Battle of Fort Stevens

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Battle of Fort Stevens
Part of the American Civil War
Company F, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, in Fort Stevens, Washington DC (ca. 1861).jpg
Officers and men of Company F, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, in Fort Stevens
DateJuly 11 (1864-07-11)12, 1864 (1864-07-13)
Result Union victory
Flag of the United States (1863-1865).svg  United States (Union) Flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865).svg Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
Alexander M. McCook
Horatio G. Wright
Abraham Lincoln (observer)
Jubal Early
9,600 [1] 10,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
373 [3] 400500 [3] [4]
Location map District of Columbia street.png
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Battle of Fort Stevens location
USA Maryland location map.svg
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Battle of Fort Stevens (Maryland)
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Battle of Fort Stevens (the United States)

The Battle of Fort Stevens was an American Civil War battle fought July 1112, 1864, in Northwest Washington, D.C., as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 between forces under Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early and Union Major General Alexander McDowell McCook. Although Early caused consternation in the Union government, reinforcements under Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright and the strong defenses of Fort Stevens 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 Abraham Lincoln observing the fighting.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The most studied and written about episode in U.S. history, the Civil War began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

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. While some military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, they interacted in several ways, so this article considers all three together.



In June 1864, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early was dispatched by Gen. Robert E. Lee with the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Confederate lines around Richmond with orders to clear the Shenandoah Valley of Federals and then if practical, invade Maryland, disrupt the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and if possible threaten Washington, D.C. The hope was that a movement into Maryland would force Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to send troops to defend Washington against the threat, thus reducing his strength to take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. [5]

Jubal Early lawyer, politician, and general of the Confederate States Army

Jubal Anderson Early was a Virginia lawyer and politician who became a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Trained at the United States Military Academy, Early resigned his U.S. Army commission after the Second Seminole War and his Virginia military commission after the Mexican–American War, in both cases to practice law and participate in politics. Accepting a Virginia and later Confederate military commission as the American Civil War began, Early fought in the Eastern Theater throughout the conflict. He commanded a division under Generals Stonewall Jackson and Richard Ewell, and later commanded a corps. A key Confederate defender of the Shenandoah Valley, during the Valley Campaigns of 1864, Early made daring raids to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., as well as far as York, Pennsylvania, securing money and supplies which delayed the Confederate surrender for several months. After the war, Early fled to Mexico, then Cuba and Canada, and upon returning to the United States took pride as "unrepentant rebel". Particularly after the death of Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1870, Early delivered speeches establishing the Lost Cause, as well as helped found the Southern Historical Society and memorial associations.

Robert E. Lee General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States

Robert Edward Lee was an American and Confederate soldier, best known as a commander of the Confederate States Army. He commanded the Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865. A son of Revolutionary War officer Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, Lee was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and military engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, and served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy.

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 some time prior to that. The Second Corps developed a reputation for hard fighting under famed early commander Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

After driving off the Army of West Virginia under Maj. Gen. David Hunter after the Battle of Lynchburg on June 18, the Second Corps marched northward through the valley, entering Maryland on July 5 near Sharpsburg. They then turned east towards Frederick where they arrived on July 7. Two days later, as the Second Corps prepared to march on Washington, Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, leading a small Union force composed mostly of garrison troops, bolstered by the eleventh-hour addition of two brigades of the VI Corps sent from Richmond under Maj. Gen. James B. Ricketts, attempted to resist the Confederate advance at the Battle of Monocacy. [6]

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 its ranks: Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, both from the 23rd Ohio Infantry. With fighting in the Valley ended, the Army of West Virginia's designation was discontinued.

David Hunter Union Army general

David Hunter was a Union general during the American Civil War. He achieved fame by his unauthorized 1862 order emancipating slaves in three Southern states, for his leadership of United States troops during the Valley Campaigns of 1864, and as the president of the military commission trying the conspirators involved with the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

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 Early.

