(Washington, D.C.) – Today, using the powers granted to him under the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Barack Obama officially designated Fort Monroe, a historic military fortification in Hampton, Va., a National Monument and the 396th unit of the National Park Service. Following a Department of the Interior ceremony to mark the official announcement, Civil War Trust president James Lighthizer issued the following statement:
“It has often been said that America’s national parks are her crown jewels and, today, that legacy has grown yet richer through the inclusion of Fort Monroe. Now, future generations will be able to explore this unique site and gain an understanding of the history that unfolded here.
“In the fall of 2006, the Civil War Trust became the first national organization to publicly support the establishment of a national park at Fort Monroe, following the conclusion of its use as an active U.S. Army installation. Over the ensuing years, it has been our privilege to work with an array of dedicated government officials and preservationists as we advocated for the happy conclusion celebrated today.
“I am honored to offer the thanks and congratulations of the Civil War Trust to those dedicated officials in Congress, the Department of the Interior and the Commonwealth of Virginia, the tireless volunteers of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, and our partner conservation groups, whose efforts have made this victory a reality.”
Fort Monroe, guarding the entrance to Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay, was completed in 1834. The fort played an important role in the Civil War, remaining the only Tidewater Virginia military fortification in Federal hands for much of the war and serving as a base of operations for several naval and infantry campaigns. In 1861, Fort Monroe was the site of Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s landmark “contraband decision,” whereby escaped slaves who reached Union lines would be deemed contraband of war and not returned to their masters. By war’s end, more than 10,000 men and women in bondage had made the journey to “Freedom’s Fortress” to forge a better future for our country as well as themselves, their struggle for self-emancipation securing freedom’s place alongside preservation of the Union as a focus of the Northern war effort. Following the war, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in the fort’s casemate for two years. Fort Monroe was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and remained an active military post until September 15, 2011, when it was decommissioned as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its goal is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War sites and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 16,000 acres in Virginia. Please visit the Trust’s website at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.