- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fort Monroe will be closed by September 2011 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) project mandated by Congress to streamline the nation’s military installations. The closure of Fort Monroe - an active defender of our country since 1824 - is lamented by those who have fond memories of being stationed at the unique place.

The fort in Hampton, Virginia, has a rich history. It is located on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and was originally called Point Comfort by the English. They built Fort Algernourne in 1609 to protect the entrance to Jamestown. In the War of 1812, British troops sailed up the Chesapeake to do battle in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

The young American government realized that a system of fortifications to protect shipping lanes and cities had to be built. Fort Monroe was planned as a moat post by an engineer general from Napoleon’s army in the 1820s. During the Civil War, the post was reinforced. Also, although Virginia was a Confederate State, Fort Monroe remained part of the Union and its commander, Brigadier General Benjamin Butler, accepted escaped slaves as “contraband.” Fort Monroe therefore became a symbol of liberty for African Americans and was known as “Freedom Fortress.” In addition, as a result of World War I and World War II, there was an increase in coast artillery defenses to protect and defend the great waterways of Hampton Roads and to protect the country, as well.

Fort Monroe has hosted many famous guests. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned there in 1865 after the Civil War. Edgar Allen Poe served there as a soldier. President Lincoln came by packet boat several times during the Civil War to convene with his commanders. From the ramparts, Lincoln watched several battles unfold.

In the late 1800s, Dr. Chester Bradley sought to preserve his personal collection of Civil War mementos and old photos. Thus was born the Casemate Museum. His efforts to preserve Fort Monroe’s history were ultimately recognized by Army authorities. Today the museum contains exhibits of the Civil War era.

The beauty, gentility and water views of Fort Monroe have long rendered it a desirable place for visitors. Many Army families throughout the years have experienced the grace and elegance of living at Fort Monroe. One fond memory that is shared by many is the Army band marching around the old post on Fridays as it practiced for its performances on Saturday afternoons - events that were held under a gazebo overlooking Hampton Roads. Townspeople lugging folding chairs and picnic baskets would come with their children to listen to the band play. Children danced and chased one another on the grass, and civilian and military families sat together to be entertained. This was old-fashioned America - patriotic America.

The land, water views and location of Fort Monroe will surely be enjoyed as before by many people, some of whom might know its grand history. Historical societies will try to keep the past alive, even as developers transform the area and commercialize it. Plans for the future of the fort are currently being developed by the Hampton community.

The experience of living for only two years at Fort Monroe will always remain for this Army wife the sweetest of her 14 moves to stations around the world. Drama and romance were felt by many of us who lived at Fort Monroe. Army families who experienced the majesty of living there can only view the impending closure of this historic landmark with both sadness and a little anger.

c M.T. Hunt is an Army spouse currently living in Manassas.

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