Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)
|Ft. Stevens now includes several Civil War-era cannons.|
Fort Stevens was part of the extensive fortifications built around Washington, D.C., during the American Civil War. It was constructed in 1861 as "Fort Massachusetts" and later enlarged by the Union Army and renamed "Fort Stevens" after Brig. Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia, on September 1, 1862.
After stealing horses in Damascus, Maryland, and staying overnight near Rockville, Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's Confederate cavalry attacked Fort Stevens in the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 11 and July 12, 1864. In response, Major General George Thomas ordered the District of Columbia Militia into the service of the Union army.
On July 11th, Confederate sharpshooters successfully shot two of the fort's soldiers, but Union soldiers pushed the Confederate soldiers back to a point 300 yards (270 m) from the fort. The Confederate Army used the house of a nearby resident, Francis Preston Blair, as a headquarters and a make-shift hospital for their wounded. The livestock of several nearby farmers was captured by the Confederate Army. By the evening of July 11th, pedestrians lined nearby Seventh Street to watch the fighting. Secretary of State William Seward watched from a carriage.
The Union Army destroyed five nearby houses in order to prevent them being occupied by Confederate sharpshooters; the Union Army allowed the homeowners to remove their furniture before destroying the houses. Despite this, Confederate sharpshooters occupied another home, of Mr. Lay, just west of the fort, and fired shots at Union soldiers from there. Union soldiers responded by firing at the cupola of the house, which caused the Confederate sharpshooters to retreat from it. The house was later burned to the ground. Confederate sharpshooters also fired from Morrison's orchard nearby.
Overnight July 12th, the Confederate soldiers retreated from the fort. Confederate soldiers were seen crossing the Potomac River from Poolesville, Maryland, to Virginia. They left behind 101 wounded soldiers, including 11 officers. The total number of Confederate casualties was unknown; the number of Union soldiers killed, wounded, and missing was approximately fifty in number.
According to many accounts, President Abraham Lincoln rode out to the fort on both days to observe the attack, and was briefly under enemy fire by sharpshooters. On July 12, he was brusquely ordered to take cover, mostly likely by Union Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright. A story has grown up, probably apocryphal, that future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., then an aide-de-camp to Wright, yelled at Lincoln, "Get down, you fool!" Another story attributes this quote to nearby resident Elizabeth Thomas. This is believed to have been only the second time in American history that a sitting president came under enemy fire during a war (the first being President James Madison during the War of 1812). An article published by The Evening Star on July 13th noted, however, that "President Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln passed along the line of the city defences in a carriage last night, and were warmly greeted by the soldiers wherever they made their appearance amongst them." The article makes no mention of Lincoln coming under fire.
The site, near Georgia Avenue at 13th Street and Quackenbos Street NW, is now maintained by the National Park Service. The remains of 41 Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Stevens are buried on the grounds of nearby Battleground National Cemetery.
- "The Rebels Appear at Rockville in Some Force". The Evening Star. July 11, 1864. p. 4.
- "Lincoln Under Fire". The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, via Google News. Associated Literary Press. July 12, 1914.
- "The Invasion". The Evening Sttar. July 12, 1864. p. 2.
- "Yet Later". The Evening Star. July 12, 1864. p. 2.
- "The Invasion". The Evening Star. July 13, 1864. p. 2.
- "Late and Important". The Evening Star. July 13, 1864. p. 2.
- Cramer, John Henry. Lincoln Under Enemy Fire: The Complete Account of His Experiences During Early's Attack on Washington. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1948.
- "The Only Woman Who Called President Lincoln A Fool". The Afro American. August 30, 1952.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.).|
- The Battle of Fort Stevens: Maps, Histories, Photos, Facts, and Preservation News (CWPT)
- Google Maps Aerial View of Fort Stevens
- National Park Service page on Fort Stevens
- Leepson, Marc, Desperate Engagement: How a Little Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)
- Maureen Dowd column, September 7, 2010 Lincoln’s Forgotten Fort (New York Times, 2010)