History of Fort C.F. Smith

fort cf smith

Fort C.F. Smith Park was acquired by Arlington County Government in 1994. Originally unspoiled forest along the Potomac Palisades, the 19-acre park has evolved over time to include the buildings, forest, meadow, gardens and earth work ruins seen today.

Earliest Inhabitants

Although archaeological investigations have not revealed the presence of any prehistoric settlements within Fort C.F. Smith Park, recovered artifacts have shown that approximately 3,000 years ago, the people of the Woodland Period did use the park area. During this time, American Indians lived in villages scattered all along the Potomac from Little Falls to the Chesapeake Bay. Undoubtedly, the inhabitants of nearby villages utilized the land of Fort C.F. Smith Park for hunting and gathering.

Historical Period Narrative

After the land was colonized by the English, George Mason III purchased the land as part of a larger 2,000-acre parcel in the 1700’s. By 1858 the land supported the Jewell family farmstead, which included a house called the “Red House,” a barn, outbuildings, fields, and orchards. Then in 1863, during the Civil War, the Union Army appropriated the property and built Fort C.F. Smith. The fort and support structures, which were part of the Defense of Washington, were located at the northwest end of the Arlington Line protecting the Nation’s Capital from Confederate advances. In 1865, the fort was decommissioned and the Jewell family returned and operated a small farm and nursery. Between 1888 and 1994, the land was owned by the Deming, Yates, Lindsay and Hendry families. Each owner made changes to the property, adding an orchard and cottage, building and enlarging the main house and expanding the gardens with trails, a summer house over the well, and many exotic plants and trees. As the site evolved, some elements were removed, including the summer house and orchard.

The Civil War and Fort C.F. Smith

Fort C.F. Smith Building

Fort C.F. Smith was constructed by Union Troops in early 1863. The fortification extended the line of Arlington forts to the Potomac River. Along with Forts Strong, Morton, and Woodbury, it functioned as part of the outer perimeter of defenses that protected the Aqueduct Bridge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The fort was a lunette with a southern and western face and two flanks, and two bastions on the north side to protect it from attack up the ravines form the Potomac. The fort was entered from the east by a road that crossed Spout Run and proceeded up the hill to Fort Strong. To provide clear lines of fire for Fort C.F. Smith and adjacent forts, all of the trees for miles around were cut down. Many of the trees were used in construction of the forts and support structures.

Located east of the fort were the support buildings were the troops ate and slept. The structures including the barracks, mess halls, cook houses, officers quarters, and barn and a headquarters building. When the fort was decommissioned in 1865, the structures were removed and no visible evidence of their existence remains today.

Major General Charles Ferguson Smith

Gen. C.F. SmithMajor General Smith was born in Philadelphia on April 24, 1807, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1825. He later served as Commandant of Cadets, and two of his students were Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

He fought in the war with Mexico (1846-1848), and led a 1856 survey expedition to the Red River area of northern Idaho. He participated in the federal policing action against the Mormons, 1858.

On February 15, 1862 during Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Mississippi siege of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, Smith led a charge at the head of his 3d Division that breached the Confederate defenses and was largely responsible for the Confederate surrender. When Confederate forces asked for terms of surrender, Smith counseled Grant to offer no terms except “unconditional and immediate surrender.” Grant’s famous dispatch made “Unconditional Surrender Grant” a household name throughout the North.

Charles F. Smith was promoted to Major General on March 21, 1862, and was temporarily placed in charge of the Army when Grant was accused of drunkenness.

He died on April 25, 1862, as the result of a minor non-combat injury.

Natural Resources of the Park

There are many factors which contribute to the richness of natural resources encountered at Fort C.F. Smith Park. Because the Park is situated at the juncture between the physiographic provinces of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, animals and plants characteristic of each may be found there, thereby increasing the diversity of wildlife overall. Also, the Park contains a variety of habitats, including both meadow and woodland, and each habitat supports its own unique communities of plants and animals. In addition to the native plant communities, the Park is also home to a number of exotic tree species, and several of these have been recognized as Arlington County Notable Trees because of their exceptional size or unusual variety. The proximity of the Park to the Potomac River means that one may encounter animals associated with a riverine environment, and this too, adds to the richness of the wildlife. Finally, because the property was never developed beyond a rural estate into the urban and suburban landscapes which now comprise the vast majority of land in the County, populations of plants and animals have been allowed to thrive relatively undisturbed.