The battle lasted from about 6 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. Despite the Union loss, the battle cost General Early precious time better spent advancing the forty miles toward Washington. [7] After the battle Early resumed his march on Washington, arriving at its northeast border near Silver Spring at around noontime on July 11. Because of the battle and then the long march through stifling summer heat, and unsure of the strength of the Federal position in front of him, Early decided not to send his army against the fortifications around Washington until the next day. [8]

Silver Spring, Maryland Census-designated place in Maryland, United States

Silver Spring is an unincorporated community, large village, suburb of Washington, D.C., and census-designated place located inside the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States. It had a population of 79,483, according to the 2017 official estimate by the United States Census Bureau, making it the fourth most populous place in Maryland, after Baltimore, Columbia, and Germantown, and the second largest in Montgomery County after Germantown. Inner Silver Spring consists of the following neighborhoods: Downtown Silver Spring, East Silver Spring, Woodside, North Woodside, Woodside Park, North Hills Sligo Park, Long Branch, Montgomery Knolls, Franklin Knolls, Indian Spring Terrace, Indian Spring Village, Clifton Park Village, New Hampshire Estates, Oakview, and Woodmoor. Outer Silver Spring consist of the following neighborhoods: Four Corners, Wheaton, Glenmont, Forest Glen, Aspen Hill, Hillandale, White Oak, Colesville, Colesville Park, Cloverly, Calverton, Briggs Chaney, Greencastle, Northwood Park, Sunset Terrace, Fairland, Lyttonsville, and Kemp Mill.

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. Lee later wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon on July 19 that,

VI Corps (Union Army) formation of the Union Amry during the American Civil War

The VI Corps was a corps of the Union Army during the American Civil War.

XIX Corps was a corps of the Union Army during the American Civil War. It spent most of its service in Louisiana and the Gulf, though several units fought in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

James Seddon American lawyer and politician

James Alexander Seddon was an American lawyer and politician who served two terms as a Representative in the U.S. Congress, as a member of the Democratic Party. He was appointed Confederate States Secretary of War by Jefferson Davis during the American Civil War.

It was believed that the Valley could then be effectually freed from the presence of the enemy and it was hoped that by threatening Washington and Baltimore, Gen. Grant would be compelled to weaken himself so much for their protection as to afford an opportunity to attack him, or that he might be induced to attack us. [9]

The steamers carrying the Union force started to arrive in southeast Washington around noon on July 11, at about the same time that Early himself had reached the outskirts of Fort Stevens with the lead elements of his troops. [10]

Defense of Washington

The city of Washington, D.C. prepared for assault in the midst of one of the worst hot spells in its history, sustaining 47 days without rain with temperatures in the nineties. The Congress and prominent residents such as Montgomery Blair left town to escape the heat as much as the impending Confederate advance. [11] President Lincoln remained near the city, staying with his family at the Soldier's Home in present-day Northeast Washington, yet a steamer waited on the Potomac to evacuate the president if the situation became too dire. [12] Meanwhile, refugees from surrounding counties began to enter the relative safety of the city.

Overall command for defense of the District was given to Major General Christopher C. Augur as commander of the XXII Corps. Major Generals Quincy Gillmore and Alexander McCook commanded the Northeast sector and the reserve post at Blagden farm, respectively. Augur commanded an impressive thirty one thousand troops and a thousand cannon in one hundred sixty fortifications, batteries, and trenches. [13] Eighty-seven fortifications were located north of the Potomac (facing Early's approach) with 484 heavy guns and 13,986 men. Land was cleared surrounding the city to create battlegrounds and open areas for fire. Six companies of the 8th Illinois Cavalry were stationed in front of the Northern defenses. [13]

Despite this impressive array of defenses, Washington was in truth rather lacking in its defensive capabilities. General John G. Barnard, Grant's engineering officer, noted that many of the troops were not actually fit for duty as many were new recruits, untried reserves, men recovering from injury, or worn-out veterans. Bernard estimated that instead of 31,000, the actual number of usable troops was around 9,600. [14] The Capital was more vulnerable to Confederate attack than it seemed: with around 10,000 troops, the Confederacy's strength was almost matched by that of the Union.

