Fort Washington Park

Location: Fort Washington, Maryland

Webpage: National Park

General Description: In an attempt to protect the river approach to Washington D.C. along the Potomac River and the upper reaches of Chesapeake Bay, Fort Warburton was completed in 1809.  However, the fort was easily bypassed overland when the British burned Washington D.C. in 1814 the fort was destroyed by its own garrison to keep it out of British hands.  A new fort was started immediately following the War of 1812 and a new fort, Fort Washington, was finally completed in 1824 with extensive remodeling in 1840s.  This masonry fort was the only protection for Washington D.C. until the Civil War when a ring of temporary earthen forts were constructed and manned around the city.  By this time masonry forts were highly vulnerable to the rifled cannons of the time and much simpler earthen forts were more effective.  Besides Fort Washington was too far from Washington D.C. to adequately protect the city leading to the construction of Fort Foote closer to the city. Between 1873 and 1875, four 15-inch Rodman guns and magazines were added to the fort, however funds were withdrawn and the fort was abandoned until 1891 when a new defense system, the Endicott System, with rifled steel disappearing guns were installed.  Battery Decatur was completed in 1896, eventually consisting of eight batteries at Fort Washington and four at Fort Hunt.  During World War I, the fort was used as a staging area for troops transporting to France.  In 1939 it was abandoned and was to be the location of a bridge across the Potomac River.  However, in 1941 it was returned to the Army and used as the U.S. Army Adjutant General Training School until the end of World War II.  In 1946 it was turned over to the Department of the Interior and administered as a part of the National Park System.  Today the remains of the fort can be explored with interpretive signs to provide information about the changes made to the fort over time.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) Thankfully, the Endicott system of concrete batteries were added outside the original footprint of Fort Washington, unlike many other coastal forts that have these concrete structures in the middle of the masonry fort.

BatteryDecatur

2) The Visitor Center at Fort Washington was closed for rennovations when we were there, so they moved a few items to the officers barracks inside the fort.

VisitorCenter OfficerBarracks

3) There are a number of interesting features at the fort that are different then other coastal forts.  The bastions on the corners are actually built down along the front of the bluff, instead of extending up.  Therefore, the parade ground in the center of the fort is actually the top of the fort with masonry walls built to protect it.  The guns would be placed below you.  This also means the top floors of the barracks were exposed to enemy fire from the river.

Bastion

4) Counter scarps were constructed on only two sides of the fort with a water battery down at the level of the river.  This meant the landward side of the fort was protected by only the slope of the scarp.  Part of the modifications made in the 1840s was to build a projected point at the center of the back wall where they would mount howitzers to protect in both directions along the back scarp.

5) The water battery along the river is a combination of all three phases of the fort from the original colonial period cannons with a fire furnace to heat the cannonballs, the large Rodman cannon of the Civil War era, and concrete battery of the Endicott system.

WaterBattery

6) There is also a small lighthouse at the base of the fort.

7) The fort is only part of the Fort Washington Park, with the rest of the park being much needed green space for outdoor recreation.

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