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Fort Monroe launches database project to tell stories from its Army days

Fort Monroe (U.S. Army/Released)

Built in 1819, Fort Monroe has some two centuries of history and stories to share.

Some histories are better known, such as the three enslaved men who sought freedom at Fort Monroe during the Civil War.

Their journey — and Gen. Benjamin Butler granting them asylum as contraband of war — sparked a movement that would draw thousands of slaves seeking refuge, earning Fort Monroe the moniker “Freedom’s Fortress.”

But there are dozens of lesser-known modern histories about the people who lived, worked and served at the former military post long before the Army decommissioned it in 2011.

Casemate Museum officials seek to collect that data under a new program called the “Faces of Fort Monroe,” which asks the public to share their lives and times at the fortress.

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With the data, museum officials hope to create additional exhibits, displays and other interpretive programs, especially oral histories about military life, said collections manager Veronica Gallardo.

Visitors who come to the Casemate often remark they have a connection to the fort, either via a relative who served there or they lived at Fort Monroe when it was a military post, Gallardo said.

“A lot people who walk through say they used to live in this house … or my grandfather served. People want to come back and talk about where they lived … that this was one of the best military bases,” she said.

Over the past seven years, people — some from as far away as the West Coast — have donated artifacts, correspondence, memorabilia, medals of honor, uniforms and other documents that can be compiled into exhibits.

That inspired museum officials to launch the “Faces” project. It’s also for those visitors who have less of a connection to Fort Monroe or its significance so that they may have a greater appreciation through the lens of someone who lived here.

“It’s more approachable for the visitor … by capturing those people, civilians that were wives, that were kids that participated in a social life,” Gallardo said. “If this information is not captured now … it will be lost.”

Forms to share a story about life at Fort Monroe when it was an active military post are available by contacting [email protected], by calling 757-637-7778 or at fortmonroe.org.

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© 2019 the Daily Press