Skip to main content

Full text of "Fort Lincoln : history and construction / by J.T. Doyle."

See other formats

- FORT Lr T C0Lr T - 


By J.T.Doyle 

University of Maryland 

Thesis prepared as an initiation requirement for 

Tau Beta Pi 


fort Lr T cor T 

Prior to the Civil War, the city of Washington had 
never been fortified in any way against an enemy invasion. 
". r ith the advent of these internal disturbances, the Union forces 
built extensive defensive works around the Capital of the na- 
tion, which had become a goal of the southern forces. These de- 
fences consisted of a line of infantry parapet, batteries , and 
forts, which extended clear around the city. Of those construct- 
ed on the northern heights overlooking the city, the largest 
and most important was Fort Lincoln located on a ridge directly 
east of Bladensburg Road at the District Line. The guns of this 
fort commanded, the wide valley of Bladensburg thru which ran 
the most important approaches to Washington from the north, the 
Post Road and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The capture of 
this valley would have isolated the Capital from the rest of 

the Union. 

The Confederate attack anticipated at this point never 
materialised and the fort did not take any part in the defences 
of the city other than to stand guard over the valley extend- 
ing before it. 

All that remains of this structure today after a lapse 
of seventy-two years, are a few of the infantry parapet and the 
side walls of two of its batteries. The National Training 
School has been built upon the site of the fort itself. The last 
traces of the breastworks having been obliterated in 1931 by 
the construction of a new building. The remainder of the ground 
is now used as a cemetery which bears the name of Fort Lincoln. 

Fort Lincoln 

Prior to the Civil War, the city of Washington had 
never been fortified in any way against an enemy invasion. 
This is easily understood because during the Revolution 
there was no city of Washington, and in the war of 1812 the 
American generals unwisely supposed that the city was safe 
from attack. This surrnosition was based on the inland nosition 
of the city ani its natural protection on three sides by very 
heavy; forest and swamp land. The fourth side, that to the 
ortheast, was somewhat ex-nosed by a navigable river, now 
called the Anascostia, which flowed through the town of ?lad ens- 
burg, a thriving uort at that time. The British found this 
vulnerable snot about two years a.fter the declaration of war in 
1812. They lost no time in carrying out their nlan of taki 
the city. The British fleet sailed, unmolested, uo the narrow 
river and fell unon the sleeping town of Bladensburg. So 
unexpected was the attack that no measures for the defence of 
the capital were undertaken. A few companies of volunteers and 
a nortion of naval reserve unit lined up across the Post Road 
(now Bladensburg Road) ani prepared to resist the British ad- 
vance. Upon the appearance of the enemy, the soldiers fell back 
in terror. The sailors, under command of Cbmmadore Barney, how- 
ever, were made of sterner stuff. They put uo a stubborn but 
boneless battle over the ground where Port Lincoln was later to 
be constructed. A spring, unier an ancient oak, which, according 
to tradition, occupies the place where Barney met his death, is 


named for the gallant Comma'iore. This spring "beneath its stal- 
wart guardian is still bubbling forth. 

With the advent of the internal disturbances through- 
out the country over the question of slavery, and the subse- 
quent declaration of war by the Union unon the seceeling states, 
Washington became a strategic noint in the defences of the Worth . 
With the war came the realization that the city was 'lefenceless . 
President Lincoln, who was to lead the country & u t of these 
troubled waters, immediately issued orders to the effect that 
Washington must be fortified by the best ana 1 quickest means. 
The army engineers set off at once to the south of the city 
across the Potomac River to set up a line of strong forts, 
batteries, and infantry parapets, which were to extend as a 
protection from a point well above Chain Bridge, the main en- 
trance of the city from the South, to the river aiie of Alex- 
andria. Directing these operations were some of the army's 
ablest engineers, among whom were Generals lieigg, Totten, Slem- 
ner, and Sumner, whose work with fortifications never been 
excelled. Under this able direction, the fortification snrang 
UTi almost over night, to make Washington practically imnregnable 
from the South. These forts, namely, Marcy, Ethan Allen, C.F. 
Smith, Bennet, McPherson, Perry, Garesche, Reynolds, Ward, 
Worth, Williams, Lyons, Weld, Barnes worth, and O'Rourke, were 
never seriously threatened by the Confederates at any time 
during the four years of war which followed. 

