Battle of Fort Stevens

Battle of Fort Stevens

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The Battle of Fort Stevens was an American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 battle fought July 11–12, 1864, in Northwest
Washington, D.C. (northwest)
Northwest is the northwestern quadrant of Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, and is located north of the National Mall and west of North Capitol Street...

 Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864
Valley Campaigns of 1864
The Valley Campaigns of 1864 were American Civil War operations and battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from May to October 1864. Military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, but it is useful to consider the three together and how they...

 between forces under Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early
Jubal Anderson Early
Jubal Anderson Early was a lawyer and Confederate general in the American Civil War. He served under Stonewall Jackson and then Robert E. Lee for almost the entire war, rising from regimental command to lieutenant general and the command of an infantry corps in the Army of Northern Virginia...

 and Union Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Alexander McD. McCook
Alexander McDowell McCook
Alexander McDowell McCook was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

. Although Early caused consternation in the Union government, reinforcements under Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright and the strong defenses of Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)
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...

 minimized the military threat and Early withdrew after two days of skirmishing without attempting any serious assaults. The battle is noted for the personal presence of President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 observing the fighting.

Background


In June 1864, Gen. Jubal Early was dispatched by Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

 with the Second Corps
Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
The Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was a military organization within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during much of the American Civil War. It was officially created and named following the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862, but comprised units in a corps organization for quite...

 of the Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 from the Confederate lines around Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 with orders to clear the Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley is both a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians , to the north by the Potomac River...

 of Federals and then if practical, invade Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, disrupt the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was one of the oldest railroads in the United States and the first common carrier railroad. It came into being mostly because the city of Baltimore wanted to compete with the newly constructed Erie Canal and another canal being proposed by Pennsylvania, which...

 and if possible threaten Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 The hope was that a movement into Maryland would force Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 to send troops to defend Washington against the threat, thus reducing his strength to take the Confederate capital.

After easily driving off the Army of West Virginia
Army of West Virginia
The Army of West Virginia served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and was the primary field army of the Department of West Virginia. It campaigned primarily in West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and in the Shenandoah Valley. It is noted for having two future U.S. presidents serve in...

 under Maj. Gen. David Hunter
David Hunter
David Hunter was a Union general in the American Civil War. He achieved fame by his unauthorized 1862 order emancipating slaves in three Southern states and as the president of the military commission trying the conspirators involved with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.-Early...

 at the short-lived Battle of Lynchburg
Battle of Lynchburg
The Battle of Lynchburg was fought on June 17–18, 1864, two miles outside Lynchburg, Virginia, as part of the American Civil War. The Union Army of West Virginia, under Maj. Gen. David Hunter attempted to capture the city, but was repulsed by Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Anderson...

 on June 18, the Second Corps marched down the valley, entering Maryland on July 5 near Sharpsburg
Sharpsburg, Maryland
Sharpsburg is a town in Washington County, Maryland, United States, approximately south of Hagerstown. The population was 691 at the 2000 census....

. They then turned east towards Frederick
Frederick, Maryland
Frederick is a city in north-central Maryland. It is the county seat of Frederick County, the largest county by area in the state of Maryland. Frederick is an outlying community of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is part of a greater...

 where they arrived on July 7. Two days later, as the Second Corps prepared to march on Washington, Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace
Lewis "Lew" Wallace was an American lawyer, Union general in the American Civil War, territorial governor and statesman, politician and author...

 leading a small rag-tag army, bolstered by the eleventh-hour addition of two brigades of the VI Corps sent from Richmond under Maj. Gen. James B. Ricketts
James B. Ricketts
James Brewerton Ricketts was a career officer in the United States Army, serving as a Union Army general in the Eastern Theater during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

, attempted to resist the Confederate advance at the Battle of Monocacy
Battle of Monocacy
The Battle of Monocacy was fought on July 9, 1864, just outside Frederick, Maryland, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864, in the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early defeated Union forces under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace...

.

