New visitor center at Fort C.F. Smith Park shows Arlington’s Civil War history

Fort C.F. Smith Park's new visitor center in Arlington, Virginia, finally opened on Saturday after years in the making.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Fort C.F. Smith Park’s new visitor center in Arlington, Virginia, finally opened on Saturday after years in the making.

Fort C.F. Smith was one of the circle forts that was built around D.C. to protect the nation’s capital during the Civil War.

The county acquired the park land in 1994 with the plan of putting in a visitor’s center, said park manager David Farner, with Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Inside [the center], we’ve got some exhibits that show a little bit about the forts that were in Arlington — artifacts found at this fort and at Fort Ethan Allen, which is also in Arlington,” he said.

Built by the Union Army in 1863, as many as 10,000 soldiers were at the fort at any one time to train during the war.

The fort was decommissioned in 1865. No original buildings remain.

Fort C.F. Smith was just one of 68 forts built to defend the nation’s capital from the Confederates. The forts served as a deterrent during the Civil War, so most never saw combat.

“[The forts seem] like a minor role but [played] a big role in the defense of Washington and the victory for the Union,” Farner said.

Farner believes Arlington County has a rich Civil War history that most people don’t think about.  That’s why the visitor’s center at the park is important: Now, visitors can learn more about the community’s role in the Civil War.

The fort was named after Charles Ferguson Smith, who served as commandant of cadets. One of his students would go on to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederates: Ulysses S. Grant.

Visit the Fort C.F. Smith’s visitor’s center at 2411 24th St. N., in Arlington.


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