From 1819 through 1834, a fortification called Fort Monroe was under construction. However, the new fort was not the first fortification to be located there. The history of the site has roots as deep as English colonization in Jamestown, Virginia. In 1608, it was Captain John Smith who saw the need for a fort to be built at a place the English called Point Comfort for the purpose of providing Jamestown from a number of approaches. A year later, the construction of Fort Algernourne was complete. Throughout the colonial period, many Point Comfort was the site of the establishment of a number of short-lived fortifications.
After the American Revolution, the new nation of the Unites States emerges, but not without challenges. The first of these came from Great Britain and is often referred to as the Second War for Independence, better known as the War of 1812. It was during this conflict that the young nation recognized a simple fact. The nation, though young, was relying on a system of defense that proved to not be quite up to the job. Americans saw the British march on their new capital and set fire to important and precious government property and symbols such as the Presidential Mansion (later known as The White House), the Library of Congress, and even the Capitol Building. It was through this adversity that the fledgling nation was brought to the reality of the need for upgrading the coastal defense system of the country. The first and largest step toward this upgrade was the construction of a new fort at Point Comfort. The new fort would be named Fort Monroe.
The new fortification’s purpose was to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads along with a number of cities which housed ports along the waterway. Fort Monroe was not only a point of comfort, it was now a point impressive power. Fort Monroe housed an artillery that was proud of its 32-pound guns. These guns were capable of a range of over one mile, a distance that would be needed to protect the main shipping channel into the Hampton Roads area.
Fort Monroe was not just use as a defensive post, in 1824, the fort took on a new role when it was chosen as the site for the Army’s Artillery School of Practice.
The Union reinforced Fort Monroe during the Civil War to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, southern hands, the same hands that controlled Virginia. Fort Monroe played a role in several Civil War military campaigns: Battle of Big Bethel (June 1861), McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign (1862) and the siege of Suffolk (1863). It was at Fort Monroe that the Army of the James was formed in 1864. Confederate slaves saw the fort in a different light. If they could run away and make it to Fort Monroe, they could find asylum and would not be returned to bondage. After the Civil War ended, Fort Monroe became the walls that imprisoned former Confederate President Jefferson Davis for two years.
As new technology was invented and developed, upgrades continued to be made at the fort. It became the site of a number of sub installations around Hampton Roads. The fort was said to have been the most heavily defended in the U.S. As World War II exploded into history, Fort Monroe’s fire power was once again given a boost up. The artillery at the fort ranged from 3-inch rapid fire guns to the big boys, 16-inch guns that were capable of firing one ton projectile and send it flying 25 miles through the air. With Fort Monroe, the U.S. Army was able to establish and control submarine barriers. The area was strewn with underwater mine fields.
Following World War II, the fort’s operational armament was removed. However, it still served a useful purpose as it became the headquarters for training of troops.
After a series of legal maneuvers by Congress, the fort was finally closed. On November 1, 2011, Fort Monroe President Barack Obama took action making Fort Monroe a National Park and Monument.