The battle lasted from about 8 a.m. until around 4 p.m., but ultimately Early's corps drove off the small Union force, which was the only substantial Union army between it and the capital. After the battle Early resumed his march on Washington, arriving at its northeast border near Silver Spring
Silver Spring, Maryland
Silver Spring is an unincorporated area and census-designated place in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States. It had a population of 71,452 at the 2010 census, making it the fourth most populous place in Maryland, after Baltimore, Columbia, and Germantown.The urbanized, oldest, and...

 at around noontime on July 11. Because of the battle and then long march through stifling summer heat, and unsure of the strength of the Federal position in front of him, Early decided to not send his army against the fortifications around Washington until the next day.

Early's invasion of Maryland had the desired effect on Grant, who dispatched the rest of the VI Corps and XIX Corps under Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright to Washington on July 9. The steamer carrying the Union force arrived in southeast Washington
Washington, D.C. (southeast)
Southeast is the southeastern quadrant of Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, and is located south of East Capitol Street and east of South Capitol Street. It includes the Capitol Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods, the Navy Yard, the Marine Barracks, the Anacostia River waterfront,...

 around noon on the July 11, at about the same time that Early himself had reached the outskirts of Fort Stevens with the lead elements of his troops.

Surplus of Union generals



The arrival of the VI Corps brought desperately needed veteran reinforcements. It also added another high ranking officer into a jumbled Federal command. The Washington defenses played host to a number of generals ejected from major theaters of the war or incapacitated for field command due to wounds or disease. Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook was one of the former, having not held a command since being relieved of command after the Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga
The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign...

. McCook was however placed in command of the Defenses of the Potomac River & Washington, superseding Christopher Columbus Augur who commanded the Department of Washington. Augur also commanded the XXII Corps whose troops manned the capital's defensive works. Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck called upon Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore in New York City to take command of a detachment from the XIX Corps. The U.S. Army's Quartermaster General, Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs
Montgomery C. Meigs
Montgomery Cunningham Meigs was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, construction engineer for a number of facilities in Washington, D.C., and Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during and after the American Civil War....

, took command of an "Emergency Division" directly under the command of McCook. Even President Abraham Lincoln personally arrived at the battlefield. McCook tried to sort out the problem of too many high ranking generals in the face of Early's advance. He was unable to rid himself of the generals, and their attempts to gain leverage over one another, but a somewhat workable command structure was established. With McCook in overall command, Gillmore commanded the northeast line of fortresses (Fort Lincoln
Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C.
Fort Lincoln is a neighborhood located in northeastern Washington, D.C. It is bounded by Bladensburg Road to the northwest, Eastern Avenue to the northeast, New York Avenue NE to the south, and South Dakota Avenue NE to the southwest...

 to Fort Totten
Fort Totten, Washington, D.C.
Fort Totten is a park and neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C.. The neighborhood is bordered by N Capitol St to the west, Riggs Rd NE to the north, the Red Line tracks to the east, and Hawaii Ave NE to the south. It is named after a Civil War-era fort. The Fort Totten Metro station is named...

), Meigs commanded the northern line of forts (Fort Totten
Fort Totten, Washington, D.C.
Fort Totten is a park and neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C.. The neighborhood is bordered by N Capitol St to the west, Riggs Rd NE to the north, the Red Line tracks to the east, and Hawaii Ave NE to the south. It is named after a Civil War-era fort. The Fort Totten Metro station is named...

 to Fort DeRussy
Fort DeRussy (Washington, D.C.)
Fort DeRussy was an American Civil War-era fortification constructed in 1861 on a hilltop along the west bank of Rock Creek within Washington, D.C., as part of the defenses of the national capital...

—including Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)
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...

) and Augur's First Division commander, Martin D. Hardin, commanded the northwest line of forts (Fort DeRussy
Fort DeRussy (Washington, D.C.)
Fort DeRussy was an American Civil War-era fortification constructed in 1861 on a hilltop along the west bank of Rock Creek within Washington, D.C., as part of the defenses of the national capital...

 to Fort Sumner). Wright and the VI Corps were initially to be held in reserve but McCook immediately decided against this, stating that he felt veteran troops needed to take the front lines against Early's troops. As it was, Hardin's troops engaged in some light skirmishing but as McCook intended, it was to be Wright's veterans who bore the brunt of the fighting.

