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Full text of "The history and construction of Fort Davis on Alabama Avenue, Washington, D.C. / by David Kreider"




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THESIS 




N 




THE HISTORY AID CONSTRUCTION OP 




PORT DAVIS OH ALABAMA AVEUUE, WASHINGTON, D, C. 




PREPARED POR 




MARYLAND BETA CHAPTER 




TAU BETA PI 




By 




David Kreider 




Class of 1934. 



^ 



January 13, 1933. 



THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 

SUMMARY 
Fort Davis Is located in the District of Columbia on 
Alabama Avenue near its intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue, 
S. E. It was constructed late In 1861 and was originally in- 
tended as an outwork to Fort Baker, one of the strong points in 
the defenses of Washington. Its armament consisted of twelve 
guns, three of which were 8-in Howitzers, three 24 pounder sea 
coast guns, five 6-pounder field guns, and one 24 pound cal- 
horn mortar. It was named in honor of Col. Benj. F. Davis of 
the 8th New York Cavalry who was killed at Beverly Ford, Va. on 
June 9, 1863. The fort was occupied at different times during 
the war by detachments of the 17th Maine Artillery (in winter 
of 1862) and 9th Company Massachusetts Heavy Artillery (summer 
of 1864), No engagements with the enemy took place there. 
This property at one time was owned by ex-Major Sayles J. Bowen 
but was originally a part of the extensive estate of the Youngs 
of Nonsuch. The fort, which consists merely of earthworks is 
still standing and with four acres of land surrounding it it is 
now a public park. 



c 



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THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



VI5TGHY 

CONDITIONS LEADING- TO CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 
It is scarcely necessary to dwell upon the necessary 
in Civil War times of holding and defending Washington. In a 
:ar of the nation - united and - patriotic - with a foreign 
ower, conquest by the enemy of the seat of our government 
ould have little influence upon the issues of the contest , al- 
though our patriotism might rightly brand it as a disgrace. In 
the Civil War, however, the results would have been vastly dif- 
ferent. The rebel flag flying from the dome of the Capitol 
would have been the signal for recognition by those foreign 
powers whose open Influence and active agency would be too will. 
ingly thrown, with whatever plausible pretext, into the scale 
of dismemberment to become almost decisive of the event. 

When war was declared the National Capital was practically 
without protection from the approach of the enemy by land or 
uer. Fort Washington, about twelve miles below Washington 
s the only exception. Since the moral force of the secession- 
ists and the fighting strength of the seceding states were 
greatly underrated by the national authorities as well as by 
the citizens of the North the first additional fortifications 

ere not very extensive. The first serious effort to construct 
the seeded fortifications was made on Kay 23, 1861, The secur- 
ity of the Capital being paramount, the sites were taken as a 
military necessity, and as a rule, the lands in front of the 



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THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



forts and the trenches were cleared, for a considerable distance, 
the timber being used in the construction of the forts. The 
officers of the Engineer Corps were greatly hampered in their 
work because of the confidence of Congress in the strength of 
the Union army and in the patriotism of the citizens in the 
localities surrounding the Capital. Because of this confidence 
Congress when approiating $150,000 for the protection of Wash- 
ington had specified that It was to be used for completing 
fortifications already begun and not for starting construction 
of new forts. It was not until the Battle of Bull Run on 
July 21, 1861 that the defenselessness of the Capital was ful- 
ly realized. At that time, according to one historian, " so 
greatly demoralized was the Union Army that the city (Washing- 
ton) could have been easily captured by the Confederates had 
they not been even more demoralized by their victory than the 
Federals by defeat 1 ! Mr. Stanton, when he became Secretary of 
War, quickly grasped the situation, and regardless of the 
law referred to, appointed a commission to report on the neces- 
sity of completing the forts and general defenses of the city. 

