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Full text of "The history and construction of Fort Stevens / John Reder Shipman."

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Theaia Prepared by 
John Reder Shipinan 

Presented to Maryland Beta Chapter of T«u Pets Pi 

January 13, 1933 



The infnpttifl tinn for this thesis was obtained from the 
following sources: 

War of Rebellion - i'ol. 37, Series 1 

rje^enses of Washington - Maj. Hen. J. 0. Barnard 

Defenses o** "'ashington - W, ir . Cox 

The Evening Star of July 1864, 1902 

Renin! sconce of ICsrly 1 s Attack of Washington - E. S. 

Dudley and P, G , Thome a 
Congressional Records 

Material Prepared for J. A. Goulden by the V/ar Dept . 
Memories of Company K of 150th Ohio Regiment - J, G, 

Rambling Through Washington - T, D. Gatchel 
Exercises at Port Stevens July 12, 1920 - Survivors 

Sixth U. S. Army Corps 
Interview with J. H. Duhanmel - Member of Oldest 

Inhabitants Society 
Interview with Guide ">t R*ttle-Ground Hemetery 
Interview with Judge J, H. Shepherd 



Uhen the Civil War broke out the defenses of Washington 
were hardly worthy of the name. Sever*! forts were soon built to 
guard the roads entering "'nshington, The snail . earthworks on the 
Seventh Street Pike five miles from the capitol erected in October 
1861 and called Fort Massachusetts was surprizingly inadequate. 
Consequently, it was enlarged in 186S into a formidable defensive 
fort and renamed Fort Stevens in honor of General I. I. Stevens. 

In 1064 General Jubal Early of the Confederate army 
boldly marched through Maryland and on July 11 attacked the fort 
intent upon capturing Washington. The fort was feebly manned but 
managed to hold until relief arrived in the form of the sixth 
corps. For a day and a half the battle raged. Throughout these 
hours President Lincoln remained at the fort in view of the battle 
field. Finally Ferly was forced to retreat and Washington was 
saved . 

Since the war the cemetery in which several soldiers had 
been buried was made a national cemetery but the bill to make the 
fort a national park failed to pass Congress. 




Whea "Port Sun/ter was fired on April 12, 1861 at the be- 
ginning of the fhr— "- Civil War of the United States, the city of 
"'ashington was as defenseless as it was in 1814 when it was captured 
by the British. *n May 1861 th-- first serious effort was made to 
construct fortifications. There w^re no strong natural defensive 
features around. Washington nor was the city compact and concentre ted. 
Therefore when a group of officers under chief engineer General 
Mansfield assisted by Major H. 6. Wright (later commander of the 
Sixth U.S. Army Corps) were sent out, they had as their main object 
tbe securing of the roads entering Washington, However, the officers 
of tbe Engineer Corps were greatly hampered in their work by a clause 
in the congressional bill forbidding tbe expenditure for new fortifi- 
cations anv of the *150,000 appropriated for defense of Washington. 
W, V, Cox in sneaking of this condition says, "In and out of Congress 
it was claimed that there was no need of forts, for were not tbe 
bills and valleys covered with unselfish, self-pacrif icing , patri- 
otic volunteers, could not the stern, unvi elding determination of 
t>ese men be depended upon?" It w=is admirable faith but failed to 
realize that both, the Union and che Confederate soldiers were 

The battle at Bull Pun in July 1861 proved that the war 
was going to be lasting. It also brought to the minds in charge 
the defenselessness of Washington, It was said that after the 
battle the Confederates could easily have captured the city had 
tbev not been more demoralized by victory than the Union army by 


defeat. It Is scarcely necessarv to dwell upon the necessity of 
holding and defending the nation's capitol. Capture of Washington 
bv the Confederates would nenn disaster. The new secretary of war, 
Mr, Ptinton, understood the situation and ordered the comnlss loners 
to disregard the l«w and prepare defenses for Washington. As a 
result 63 forts and batteries wer>e built. Major General J. G, 
Barnard describes then as "a ".onnected svstem of fortifications by 
which every point at intervals of BOO to 1,000 yards was occupied 
bv an enclosed ^ield fort; every important approach was swept by 
a battery of field guns and the who Id connected by rifle trenches". 

