Secrets Buried at Fort Monroe

The official Army departure from Fort Monroe, after almost 200 years of use, is now scant weeks away. Formally, the Army leaves on September 15, but won’t actually convey the property over to the Virginia until 2012.  I’ve voiced my preference as to the final disposition of the fort.  Perhaps with this weekend’s focus on the Tidewater area, there might be some additional nudging.

Regardless of the final disposition of Fort Monroe, the deactivation of the base offers the chance to uncover parts of history.  Work at the post has already uncovered some of these buried secrets.  In 2009 workers conducting surveys noticed some magnetic anomalies.  After excavation, teams unearthed a burst 4.5-inch siege rifle.  That rifle is on display at the Casemate Museum today.

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Breech of Burst 4.5-inch Siege Rifle

The gun stood upright in the ground with a projectile lodged into the muzzle.  As to the placement and location, the interpretation behind the gun speculates the projectile either lodged in the bore when the gun burst, or was placed there when the gun was used in a static display.

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Burst 4.5-inch Siege Rifle at Fort Monroe

In addition, Civil War era projectiles ranging from 10-inch to 3-inch were also found during the surveys.

However archeologists are also looking for other buried secrets from the Civil War era at Fort Monroe.

Fort Monroe Contraband Archaeological Dig
Fort Monroe Contraband Archaeological Dig

In June of this year, scientists from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory conducted targeted excavation work attempting to locate sites associated with the “contraband camp” at the fort during the Civil War.  The team specifically sought artifacts or evidence of a cemetery for freedmen living just outside the fort during the war and just afterwards.

The Army and other agencies are approaching this correctly, in my opinion.  There is a standing requirement for “cleanup” of the facilities as the Army leaves the post.  That could be done haphazardly and without regard to the historical and cultural resources under the ground.  Given the intersection of so many threads in American history, the very soil of Fort Monroe is a lesson waiting for a classroom.

Let me plug it again – there’s still time to make Fort Monroe a National Park.