It was due directly to the fame of this strong line of 
defences, spreading through the South, that the city of Wash- 


;ton had to "be fortified. The southern leaders, rep Tiring the 
uselessness of trying to -n^netrate from the Bouth, turned their 
efforts harassing the northern front of the capital. Previous 
to the secret secession of Virginia and the ooen defiance of the 
Maryland people, it wa,s supposei that this side of the territory 
would be safe from any attempts on the nart of the Confederates. 
With the revolt of her nearest neighbors, the District of Colum- 
bia was again thrown open th the enemy. Jefferson Davis, know* 

that, with the capture of the capital of the nation, he 
cruld begin foreign alliances, ordered his generals to take the 
city at any cost. Having this as their goal, the Southern armies 
began their famous western swing into the territory north of 
"'.^shington. Grant, recognizing the true significance of this 
move, apoin sent out his engineers to the North to extend his 
fortifications clear around the city in an unbroken line. The 
same men who bad served so well at the south of the Pot on 
were again called upon to save the Union forces from certain 
defeat. This time, secrecy being essential, the work was done 
in such a manner that the real strength of the fortifications 
was not apparent to the enemy. Crant, meanwhile, kept his 
forces to the Horth, trying to prevent the Confederate move 
from the West., across the northern front another series 
of forts was thrown up, connected by infantry lines which "'ere 
punctuated by strong batteries of guns about every twelve hun- 
dred yards. There was now a total of forty-eight defensive 
positions r round the city, which were mounted with some three 
hundred guns. 



Of these forts, built on the northern front, the lar- 
gest and most imnortant was Fort Lincoln. Due to a shortage of 
time and labor, Meigg and Totten had been very careful in sel- 
ecting the location of the various fortifications, choosing 
positions affording the he3t fields of fire and at the most 
strategic -points. Fort Lincoln was built on the crest of a ridge, 
just to the Fast of the old r ost Road at the District Line. 
From this -position, now called Prospect Heights, the guns of 
the fort commanded the wide valley of Bladensbure;. Through this 
valley ran the most important approaches to Washington from the 
orth, the Post Road and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The 
ture of this valley by the enemy would have isolated the 
capital from the rest of the Union and insured the success of ttee 
attack. Because of its being such a vital noint, it was sunoosed 
that this valley would be the center of the Confederate irive. 
So much emnhasis was placed on the strength of this noint of 
resistance, that neT f s of its impregnability leaked through to 
the enemy intellegence. General Early, one of the South' s most 
capable leaders, was ordered to detach his division from the 
Touthern offensive and by si inning behind the lines, deliver a 
surnrise attack at a point to the " r est of Fort Tincoln which 
was not so well -protected, "his was to be at the ncint "*rhich 
was then called Fort Massachusetts and which has since been re- 
named Stevens. When Early's departure became known to the main 
body of the Union troops, it was too late for them to stoo him. 
^he city of Washington was well fortified but lacked the man- 
power to handle the runs. President Lincoln immediately sent 

Fort was situated. The National Training School for "boys has 
heen put on the site of the Fort kroner. The buildings occupy 
the southwest end of the ridge which rises to an altitude of 
about two hundred and twenty feet alove the vale t" h which 
Hickey Run flows. The ridge extends to the Northeast almost 
three quarters of a mile. Beyond this noint, it drons gradual 
into the small valley of a stream which flowed through the old 
D uel Ground of Bladensburg but which has long since dried up. 
The crest of the ridge is cut by numerous small valleys mady by 
streams flowing into the Eastern Branch of the Anacostia River 
which oozes through the swarimland over a mile from the ridge. 
This land lias since been partially cleared but by those nortions 
remaining unchanged it may be seen that these small wild valley 
must have afforded excellent shelter for troons. All traces of 
a ramparts of the fort were obliterate ir the building of the 
school but to the north of the school grounds the old covered- 
way to the first battery may be easily traced. The battery it- 
self, is now just a hole in the ground, but its sides <1esr>ite 
its age, clearly show it to be the work of man. All of the in- 
fantry parapet to the west of the fort has been turned under 
in a more recent develonement of the land. This battery was 
built simultaneously with the fort, as were two others on the 
rearmost spur of the ridge. They were intended to defend the 
appcach between the extremity of the ridge and the stream. 
Unon the revision of the lines in 186}, it was not 
deemed that this, the right flank of the northern lines, was 
sufficiently secured against flanking attacks in the snace 


