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A Walk Through History At Fort Monroe
Mark Fravel Jr., 33
Chesapeake, Virginia

Today a visitor to Fort Monroe can witness and experience the impact that many great Americans and Masons have had on the development of a notable Fort and on the history of our nation.


A tour of Fort Monroe, Virginia, is a visit to an outdoor museum that enables you to reflect on the history of our nation and the many Masons who helped shape it. Fort Monroe has witnessed our struggle to identify what America is. It is also the largest stone fort ever built in the United States.

But 175 years ago the mission of Fort Monroe was very different from what it is today. During the War of 1812, British forces sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and attacked and burned the city of Washington and the Presidents’ House. This incident and the realization of how vulnerable our capital was to enemy attack demonstrated that the United States needed to develop a series of defenses along the east coast.

Several Lodges once met in what is now the Casement Museum at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

One major link in this defense was a fort to be built at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay where present-day Fort Monroe now stands. Named for President and Brother James Monroe, a member of Williamsburg Lodge No. 6, the fort, bugun in 1819, was completed in 1834. The continuous connection between Fort Monroe and some of our nation’s most outstanding citizens, many of them Freemasons, reveals a fascinating story of American history.

One young soldier early to be assigned to Fort Monroe was Edgar Allan Poe who arrived there on December 15, 1828. However, Poe had decided that he wanted out of the army and persuaded his stepfather to pay a substitute to finish his term of enlistment. Poe was discharged at Fort Monroe on April 15, 1829. Some 20 years later, he would return to the Hygeia Hotel at old Point Comfort (next to Fort Monroe) as a famous poet to recite his work on the veranda.

On May 7, 1831, a young lieutenant of engineers reported at Fort Monroe for his second assignment. Robert E. Lee’s attention was directed to the outworks and approaches which had not yet been finished. During this period, Lee and his wife had their first child, George Washington Custis Lee, who was born at the fort. Three of Lee’s friends stationed there with him later became Civil War Generals--Joseph E. Johnson, Benjamin Huger, and James Barnes. Three years later, the young Robert E. Lee was transferred to Washington, DC.

The first Masonic Lodge at Fort Monroe was established prior to Lee’s arrival. Lodge No. 143 was recognized by the Grand Jurisdiction of Virginia on December 1, 1825. This Lodge lasted only about one year. Later, Masons stationed at Fort Monroe attended various Lodges in the village of Hampton including St. Tammany Lodge No. 5.

During the Civil War, Fort Monroe remained under Union control, and the second regiment to arrive was the Third Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. The unit had a number of Masons, and they requested a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for a Military Lodge to be called Bay State Lodge No. 1. This unit was transferred in a few months, and their replacement, the New York Volunteers, was granted dispensation on June 1, 1861, for one year which was later extended. This Lodge eventually met in a casement of the fort. (A casement is a chamber inside the fort designed to house 32-pounder cannons that would protect the entrance to Hampton Roads.) The New York “National Zouave Lodge U.D.J.” was disbanded when the unit returned to New York.

Records reveal that during the occupation, four Union officers who were Masons led a detachment to the city of Hampton to secure the records of St. Tammany Lodge No. 5. Warrants, records, and other Masonic property were sent to the Grand Lodge of Maryland for safekeeping. After the war, the property was returned to St. Tammany Lodge No. 5, and the Grand Master of Freemasons in Maryland wrote “that even when engaged on the battlefield in deadly strife of war, we do not forget our Masonic ties or the duties we owe to the brethren of a noble and time-honored order.”

Fort Monroe was one of the few forts in the South that remained under Union control. When the North decided to attack Norfolk, Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln went to Fort Monroe to review the Peninsula campaign stalemate. He and his party landed at old Point Comfort wharf on May 7, 1862. Quarters No. 1, just inside the East Gate of the Fort, became Lincoln’s command post for the attack.

The attempt to capture Norfolk, the base of the dreaded ironclad Merrimack, would force the ship to draw up the James River and so free the Union navy. On May 8 an attempt was made to land forces at Sewell’s Point, but the Merrimack blocked the landing. The next day the landing was attempted at Ocean View, and the Merrimack did not interfere. Union troops landed without resistance. Mayor William W. Lamb surrendered the city of Norfolk on May 10, 1862. As a result of this Union victory, the Confederates blew up the Merrimack which allowed the Union fleet to sail up the James and York Rivers to support General McClellan’s peninsula campaign against Richmond.

Quarters No. 1, where Lincoln stay-ed, is the oldest residence at the Fort and once had as a visitor Masonic Brother the Marquis de Lafayette who received the Scottish Rite Degrees in the Cerneau Supreme Council of New York and was made 33 and Honorary Grand Commander of that body.

After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis attempted to escape to Mississippi and re-establish the Confederate Government in Texas. He was captured near Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10, and was accused of plotting the death of Abraham Lincoln. Jefferson Davis was taken to Fort Monroe and imprisoned on May 22, 1865, in a quickly improvised cell in Casemate No. 2. and forcibly shackled with ankle irons. After four and one-half months, Davis moved to Carroll Hall, a brick building which no longer stands.

Mrs. Jefferson Davis worked tirelessly for her husband’s freedom, and on May 13, 1867, Jefferson Davis was released on a bail bond for $100,000 signed by Horace Greeley, Commodore Vanderbilt, and other prominent citizens. In June 1951, the grandson of the Confederate President, Jefferson Hayes-Davis participated in the formal dedication of the Jefferson Davis Casemate Museum.

On February 10, 1910, Army and Navy Lodge No. 306 was chartered and constituted and consecrated on March 11 under the Grand Lodge of Virginia. Grand Master Joseph Eggleston wrote:

“That night I paid a visit to Army and Navy Lodge in a casemate of Fort Monroe. We raised an Army captain who had received his first degree in California and his second in New York. The lodge has a civilian for Master, a captain of artillery for Senior Warden, and another captain of artillery for Senior Deacon; a lieutenant for Secretary and a non-commissioned officer for Junior Deacon; the candidate was raised by the Grand Master, assisted by three District Deputy Grand Masters. This lodge is not only doing good work, but is sending all over the world Masons who will reflect credit on Virginia Masonry.” Army and Navy Lodge No. 306 no longer meets at Fort Monroe.

Since its inception in 1949, the Casemate Museum has experienced rapid development and undergone numerous renovations. The Casemate Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums and now includes 24 casemates with numerous exhibits and tours. The Museum and all of the sites are within easy walking distance of each other. They include Lee’s Quarters, Quarters Number One, Seacoast Batteries, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, and the Chamberlin Hotel. Fort Monroe is a National Historic Landmark and is presently the headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Today visitors to Fort Monroe can witness and experience the impact many great Americans and Masons have had on the development of a notable Fort and on the history of our nation.

Endnotes

10,000 Famous Freemasons by William R. Denslow.

“Freemasonry at Fort Monroe, Virginia” by Brother Alexander Paul Anderson, published in The Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, 1934.

Tales of Old Fort Monroe, 15 pamphlets published by the Casemate Museum, Fort Monroe, Virginia 23651.


Please remember the Scottish Rite Foundation, S.J., USA,
with your gifts and in your will, 1-800-486-3331.