This island fortress, dating to 1819, was partially constructed under the direction of Lt. Robert E. Lee during his early U.S. Army career. It played an active role during the Civil War, protecting the entrance to the Hampton Roads harbor. Fort Wool served as a companion to Fort Monroe and was used in operations against Confederate-held Norfolk in 1861-62. Although not accessible by car, it is easy to view from the Chesapeake Bay shore of Fort Monroe and is featured during the Miss Hampton II harbor tour.
Also known as the Battle of Hampton Roads, this historic naval conflict took place March 8-9, 1862. The world's first meeting in combat between two ironclad vessels involved the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (Merrimac) attacking the wooden vessels of the Union fleet and its defending ironclad, the USS Monitor. While neither ship substantially damaged the other resulting in a draw, this duel marked the end of the era of wooden warships. Trail signs at LaSalle and Chesapeake Avenue mark the official battle site.
After Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler accepted three enslaved men seeking their freedom, asserting they were "contraband of war," two contraband camps were established in Hampton to accommodate the influx of refugees. One was constructed outside the entrance to Fort Monroe in Camp Hamilton and became known as Slabtown. The other, known as the Grand Contraband, was established amid Hampton's burned-out ruins. The name Slabtown refers to the odds and ends of construction material used to build small dwellings, some adjacent to standing chimneys. A Civil War Trails marker interprets the site of Camp Hamilton, Slabtown and the Grand Contraband in Phoebus.
A living symbol of freedom for African-Americans and a National Historic Landmark, the expansive Emancipation Oak grows at the entrance to Hampton University. The issuing of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 formalized the abolishment of slavery. It was beneath the trees branches that residents gathered to hear that proclamation for the first time in Hampton Roads. At ninety-eight feet in diameter and designated as one of the "Ten Great Trees of the World" by the National Geographic Society, it continues to be a source of inspiration for all Hamptonians.
Check out our guide to African American heritage sites found here in Hampton Virginia.