Thousands of "contrabands" - Southern slaves liberated by Union forces during the Civil War - helped build the necklace of 68 earthen forts and 93 batteries known as the Defenses of Washington, of which Fort Ward was one of the largest. The forts, complete with moats, turned Washington into a heavily fortified city and successfully protected it from invasion by the Confederate forces.
Named for the first Union naval officer to die in the Civil War, Fort Ward was positioned on high ground just west of the intersection of three key transportation routes - the Leesburg Turnpike (today Route 7), the Old Leesburg Road (West Braddock Road) and Quaker Lane. At first, Union soldiers worked on the fortifications, but as they were called to active duty the construction was taken up by hired laborers, including hundreds of contrabands who sought protection and employment in the circle of fortifications around Washington.
The weekly Anglo-African, the leading African-American news publication of the day, urged freedmen to seek employment building military facilities for the Union. During and after the war, these freedmen and women, as well as some whites, bought small plots of land near the forts. There they built modest houses, and started churches and schools.
Fort Ward never came under Confederate attack, and the five-acre fort was dismantled in November 1865. An African-American community called the Fort or sometimes Fort Hill continued on the site into the 20th century. The foundation of one home is still visible just east of the parking lot at the entrance to the park. In 1891, residents of the Fort helped to found Oakland Baptist Church, and in 1897 established a cemetery on what is now the eastern edge of Fort Ward Park.
The Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, located inside the 45-acre park, offers self-guided tours of the preserved earthworks and several reconstructed military buildings. The museum has published a brochure, "Fighting for Freedom: Black Union Soldiers of the Civil War," that details the experiences of African-American troops. The Museum observes Black History Month with an annual lecture series, and has developed an African-American history outreach kit.
Union Civil War fort and historic site comprised of a Museum building (patterned after a Union Army headquarters building), an Officer's Hut, Ceremonial Gate, and the fort's reconstructed northwest bastion. Remains of the earthwork fort are surrounded by a 40-acre public park administered by the City of Alexandria Recreational Department. Free parking. Historic fort access restricted to daylight hours, for touring only.
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4301 W. Braddock