Several weeks ago I wrote some more about the Defenses of Washington, the ring of 68 forts built to defend the capital during the Civil War. Roberta and I have visited a handful of these sites, but due to some epic procrastination on my part, I didn’t know there were once a handful on land nearby at the Huntington Metro. If I had taken the time to read the historical plaque located on the service road on the east side of Route One (about a mile south of I-95/Beltway, and across the street from the Penn Daw Shopping Center), I would have known about these five forts. The Union Army built them on the heights south of Hunting Creek to protect the southern approaches to Alexandria. The port city, taken over by the Union Army, was home to a railroad depot and supply points.
A second plaque stands at the Huntington Metro, steps away from the Kiss and Ride parking lot. All those years, so close and yet so far. Wanting to make up for all that, and excited there was history at our feet, I did a bit of research on the five forts (Lyon, O’Rourke, Weed, Farnworth and Willard). Google led me to Mr. Lincoln’s Forts, A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington. In one of those amazing moments of beautiful serendipity, I subsequently found out that a new edition of the book has just been published. Better yet, one of the authors, Walton Owen II, works at the Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria. I was able to purchase a signed copy of the book there. Using this incredibly valuable resource, I put together some info on the five forts and took some photos. Fort Lyon is first, followed by the others at subsequent posts.
Standing at the plaque at the Huntington Metro Kiss and Ride Parking Lot, walk to the stoplight at North Kings Hiway. Turn right and you will see James Drive. One of the guns was at the corner of James and North Kings Hiway.
Built in 1861, Fort Lyon was the largest and first of the five forts to be built. Its hillside spot had a commanding view of Telegraph Road and Hunting Creek Valley, and protected Alexandria’s railroad depot, the Little River Turnpike, and the city of Alexandria. Soldiers wrote about its great views that included the unfinished Capitol in the distance. Named in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, the fort covered an area of nine acres and housed forty guns. Troops from New York, Ohio and Wisconsin served there.
As reported by the New York Times, a black powder explosion on the afternoon of June 9, 1863 killed 21 soldiers, including Lieutenant L. Kuhne, commander of the outfit, the 3rd Battalion New York Artillery. The next day President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton visited the site.
On the south side of James Drive, is a trace of Fort Lyon’s southern parapet. The northeast trace of the fort can be seen in the outline of the hill as you travel down North Kings Hiway towards Telegraph Road.
1 and 2, Historical Plaque for Fort Lyon
3, Corner of James and Kings Hiway
4, James Road looking east towards Metro. This photo duplicates one provided in the book.
5. View from Metro Parking Lot (about 50 yards east of the fort site).
Note: I’d like to thank the two friendly gentlemen on James Road. I pulled out my map from the book and we determined their houses were probably near the front of the front.