In those days the Seventh Street Pike (Georgia Avenue) 
was the leading thoroughfare to and from Washington. Passing outward 
along this street there was a gradual though not continuous ascent 
until a onint about five miles from the capitol wh^re the cordon of 
defenses crossed the road. Here at a height of 321 feet above mean 
tide, a fort was built in October 1861 by troops from Massachusetts 
wbo/haned the fort after their beloved state. An irregular depres- 
sion in advance of the fort extending to the left towards Pock 1 
C-reelr *nd to the right to the front Of ^ort Slocum exposed a large 
portion n? the country to vl^w fron the fort. he very insignifi- 
cant jvork originally thrown up as Fort Massachusetts occupying one 
of the most Important positions in *"-he system being found Inadequate 
was enlarged in September 1862 and again In May 1863. On April l f 
1863 the name was changed from Fort Massachusetts to Fort Stevens, 
in honor of Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, General 
Stevens had just lost his life at Chantilly, Virginia. "When his 
troups wavered under the terrific fire, General Stevens rushed 
forward to the leading regiment, siezed the colors from the wounded 


besrer and calling on the highlanders to follow hiri, led them In 
the onslaught which hurled back the eneny. In the moment of victory 
he was shot down with the flag falling over him." During the war 
™anv ind vifious troaps c*»mped in ^nd around ^ort Stevens. Some of 
the rnor-e prominent were* 7th Massachusetts. 10th rassaehusetts , 
36th New York, a Rhode Island regiment, a Maine battery, 1st Ohio, 
and the 150th Ohio. However, it was not until July 1364 that the 
fort was called on to serve the capltol it guarded. 

The ramparts of Fort Stevens extended from a point about 
50 feet north of the present school house (which is on Georgia 
Avenue just south of Rittenhouse Street) in a northern direction 
for 160 f«et, then in a northwest direction for 140 feet, northwest 
at a more acute angle for 90 feet, then nearly west for 2S0 feet, 
southwest for 80 feet, and south for 114 feet. The two ends on the 
south connected by a stockade and a blockhouse stood about halfway 
between the entrance and the wast end of the fort. The fort had 
two magazines . one where Fmory Church now stands and the other to 
the west where the depression is still visible. A house belonging 
to Elizabeth. Thomas had to be torn down and the cellar enlarged for 
this magazine, on tne south side of the fort a "bombproof" wss 
built 150 feet long. It ran parallel to the stockade and approxi- 
mately 50 feet from it. The construction of this shelter can 
easily be seen from the acompanying drawing. On the east side of the 
fort at latitude 33" 57' 47.16" and longitude 77°l' 23.57" was the 
flag pole. Around the entire fort was an abatis which was trees, 
posts, and stakes driven in the ground and pointing outward. Just 
inside was dug a ditch about 6 feet deep, 8 feet wide at the bottom. 


The dirt was piled on the side next to the fort forming a parapet. 
In the hollow ground south of the fort capable of sheltering large 
bodies of nen from artillery fire, were built barracks. These 
were Viilt partly from timber cut down and partly from lumber in 
fences ind houses belonging to Mr, M. G, Emory, snd other buildings 
t^e soldiers tore down without consulting the owners. The accom- 
panying drawing gives a much clearer ide? of the fort and also the 
« -pigments . 








