Historic Tour of the Defenses of Washington DC
One never knows what one will find if you rummage around the United States’ attic…
Driving around the “DMV” – District, Maryland & Virginia – one will often see signs of the US Civil War – National Park Service signs that announce a fort such as Fort Davis or Fort Foote or Fort Totten with little but a few earthworks mounds to see and hardly any sign of what was there over 150 years ago. Yet by the end of the war, there would be 68 forts along with some 90 artillery batteries that would be the defense of the perimeter of the Capital City of Washington DC. Major General John G. Barnard was the engineer who designed most of these fortifications. He is often called the “Father of the Defenses of Washington DC”.
Today, only a few of those fortifications and artillery batteries still exist in more than just those signs and mounds of earth – Fort Stevens in Washington DC and Fort Ward in Alexandria, Virginia are two that have been conserved in entirety or partially to show part of the Defenses of Washington DC.
National Park Service Presents a Tour
It was 1938, the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg during the US Civil War. It was when the Civil War was something fresh in the minds of the people who experienced it, the National Park Service provided a tour of “the Defenses of Washington DC” From that tour here is a twenty page booklet that was provided to those who took the tour. (Be patient – the book may take a bit to load)
The book “Images of America – Fort Myer” contains over 200 historical photographs. They were selected from new research among the archives of America. An autographed / personalized copy is available. Order yours TODAY!
Beginning as Fort Whipple in 1863 as one of the Defenses of Washington, Fort Myer continues today in its original mission of defending Washington DC. Fort Marcy may have a sign on the George Washington Parkway… Fort Stevens has been partially reconstructed and preserved as is Fort Ward. But ONLY Fort Myer continues to defend with the celebrated Oldest Infantry Regiment in the US Army – the 3d — The Old Guard.
The acres have changed much in those century and a half. The drill field where hundreds of horses with mounted riders rode, kicking up dust or where the Wright Flyer flew overhead, the rustic trails where the troopers practiced their saber charge and trenches were dug to train for WW I and later where the Jeep from Bantam Car Company was tested and approved, are gone.
Where Rodney retired and a tribute to the US Army Remount Service was made with the movie “Keep ‘Em Rolling” – The first commercial movie filmed on Fort Myer, including the first instance of “caisson drag racing” on the drill field.
South Post – Fort Myer where during WW II nearly 2000 WACs (Women’s Army Corps) lived and a complement of Soldiers who worked in the newly built Pentagon. Also the site of the “Troop Chapel” dedicated by Chief of Staff George Marshall – and then was duplicated 500 times across the US Army. The Military Police school called South Post home from the beginning.
US Army units that have called Fort Myer home have included numerous Cavalry Regiments – Capped off by the 3d - “Brave Rifles” and squadrons of the 9th and 10th – The “Buffalo Soldiers”. Home to the Signal Corps School where General Albert J Myer continued the use of the acres after the Civil War was over to teach the wig-wag system of signaling as well as the heliograph. The National Weather Service was born and developed on these historic acres with the needs promoting the exploration into aerial flight.
Alexander Graham Bell’s invention saw its first use among the US Army Signal Corps as the first long distance line ran between Fort Myer and their headquarters across the Potomac in Washington.
The mark of Patton … among each of his tours on Fort Myer, General George S. Patton, Jr., he left an imprint that affected the US Army and or the Post, from the Society Circus, to the iconic “Old Post Chapel” – the design borrowed by the US Navy. Patton Hall, known to most as “the O Club” is a standing tribute recognizing his contributions to Fort Myer.
Even the US Navy left an imprint upon the acres when it erected the first radio towers, “The Three Sisters” which enabled communication with the fleet and capability to communicate with Europe and across the United States.
Fort Myer is home to the US Army Band “Pershing’s Own” since the 1940s. The other long time resident unit is the 3d Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”. Together. they form a partnership to perform all the ceremonial duties and events within the National Capital Region – the most honorable among those duties and events is the support for the final honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Whipple, Myer, Patton, Marshall, Pershing are only a few of the names that are among those who over the years set their mark on the Arlington Heights acres.
