Fort Boykin

Fort Boykin Sign

Fort Boykin, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been a part of American history since 1623 when a fort known as the Castle was constructed to protect the Jamestown colonists from Native Americans and raiding Spaniards. Atop a bluff overlooking the James River, the site’s commanding view makes it a keen observation point.

During the Revolutionary War, Fort Boykin was instrumental in the defense of the James River and the likes of the legendary British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his cavalry. Fort Boykin was named during the Revolutionary War after Maj. Francis Boykin, a local merchant who served on Gen. George Washington’s staff.

During the War of 1812, Fort Boykin was rebuilt into the shape of an irregular seven-pointed star. The British attempted only one landing at Fort Boykin; however, they were beaten by the local milita under the command of Capt. David Dick and Capt. Charles Wrenn.

Between June 1861 and May 1862, the Confederate Army rebuilt the fort as a part of their defensive system. It was one of in a series of earthworks designed to prevent inland invasion by the Union, whose buildup at the mouth of the James River posed a severe threat to Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Commander of the Virginia forces Robert E. Lee ordered Col. Andrew Talcott of the Virginia Engineers to redesign Fort Boykin, and the fort was then constructed under the supervision of Lt. Catesby ap Roger Jones of the Virginia Navy. During this time, the 3rd and 9th Virginia Regiments moved into the area, camping at a site to the rear of the earthworks.

A March 12, 1862, account of Richmond’s defenses, Capt. A.L. Rives of the Confederate Army reported that 10 guns were mounted at Fort Boykin. Similar defensive works were also in place at such sites as Fort Huger, Mulberry Island, Jamestown Island and Drewry’s Bluff; however, the Confederate military strategy failed to take into account the potential damage that could be inflicted on these fortifications by ironclad vessels. A new age of naval warfare had dawned.

Civil War Trails LogoOn May 8, 1862, three Union gunboats, one of which was the ironclad USS Galena, moved within firing range of Fort Boykin. The Galena’s guns, which had a longer range than those of Fort Boykin, overwhelmed the Confederates within an hour – causing them to abandon the fort.

The musician and poet Sidney Lanier was stationed at Fort Boykin while serving in the Confederate Signal Corps. While at Fort Boykin, he wrote Beautiful Ladies and began his novel Tiger Lilies.

Today, Fort Boykin remains essentially intact and constitutes a well-preserved example of military architecture of the Civil War era.

Fort Boykin is listed on the Civil War Trails, Captain John Smith’s Trail, Chesapeake Bay Gateway Network, Star-Spangled Banner Geotrail and Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. It is part of the eBird System, the bird database run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. And, Fort Boykin is home to the commonwealth’s second oldest black walnut tree. This tree, over 200 years old, has been named to the Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project.

Guided walking tours: 11 a.m. Saturday, April 7, and by appointment.

Morgart’s Beach on Burwell Bay
7410 Fort Boykin Trail
Isle of Wight, Va. 23430
(757) 357-2291
Open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk
For guided tours of the site for groups, contact the Isle of Wight County Museum at 757-356-1223.
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