Fort Norfolk

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Fort Norfolk (1794-1880) - Established in 1794 as one of the First System coastal defense forts by President George Washington on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk City, Virginia. Rebuilt as a Second System coastal fort in 1809. During the U.S. Civil War it was first occupied by Confederate troops in 1861 and Union troops in 1862 who held it for the duration. Abandoned as a fortification in 1880.

Fort Norfolk Main Gate
Fort Norfolk NE Bastion
Fort Norfolk 1856 Magazine

First System (1794-1808)

Fort Norfolk Plan

Established by President George Washington in 1794 as one of the First System coastal defense forts. The fort was originally paired with Fort Nelson on the other side of the Elizabeth River to protect Norfolk, Portsmouth and the Navy Yard. The fort was originally a sod earthwork and it fell into disrepair in the early 1800s. This fort and Fort Nelson were among the First System forts chosen to be upgraded to the Second System in 1807.

Second System (1808-1816)

Fort Norfolk Inside the Main Gate

The fort was rebuilt in 1809 as a brick and earthworks Second System coastal defense fort. Included among the brick building were barracks, a guardhouse, officer's quarters, a powder magazine and a dungeon.

Third System (1816-1867)

Fort Norfolk NE Bastion with War of 1812 Reenactor Camp in Place

Fort Norfolk was not chosen for upgrade to a Third System fort because it was too far inland and newer armaments dictated that any enemy ships be engaged further away from port cities. Fort Monroe and Fort Wool (1) were built to provide an outer ring of protection and Fort Norfolk and Fort Nelson were no longer required for coastal defense. Fort Norfolk remained in caretaker status until 1849 when the U.S. Navy took over the fort and built the large ammunition magazine that still exists. The magazine was completed in 1856.

U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

The U.S. Government abandoned the fort at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. Confederate troops occupied the fort on 19 Apr 1861 and held it until 10 May 1862 when they abandoned Norfolk. Union troops reoccupied the fort on 10 May 1862 and held it for the duration of the war. The fort was used as a Union hospital and prison during this period. In March 1863 the U.S. Army relinquished control, removed hospital patients and prisoners and the fort was transferred back to the U.S. Navy.

In 1923 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took possession of the fort for the offices of the Norfolk District.

Current Status

Fort Norfolk Entrance

A shared site with the Norfolk Historical Society and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk City, Virginia. The Norfolk Historical Society administers the historic portion of the fort.

Location: Norfolk City, Virginia.

Maps & Images

Lat: 36.85684 Long: -76.30628

GPS Locations:


  • Roberts, Robert B., Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States, Macmillan, New York, 1988, 10th printing, ISBN 0-02-926880-X, page 819.
  • Speer, Lonnie R., Portals to Hell:Military Prisons of the Civil War, Stackpole Books, 1997, Mechanicsburg, PA, ISBN 0-8117-0334-7, 410 pages, page326.


Visited: 15 May 2013

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