A Writer/Veteran Looks at History: Fort Ward, Virginia

I’ve been disturbed at the attempts I’m seeing to destroy history.  In Baltimore, there’s talk of removing statues.  Remove history and you take away who we are.  Since Virginia has a whole lot of historical sites, I thought I would visit them and talk about them.

First up is Fort Ward, which is in Alexandria, Virginia.  I like places where I can walk the area and try to picture what it was like for the people who were there.  Plus I get some good walking in.  The weather was nice and sunny, so it was pretty fun checking everything out.

This was a Union fort during the Civil War.   Today, it’s a park where you can walk around with your dog or even have a picnic.  The buzz of cicadas do battle with the sounds of cars racing by just outside the park.  It’s like an island in the middle of busy.

Fort Ward was an earthen fort built to defend Washington DC during the Civil War, though it never actually saw an action.  Construction was completed in September 1861.

This is a picture of the original design.

A diagram of the 5 pointed star shape of Fort Ward.

Time’s now worn down the earthen walls, and it’s hard to picture.  But this design was so that on the star’s points, soldiers could catching approaching enemy in the crossfire.  Very old military technology.

Gated entrance to Fort Ward
Starting at the entrance to the fort.  You can see what a nice day it was out–that sky is a pretty blue and clear.  Warm, but not muggy.

This gate was the only entrance to the fort.  The fort was surrounded by a dry moat.  I can imagine this being a guard post with two Union soldiers on duty, watching for arriving visitors.

Dry moat surrounding Fort Ward.

This is where I start imaging what the soldiers did.  This is the dry moat.  The picture doesn’t show the height really well, but it’s actually pretty steep.

Imagine running up to this berm and dropping down against it, your muzzle loader rifle at the ready and the enemy coming on the other side.  The berm would stop any bullets headed your way (hopefully), but you would still have to stick part of your body up over the berm to fire back, making yourself a target.

Rear view of Fort Ward

I wander on and come up to the fort itself.  This is from the rear view, from inside, so it’s what the Union soldiers themselves would have seen.  That white wall has a shelf in front of it for guard duty.

I get up and walk along it and this is what I see:

What I might see on guard duty from Fort Ward. All grass and bushes now.

And I stop here and think about being a soldier on guard duty.  It’s cold out, because whenever I was on guard duty, it was always cold!

And I’m scared because I don’t know what’s coming, except that I know that my enemy might be coming over that next hill to kill me.

War is both very personal and very impersonal.

Defensive position with cannons at Fort Ward.

Back down the stairs to check out what we in the military calls the “defensive position.”  This position was set up to defend Little River Turnpike (which turns into Duke Street) and Leesburg Pike (which turns into King Street,  Obviously named after General Lee).  All those streets are still here, but it’s hard picturing how it must have looked in 1861.

Time to get closer.


This is one of the bigger cannons.  War then was definitely not for short people!  I can barely see over the cannon to where the enemy is coming.

So I try a smaller cannon.

Following a cannon's line of fire.

Cannon fire is very loud.  I was on Fort Lewis, walking on the sidewalk across the street from the parade field.  Someone was test-firing the cannon.


I jumped and was going, “What the heck?”

I’d been in front of the cannon, so it was much noisier.  If you ever go to a cannon demonstration, make sure you are on the side you see in the photos above.

The door to Magazine No3

This was where the ammunition was packed with black powder.  It was very hazardous duty.  Then the military didn’t have the safeguards to protect the soldiers, so people often got killed.

Door labeled "Filling Room No5"

And this is where the ammunition is stored.  Also not a particularly safe place to be.

The front of Fort Ward, though bushes

Then I walk around to the front of Fort Ward.  If this fort had seen action, this is the view the approaching Confederates would have had.

More of the fort is visible at winter when the plants die off, so I can’t see much now.  But there’s that trench I’d have to cross if I were on the Confederate side, with cannons pointed down on me and probably soldiers with muzzle loaders.  Look on the left for a cannon poking out.

The last part of my trip I don’t have any pictures for, because there’s nothing left other than the story.  After the war ended, the African Americans who had been freed established what became known as “The Fort” around the remains of Fort Ward.  It was their home and a place where they raised their families.  They emphasized faith, education and moral codes.

