Browsing articles tagged with "Rocketts Wharf Archives - Historic Fort Lesley J. McNair"

Mr Steen Goes to Washington – Arsenal That Is

Producing a book of history,  one that chronicles over two centuries of activity is none the less a challenge in itself.  Besides locating and assembling the content of the book, selecting the right cover image is part of that challenge.

After digging through special collections, online resources and trips to the archives, it was a challenge to narrow down the selection to choose one photograph from the hundreds that were inspected and collected.  One was needed that would convey the historic nature of the first fortification in the new Capital City of Washington DC.

With acreage just about one hundred, Fort Lesley J. McNair is a small US Army Post – in fact, it’s probably the smallest active post within the US Army.  Roosevelt Hall is the iconic building that traces its origins to the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White who designed the building named after President Theodore Roosevelt – who laid the cornerstone.


The US Army’s First Official Photographer

One was finally selected, it was an Andrew J. Russell photo taken while he was at Washington Arsenal.   Russell was one could say the first official photographer of the US Army.   Russell took his first photographs with a camera that he borrowed. Colonel Herman Haupt used Russell’s photographs to illustrate his reports. Haupt arranged to have Russell removed from his regiment on March 1, 1863, so that he could photograph for the United States Military Railroad and the Quartermaster Corps, until he mustered out in September 1865. Russell was the only military officer to photograph for the War Department during the Civil War.  So one could consider Russell the first official photographer of the US Army.

A Cover Photograph is Chosen

When Captain Russell visited Washington Arsenal in 1865, little did he know that he was capturing an image that would later appear on the cover of a book.  The riveting  photograph of a row of artillery with the Model Arsenal building and a Soldier mounted on horseback in the background was selected to grace the cover of the book  “Images of America – Fort Lesley J McNair”  However, that’s when the challenge began.  The artillery needed to be identified, and among the network of advisors, none knew what they were.

Washington Arsenal with the model arsenal building and confederate napoleons

Washington Arsenal with the model arsenal building and artillery

Enter Marshall Steen of Steen Cannons

That need generated another research effort to be launched.  After several hours of digging among many sources, Steen Cannons was found.  They build reproductions of artillery for the National Park Service or for private collectors or just about anyone who would like a fine reproduction..   Marshall was contacted and the photo was sent … he graciously provided a quick answer …  “They’re Confederate Napoleons!” –  however, the return suggestion came in that  “This is a Union arsenal!”   the reply was …  “Accept the fact that they are Confederate Napoleons.”

Armed with this information, the description was entered into the book “Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair” and it was published, though still puzzling that Confederate artillery was at a Union arsenal.   Further research resulted in an “EUREKA!”  Another photo was found that showed the artillery along with caissons and limbers sitting at Rocketts Wharf in Richmond, VA awaiting shipment back to Washington Arsenal.  Mystery solved!


Artillery Park at Rocketts' Wharf in Richmond Virginia

Artillery Park at Rocketts’ Wharf in Richmond Virginia




Images of America - Fort Lesley J. McNair

An  Author Autographed copy of the book is available for purchase.  Buy the Book


Where Lincoln Walked – in Richmond

By John Michael  //  Washington Arsenal  //  No Comments

Rocketts Wharf – Where Lincoln Walked…

Rocketts Wharf Richmond

Rocketts Wharf

#historicfortmcnair — It is rather serendipitous that the cover of the book shows Washington Arsenal after the Civil War. – “Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair” contains a row of artillery – Confederate artillery – Napoleons which were captured from the arsenal in Richmond.  Their journey began  at Rocketts Wharf they were brought for shipment.  The same place where President Abraham Lincoln disembarked and walked to the Confederate White House.

It is actually close to 2 miles away. The State Capitol is about 5 blocks above the river, (the Confederate White House a few more blocks north), but that point is at the falls of the James, which is not navigable. That is why Lincoln had to disembark and go ashore downriver from the Capitol, and walk through town. He had come up the James River from City Point near present-day Hopewell, where the Union troops were based.

The photo taken in May 1865, shows the assembled cache of captured ordnance that was  destined to end up at Washington Arsenal and on the cover of the book…

“Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair” contains over 200 historical and contemporary photographs which highlight some of the people and events of this historical US Army Post. It is the site of the incarceration, trial and hanging of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Familiar names such as Walter Reed, Theodore Roosevelt along with Abraham Lincoln walked among the acres which has become an Army post in tribute to one of the highest ranking officers killed in action during World War II.  Current home to the headquarters of the Military District of Washington, the post is also shared by National Defense University along with several of its colleges.   The US Army’s Center for Military History also occupies one of the historic buildings on post which originally was the quartermaster stables then the post exchange… perhaps a good place to “horse around” … don’cha think?


The book, Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair contains over two hundred historical photographs, images and illustrations which chronicle the two hundred plus years of history among the acres of this US Army Post.

The book “Images of America – Fort Lesley J McNair”  is “a walk down memory lane” as one reader called it after he turned the last page.  Go beyond

Images of America - Fort Lesley J. McNair

Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair

the website and read more of the history with your own copy – BUY THE BOOK offers the opportunity to get either a personalized & autographed copy from the author or purchase the book from one of the major resellers.











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