I. Fm tci Gun 
£ Field «un 
3 T~i*ld Qan 
•* Field Gun 

5. ?o Pour^e* 

6. Z*i fsuhdet 

7. ifo rfeimder 

/a 24 "PouYvdair 

and Vfio 

12- a imK Ckiw 





30 ftmnJef 
X Pound** 

J.4 Fbuntjei* 

XJrau/n from description 
given ky'M*}. Gen. ~BarMrd t V.SR 



In the spring of 1864 Grant vfas crowding Lee at Richmond, 
Hunter had defeated Jones near Staunton and was threatening Lynch- 
burg and things did not look so well for the Confederate Amy, Lee 
therupon determined to follow the example of Napoleon, who had made 
it the fashion of Furope to dash through all obstacles to the 
capitol of the enemy. So Lee divided his armv and on June 12, 1864 
ordered General Jubal Early to take his own and General Ewell's 
troops ^nd attack Hunter, push on down the Shenadoah valley to 
Harper's Fer-ry, enter Maryland <md surprize Washington. Early 
struck Hunter, who retired down the Kanawha valley f crossed the 
Fotomac and was shelling General Slegel's forces at Maryland 
Heights before the Northern army realized he wasn't still in front of 
Grant at Richmond. On July 8 Early moved around Slegel's troups 
and on the 9th was at Frederick. Then Washington became truly 
ilarmed. Reports cane in that the rebels numbered anywhere from 
5,000 to 40,000. Early quickly exacted a $200,000 tribute at 
Frederick and moved out to meet General Lew Wallace who was sup- 
posedly strongly posted at Monocaey River. Wallace was defeated 
and so ambitious was Farlv to capture Washington that he did mot 
follow Wallace but marched on to ^ockvllle which wag 10 miles from 
■^ort Stevens. Here he was engaged for an hour nnd a half by 
Lowell's cavalry which had come from ^alls Church, Virginia to 
determine the strength of Early's forces. As soon as F^rly brought 
his antillery into use he retreated to Tenallytown. 

The rapid and audacious movement of General Early had 
startled the Union. It was probable that Washington would be cap- 
tured by the rebels. The Washington defenses had been stripped to 


aid General Grant and the Confederates were very strong and were 
incited by t^e prize and inspired by the boldness of the undertak- 
ing. In Washington there were barely enough artillerymen for a 
single relief n** gunners. There was only one -fifth enough infantry 
»▼» liable to man the parapets and a small brigade/most of whom were 
unmounted. General Falleck expressed conditions In his statement 
"i«r p b^ve fire times as n^ny generals a s wp want but ire ^re greatly 
in need n" privates. Anyone volunteering in t • at capacity will be 
thankfully received." Numerous pleas were made **or volunteers. 
More desperate pleas than were ever made during the World Wnr. Any 
man who could shoulder a musket was sent to ^ort Stevens, The con- 
valescent soldiers were rushed out. The government cl rks were 
taken from their desks, handed a musket, and marched out Seventh 
Street. Sailors, marines, the veteran reserve?, boys, all were 
utilized. General C, C. Augur was in command of the depa^tnent of 
Washington while General A. McD. McCook was in command of the 
troops ^nd fortifications. The swiftness of Early's approach gave 
little time for preparation. On the tenth, McCook examined the 
ground for the first time. 

On Monday morning, July 11, 1864, General McCook received 
t>e n^ws that General "Parly had left Rockville and was on the way 
to Washington b^ wny of " Seventh Street Pike. McCook moved his 
troaps into the trenches on either side of Fort Stevens and pre- 
pared to defend the capitol. 

In the meantime, however, the Union forces had not been 
idle, 1f hen Grant realized the gravity of the situation, he thought 
at first of returning to Washington himself. However, he finally 


decided to hold his position at FIchmond and send the majority of 
the sixth corps under General H. G. Wright, These troops started 
fro^ City Point, Va . , on the James River. July 7 by boat. Also a 
sm^ll part of the 19th corps returning fron New Orleans was ordered 
to Washington. What a picture 1 . Early with his fighting legion ad- 
vancing from the north, a mixture of men at Fort Stevens, knowing 
nothing of the coming relief, prepared to "do or die*', and at the 
s^e time ^leets hearing aid in the form o^ the sixth corps and a 
part q** the 19th on the way. !f 'ho would get there first? 

At eleven o'clock Early entered Silver Springs and McCook 
ordered M.s picket lines to retreat slowly contending the grnund 
until *>>ey reached Port Stevens, Shortly after noon ^arly came 
into ^ull vipw o-f* Fort Stevens end found it feebly manned. At that 
tire he had little doubt but thit the Confederate flag would be 
over Wishing ton before sunset. He ordered his aide, Rodes, to 
bring his tired, dusty troops into line and move "into the works". 
Put during the next few hours before his troops (who had just m?de 
a long, fast mnrch from Richmond to Harper's Ferry to Washington) 
could execute his command, he saw trained troops move out of the 
works, deploy and form a skirmish line. The sixth corps had ar- 
rived'. President Lincoln had met them at the wharf and led them 
up Seventh Street to the fort. Thus at about 5 p.m. on July 11 
the co^ps moved in and General fright took command. The clerks, 
c*t*zens, and handful of soldiers had held long enough. It is said 
th*t i/P Mr, Francis P, Blair's wine cellar in Silver Springs had 
not bR(=n so tempting, Farly 'vould hove arrived in time to break 
through Fort Stevens before the sixth corps arrived. 