As the Civil Rights Era kicked off, they were displaced by time.  All that’s left is a sign and a graveyard of a church in the area.  But some of the new generations still live in the area, and the street names mark the location (Seminary Road).

Here’s the link to the Fort Ward site.

I’m thinking of hitting Leesylvania Park next (you guessed it–named after General Lee, who lived in Virginia).  It’s a pretty area, a bit of challenging walk, and some interesting history that involves–of all things–gambling!

What do you think?  Is there anything you want me to wander off and check out (safety permitting)?




Summertime Legacy: The Bathing Cap

It always found it strange when I hear that someone never learned how to swim.  That was a statement I heard often in the military, particularly from people in the Southern states like Georgia.  How can you grow up and never experience a swimming pool?!

Swimming … and going off the high dive is kind of like a kid’s rite of passage.

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, though the actual date isn’t until June 20.  Washington DC is normally sweltering by now, but we had an arctic front come in.  It was in the 40s!  We were all lamenting that our heat was off.

But no fear, it’ll be 90 later this week.

When I grew in Los Angeles, the end of school for the summer, signaled days over at the local city pool.  In the very early days, they still required a rubberized bathing cap for girls.  Those were god-awful things.  Try getting a close-fitting cap over your head while it pulled your hair.

Or worse!  Getting the thing off without taking out a clump of hair.  They never kept my hair dry, so it was ‘what was the point?’

But the worse thing about them was that the pool authorities only required girls to wear the bathing caps.   Everyone always it was so the long hair didn’t clog the drain, but it was only applied to the girls and not the boys.  My brother hated getting his haircut so he let his hair grow out long enough to mistaken for a girl from the back, but he was not required to wear the bathing cap.

One of those things disguised as fashion, but seemed to single out girls.

They did disappear after a few years, because it was on the tail end of the trend.  Now the caps are more fashionable for professional swimmers.  Men and women wear them for an extra bit of speed in the pool.

Still don’t look very comfortable.


Arlington County Fair

Today, I checked out the Arlington County Fair, and there was some interesting sightings along the way …

A cardboard poster of a blond guy advertising yard sale

The yard sale folks put this out to catch the eye of all the people walking to the fair.  Yard sale wasn’t much by the time I got there, but the sign was eye catching.  I wasn’t the only one taking a picture.

Blue and green dragon carnival ride

There be dragons, and they are my favorite color.

A pink pig with wings on the roof of a building

When pigs fly …


A person in a pig costume in a golf cart

Or when pigs drive …

Spiderman stands next to Camaro decked out in spiders

Spiderman’s got a hot Camaro.

The shiny chrome engine interior of the Spiderman car, decorated with black widows

Checking out the inside of the Camaro.  Awesome.

Medium shot of Linda Adams

And a shot of me on the way back.  It was a hot day out!


Hot Time in DC

We’ve had a bad heat wave in the Washington, DC area these last few days.  With our heat comes humidity, especially this time of the year.  The humidity is up around 71%, so our 96 degrees heads up to around 110 degrees.

So I thought I’d hit the pool instead of normal exercise—it’s hard doing anything even in air conditioning. 

The pool is outdoors, unheated.  Usually on the cold side.

It was like being in a warm bath.

No fair!

A Little Pool Action

We’re going for record-breaking temperatures in Washington, DC today and tomorrow.  According to the news, the humidity is up in the tropical category, so it’s just clogging the air.  Definitely a day for a little pool action:

Unusual Sighting at the Farmer’s Market

I walked down to the Farmer’s Market this morning, which I do every week.  It’s a small farmer’s market with about six or seven vendors.  During the spring and summer, there are a lot of people, and many of them bring their dogs.

So I did a double-take for a woman walking a black animal that, on a quick glance, was a medium-sized dog.

It was a pig!

He was on a leash, with a typical dog halter.  Thirty-eight pounds.  His nose was constantly working, sniffing the air.  Food!  Food!  Mine!  Mine!

As I made my rounds through the vendors, even the vendors were wanting to check out the pig.  People were departing vendors saying, “Okay, I have to see this pig.”

He was enjoying being the star of the show!


U.S.S. Enterprise Sighting

I never expected that I would one day be able to see the Enterprise miniature from Star Trek up close.  I first saw Star Trek back in 1976, when it aired on KTLA on weekends.  I was instantly hooked.

