Fort C.F. Smith


Date: Built 1863

Historic Designation:

Current Use of Property: County Park

Fort C.F. Smith is the best preserved Civil War fort in Arlington and one of the best preserved of all the Washington defenses. It lies within the 19-acre Fort C.F. Smith Park, along with a late-19th and early-20th century estate with embedded Civil War-era ruins.

Between 1863 and 1865, Fort C. F. Smith served as a U.S. Army military installation. It was a second-generation fort, built mid-war to bolster the existing defenses of the nation’s capital. Most of the perimeter fits the typical Civil War fort profile of a flat central section, known as the terreplein, surrounded by a raised-earth rampart that enhanced views of the enemy. It was first called the Fort at Red House or Fort McDowell, but in June 1863, it was named to honor Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. The fort was abandoned and dismantled in the fall of 1865.

Construction on Fort C.F. Smith began early in 1863 on the land owned by the Thomas Jewell family. After the war, 65-year-old Jewell testified that he lived on the property with his family until “the soldiers robbed my house and ordered me off.” During the war, his house and outbuildings were destroyed and his farm tools were taken.

After the Civil War, the site had numerous owners including: the Jewell family, who filed a petition to reclaim their land and occupied the site immediately following the war. The George Deming and Elizabeth Yates families owned the property from 1888 to1924, Charles R. Lindsay, Jr., from 1924 to 1926, and the Dr. Ernest D. Hendry family from 1927 to 1993.

The estate was developed between 1870 and the 1930s and this helped to preserve the earthen remains of the fort north of present-day 24th Street. The southern-most features of the fort were destroyed by residential development on the south side of 24th Street.

More recent archeological investigations of the site uncovered artifacts such as a Potomac Creek potsherd, a Piscataway projectile point and a Levanna projectile point, indicating that the area was used by prehistoric people during the Woodland period.

Architectural Features

Three major structures were constructed inside the Fort C.F. Smith: two magazines to store the fort’s ammunition and a bombproof where the soldiers were to be housed during the course of a siege. The fort also included 22-gun platforms, a well dug during the spring of 1864, and an observation platform.

Bastions are an unusual feature in a lunette and are a distinguishing feature of Fort C.F. Smith. The north flank was designed for short-range protection from flanking infantry assault up the slope between the fort and the Potomac River. The shape of the bastions provides increased protection from such assault by providing additional lines of fire along the projecting faces of the bastion.

The estate is comprised of five non-contributing resources, including an eclectic main house (ca. 1877-1930s), a 1920s cottage, two outbuildings and a modern tractor barn.

The main house is a large rambling frame structure that rests on an uncoursed stone rubble foundation. The house appears to have undergone numerous changes over time as the Gothic Revival, Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle, Craftsman, Neo-Colonial and Colonial Revival styles are all in evidence.

Significant People

Maj. Gen. Charles Ferguson Smith

Smith was born in Philadelphia on April 24, 1807 as the son of an Army surgeon. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1825 and was commissioned an artillery officer. Four years later, he returned to West Point and served for the next 13 years as an instructor, adjutant and commandant of cadets. It was during this period that young cadets like Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman began to view Smith as an ideal example of a career soldier.

During the War with Mexico (1846-1848) Smith achieved an outstanding reputation for bravery and leadership. Smith returned to Washington, D.C., at the outbreak of the Civil War. His views angered some influential politicians and he was relegated to recruiting duties in New York. Smith joined Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Mississippi in January 1862 for the historic campaign to capture Forts Henry and Donelson. During the siege of Fort Donelson, Tenn., Smith led a charge that breached the Confederate defenses and was largely responsible for the Confederate surrender. Later, while jumping into a small boat, he slipped and badly scraped his shin. The wound became septic, and he later died from the infection aggravated by dysentery. His body was taken back to Philadelphia where he was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. 

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2411 24th St., Arlington, VA 22207  View Map

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