Happy Birthday Fort Myer!
PS … You too can own an autographed copy of the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” … The First Book About this Historic US Army Post. It contains over 200 “timeless historic photographs” which chronicle the first 100 years of the Post.
It’s coming… the kindle version … the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” is in the queue to be converted and released in the Kindle
version. Arcadia Publishing has sent an alert that it will be available soon. Watch this space for an announcement of its availability. Historic Fort Myer began in 1863 as Fort Whipple, one of the nearly 70 forts that formed the Defenses of Washington. Since the 1940s, it’s been the home of The US Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and the 3d Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard” (named by General Winfield Scott).
For those of you who still prefer a paper copy – especially if you would like an autographed copy – it’s time to head to BUY THE BOOK and select your choice.
In either case, you’ll be presented with over 200 timeless photographs complemented by interpretive text that will capsule the first one hundred years of this US Army Post – 1860s to 1960s. It is the only remaining fort from the Civil War era that is still “ON POINT” – it’s also where the famed Buffalo Soldiers – the 9th and 10th Cavalry had squadrons posted twice. And forgotten ways of transportation – the trolley lines – one which began as a horsecar that came out of Rosslyn , Virginia and ultimately electrified was extended to Nauck area of Arlington County, Virginia.
So whatever version you choose, the kindle version or the regular paper book, you’ll be getting an excellent book that presents such historic events such as: the first military aviation flight, the showcase for the US Cavalry, the little known “Society Circus” – begun during Patton’s second of four postings to Fort Myer, impressive photos of the South Post of Fort Myer, the “Fort Myer and Arlington National Cemetery” connection and most of all the first time published note from Abraham Lincoln which was discovered during the research for the book.
Don’t have a Kindle yet? Here’s where you can get one direct from Amazon…
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It came as a pleasant surprise. In the April 2013 issue of ARMY Magazine, the premier publication of the Association of the US Army, there was a review of “Images of America – Fort Myer.”
Albert J Myer was a medical doctor by training, yet his contributions went far beyond the realm of medicine. He was the first Chief Signal Officer of the US Army. To his credit, he is the reason there is a Fort Myer.
“Images of America – Fort Myer” became a reality on 13 JUN 2011, one day before the US Army’s birthday – very appropriately mind you. As the FIRST BOOK ever about this historic US Army Post with origins back to the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple and part of the nearly 70 forts which surrounded and defended the US Capital – “The Defenses of Washington”. Fort Myer continues that duty uninterrupted until today from the heights of Arlington. What’s on the acres has changed. There’s no more drill field where the thundering hooves of the nearly 1,500 horses carried their Cavalry troopers or pulled their cassions with field artillery. There’s no more trolley line. Instead it’s the home of the elite units of the US Army.
The reason I wrote the book? Besides breaking new ground, which has become my hallmark, especially within the last decade, it needed to be done. This fort has been the site of many events which have molded or changed the world around us, and no one is aware of it and those milestones and contributions, until now. With over two years of research based on a foundation of working and walking among the US military since 2000, the result is over 200 historical photographs which cover from the 1860s to the 1960s. The book also fills a void in the US Army story and as one of those who bought the book said “You set the bar high and you jumped over it.” – a nice critique for a first work.
Thanks to General Albert J. Myer and his visionary initiatives, the fort continued to be used after the War Between the States as the home for the Signal Corps School. It was later General of the Army Philip H. Sheridan upon a petition to the US Congress turned it into a military reservation and showcase for the US Cavalry – The Remount Service begun in 1909 and the Front Royal Depot from 1911 provided Fort Myer with a fresh source of horses to keep the Army moving. The US Army Remount Service also had depots at Fort Keogh in Montana, Fort Reno in Oklahoma and later Fort Robinson in Nebraska which was the largest – 22,000 acres!
