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Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)

Fort Stevens was part of the extensive fortifications built around Washington, DC, during the American Civil War


  • 1 Location
  • 2 Construction
  • 3 Civil War
  • 4 Present day
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


The fort 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 In 1861, it had a perimeter of 168 yards and places for 10 cannon In 1862, it was expanded to 375 yards and 19 guns1

It guarded the northern approach to Washington, DC, the Seventh Street Turnpike1 By 1864 Fort Stevens was one part of a thirty-seven mile-long arrangement of fortifications, consisting of sixty-eight forts intended to defend the capital2


The fort was constructed as a part of a defensive ring around Washington Following the Union defeat at Bull Run, Congress voted to augment the city's defenses, which consisted of a single fort Fort Washington twelve miles to the south on the Potomac Eventually, "68 forts, 93 batteries, 20 miles of rifle pits, and 32 miles of military roads surrounded the capital and Washington became the most heavily fortified city in the world"3

In September 1861 Union troops took possession of a property owned by a free black family Elizabeth Proctor Thomas and her siblings at the Seventh Street Turnpike, seeing it as "an ideal and necessary location for a fort"3 The soldiers ultimately destroyed her home, barn, orchard, and garden to build what was then named Fort Massachusetts

Elizabeth Thomas would later often repeat the story that she was watching union soldiers with a baby in her arms weeping as they destroyed her house when "a tall, slender man dressed in black approached her and said, 'It is hard, but you shall reap a great reward'"3 Many listening to her story held that the man was President Abraham Lincoln

Thomas would have to fight for compensation for damage and loss of her property and was eventually awarded $1,835 in 1916, a year before her death3

Civil Waredit

Historical map of Washington DC area, showing forts and roads in NE Virginia, Drafted by US War Department, 1865 Main article: Battle of Fort Stevens

After being delayed by the Battle of Monocacy, Maj Gen Jubal Early's Confederate forces advanced on Washington, DC The cavalry attacked Fort Stevens in the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 11 and July 12, 18644 They were delayed stealing horses in Damascus, Maryland, and staying overnight near Rockville,5 In response, Major General George Thomas ordered the District of Columbia Militia into the service of the Union army6

On July 11, 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 fort6 The Confederate Army used the house of a nearby resident, Francis Preston Blair, as a headquarters7 and a makeshift hospital for their wounded6 The livestock of several nearby farmers was captured by the Confederate Army6 By the evening of July 11, pedestrians lined nearby Seventh Street to watch the fighting6 Secretary of State William Seward watched from a carriage6

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 houses6 Despite this, Confederate sharpshooters occupied another home, of Mr Lay, just west of the fort, and fired shots at Union soldiers from there8 Union soldiers responded by firing at the cupola of the house, which caused the Confederate sharpshooters to retreat from it6 The house was later burned to the ground8 Confederate sharpshooters also fired from Morrison's orchard nearby7

Overnight July 12, the Confederate soldiers retreated from the fort8 Confederate soldiers were seen crossing the Potomac River from Poolesville, Maryland, to Virginia9 They left behind 101 wounded soldiers, including 11 officers8 The total number of Confederate casualties was unknown; the number of Union soldiers killed, wounded, and missing was approximately fifty in number6

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 Wright4 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!"10 Another story attributes this quote to nearby resident Elizabeth Thomas11 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 13 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"8 The article makes no mention of Lincoln coming under fire8

Present dayedit

The site was abandoned after the war Cass White formed the Fort Stevens Lincoln Memorial Association A stone memorial was dedicated on November 7, 191112 In the late 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps restored a portion of the parapet and one magazine13

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

Further up Georgia Ave, a monument to seventeen unknown Confederate Soldiers was erected in Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery, in Silver Spring, MD The seventeen soldiers, who died at Fort Stevens, are buried in that cemetery In the aftermath of the recent events in Charlottesville , work has begun to possibly remove the memorial monument14

See alsoedit

  • Civil War Defenses of Washington
  • Washington, DC, in the American Civil War
  • Bibliography of the American Civil War
  • Bibliography of Abraham Lincoln
  • Bibliography of Ulysses S Grant


  1. ^ a b Cooling, Owen & p156
  2. ^ Leepson, Marc 2007 Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, DC, and Changed American History New York: Thomas Dunne Books: St Martin's Press p 148 ISBN 0-312-36364-8 
  3. ^ a b c d "Elizabeth Proctor Thomas" National Park Service 
  4. ^ a b "Lincoln Under Fire" The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, via Google News Associated Literary Press July 12, 1914 
  5. ^ "The Rebels Appear at Rockville in Some Force" PDF The Evening Star July 11, 1864 p 4 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Invasion" PDF The Evening Star July 12, 1864 p 2 
  7. ^ a b "Yet Later" PDF The Evening Star July 12, 1864 p 2 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "The Invasion" PDF The Evening Star July 13, 1864 p 2 
  9. ^ "Late and Important" PDF The Evening Star July 13, 1864 p 2 
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "The Only Woman Who Called President Lincoln A Fool" The Afro American August 30, 1952 
  12. ^ Cooling, Owen & p161
  13. ^ Cooling II, 1988 & Owen II, pp 156
  14. ^ Hardy, John M 1976 "Maryland Historical Trust: Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery/Confederate Monument" PDF Retrieved 25 August 2017 


  • Cooling III, Benjamin Franklin; Owen II, Walton H 6 October 2009 Mr Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington Scarecrow Press ISBN 978-0-8108-6307-1 
  • Cramer, John Henry, Lincoln Under Enemy Fire, the Complete Account of His Experiences During Early's Attack on Washington, Louisiana, State University Press, 1948; University of Tennessee Press, 2009, ISBN 9781572336698
  • Leepson, Marc 20 August 2013 Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, DC, and Changed American History St Martin's Press pp 59– ISBN 978-1-4668-5170-2 

External linksedit

  • 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
  • Maureen Dowd column, September 7, 2010 Lincoln’s Forgotten Fort New York Times, 2010

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