When t^e sixth corps arrived. Early held a consultation 


wl -h Ms generals, Breckenridge, Rodea, ^ansfiur and Gordon. It 
was dec'ded to attack at dawn. At this point, the Union Army is 
credited with a Mt of strategy. A paper was printed announcing 
the arrival of two full corps of Grant's army. This was immediately 
suppressed after allowing a copy to fall into the hands of a Con- 
federate spy. Since the announcement had been so quickly suppressed 
the Southern heads considered it true. The news got to Early and 
delayed his attack long enough to allow General Wright to get his 
^orces under way. So at dawn on July 12 the Federal Amy attacked, 
T^e batteries of the Union opened fire nnd as previously arranged 
after the 36th shot from ^ort Stevens, three regiments dashed 
forward and three mora followed. Though the rebels offered stubborn 
"•est stance , several important points were captured. According to 
General '^eaton "The whole attack was as gallant as it was success- 
ful *-nd t>e t roups n<^ver evinced more energy and determination". 
The commanding o'T'cer of every regiment in the brigade was either 
killed or wounded. Early's troQps were finally forced to retreat 
and crossed the Potomac near Poolesville and crossed through Loudon 
County in Virginia. 

Thgoughout the battle President Lincoln had been beside 
General Wright on the parapet at Fort Stevens. Wright reported 
"I entreated the President not to expose his life to the bullets of 
the enemy, but he seemed oblivious to his surroundings. A surgeon 
standing beside him was wounded by a 'minnie ball'. Finding my 
entreaties failed to mske any impression on him, I said 'Fr. Presi- 
dent, I know you are the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the 
United States, but I am in command h<=re and as you are not safe 
w>>ere you are standing and T am responsible for your personal 


sa^ety. I order you to cone down.' Mr. Lincoln sniled and then 
rr>ore in consideration of my earnestness than from inclination 
stepped down and hook a position behind the parapet, Fven then he 
rould persist in standing and looking out on the battlefield." 

Perhnps the story of the battle would be mor*e inpressive 
i** told in the words of one o r * the contestants, J, H. Laird, a 
member of Company K, 150th Ohio, which was stationed in Fort 
Stevens. Here is his account 

"Sunday the 10th about noon the ^lack Morse Cavalry 
(escort of the President) dashed up to our position. Mr. Lincoln 
left his barouche , entered the fort and passed from gun to gun. 
In his long, vellowish, linen cost and high hat he looked like a 
cure -worn farmer in tine o^ drought and famine. 

"We were called into line to salute him as he passed. 
TI e tipped bis hat in recognition but seemed too anxious to smile. 

"In the evening o p that Sunday we were moved frera our 
board bottom bunks in the barracks b*ek of the fort to bed on the 
grass in the ^nrt whieh seened ouite soft in comparison .vith our 
former he's. 'Vhen the morning of the 11th dawned bright and hot, 
we in the fort seemed to be 'waiting round' for coming excitement. 
A little after 10 o'clock it came. The commandant of the fort 
called loudly, 'Charge the guns',' and pointing up the pike he added 
'See th*»t cloud of dust? The enemy will be down upon us soon.' 
There was a scurrying to the magazine with a confusion of calls, 

"This was the hour when the Confederate General Early 
^is-losed a force on the seventh street road near the Lay house, 
quite within range of our guns. When the guns were charged, we 
had time to see our pickets in the distance firing and falling back. 


^or some o^ us this ms the first powder we had seen burned In 
battle . 

"Wagana loaded with house furniture, chicken coups, and 
excited wotaeia were noting within the lines. Some of our boys with 
torches stood beside houses near the fort to burn them in esse of 
the envy's neir approach, our picket men c*ne In to the defenses 
*nd wppft assigned places at guns. They were no~ all there. It w^s 
aske^ 'where la "edi^nt, Hudson, and Leach? ' 

"There had been talk among us^s to a chance to go to the 
front but now the froat had come to us. We were conscious that our 
defense was Inadequate. We knew little of the reinforcements that 
were coming in upon us. Like Elisha's frightened servant our sur- 
prized eyes were soon opened to see men filling the breastworks 
that united the forts. We certainly were glad to see them. 

""ford came from the skirmish line that ammunition was 
needed. An old buggy was loaded and four men were to push it down. 
It was my duty to an point the men. I felt I was sending them to 
their death but they all came back alive. 