The very best engineers in the army, Generals Totten, 
Meigs, Barry, Barnard and Cullum (forts may be found named after 
nearly all of these) and these officers designed the system of 
forts and batteries, sixty-eight in number which spread out 
around Washington for a distance of thirty-seven miles. Each 
of these flanked the other and the system was described by 



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THi! HISTORY AND COKSTRUCTIOH OF FORT DAVIS 

General Barnard as a "connected system of fortifications by 
which every point at intervals of eight hundred to one thousand 
yards was occupied "by an inclosed field fort, every important 
approach or depression of ground unseen from the forts was 
swept by a battery of field guns and the whole connected by 
rifle-trenches which were, in fact, lines of infantry parapet, 
furnishing employment for two ranks of men and affording 
covered communication along the line, while the roads were 
open wherever necessary, so that troops and artillery could 
be moved rapidly from one point on the immense periphery to 
another or under cover from point to point along the line'! 
This masterpiece of protection for our National Capital was 
made possible by the military experience and engineering skill 
of the five army engineers whose names have already been given. 

PURPOSE 05" PORT DAVIS 

Each of the forts in the huge system surrounding the 
city of Washington was built to afford the city protection from 
some specific danger of attack. Six miles of these fortifi- 
cations - a line from Port Greble to Port Meigs - were built 
to protect the Arsenal, Navy Yard, and Capitol from cannonade 
and to hold the approaches to the bridges from any sudden dash- 
es of cavalry* Port Davis was one of the fortifications in this 
line and it overlooked the three structures which it was con- 
structed to protect. In the late fall of 1861 construction of 
"Fort Davis was begun on funds from the appropiation previously 



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THE HISTORY ABD CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



mentioned. Forts Du^ont, Baker, Wagner and others in this six 
mile line were started along with Davis. All of these were 
well advanced toward completion "by the end of the year. Fort 
Baker was located a short distance to the west of Fort Davis 
and was designed as a strong point on the ridge. While Baker 
was situated on the only location in that vicinity which was 
found practicable for a large fortification it did not offer 
an ideal view of the approaches to this ridge on which it was 
located. This necessitated the building of an outwork and 
since the location to the east offered very good views of the 
approaches on either side of the ridge not seen from Fort Baker, 
Fort Davis was designed to fill the need for such an outwork. 

WARTIME HISTORY 
Fort Davis was occupied at different times during the 
was by various small detachments of artillery. The identity of 
only two of these units could be determined, however. The fort 
was occupied by a detachment of the 17th. llaine Artillery in the 
winter of 1862. This was the winter after the Unionists were 
repulsed at Richmond and suffered heavy losses in Maryland as 
well as in Virginia. The discouragement of the North at this 
time was as great as after the battle of Bull Run. President 
Lincoln called for a levy of three hundred thousand troops. 
This increase in the strength of the Union Army allowed the 
War Department to increase the strength of Washington's de- 



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THS HISTORY AKD C OBSTRUCT I OH OF PORT DAVIS 



fenses and consquently to station men at Port Davis. In the 
summer of 1864 a detachment of the H"inth Company of Massachu- 
setts Heavy Artillery was detailed there. The number of men 
and names of officers or men in these two detachments is 
unknown. Ho engagements with the enemy took place at Port 
Davis and, in fact, the nearest battle to it was the only 
Civil War battle which took place at any of Washington's de- 
fenses - the defeat at Port Stevens of General Early's twenty 
thousand troops on July 12, 1364. The only available official 
document concerning Port Davis is a message from Brigadier - 
General Barnard to General Woodbury, Because it is the only one 
it should be of interest and is duplicated here since it fur- 
nishes an official ^pinion as to the condition and value of 
the system of forts of which Port Davis was a part. 

Washington, Sept, 13, 1862, 
General D. P, Woodbury 

Commanding over Eastern Branch: 

General; The idea I have as to the system of works 
on the other side is that it is impossible to maintain any 
line. An enemy in force, say to the Ebrth of us, may make a 
sudden effort that way and break through the intervals. We can- 
not have troops enough on that side to prevent it. Certainly 
this is the case as the matter now stands. If this is correct, 



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THE HISTORY AED C OBSTRUCTION OP FORT DAVIS 

the works should be regarded merely as holding the points from 
which he might shell the city, and, which held, will prevent 
his operating on that side. 

