Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Prisoner of Fort Monroe

In  April of 1833, the captured Sauk Indian leader Black Hawk
was moved from Jefferson Barracks in Lemay, Missouri
to a prison cell at Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.
Black Hawk's escort to the east was a young Lieutenant named Jefferson Davis,
who would later become the President of the Confederacy.

In one of life's ironies, Davis himself was imprisoned at Fort Monroe
after his capture by Union troops in Georgia on May 10, 1865, 
on suspicion he had plotted to assassinate President Lincoln the month before.
Davis was held briefly at Fort Wool before being brought across the river 
to his casemate prison cell on the larger Fort Monroe. 
sources: wikipedia.org,

Fort Wool, which is accessible only by boat:

An exterior view of a casemate entry, similar to Davis's cell:

Davis was housed in this spare cell,
which looks incredibly spacious compared to some jail cells then and now.
At the time, the walls were exposed brick;
most of the casemates have brick floors, 
so these wood planks may have been added after Davis was there:

This flag hung in his cell during his imprisonment:

By all accounts, Jefferson Davis's health suffered in the sparsley furnished, damp cell;
so he was later moved to Carroll House,
a more comfortable accommodation inside the Fort.
Perhaps indicative of a more gracious era, in May 1866,
Mrs. Davis was allowed to take up residence at Fort Monroe
for the remainder of her husband's two-year detainment.

He was released after his $100,000 bail was paid by Horace Greely,
Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist
who had earlier provided financial support to John Brown.
The reasons for their assistance are not documented in any of the materials I found,
but it would be interesting to know their motives.
Finally released, Davis still had to go through a trial,
which was delayed by Andrew Johnson's impeachment.
Davis had been officially charged with treason,
but on Christmas Day 1868, he was granted amnesty.
source: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Jefferson_Davis_s_Imprisonment

Today, there is little indication of Fort Monroe's former life and death dramas.
The Army left the Fort last autumn,
and the site was rightfully declared a national monument,
thanks to the efforts of many Virginians
who recognized the Fort's historical importance to the development of the United States.
Walking inside the Fort is peaceful; the homes and grounds are quietly charming.
Yet, the Fort's military history remains tremendously compelling.

Tomorrow, some more sights inside and outside the Old Fortress.

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