A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Fort C.F. Smith
I went to Fort C.F. Smith the same day I did Fort Ward. It was such a nice day, and it was near the library, so I stopped over. I really wanted to get some more of the sunshine.
First up, this Civil War fort is hard to find. For some reason, the state or county inexplicably has a sign that points to a right turn, and then no signs indicating where to turn again unless you coming from the opposite direction.
The fort is smack in the middle of a suburban area, so it’s on a shady little street. Without the sign, I wouldn’t know this had once been a Civil War fort. It’s a basic park. Green grass, trees.
So here’s the handy dandy map of what it used to look like. Farmland was used to build the fort in 1863. This was one of three forts that protected the Aqueduct bridge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Fort C.F. Smith was named after General Charles Ferguson Smith. He was commandant of the the U.S. Military Academy while Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were there.
It was a lunette fort, which was apparently pretty unusual. I had to look the word up to see what it meant. It’s a fort that that has two faces. This fort’s two faces are on the southern and western side.
The fort came with:
- Barracks (got to have some places for the soldiers to stay)
- Mess hall (that’s the place the soldiers eat)
- Officer’s quarters (that would have been a little fancier than the barracks)
- Barn (probably for horses)
- Headquarters building (where the officers did their planning)
This was one of the entrances to the park. It’s not the entrance to the fort.
Off for a bit of walking.
This is the original entrance to the fort. Can’t really tell much looking at it. in the upper left third of the photo, there’s a post sticking out of the ground. That marks the entrance. It’s just a numbered post–if you visit this park, download the brochure before you go or you will have no context whatsoever.
There was a bench here so I sat down and looked at the flowers. This is a meadow as it might have looked to the farmers of the time. You can’t see it in the photo, but there were little yellow butterflies bouncing above the flowers.
As I sat here, I could hear the freeway on the other side of the meadow. The roar of jets drowned out the thrilling of the birds. The park was under the flight path of Ronald Reagan Airport.
This was one of the cannons. There were supposed to be eight, but it looked like the others had been removed. The hill was a ramp to help move the equipment around. Artillery is heavy! During Desert Storm, we hauled shells for artillery to the front line and the trucks were always running on fumes because of the loads.
The land was turned back over to the original owners after the fort was decommissioned and they used this well for their water. I’m from Southern California, so I’ve never seen a well in person. How I would picture it is those illustrated drawings that make them look rickety. This was about 30 inches high (measuring by where it hit me on my legs), and the top was sealed up.
Can you imagine lowering a bucket with it’s own weight into that well, then getting filled with water, and hauling it back up? Takes some serious muscle!
As you can see, there’s not a lot left here. Why wasn’t more preserved?
The answer is the military. The buildings were removed when the fort was decommissioned in 1865. We’re lucky to have this much preservation because it could have disappeared as the world changed.
More of the story about this fort is on the park website.