Fort Monroe, located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, was officially closed by the U.S. Army yesterday and handed over to the state. Since the closure of the fort, with its more than 170 historic buildings, 565 acres and significant Civil War history, was announced in 2005, its future use has been constantly debated. .
One possibility is the creation of a new national park on a large section of the land. A bill that has bipartisan support to do just that is pending in Congress, and the National Park Service is currently evaluating the fort as a potential park.
During the Civil War, the Union never gave up control of the fort, making it an outpost within Virginia once that state joined the Confederacy. It is also where Major General Benjamin Butler, as commander of Fort Monroe, challenged the official government policy of returning escaped slaves to their owners. He declared the slaves to be contraband of war and gave them refuge, a policy that encouraged thousands of other slaves to seek protection at the fort as well.
At the end of the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was arrested and imprisoned at the fort for on suspicion that he had assisted in the assassination of President Lincoln. When he was cleared of that charge, he was charged with treason. At the end of 1868, President Andrew Johnson issued a pardon to all who had participated in the rebellion including Davis.