Monday, August 10, 2009

"FORT WOOL: Star-Spangled Banner Rising"

Work commenced on Fort (or Castle) Calhoun in 1818. Situated on a man-made island approximately one mile from the more celebrated Fortress Monroe, the installation guarded the entrance to Hampton Roads from the Jacksonian Era through World War II. In 1862, with southern feelings no longer of concern, its name would be changed to the more politically acceptable Fort Wool. A new volume in The History Press's Landmarks Series, Hampton History Museum curator J. Michael Cobb's Fort Wool: Star-Spangled Banner Rising (2009, softcover, 189 pages, $22.99) is a comprehensive and visually pleasing narrative history of the stone fortress, from its initial planning to the present day.

Three chapters (numbers seven through nine) in the book are devoted to the Civil War years, with roughly equal attention in the text additionally paid to the antebellum and post war years. Originally planned as a four-tiered facility, by 1860 only two levels had been constructed, and the fort was essentially unarmed. This changed quickly, however, with the coming of Civil War and the erection of Confederate batteries opposite Fort Calhoun at Sewall's Point. In fact, Calhoun's Sawyer rifle [pictured above on the book's cover] was the only Federal gun that had the range to hit the Confederate earthworks. Other Civil War events discussed are the 1862 naval actions at Hampton Roads, and Lincoln's famous personal reconnaissance for suitable landing points for a Union expedition against Norfolk. Renamed Fort Wool by then, the walls of the fortress also served as a prison for U.S. and Confederate civilian and military detainees.

As is typical with History Press publications, Fort Wool is lavishly illustrated with professionally reproduced archival maps, lithographs, and woodcuts, as well as both period and modern photographs. The text is annotated, and a bibliography is included (but no index). This is a fine historical and pictorial overview of Fort Wool's period of active service, and should prove useful to students of several American wars.

Other CWBA Reviews and Notes of other History Press titles:
* No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments and Cemeteries of South Carolina
* Louisville and the Civil War: A History & Guide
* Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862
* Andover in the Civil War: The Spirit & Sacrifice of a New England Town
* South Carolina Military Organizations During the War Between the States: Statewide Units, Militia & Reserves
* Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation

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