Collections at Fort Ward Museum

Fort Ward Museum features a collection of over 2,000 objects from the Civil War period, primarily of Union origin, in conjunction with the Federal history of the site. Also included are a smaller number of Confederate objects, most pertaining to the war in Virginia, and items which interpret life in the South during wartime.

Page updated on Jul 17, 2020 at 11:47 AM

Ellsworth commemorative pitcherAbout the Collections

The permanent collection is diverse, with holdings that include: military equipment related to the infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy; edged and shoulder weapons; flags; musical instruments; medical equipment; uniforms and clothing accessories; cooking and mess equipment; artwork, primarily period prints of both Union and Confederate significance; documents; photographs; and artifacts excavated at Fort Ward.

A glimpse into the Fort Ward collection reveals many treasures that create a profile of Civil War army life, among them a Sibley stove, a medical field pannier manufactured by the Squibb Company, an over-the-shoulder saxhorn, a silk flag belonging to Gen. John Logan, and a uniform jacket and accessories worn by a soldier in the 9th New York "Hawkins" Zouaves. 

Below are a few collection highlights.

Artillery Objects

A broad scope of artillery objects, including a well-rounded collection of projectiles and aiming/firing tools and equipment. Some of these objects were featured in Time-Life’s multi-volume series, The Civil War, Vol. 15 -- The Struggle for Tennessee, pp. 136-141.
Colonel Ellsworth's kepi

Union Occupation of Alexandria

Objects related to the Union occupation of Alexandria. These include a rare proclamation, dated May 26, 1861, declaring martial law in the city, and a number of items pertaining to the death of Union hero Col. Elmer Ellsworth at the Marshall House Hotel during the Federal occupation of Alexandria. Of special interest is a section of the Confederate flag that Ellsworth removed from the roof of the Marshall House prior to being killed by innkeeper James Jackson, a secessionist resident of Alexandria.

Col. Elmer Ellsworth and the Marshall House Incident

Defenses of Washington 1862 Map

Objects with significance to the Defenses of Washington. Among these are a 1862 topographical map of the defense system by the engineer E. G. Arnold, and a large wartime pencil drawing of Fort Albany, located in nearby Arlington, Virginia, by the soldier-artist William Lydston. This panoramic scene features landmarks in the surrounding Virginia and D.C. area that were labeled by the artist.


Hale Rocket Launcher Hale Rocket Launcher

A Hale Rocket Launcher, one of only three known to exist in the U.S., designed to fire a Hale war rocket. Invented by William Hale in the 1840s and improved during the 1850s, this projectile was the chief rocket used in the Civil War. It was most extensively employed during the Federal bombardment of Charleston, South Carolina in 1864.

Library Collection

The Dorothy C.S. Starr Research Library at Fort Ward comprises over 2,000 books, periodicals and archival materials on general Civil War history and the Defenses of Washington. The library contains the complete reference series, The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Other important resources include photographs, largely from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, of general war subjects and scenes from the Defenses of Washington. Of special note is a collection of research material which was donated by the authors of several books on the historic defense system. The library has few regimental histories and does not contain military service records.

The Library is open to the public for on-site research, by appointment. Please call the Museum prior to your visit to make sure that the Library is not temporarily closed due to a special program or meeting. Written requests will be answered on a case by case basis, although the small staff is not able to conduct extensive reference searches. Direct inquiries to the Director, Fort Ward Museum.

Share the Past with Us

Some of Fort Ward’s most prized collection objects and important reference discoveries on the Defenses of Washington and wartime Alexandria have been provided by interested public patrons. The Museum staff is always seeking new information and objects to help expand knowledge and interpretation of this historic defense system and Civil War Alexandria. This includes photographs taken in the Defenses, as well as letters, diaries, and military records pertaining to soldiers stationed in Alexandria and the District of Columbia forts, and civilians residing in the area. If you have historical material to share, please contact Fort Ward Museum. Photocopied materials for the Library reference collection on the Defenses of Washington are appreciated, and may be forwarded to the Museum..

Fort Ward Museum also welcomes donations of original objects and documents related to the Defenses of Washington for inclusion in its permanent collection. If you are interested in donating original materials to the Museum, please contact the Director. 


Researchers who are interested in examining a collection object for historical study must submit a written request to the Museum Director. If the request is approved, an appointment must be scheduled. Researchers will be attended by Museum staff when examining collection objects. Address inquiries to the Director, Fort Ward Museum. 

Collections Policies

Like all professional museums, Fort Ward Museum abides by a Collections Policy in acquiring and caring for collections. The Historic Alexandria Museums worked together to create a set of collections policies that define the scope of each museum’s collections and set policies for caring for them in accordance with the special needs of each collection.

The following is excerpted from the Museum's Collections Policy. For more information, contact the Museum.

Collection Goals: Fort Ward Museum collects historic artifacts and information dating 1860-1870 that are relevant to the history of the American Civil War, the Defenses of Washington and Fort Ward, and the City of Alexandria. Emphasis is placed on acquiring objects of Union provenance to better interpret the historic site. The scope of the collection is based upon objects of general Civil War historical value, with a secondary concentration on acquiring objects of local significance. Major categories of the permanent collection include: arms and equipment related to the artillery, infantry, cavalry and navy; uniforms and clothing accessories; artwork, rare documents and photographs; medical instruments; mess equipment; and musical instruments.

Acquisition: Objects accessioned into the permanent collection by means of gift, bequest or purchase. Clear title to the object is held by the Museum. 

Adequate provenance of the object must be established for it to be accepted into the permanent collection. If satisfactory provenance is not provided by the donor, the Director may take the object into temporary custody to determine the object’s relevance to the collection. If satisfactory provenance is not established, or the object is not found to be compatible with the Museum’s collection policy, the Director will not accept the object into the permanent collection. 

The donor must have clear title to the object, and convey this title and all rights of ownership to the Museum without restrictions.