Touring Fort Ward
Tour the Museum first to obtain background historical information on the Defenses of Washington and Fort Ward, and then take the self-guided tour of the historic site.
Group and Self-Guided Tours
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.
Touring the Historic Fort
The historic fort provides visitors with an excellent understanding of Civil War-era military engineering. About 90% of the fort's earthwork walls are preserved and the Northwest Bastion has been restored and reconstructed to its original condition.
Self-guided tours begin at the reconstructed Fort Ward entrance gate. This structure, decorated with cannonballs and the castle symbol of the Army Corps of Engineers and based on a period engineer plan, stands on its original site. To the right and left of the gate, the fort's extant earthen walls are visible. Visitors proceed through the gate into the fort. Among the fort's preserved elements are two long earthen mounds that represent the remains of the underground bombproof shelters, several preserved bastions, the defensive ditch which surrounded the fort and the reconstructed Northwest Bastion.
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.
The Northwest Bastion is the focal point of the historic site. A viewing platform allows visitors to see the Bastion's restored exterior walls, which rise to a height of almost 20 feet. The interior of the Bastion features wooden pole revetment, six gun platforms with ordnance pertaining to this section of the fort, banquette ledges where infantry troops would perform guard duty and station themselves for battle, and entrances to the magazine and filling room. Informative signage describes the Bastion's guns and the practice of firing a cannon. 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.
- Parts of the Fort
- Glossary of Military Terms
The Officer's Hut
The reconstructed Officers' Hut is based on a period photograph of a living quarters at Fort Ward. It is located adjacent to the Museum, on a site behind the fort where barracks and other support buildings were built. Visitors view the interior display through the small building's windows. Interpretive signage near the hut provides information on the building and its purpose. The hut is largely furnished with reproduction military and personal objects which illustrate an officer's lifestyle in the Defenses of Washington. Among the objects used to create this period setting are an officer's cot, articles of clothing, grooming accessories, food and mess equipment, and an officer's folding table, chair and field desk displayed with replica military documents. The hut interior is changed periodically to reflect different aspects of camp life such as playing cards, writing letters and military reports or receiving a Christmas box from home.
Designed in the same board and batten style as the Museum building, the Officers' Hut can be documented as having stood at Fort Ward. In 1863, a quarters of this kind was assigned to Captain Rockwood of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Typically, two huts were constructed side by side to share a common chimney.
Touring the Museum
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. No documentation has been found to indicate that such a building stood at Fort Ward; however, structures of this type were commonly used at other forts in the Defenses of Washington.
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.
12-minute video entitled Fort Ward and the Defenses of Washington: Silent Guardians of the Capital City may be viewed on the main exhibit floor. The video features period photographs and illustrations, footage of the historic fort and commentary by the authors of Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington.
Bastions of Freedom and other historic site and exhibit brochures are available at the Museum.
The Museum shop offers books, postcards. ornaments and reproduction items for sale. Some items are also available online, from The Alexandria Shop.