Fort Wool
Hampton, Virginia

The following photos/text courtesy of Richard Edling, Philadelphia, PA
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A Brief History of Fort Wool (1823 - 1946)

The island that Fort Wool sits on is man-made. Known as the Rip-Raps, it was created beginning in 1818 on a shoal and is basically a big pile of rocks. The island continued to settle after construction of the fort began in 1826 and it was still incomplete at the start of the Civil War. The famous Robert E. Lee began his career as a military engineer, and he took part in the construction of Forts Wool and Monroe. Plans called for Castle Calhoun, the original name of Fort Wool, to have three tiers of casemates and a parapet with a total of 232 cannons. But as the island started to settle, construction stopped during the construction of the second tier. Only ten guns were mounted. 52 casemates of the first tier weren't completed until 1866.
Fort Calhoun was used before the Civil War as a summer retreat for President Andrew Jackson. In 1862, a name change was in order. Named after John C. Calhoun, President Monroe's Secretary of War and Confederate sympathizer, it was decided that it would be named after Maj. Gen. John Ellis Wool, a Mexican War hero and commander at Fort Monroe.
A very powerful experimental cannon, the Sawyer Gun, was installed here during the Civil War. The range of this weapon extended all the way to Sewell's Point in Norfolk, site of Confederate Batteries (where the Norfolk Naval Base is now located). The Sawyer Gun also fired at the C.S.S. Virginia during the famous Battle of the Ironclads in 1862. It never did any damage, however. At Sewell's Point the Confederates had built an earthen fort with bastions and a redan. There were also three other batteries. A total of 45 guns were found here (not all were mounted) by the Union forces after the Rebels evacuated.
A name change was proposed on July 15, 1874, but this never happened. The name could have been Fort Scott (after Brevet Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott), but for whatever reason the name remained the same. Seacoast Batteries were built at the turn of the century, and an aircraft radar station was here during World War II. During the World Wars it was commanded by Fort Monroe. All of the original fort, except 8 casemates, was demolished. On each of the two opposite ends of the island were searchlight towers in 1930. An anti-aircraft searchlight was located near the center of the island. A concealed radar tower was built during WWII. A submarine net closed off the harbor entrance between Fort Wool and Fort Monroe. After being decommissioned it was given to the state in 1967 and in 1970 the City of Hampton developed it into a park. The Fort Wool ferry, Miss Hampton II, allows tourists to visit the island during most of the year. But it can also be briefly glimpsed by cars entering the southern end of the Hampton Roads tunnel on Interstate 64. The island continues to settle to this very day, and occasionally the casemates of the original fortress are put off-limits for safety reasons.
Battery Ferdinand Claiborne: two shielded 6-inch disappearing guns (1908-1918)
Battery Alexander Dyer: two shielded 6-inch disappearing guns (1908-1917)
Battery Horatio Gates: two shielded 6-inch disappearing guns (1908-1917/1942); rebuilt into 229
Battery 229 (Battery 12): two 6-inch shielded guns (1944); gun tubes never installed
Battery Henry Lee (Battery 13): four 3-inch rapid-fire guns (1905-1946); two guns sent in 1942 to Fishermans Is.
Battery Jacob Hindman (Battery 14): two 3-inch rapid-fire guns (1905-1946)
50 caliber and 37mm Anti-Aircraft Machine Guns
Fire Control Tower (1942) - replaced a wooden tower
Two Searchlight Towers (1930) - replaced two 1921 wooden towers; demolished 1970's.
Radar Tower (1943); demolished
A.A. Searchlight Tower


(7-2007)  The Miss Hampton II, a Fort Wool and Navy Base tour boat


(7-2007)  Landing


(7-2007)  Fort Wool

  (7-2007)  Battery Horatio Gates

(7-2007) The gray blocks are all that remain of the Civil War era fort

  (7-2007) Another view of remains of the Civil War era fort

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