With this in view, the forts should be kept provided 
with several days provisions. I think the garrisons ought to 
be placed more generally inside the works, particularly, as 
at Hahan, where there is much space. If there is danger of 
surprise, and no troops in the neighborhood but the garrisons, 
this the more important. The belt of woods in front of Davis, 
Dupont, and lieigs Imeant to have felled with the first work 
done. It is still standing, as also woods and wooded heights 
west of liahan, too near. The guard on the west side of Ben- 
ning's Bridge would be of no use against a cavalry raid or an 
attempt to ford the passage by an armed force. I think a tete- 
depont at Benning's and Navy Yard Bridges and stockades would 
probably be best at both positions. There are now seige guns 
at several of the works as lilahan and lieigs, seige platforms 
should be immediately laid for them. The 30 -pounder Parrott 
at Kahan may be removed to Meigs, if you think best. Enough 
field guns have been sent to Port Baker to fill all the plat- 
forms, I believe. Would It not be better to distribute them 
in Davis and Dupont, where none have been sent? If you do it, 
consider it carefully, so there will be no after changes, and 
report it after it is done. 



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TKS HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OP FORT DAVIS 

You have no idea of the uncertainly which exists as 
to the actual armament, so many changes having "been made late- 
ly. 

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant. 

J. G. Barnard 

Brigadier -General." 

HISTORY SINCE THE WAR 

Since the close of the CiTil War Fort Davis has been 
made into a public park under the jurisdiction of the Depart- 
ment of Public Buildings and Public Parks, The land, including 
four acres surrounding the fort proper, was purchased by that 
Department from the District of Columbia on January 3, 1917. 
Information as to when the District of Columbia obtained ob- 
tained possession of the land was not available. 

FORT DRIVE 

A highway connecting the forts of Civil War days 
which surround the city of "Vashington has been planned. The 
work on this scenic drive will probably be begun when funds 
are available. This drive includes Fort Davis as well as 
other wartime forts in the District of Columbia, Maryland 
and Virginia, It is proposed that this drive will pass along 
the western part of Davis and will connect it with the site 
of Fort Baker to the , teas t and with Fort Dupont to the north, 
A preliminary plan of Fort Drive will be found elsewhere in 



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THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



this report. 



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THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OP FORT DAVIS 

CONSTRUCTION 

LOCATION OP PORT DAVIS 

The location of Port Davis, as described during the 
time of Its construction, was "along Ridge Road, south of the 
hill on Bennings Road'i Since then Pennsylvania Avenue, S. S. 
has been extended and touches the property on the south. That 
part of Ridge Road which ran by the fort has since been re- 
named and is now known as Alabama Avenue. It touches the 
fort property on the east. The location is slightly less t":.at> 
four miles east of the Capitol and a mile east of the Eastern 
Branch of the Potomac River, The location of the flagstaff 
of the fort (it , of course , is no longer standing and the 
location is not marked) was at 38° 51 1 56,54* * north latitude 
and at 76° 56* 47.91' ' longitude west from Greewich. The 
elevation of the site was three hundred and three feet above 
mean tide. 

Just before it was utilized for the construction of 
Port Davis the property was ov.ned by ex -Major Sayles J. Bowen. 
The groundi however, was originally a part of the extensive 
estate of the Youngs of Nonsuch. 

TIME OP CONSTRUCTION 

Construction of Port Davis was begun late in the fall 
of 1861, soon after Congress granted an appropiation for the 
construction of adltional fortifications for the protection 
of the city. The work was well advanced toward completion by 



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THE HISTORY AMD CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 

the end of this same year. By the winter of 1862 the fort 
was completed, with a detachment of artillery stationed there 
and with some guns mounted. 