But the rest of the world was like “Why?!!  Really?!!” A schoolmate kept sneering at me and telling me that Little Rascals was so much better (they were airing at the time on KTLA, too.  I never thought much of them).

Every time the subject came up, my guitar teacher would say that her son had worked on the set and informed me how fake the set had looked.  Translation:  The show is so fake.  Why are you wasting time with it?

I doubt if she’d seen it at all.

In fact, in watching the cleaned up episodes, I’m amazed at how well it does look.  Especially considering the budget limitations they had.

Today, I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to check out the miniature, which went on display Tuesday.  The model does not look fake or cheesy in person.   It looks like it could be a real ship.

Well, if you look at only one side.  The cameras only filmed one side of the ship; the other side doesn’t have any details, and wires are sticking out.

Pictures, pictures, pictures:


Front view of enterprise
Warp Six!


Side view of Enterprise
Isn’t that detailing amazing?


Enterprise--side without markings
The unmarked side. In the lower corner is a red dome. That’s the original nacelle, which is made out of wood. It was replaced so the curators could light up the ship


And while I was there, I had a space buddy watching my back.

Me with an astronaut behind me


Summer Dogs

This is a wonderfully fun video of dogs and water.  Of course, it’s another story when it comes to bath time …

The case of the watermelon

Nothing says summer like seeing the first of those wedges of watermelon come out at the grocery store.  That beautiful red fruit, dripping with juice.  Yum!

I always like to buy one of those quarter wedges.  It’s a huge piece of fruit, and a quarter wedge is about the right size so I can eat it before it goes bad.

This year, the grocery store I normally shop at is not offering wedges.  They have the cut up water melon in the containers, which goes for something $5-$8 each, and some packaged pieces cut off, which is about a cup of watermelon.  Also expensive.

So I went to store two, and they were just like store one.

Store three had the wedges.

Grocery stores, this just starts to feel like you’re ripping off the customer under the guise of “convenience.”

Snuffled by a Dragon and Other Summer Activities

So far, most of my summer has been marked by the high humidity of Washington, DC, and the accompanying thunderstorms. It’s like the air gets so full of humidity that it has to pour rain. We had a monster thunderstorm come through on the heels of Hurricane Bill and there was something like ten tornado warnings all around. One actually touched down in Triangle.

Summer has always represented fun and adventure for me because the weather’s so good. At least aside from the thunderstorms, but frankly, it’s not fun to go to a Civil War demonstration when the wind chill is in the single digits.

One of my first trips was to the Dulles Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. That’s an awesome place! I did a fair amount of walking because it houses planes and jets. One of the surprises was the SR-70, the Blackbird. That was a spy plane the U.S. used for a long time, but has since been retired.

But it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it.

The last time was in the 1970s, also in the summer time. My father worked at Lockheed then, and they held an organization day in Palm Springs, California. The Blackbird was on display for us to look at. I remember there was an armed guard standing in front of it, arms folded across is chest, to make sure no one else got near it.

I also remember thinking that the plane we’d heard about in the news seemed kind of small. Then I got to the Air and Space Museum, and it’s this gigantic, magnificent plane. I don’t know – maybe the one I saw was a smaller model.

After that, it was the space shuttle Columbia. I’ve seen the Endeavor in Los Angeles. There they allowed you to actually walk under it. Air and Space did not allow that. The Columbia itself was “used” – you know how film always makes spaceships like look the future is clean and perfect. I could see the impact of traveling through space had on the tiles.

Then there’s the dragon of the aforementioned title.

We had family day at work. It had the usual stuff for kids, bouncy things, water slides, pony rides, and paddle boats. Gigantor turtle (a foot long turtle) made a brief appearance, then leisurely dove back into the pond. A few of the other surfaced, but most stayed away from all these people.

We had a number of demonstrations, including dances from Mexicans and Indians, as well as a Chinese Dragon. The dragon consisted of two men wearing the dragon costume. The costume was red, probably nylon, with rows of nylon hair, and bells.

The men were pretty good. Both had to work in coordination to the music, and the back end man probably couldn’t see much.

During the dragon’s dance, it moved around the crowd, sometimes approaching the people in the audience. Some where like, “Ew! What is this?” I was laughing and enjoying the dance, so the dragon came over and snuffled up my side. The costume was a bit scratchy, but it was fun.