"In connection with the separating wall of the parts was 
a lookout joined to the wall on its west side and to the parapet on 
the north or front, A small group of persons stood on this lookout 
which was about ten feet from our gun. The central figure was 
Lincoln. Near Mm was General Wright and an »nny surgeon. Bed I ant, 
hot with excitement , care in from our picket lines, * bullet hole 
in his cap. Scarce knowing what he said he called out, 'President, 
you had better come down, the rebels will shoot you.' A few minutes 
lster I saw the surgeon fall with a wound in his leg. 

"About 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the 12th we were 


told to fire five rounds at the Lay and the Reeves houses. The 
Lay house was soon in f lanes. The forces of the enemy were scat- 
tering in disorder behind it. The sixth corps men sprang to their 
feet and charged. The musketry continued until after nightfall. 
By eleven that night the conflict ended. 

"As I was returning to the fort I saw a nan crawling with 
his leg shattered, I carried him to the barracks where in the light 
I saw he wore a grey uniform. They had to amputate his leg and the 
shock w=is too much for him and he died begging us to tell his wife 
in Nor-th Carolina." 

This is the story of the only battle fought within the 
D1 street of Columbia during the Civil War, "What Gettysburg is to 
the northward movement of the Confederate forces representing the 
farthest advance into the federal section, "Fort Stevens is to 
Washington representing the nearest approach to the capture of the 
seat o*" government" so says the editor of The Evening Star on 
March. 14, 1902. 

The statistics of the battle are of some interest. 
Early claims 8,000 muskets, 40 pieces of artillery with 600 men to 
nun them, ^nd 2,000 cavalry making a total of 10,600 men. However, 
the accuracy of these figures were questioned by officers of both 
the South and t^e North, General Wallace at ft'onocacy estimated 
20,000 men, General McCook said 30,000 men and at South Mountain 
General Couch counted 60 pieces of artillery. Official records 
show 1,255 of Farly 's men captured representing 99 regiments of 
Infantry, 36 regiments of cavalry, 10 regiments of artillery, and 
6 not specified. From these figures it was estimated that Early's 


forces totaled 22,400 men. At t^e beginning of the battle McCook 
reported ^e had 7,885 nen, The arrival of the sixth corps brought 
the total to about 20,0C0 ^en. The Union had 54 killed and 319 
wounded, the Confederates had 600 total killed and wounded, 

The war being over the fort for a tine was garrisoned but 
after a while wis abandoned. After several yeai»shad passed and the 
historical significance of the fort was realized, the "Port Stevens - 
Lincoln TM.l*tar-r Park Association wis organized, W, Tr . Cox, a 
trember of the organization, purchased the l«nd though the fort was 
by then partially demolished. In 1902 Senator Proctor presented a 
bill in Congress which was to make the fort into a national pork and 
the snail cemetery on the east side of fieorgia Avenue (where some of 
the soldiers had buried some of their comrades after the battle) to 
be made a United States National Cemetery, As nhe fort was so nearly 
demolished <md so little land was available it was not made a park 
but the government did take over the cemetery. 

On July 12, 1920 the Survivors of the Sixth Corps erected 
a s^all monument on the parapet where Lincoln had stood and on this 
monument placed n bronze tablet in memory of Lincoln, Wright, and 
their comrades » 

Tn 1925, Honorable S. E. Cook presented another bill in 
congress to m*ke Fort Stevens a National Military Park, However , it 
was not passed. 

At present all th n t remains of the fort is the ditch of 
t^e north and west sides and a flagpole which has been erected close 
to the monument put up by the Survivors of the Sixth Corps. But the 
cemetery which is near Walter Reid Hospital Is well kept with a man 
in constant attendance. 



Looking east Inside of fort showing regaining 
* ■=«+; hworks which were the northwest corner o** the original 
^ort. Note "onunent ^nd r lsgpole erected In 1920. 

Looking e«st inside of ^ort. Note depression fin 
^ont ^ f " ^l^gpole 11 w^ere one of the rr.ig^zines w^*> located 



Monument narking tbe spot where Lincoln 
stood and watched the battle. 

Bronze tablet on nonunent 





1 v 

: llt 


Looking west *long dlteh 

Looking south *long ditch 

Karthworks »t west of Fort 



Showing nnnurents 
erected by survivors in 

r-frnrj of their coT , ^^'' , des 


Gun at entrance said to be one 
used In battle of Eort Stevens.