Touring Fort Ward
School groups, senior citizens groups and others may request guided tours of the fort and Museum by advance reservation. Also available by appointment is a “Meet and Greet” consisting of a 10-minute introduction/orientation by Museum staff is followed by a self-guided walking tour.
Visit the Fort and the Museum on your own. Learn more below.
On a tour of the fort you can see the Ceremonial Entrance Gate, decorated with cannonballs and the castle symbol of the Army Engineers, the reconstructed wooden Officers’ Hut, a small quarters where high-ranking soldiers lived, and the underground bombproofs which were built to shelter 500 men each in case of attack. Infantry and artillery troops marched and drilled in the parade area, the open space in the center of the fort. The men who built and defended the fort were from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and other northern states. After duty in the Defenses of Washington, many were sent to serve in southern campaigns where the conditions of army life were considerably harsher than in the forts and camps around Washington.
Visit the restored Northwest Bastion complete with cannon, powder magazine and ammunition filling room. Here you get the best sense of what the fort was like during the Civil War. When you look at the earthen walls of the fort and the outside ditch area, you can imagine how much effort and labor were required to construct the dense dirt walls. The Northwest Bastion area of the fort faces north toward Washington across the Potomac River and west toward the Shenandoah Valley.
When you leave the Northwest Bastion walk towards the adjacent North Bastion and look for the interpretive marker which notes where a connecting rifle trench was used to move troops to neighboring forts and batteries, especially in case of attack. After you tour the historic fort area be sure to take a walk around the 45 acres of park and picnic areas which surround the historic site.
Fort Ward Museum, erected in the 1960s, was patterned after wooden, board and batten style military structures built in the camps and forts around Washington during the Civil War. Note the white, curved trim on the two-story building called gingerbread, a popular feature used on Victorian houses during the 1800s. Inside the Museum you will see many original Civil War period objects which curators and other staff care for, conserve and display. Among the objects on view are uniforms, diaries and letters belonging to Union soldiers, weapons and military equipment, surgeons’ tools, musical instruments, and photographs. These authentic objects and images are displayed in thematic exhibits on topics such as medical care, the artillery, and the common soldier. When in the Museum, be sure to stop at the three-dimensional model of Fort Ward to see a small scale version of how the site looked during the Civil War. Also see the large map which outlines the extensive ring of forts comprising the Defenses of Washington. An orientation video provides an excellent overview of the history of Fort Ward, the best preserved of all the Civil War forts around Washington, and the wartime defense of the Union capital. Historic site and exhibit brochures are available at the Museum. The Museum shop offers books, postcards and reproduction items for sale. Some items are also available online, from The Alexandria Shop.