Fast Track Fort Monroe

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s visited Fort Monroe yesterday.  From the Virginian-Pilot:

This historic Army post may have won over a most important ally on Wednesday: Cabinet member Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior. Salazar toured the 570-acre base in Hampton before meeting with about 150 citizens, almost all of whom indicated strong support for making Fort Monroe a national park after the Army departs in September.

Fort Monroe sits on the easternmost end of the “Peninsula.”  From the earliest colonial days to the present, the location of the fort figures prominently in American history.  From the Civil War perspective of course, many story lines unfold as a visitor walks the grounds:  the a foothold retained in Virginia after secession; base for Federal operations against Richmond; place where the “contraband of war” became freedmen; and a prison that held Confederate leaders after the war… just to mention a few.

I would also point out the Fort Monroe also speaks to the “old Army” both pre-Civil War and post-Civil War.  The installation became the testing ground for new weapons, training ground for generations of soldiers, and (well before Fort Leavenworth) where the Army crafted warfighting doctrine.  The fort is in some ways a more fitting location for the National Museum of the US Army (although I would concede that a Fort Belvoir location will attract more visitors).

The Army identified the old installation as excess to its needs in 2005 and programed a closure date of September 2011.  Since the announcement, all sorts of plans have emerged ranging from resorts to state park.  Although the national park option remained on the table, most saw the normal process along that line as too lengthy given the 2011 deadline.   But there is the fast track option:

But with just 2-1/2 months remaining until the Army turns the property over to the state – in compliance with the 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s recommendation – a quicker option has become a priority: getting the president to declare the fort a national monument using powers granted to him by the Antiquities Act.

Since this is my soapbox –  there’s an opportunity here that would marry the proclamations to actions.  I think it is time for a Fort Monroe National Historic Site.

Castle Pinckney Sold for $10!

You read that right!  Ten dollars!

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney as it Appeared in the Civil War

The current owner, the South Carolina State Ports Authority, agreed to sell the fort and grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 1269 for what you must agree is a very, very fair price.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney Today

The Ports Authority acquired Shutes’ Folly  back in the 1950s when the site fell off the list of sites under consideration for national monument status.  Facing budget concerns, the Ports Authority agreed to transfer the property to the SCV camp.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Wartime Photo Showing Troops in Formation at Castle Pinckney

I’ve visited Shute’s Folly many years back.  Certainly the remotest site of the Charleston, South Carolina forts.  Although the brickwork has crumbled and deteriorated, I was able to learn a great deal about the architectural aspects of the fort despite the overgrowth.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Exterior of Castle Pinckney Today

At one time the Ports Authority used the island as a dredging spoil site, but I don’t think any of the historical structures were affected.  Over the years I’ve heard a number of attempts by the Ports Authority to introduce preservation efforts.  But none seemed to take root.  Hopefully this time the SCV’s efforts will bear fruit.

Speaking to the Charleston Post and Courier the SCV Camp’s commander Philip Middleton stated, “We didn’t want to see something out there like a sports bar, with neon lights.”

Another camp member, Bill Snow, added, “Our ultimate aim is to preserve this facility in a respectful and dignified way, to provide a visible link to the past for future generations in the Charleston area.  The fort is a part of our Lowcountry heritage and will be honored as such by the Fort Sumter Camp of the SCV.”

The fort was the first such installation occupied by South Carolina troops, and a significant event in the road to war.  And at the end of the war, it was among the installations in Charleston manned by US Colored Troops.  Those are a couple of reasons I’ve always considered the photo below among the most telling from the war period:

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
African-American outside Castle Pinckney

I do hope the SCV is able to stabilize the site.  However I think restoration of the fort is out of the question for now.  But even in the current condition, the location might make an interesting “extended stop” for those on Fort Sumter tours.  Heck, I’d pay an extra $5 on the normal boat tour price for that stop.  Get one more of you to join with me, and the SCV camp breaks even!

(Photos and illustrations courtesy of Henry de Saussure Copeland, linked from a Flickr collection.)

148 Years Ago: Edwards Ferry

148 years ago this morning, just a few miles from where I am comfortably typing, engineers of the Army of the Potomac worked to retrieve pontoon bridges over the Potomac.  Over the previous three days those pontoon bridges supported the crossing of the Army as it shifted base from northern Virginia into Maryland, and thence to Pennsylvania.

Edwards Ferry 015
Edwards Ferry

The Army of the Potomac had crossed the river it was named for, and headed north in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  The two forces would clash a few days later at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The “road” to Gettysburg ran through Edwards Ferry.

I wrote a score of posts on the Edwards Ferry crossing over the last couple of years.  While the topic has been out of my blogging queue as I turn towards topics keeping in line with the 150th observances, I’ve continued research behind the scenes. I also have a few exciting projects regarding the Edwards Ferry crossing site.  Hopefully I’ll have something to announce in the next few months.