At the peak of the Civil War, as many as 1,000 soldiers were garrisoned at Fort Ethan Allen.
The men who built and defended the fort belonged to volunteer regiments recruited from New York, Massachusetts, and other northern states. While stationed at Fort Ethan Allen, troops saw little action, but continually trained, maintained their weapons and felled trees to keep a clear line of sight toward Chain Bridge and Leesburg Turnpike.
"He [Lincoln] will shake hands with a common soldier that he has never seen or heard of before with as much warmth and friendship as he would with an old acquaintance."
—Private Vernando Bruce, 4th New York Heavy Artillery, August 7, 1862, writing about a visit to Fort Ethan Allen by President Lincoln
The Bonds of War
For soldiers who were often kin or pre-war acquaintances, the regiment became a family away from home. When not working, they played games, read, and occasionally visited nearby sights. War forged strong relationships that only ended with death in battle or old age after the war.
"This morning, we had to pitch our tents in line and then wash up so as to be clean as possible for inspection. Then I got a chance to go where I wanted to for a long time. I went in the direction of Fairfax Courthouse."
—Sergeant James B. Randall, Co. F, 169th New York Volunteer Infantry, Fort Ethan Allen, October 1862
Advantages of Fort Living
Heavy artillery troops garrisoned at Fort Ethan Allen lived in barracks built just to the north of the fort, near present-day Military Road. Infantrymen camped in tents farther away from the fort. After serving at the fort, soldiers, often headed to southern campaigns, where life on the field of battle was harsher than in the forts and camps around Washington, D.C.
Women at the Fort
At Fort Ethan Allen and other posts, officers often hosted their wives, children, or relatives during the winter season when the armies went into winter camp. In addition, forts employed authorized laundresses, often soldiers' wives. One such wife who added pie making to her services ended up making more money than her husband.
Officers' Quarters at Fort Ethan Allen
One of the first forts built around Washington, Fort Ethan Allen initially housed troops in tents erected inside the parapet walls. Later, barracks, officers' quarters, mess houses, and cook houses were built outside the fort's walls.
Fort Ethan Allen Headquarters Building
Black crepe draped the fort's administrative center as the nation mourned the death of President Lincoln on April 15, 1865.