on Nov. 1, 1834 after 15 years of construction.

But as impressive as the great stone bastion might have been with its formidable batteries and 1.2-mile-long moat, no one then could have guessed just how large and continuous a role it would play as the history of Hampton Roads and America unfolded.

On that same day 177 years later, President Barack Obama would recognize the significance of the fort and Old Point Comfort by designating 570 acres as the Fort Monroe National Monument.

Here are some of the historic events that Hampton History Museum curator J. Michael Cobb and historian John V. Quarstein cite as the reasons behind his 2011 proclamation and the fort's importance:


As early as 1608, Capt. John Smith describes the strategic Chesapeake Bay gateway at Old Point Comfort as "an isle fit for a castle."

Old Point Comfort is fortified by Jamestown colonists in 1609 as a watch station.

A Dutch ship bearing the first documented Africans in English North America stops here in 1619.

First masonry fortification built here following Dutch raids on tobacco fleets in late 1600s.


Old Point Comfort lighthouse is constructed in 1802 as part of the first federal building program.

Spurred by British raids on the Chesapeake during the War of 1812, work on Fort Monroe begins in 1819, ultimately encompassing 63 acres in America's largest stone fort.

First Hygeia Hotel opens in 1822, becoming a nationally known resort.

The Army Artillery School of Practice is founded here in 1824.

Troops depart from Fort Monroe for Seminole, Blackhawk and Mexican wars as well as the suppression of Nat Turner's rebellion.


Held by the Union in April 1861, Fort Monroe gives the North command of Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay as well as a vital land corridor to Richmond.

The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron is based here in May 1861, providing a springboard for crucial Union amphibious expeditions to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Fort Monroe commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler gives asylum to runaway slaves as contraband of war in May 1861, paving the way for emancipation and the fort's new nickname as "Freedom's Fortress."

First land battle of the war is fought by troops commanded from Fort Monroe in June 1861.

Largest army in North America assembles here in spring 1862 for Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign aimed at taking Richmond.

USS Monitor departs from Fort Monroe on March 8, 1862 for historic first battle of ironclad warships in Hampton Roads.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis imprisoned here in May 1865.

LATE 1800s

Artillery School of Practice is re-established as Artillery School of the U.S. Army in 1867.

Second Hygeia Hotel opens in 1868, generating such success as a nationally known resort that the first Chamberlin Hotel opens in 1896.


Fort Monroe becomes home of the Army Coast Artillery School in 1907.

Fort Monroe becomes headquarters of Army Ground Forces in 1946, the Continental Army Command in 1955 and the Army Training and Doctrine Command in 1973.

-- Mark St. John Erickson

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Armed ForcesU.S. ArmyWar of 1812Hampton RoadsJohn Smith
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