Conservationists Seek to Preserve Annapolis Civil War Landmark
A case of local conservation efforts against development has prompted inquiry into a former Civil War post just outside Annapolis. The site, initially called Fort Grey but known more commonly as Mount Misery, sits on the Severn River roughly two miles northeast of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Originally constructed in April 1861 as a redoubt by Brigadier General Benjamin F. Butler, roughly 250 Union troops and two howitzers were stationed at Mount Misery during the war.
Arriving by Chesapeake steamer at the U.S. Naval Academy on the night of 20 April 1861, Butler and his 8th Massachusetts Volunteers were the first troops from the North to reach Annapolis in the perilous opening days of the war. New York regiments reached the Academy grounds soon after. The Army would commandeer the site and oversee the surrounding area (strong with Southern sentiment) for the duration of the war, the Naval Academy faculty and midshipmen having temporarily relocated to Rhode Island.
The site of nearby Mount Misery commands an impressive view of the Severn and Magothy rivers as they feed into Chesapeake Bay.
It is this view that developers desired when they purchased the land in 2020, stating that two four-story homes would be constructed on the spot. Neighbors had immediate cause for alarm: The hill has a 51 percent grade, and deforestation would create significant runoff in what is already a critical wetland area.
The concerned locals reached out to the Magothy River Association (MRA), a volunteer group aimed at protecting the waterways through conservation and education. As MRA President Paul Spadaro began examining the area, he found its significance had been overlooked by history.
“Mount Misery was built to block the road coming down from Baltimore and protect Annapolis’s back door,” Spadaro said. Union troops erected a signal tower there, which was in sight of Fort Nonsense to the south and Annapolis across the Severn. Lookouts could warn of threats coming from both land and sea. But environmental conditions along with the locals’ pro-Confederacy sentiments made the area “miserable.”
“The whole area is hot and full of mosquitoes,” Spadaro says. “Added to that, the locals were extremely hostile and violent toward Union troops. When the war ended, the fort was abandoned entirely. The only reason why it’s still here is because Union engineers erected it on such a steep slope.”
What remains of the actual fort is questionable. “From an archaeological perspective, the subsurface features need to tell the story,” said Jane Cox, administrator for the Cultural Resources Section in the Office of Planning and Zoning of Anne Arundel County, who has been researching the site as a potential candidate for the National Register of Historic Places. Cox noted that the developer was required to perform an extensive archaeological survey, but the final report showed that 20th-century activity had already stripped the land. “If we don’t have surviving subsurface evidence, the area cannot be considered an archeological site.”
Spadaro’s work highlights the frustrations of historical restoration: If the physical space has not endured time, can a sense of the space be preserved? Spadaro and Cox hope to bring awareness to the area’s role in protecting Annapolis during the Civil War, even if Mount Misery itself cannot be protected from development.
Naval Primary Source–Gathering Detachment Being Defunded
For decades, the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC’s) reserve unit, the Navy Combat Documentation Detachment 206 (NCDD 206), has collected large amounts of information on current operations. With the end of the war in Afghanistan and changing priorities, assigned Navy Reserve billets supporting the NHHC’s combat documentation and collections mission are to be phased out. The Navy Reserve will defund the unit after this fiscal year.
Established in the early 1990s, NCDD 206 sent reservists, many having advanced degrees in history, to cover operations in the Balkans, Operation Desert Fox, the USS Cole (DDG-67) bombing, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and operations in the Horn of Africa and the Pacific.
With the phase-out of the NHHC’s reserve unit, the NHHC will need to lean on the other services’ active-duty and reserve service members who currently perform this mission to fill in when the U.S. Navy needs operational historical support, collection, and documentation in forward-deployed combat zones.