For at least 400 years, the point of land that now includes Fort Monroe has served as the key defensive site at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Beginning with Native Americans' use years before the settling of Jamestown to its most recent mission as the US Army’s Headquarters for Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe has influenced all aspects of our nation’s history, and has been making history for 400 years.
Completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was originally designed to protect the Hampton Roads waterway from an enemy attack. Within the fort is the Casemate Museum, which chronicles the military history of Fort Monroe from the construction of Fort Algernourne, the first defensive fortification at the site in 1609, through the last major command to be headquartered at Fort Monroe, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
The museum also features the room where Jefferson Davis was held briefly as prisoner following the American Civil War.
More importantly, the museum highlights the 1861 “Contraband of War” decision that granted three enslaved men, and the thousands who followed, sanctuary at Fort Monroe, earning it the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.”
From 1861-1865, most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America; however Fort Monroe remained a Union stronghold throughout the war. During that time, the fort became the birthplace of the Civil War-era freedom movement when three enslaved men escaped the Confederate Army at Sewells Point and fled in a small boat to Fort Monroe. Union commander General Benjamin Butler refused to return the slaves calling them “contraband of war.” General Butler’s contraband policies led to the Emancipation Proclamation and earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress” or the “Freedom Fort.”
In essence, the museum notes that slavery in the United States both began and ended on Point Comfort, making this an important stop for those seeking to understand black history. Former President Barak Obama designated Fort Monroe a National Historic Monument to recognize the importance of this site.
You also get a sense of what life was like living on an US Army installation. Exhibits also focus on both girls and boys scouting groups on the fort, what living quarters in the casemate would have looked like, and more. It's a great introduction to Fort Monroe.
The Casemate Museum explains what Abraham Lincoln, Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis and Edgar Allen Poe have in common, but you'll have to visit Fort Monroe to find that out!
Getting there: 20 Bernard Road, Fort Monroe, VA
Hours: Open daily 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. from May - September; Tuesday - Sunday from October-April. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.