Friday, March 21, 2014

Fort C. F. Smith - Arlington, VA

In 1858 the Jewell family had a farm on the site of what was to become Fort C. F. Smith. The farmstead included a house called the "Red House," a barn, outbuildings, fields, and orchards. The outbreak of the Civil War resulted in the construction of a line of forts that formed the Defense of Washington. In 1863 the Union Army appropriated the property and decided to build a fort to extend the line of forts in Arlington.

On May 30, 1863, Brig. Gen. J. G. Barnard, Chief Engineer of Defense of the Department of Washington, recommended that "the new fort immediately north of Fort De Kalb, and near the Potomac, be called Fort C. F. Smith, after the late Maj. Gen. C. F. Smith, who died at Savannah, Tenn., of disease contracted in the service, and who greatly distinguished himself at the battle of Fort Donelson."[1] Therefore, in 1863 Fort C. F. Smith was constructed by Union troops as part of the defense of Washington, DC. The fortification extended the line of forts in Arlington, Virginia to the Potomac River. Along with Forts Strong, Morton, and Woodbury, it served as part of the outer perimeter of defenses that protected the Aqueduct Bridge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

The fort consisted of lunettes[2] facing south and west and two bastions[3] to the north to protect it from an attack up the ravines from the Potomac. Entrance to the fort was from the east by a road that crossed Spout Run and proceeded up the hill to Fort Strong. The trees around the site were cut down to provide clear lines of fire for the fort and to build other forts and their supporting buildings in fortifications protecting Washington. The support buildings where the troops ate and slept were located east of the fort. The structures included the barracks, mess halls, cookhouses, officers' quarters, barn, and headquarters building.

The fort was decommissioned in 1865, and the buildings were removed.[4] 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.

Fort C.F. Smith Park was acquired by Arlington County Government in 1994. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The park is preserved by Arlington County at the Fort C.F. Smith Park.


The park's web site provides a brief biographical sketch of General Smith. Unfortunately, the information contains several errors.  

He fought in the war with Mexico (1846-1848), and led a 1856 survey [the expedition was to select a site for a post and to warn hunters and trappers not to enter US territory] expedition to the Red River area of northern Idaho. [the expedition was to northern Minnesota Territory]. He participated in the federal policing action against the Mormons, 1858.

On February 15, 1862 during Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Mississippi [District of Cairo] siege of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, Smith led [more appropriately coordinated] 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." [Dr. Brinton's account indicates that Smith said, "No terms to the damned rebels."] 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. [Grant's removal was mainly due to a problem in communications between the two men. Halleck added the rumor of drunkenness to the accusations.]

He died on April 25, 1862, as the result of a minor non-combat injury. [Smith's leg was lacerated to the bone from his ankle to below his knee.]

[1] Barnard, J. G. Letter to S. P. Heintzelman, 30 May 1863, Official Records, Ser. 1 - Vol. 25 (Part II), 569.
[2] A lunette was originally an outwork of half-moon shape in a fortification. Later it became a redan with short flanks somewhat resembling a bastion standing by itself without works on either side. Lunette (fortification). Accessed September 18, 2013.
[3] A bastion is an angular structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of an artillery fortification. Bastion. Accessed September 18, 2013.
[4] Fort C.F. Smith - History, Accessed August 20, 2013.

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