Battle


At about the time Wright's command was arriving in Washington, Early's corps began to arrive at the breastworks of Fort Stevens, yet Early delayed the attack because he was still unsure of the federal strength defending the fort, much of his army was still in transit to the front, and the troops he had were exhausted due to the excessive heat and the fact that they had been on the march since June 13. Additionally, many of the Confederate troops had looted the home of Montgomery Blair, the son of the founder of Silver Spring, Maryland. They found barrels of whiskey in the basement of the mansion, called Blair Mansion, and many troops were too drunk to get a good start in the morning. This allowed for further fortification by Union troops.

Around 3 p.m., with the bulk of their force present, the Confederates commenced skirmishing, probing the defense maintained by Brig. Gen. Martin D. Hardin's
Martin Davis Hardin
Martin Davis Hardin was a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.Martin D. Hardin was born in Jacksonville, Illinois. He was a family friend and protege of Abraham Lincoln...

 division of the XXII Corps with a line of skirmishers backed by artillery. Near the start of the Confederate attack the lead elements of the VI and XIX Corps arrived at the fort, reinforcing it with battle-hardened troops. The battle picked up around 5 p.m. when Confederate cavalry pushed through the advance Union picket line. A Union counterattack drove back the Confederate cavalry and the two opposing lines confronted each other throughout the evening with periods of intense skirmishing. The Union front was aided by artillery from the fort, which shelled Confederate positions, destroying many houses that Confederate sharpshooters used for protection.

President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and some officers rode out to observe the attack, and were briefly under enemy fire that wounded a Union surgeon standing next to Lincoln on the Fort Stevens parapet. Lincoln was brusquely ordered to take cover by an officer, probably Horatio Wright, although apocryphal stories claim that it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932...



Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
John C. Breckinridge
John Cabell Breckinridge was an American lawyer and politician. He served as a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Kentucky and was the 14th Vice President of the United States , to date the youngest vice president in U.S...

, former U.S. vice president
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 and one of Lincoln's opponents in the presidential election of 1860
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

, was one of the Confederate commanders; the Battle of Fort Stevens marks the only occasion in American history when two former opponents in a presidential election faced one another across battle lines and only the second time in American history a sitting president was under fire in combat. Breckinridge was a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln and a beau in her youth.

The skirmishing continued into July 12, until Early finally decided Washington could not be taken without heavy losses too severe to warrant the attempt. His corps withdrew that evening, headed back into Montgomery County, Maryland, and crossed the Potomac River
Potomac River
The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately long, with a drainage area of about 14,700 square miles...

 on July 13 at White's Ferry into Leesburg, Virginia
Leesburg, Virginia
Leesburg is a historic town in, and county seat of, Loudoun County, Virginia, United States of America. Leesburg is located west-northwest of Washington, D.C. along the base of the Catoctin Mountain and adjacent to the Potomac River. Its population according the 2010 Census is 42,616...

. Early remarked to one of his officers after the battle, "Major, we didn't take Washington but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell." It would be nearly another day before the Union pursuit under Wright would set out after them.

Battlefield


Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)
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...

 is now maintained by the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

 under the administration of Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is a large urban natural area with public park facilities that bisects Washington, D.C. The park is administered by the National Park Service.-Rock Creek Park:The main section of the park contains , or , along the Rock Creek Valley...

. The fort is located near 13th Street NW between Rittenhouse and Quackenbos Streets NW. The Battleground National Cemetery
Battleground National Cemetery
Battleground National Cemetery is a military burial ground, located along Georgia Avenue near Fort Stevens, in Washington, D.C.'s Brightwood neighborhood...

 is located nearby, at 6625 Georgia Avenue
Georgia Avenue
Georgia Avenue is a major north-south artery in Northwest Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland. Within the District of Columbia and a short distance in Silver Spring, Maryland, Georgia Avenue is also U.S. Route 29...

 NW. Several Confederate soldiers are buried on the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church, slightly north of current downtown Silver Spring, Maryland
Silver Spring, Maryland
Silver Spring is an unincorporated area and census-designated place in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States. It had a population of 71,452 at the 2010 census, making it the fourth most populous place in Maryland, after Baltimore, Columbia, and Germantown.The urbanized, oldest, and...

 at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Grace Church Road.

External links