between the river and the end of the original ridge battery. 
Pence, to remedy the condition, a mowerful battery name'l Jai^e- 
son was erected n nd connected with the original covered-way 
by lines of parapet and infantry trenches. Thus a continuous 
line of defence was established along the ridge as far as the 
valley of the ri"er.To the right of Battery Jameson, the under- 
growth and thick pine forrest formed ample protection against 
any attack from this flank. This additional battery, being fit- 
ted with ample bombproof structures to protect its defenders 
from all types of fire, incurred great expense. These bombproof s, 
constructed of high, wide earth ramparts, extended to the rear at 
the top" by means of reinforcements of large unhewn logs. This 
canopy of logs and earth extended clear round the battery of 
guns ad protected' the men within the structure from almost any 
type of weapons except artillery fire with curved trajectory 
which might fall within the confines of its walls. The men 
who built this structure were later criticized for their waste 
of material and time because it could have been dispensed 
with, in as much as the sides of the deep ravive behind the 
ridge would have formed ample protection. The outlines of this 
old battery may still be traced by the earth parapet, the wood 
of the bombproof structures having long ago given way to decay. 
The woods to the front of the battery, a new, vigorous growth, 
shelters many of the stumps of the trees that were cut down 
to give the battery a field of fire. The infantry, parapet form- 
ing the connection to the f»rt: stands today, as it did more than 


half a century ago, covered with a thick growth of thorns and 
vines which has kept corrosion from tearing it down. These 
mounds of earth are about all that remains of the old forti- 
fications to the right of the ridge. 

The Fort, itself , was, roughly, a quadrangle seven hun- 
dred and fifty feet long, north and south. A thousand feet of 
infantry parapet extended to the "battery at '■the north end of 
ridge lower than the fort, and then seven hundred feet of rifle 
trench extended northward down the slooe to "battery Jameson 
which was five hundred feet long. Westward, down the hill, to 
the Bladenshurg Road, thence to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 
and on to : Fort Thayer, twelve hundred yards west of Fort Lin- 
coln, was a line of rifle trenches which were sunnorted "by four 
•powerful "batteries. This line of trenches continued to the North - 
we?t to Battery Morris, Fort Sarratoga, Fort Bunker Hill, Fort 
Slemner, and to Fort m otten. The armament of Fort Lincoln was one 
of the largest mi heaviest of any of the fortifications that 
were "built at this time. The list of weapons, other than the 
of the infantry, is as follows: 

S mooth Bore Guns 

2--8 inch s^ige howitzers 

6--32 lb. stationary cannon 

1--24 lb. seige gun 

3--T4 lb. stationary cannon 

3--24 lb. F. and D. howitzers 

4—12 n h. field guns 

'--6 lb. field guns 


Rifled duns 
1 narrott 
4--30 11:. ^arrotta 

1--10 inch seige gun 
2--24 lb. eohorn 

The personnel of the Port totalled about seven hun- 
dred and fifty men and officers, one hundred and forty of whom 
were gunners, the rest being infantry riflemen who occupied 
the connecting trenches. 

The ground unon which these relics of tr • days 

stand is now used as a cemeta.ry, orivately owned by a hoari 
of business men, one of whom i3 i ber of the old Vietch 
family, These crumbling breastworks have been left unmoles- 
ted because they are a good advertisement for the cemetary 
which bears the name of Fort Lincoln. 

BrantMlle T* 
Berwyri \ 





/ 1 ) K !■* K X S K S ( ) V WA S 1 1 1 XI Ml )X 


Remains of infantry parapet connecting Fort Lincoln and 

Battery Jameson 

Looking to the North Bast from the north battery of 

Fort Lincoln 

"ewest building of Boys National Training "chool built 
July 1931 which eradicated last of the Fort proper. 

Barney Spring 

Looking Northeast from Lincoln Ridge showing the valley 
of the ."nacostia River. 

Bladensburg Valley to the west of Lincoln Ridpe with 
"the Old Post Road in the foreground. 

Covered Way which connected Fort Lincoln with its 

batteries . 

Old Vietch T !omestead 

(1) The Defences of ",'ashington 

by William ,,T eox 

(2) A. Report on the Defenses of Washington 

by General J.G. Barnard U.S.A. 

(3) War of the Rebellion 

(War Department Records) 

(4) War Time in Washington 

(a scrap book prepared from newspaper 
articles collected by the Hit j in 
Library of "Washington, ^.C.) 

(5) Proceedings of the Columbia Historical Society 

(6) The Washington Post 

(February 20,1921}