“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Belle View near Alexandria in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Defenses of Washington

Fort Willard Park

Defenses of Washington Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), August 9, 2020
1. Defenses of Washington Marker
Inscription.  After Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861 the District of Columbia was on the dangerous border between the divided states. Because of the city’s importance, the Union Army immediately occupied Northern Virginia, which allowed troops to protect the city’s bridges and the Aqueduct, the city’s primary water source.

After Alexandria was seized in May 1861 orders were issued to begin construction on Forts Corcoran, Haggerty, Bennett, Runyon, and Ellsworth surrounding the city. After the Confederate Army’s victory at the Battle of Manassas in July 1861, concern for the safety of the District of Columbia and Alexandria prompted plans for a complete fortification system for Washington.

Major General George B. McClellan placed Major John Gross Barnard, Corps of Engineers, in charge of the construction of defenses for Washington. By the end of 1861, Barnard and his engineers had worked together with soldiers and civilians to complete 48 forts surrounding the city.

As the war progressed, military strategists recommended additional forts to be built to fill in gaps in the defensive system. The construction of Forts Whipple,
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Berry, C.F. Smith, and the redoubts to Fort Lyon provided the supportive strength needed for the capital’s defense. There were 60 forts and 93 batteries protecting the city at the end of 1863.

At the end of the war in 1865, there were 68 forts surrounding the District of Columbia, connected with a system of batteries, rifle pits, batteries, blockhouses, and military roads. On June 23, 1865 orders were issued from the Department of Washington Headquarters to dismantle all but 17 forts, redoubts, and batteries that constituted the Defenses of Washington. All the forts were dismantled and the land was returned to the prior owners.

General Barnard described the Defenses of Washington as a: “connected system of fortifications by which every prominent point, at intervals of 800 to 1,000 yards, was occupied by an enclosed field-fort, every important approach or depression of ground, unseen from the forts, swept by a battery for field-guns, and the whole connected by rifle-trenches which were in fact lines of infantry parapet, furnishing emplacement for two ranks of men and affording covered communication along the line, while roads were opened wherever necessary, so that troops and artillery could be moved rapidly from one point of the immense periphery to another, or under cover, from point to point along the line.”
Erected by
Defenses of Washington Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), August 9, 2020
2. Defenses of Washington Marker
Fairfax County Park Authority.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the Defenses of Washington series list. A significant historical date for this entry is April 17, 1861.
Location. 38° 46.978′ N, 77° 3.956′ W. Marker is near Alexandria, Virginia, in Fairfax County. It is in Belle View. Marker can be reached from Fort Willard Circle. The marker is located at the Fort Willard Historical Site which is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 6625 Fort Willard Circle, Alexandria VA 22307, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Fort Willard (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Fort Willard (here, next to this marker); Belle Haven Park (approx. 0.2 miles away); Mount Eagle Mansion (approx. 0.6 miles away); Parapet and Gun Platforms (approx. 0.6 miles away); These Trees (approx. 0.7 miles away); a different marker also named Defenses of Washington (approx. 0.7 miles away); Historic Jones Point (approx. 0.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Alexandria.
More about this marker. On the upper right of the marker is a photo captioned Portrait of Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard, officer of the Federal Army. Library of Congress,
Defenses of Washington Marker image. Click for full size.
October 8, 2011
3. Defenses of Washington Marker
The left of two historical markers at the Fort Willard Park plaza.
Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-cwpb-05400 DLC]
and a map captioned Map of American Civil War defenses of Washington, D.C. in 1865. US Government document, War Department (1865).Map by Engineer Bureau, War Department, Via Library of Congress Department of Maps.
Also see . . .
1. Fort Willard. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Submitted on October 8, 2011.) 

2. John G. Barnard. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Submitted on October 8, 2011.) 

3. John Gross Barnard. National Park Service (Submitted on October 8, 2011.) 
Fort Willard Earthworks image. Click for full size.
October 8, 2011
4. Fort Willard Earthworks
Portrait of Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard image. Click for full size.
5. Portrait of Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard
Library of Congress
Credits. This page was last revised on January 27, 2023. It was originally submitted on October 8, 2011. This page has been viewed 969 times since then and 63 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on August 9, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.   3, 4, 5. submitted on October 8, 2011. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.

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Dec. 4, 2023