Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fort Richardson, Army-Navy Country Club

Of the 68 fortifications and batteries that made up the Defenses of Washington during the Civil War, only a few vestiges remain throughout the urban and suburban landscape.  While some of these forts live on through the names that they gave to neighborhoods, such as the Fort Totten metro, most were soon forgotten and built over in the years after the war as Washingtonians looked to the future not to the past.  By the centennial commemoration of the Civil War, suburban development had obliterated most traces of this once powerful defensive shield.

However, there are still traces, some more pronounced than others, of this wartime legacy within Washington DC, Alexandria, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.  One such place is trace remains of Fort Richardson, which now shares its ideal strategic high ground, quite fittingly with the ninth hole green of the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia.

"Playing Through?"  The Army Navy Country Club's golf course contains visible remnants of Fort Richardson's parapets and ditches.  Apparently, golfers only encounter it when an approach shot is shanked or hooked.  (Author's photo)
Fort Richardson, was constructed as a detached redoubt in September 1861 and designed to cover the left flank of the recently built Arlington defense line. The Army's Chief Engineer described it as a "small, inclosed, polygonal work."  Its location on a high crest provided it a commanding view and enabled it to rain down artillery fire on any enemy advancing via the Colombia Turnpike.  Even today, its location offers a superb view of the Potomac and downtown Washington. The fort had a perimeter of 316 yards and emplacements for 15 artillery pieces. The fort was named for General Israel B. Richardson.

General John Barnard, the Chief Engineer of the Defenses of Washington, described Fort Richardson as occupying a very commanding position:  "It is small, but well built, well armed, and amply provided with bomb-proofs and magazines.  The ravines in front will be seen by the rifle-trenches in construction.  A rifled 100-pounder is being placed in this work, which will sweep a sector from Fort Ellsworth to Fort DeKalb.

Historical marker denoting location of the remains of Fort Richardson on the property of the Army Navy Country Club's golf course in Arlington, Virginia.  Additionally, an Army Navy Country Club history notes that a convalescent hospital and isolation ward for Union Soldiers was probably located in the general area of the #12 fairway in the aftermat of the Bull Run Disaster.  (Author's photo)
Wartime photograph of the 1rst Connecticut Artillery drilling at Fort Richardson.  Not a golf bag in sight. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The heavy iron guns of Fort Richardson, including its 100-pounder, never fired a shot in anger.  Today, the only iron in use is the the nine iron and other clubs wielded by America's military men and women and retirees on well-deserved days off.


  1. Did you have to make any special arrangements to visit Fort Richardson? I've been visiting many of the Defenses of Washington sites, but since this one is on private property, I was wondering whether they seem to mind if people came onto their premises for historical purposes rather than golf.