THE Key item in the book is a note from Abraham Lincoln which I discovered during my research. Until I found it at the National Archives sandwiched between two photographs, no one, not even the Fort Myer historian knew of its existence. It opens up another branch of the Lincoln Legacy Tree and published for the first time in my book.
Highlights of some of the milestones at Fort Myer include:
- Birthplace of military aviation,
- Birthplace of the National Weather Service,
- Home of the US Army Signal Corps School,
- The JEEP was tested and approved on Fort Myer,
- Home of the US Army Band since 1942,
- Home of The Old Guard since 1948
- Society Circus (which I believe evolved into “Spirit of America”)
The impact that General George S. Patton had with his four tours on Post is amazing. The book helps remember South Post Fort Myer which served strongly as where the WACS and 12th Infantry were located during World War II. South Post also is where the MP School was established and a chapel was built that would be replicated over 500 times across the US Army (many of which are still providing a place of worship for the Soldiers, their family and friends.)
(*The Soldiers of the US Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment who’s dual mission includes defending the Capital and performing the ceremonial work in Arlington National Cemetery and around the Capital region including White House, Pentagon, Andrews AFB, etc.)
The real treat are the over 200 historical photographs which chronicle over time the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post. Many of which have never been seen before or published.
“Preserving the memories so others will remember…” ™
In reading books like “The Civil War” by Buce Catton, one would never know about the Defenses of Washington. Missing from that work are the names of General John Gross Barnard, General Amiel Weeks Whipple and many more who contributed to defending the US Capital.
It was after the first battle of Bull Run or First Manassas, depending on which side of the Mason Dixon line you’re on, that General McClellan surveyed the defenses of Washington and decided that additional fortifications were needed. Even though the Arlington Line – a series of fortifications and batteries located on western side of Washington, DC – were in place, the defeat that the Union troops took got the Union leadership into action.
The result was in some cases a fort was placed as a secondary line of defense – one was Fort Whipple, named for the General who had commanded the defenses of Washington from the Custis-Lee Mansion. His desire to get into the fighting took him to Fredericksburg and later Chancellorsville where he was shot by a sharpshooter while sitting on his horse in May of 1863.
Assessments made from the extensive plans for this fort that overlooked the valley where Washington DC lay, was this was the ideal fort and set the model for ones that would follow. In the book, “Images of America – Fort Myer” the plans for this fortification and other related information is presented as the first 100 years of history of this fort, later named Fort Myer, in honor of the US Army’s first Signal Officer – General Albert J. Myer, is told.
The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the US Civil War. A few days in April of 1861, Fort Sumter had surrendered after continual pounding of artillery on the fortification…
Jefferson Davis had already been inaugurated as President of the Confederacy and slowly the secession of Southern states had begun.
The two river crossings – Aqueduct Bridge and Long Bridge were among the first to have fortifications put in place. By the war’s end, 70 fortifications and 90 artillery batteries would surround Washington, DC. Among those would be Fort Whipple – built in 1863 and named after General Amiel Weeks Whipple, it occupied the high ground at Arlington Heights overlooking the Nation’s Capital. In essence it was the second line of defense, backing up Fort Cass as part of the Arlington Line. Arlington House, also known as the Custis-Lee mansion was the headquarters for all the defenses of Washington during the US Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln would cross the Potomac River to meet here with General Whipple to get briefed on the progress of the actions.
All of the fortifications and batteries are very well located, diplayed and discussed in a book written and recently updated entitled “Mr. Lincoln’s Forts” by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II.
In the book – “Images of America – Fort Myer” you will also find more about this historic time in America and the developments, events, people and views that impacted the US Army, the United States of America and the world.
After the US Civil War, there were about 70 fortifications which surrounded the Nation’s Capital – Washington DC. They were abandoned by the US Army and the land reverted back to the original owners. Except for