METHOD OF CONSTRUCTION 

Earthworks were thrown to a great height and in ace or- 
dance with direction given in Mahan's "Field Fortifications". 
The perimeter of the fort proper was made two hundred and 
twenty yards. The small size of Davis was due mainly to its 
status as an outwork to Fort Baker although the terrain in- 
fluenced it to some extent. Built into the fort (Davis) were 
eight embrassures or openings in the parapet and five barbettes 
or earthern terraces raised within the parapeu so high as to 
enable guns to be fired over the latter. It is unknown if all 
of these parts of the fortification were built in when the 
fort was first constructed or added as the need for them arose. 
It may be supposed, however, that they were built at the off- 
set and not as guns were added since two barbette platforms 
intended for field and seige guns remained vacant through-out 
the war according to the "Report on the defenses of Washington 
to the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army." presented by General 
Barnard. The greatest armament of the fort consisted of 
twelve guns. Eleven of these, consisting of three eight-inch 
seige Howitzers (mounted in an embrassure), three twenty-four 
pounder sea coast guns (barbette) and five six pounder field 
guns, were smooth bore guns. The only rifled gun in the fort 






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THE HISTORY AMD CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 

at this time was a twenty-pounder Coehorn idortar. At this same 
time there were also two vacant field and seige platforms in 
the fort. 

HAILING OP FORT DAVIS 
The name of Davis was applied to the fort in honor 
of Colonel Benjamin F. Davis of the Bigth Hew York Cavalry, 
United States Army, Colonel Davis's war record was excellent 
and several official communications can be found in " Records 
of the Rebellion" in which he was praised by his superior 
officers for his bravery and military skill. Davis, then act- 
ing as a Brigadier-General, was killed in action at Beverly 
Ford, Virginia on June §, 1863. 



THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCT I OH OF FORT DAVIS 





1 











A 



Snterance to Fort Davis (Alabama Avenue). 




Enfbrassure in Fort (viewed from west) 



THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 







m 




^ 



> 




View from Fort showing slope to its west. 



A 







Part of ditch surrounding Fort (at right) 



TEH HISTORY AHD CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



V^ 







The Grolier Information Service 

Conducted by 

The Grolier Society 

2 West 45th Street, New York 




Mrs. . [rei&er, December 21.1932. 

Lafl^fam , Ed . 

dear Mrs. Kreider:- 

In answer to your letter I arc sending you the following infor: 
tion on Fort Davis, in 'Washington, D. C. 

This fort was constructed during the Civil War in connection with 
several other fortifications to protect Washington. In a "Report on 
the defense of Washington to the Qhief of ^gineers , . .Army" made by 
I.aj .Gen. J. G.Barnard, in 18/1 ,the writer says," Fort Davis requires no 
special remark. It may he regarded as an outwork to Fort Baker, having 
a pretty good view of approaches on either side of the ridges not seen 
from that fort." 

It is evident that all other .writers and historians have had the 
same view of Fort Davis, that is, that it requires "no special remark." 
The fact is .that no history of that fort hs.s yet been written, and in 
spite of prolonged searching of records .government publications .sub- 
ject indeces .books on American fortifications .books on the Civil War, 
guide books and descriptions of Washington,!),*', no additional informa- 
tion has been obtained. In addition to this research I wrote to the 
Columbia Historical Society, of Washington,!. C. I received a reply that 

nard'S "Defense of Washington has little mention" of it. The Sec- 
retary of the Society could give me no additional infor ma tion, but 
sug-ested that I write to the War Department , but I found the above 
quotation in a Report in that Department. 

. .B. Grolier Information oervice. 



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TH3 HISTORY ABD CONSTRUCTION OF FORT DAVIS 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

"The War of Rebellion", Series-1, Vol. 19. 

"Report on the defense of Washington to the Chief of Engineers, 
U. S. Army" by Haj . Gen. J. G, Barnard (1871). 

"Guide to National Capital - 1892'i 

"Washington During War Time", Official Souvenir 36th. Annual 
Encampment, G. A. R. 

"The Evening Star", September 19, 1892. 

"Handy Guide to Washington? 
Files of the Department of Public Buildings and Public Parks