Union command structure

The arrival of the VI Corps, approximately 10,000 men, 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. 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, took command of an "Emergency Division", composed of federal employees who were armed during the raid, 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 to Fort Totten), Meigs commanded the northern line of forts (Fort Totten to Fort DeRussy including Fort Stevens) and Augur's First Division commander, Martin D. Hardin, commanded the northwest line of forts (Fort DeRussy 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. [15]

Opposing forces




Map of Fort Stevens Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program Fort Stevens Battlefield District of Columbia.jpg
Map of Fort Stevens Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program

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. [16]

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 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. [17]

President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and some officers rode out to observe the attack, either on July 11 or July 12, 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, possibly Horatio Wright, although other probably apocryphal stories claim that it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Private John A. Bedient of the 150th Ohio Infantry, the fort commander, other privates of the Ohio National Guard, and Elizabeth Thomas. [18] [19] [20] [21]

Additional Union reinforcements from the VI and XIX Corps arrived overnight and were placed in reserve behind the line. The skirmishing continued into July 12, when Early finally decided that Washington could not be taken without heavy losses which would be too severe to warrant the attempt. Union artillery from Fort Stevens attempted to clear out Confederate sharpshooters hidden in the buildings and fields in front of the fort; when the artillery fire failed to drive them off, the VI Corps brigade of Daniel Bidwell, supported by Oliver Edwards' brigade and two Veteran Reserve Corps regiments, attacked at about 5 p.m. The attack was successful, but at the cost of over 300 men. [22]


Early's force withdrew that evening, headed back into Montgomery County, Maryland, and crossed the Potomac River on July 13 at White's Ferry into Leesburg, Virginia. The Confederates successfully brought the supplies they seized during the previous weeks with them into Virginia. Early remarked to one of his officers after the battle, "Major, we didn't take Washington but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell." [23] Wright organized a pursuit force and set out after them during the afternoon of the 13th. [24]


Fort Stevens is now maintained by the National Park Service under the administration of Rock Creek Park. The fort is located near 13th Street NW between Rittenhouse and Quackenbos Streets NW and is the only part of the battlefield currently preserved; the remainder was developed following 1925. The Battleground National Cemetery was established two weeks after the battle and is located nearby, at 6625 Georgia Avenue NW, containing the graves of forty Union soldiers killed in the battle; seventeen Confederate soldiers are buried on the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church, slightly north of current downtown Silver Spring, Maryland at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Grace Church Road. [25]

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  1. Cooling 1989, pp. 278-279.
  2. Bernstein 2011, p. 70.
  3. 1 2 Kennedy 1998, p. 309.
  4. Cooling 1989, p. 151.
  5. Cooling 1989, pp. 8-11.
  6. Cooling 1989, pp. 11-14, 40, 57, 57-61.
  7. Judge 1994, p. 201.
  8. Bernstein 2011, pp. 45-55.
  9. Alvord 1897, p. 32.
  10. Cooling 1989, pp. 38, 86, 104.
  11. Judge 1994, p. 216.
  12. Judge 1994, p. 217.
  13. 1 2 Judge 1994, p. 218.
  14. Judge 1994, p. 219.
  15. Cooling 1989, pp. 97-102, 127.
  16. Cooling 1989, pp. 117, 123.
  17. Bernstein 2011, pp. 68-69.
  18. Bernstein 2011, pp. 73-74.
  19. Cooling 1989, pp. 142-143.
  20. Cramer 1948, pp. 91-93.
  21. Some local newspaper articles do not mention the incident. An article about the battle published in the Washington Evening Star on July 12, 1864, made no mention of President Lincoln at the battlefield. ( "The Invasion: The Condition of Things Last Night - The Fighting out the Seventh Street Road - Rebel Sharpshooters Dislodged - The Enemy Attempt to Plant a Battery, but are Shelled Away - Policemen and Other Citizens Take a Hand in the Fighting". The Washington Evening Star. July 12, 1864.) The article in the July 13, 1864, edition mentioned 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." but the article made no mention of President Lincoln actually coming under fire. ( "The Invasion: Late and Important: The Rebels Have Disappeared From Our Front! They Leave Their Dead and Wounded Behind Them!". The Washington Evening Star. July 13, 1864. p. 2.).
  22. Cooling 1989, pp. 127, 136-138, 145-150.
  23. Vandiver 1988, p. 171.
  24. Cooling 1989, pp. 184-187.
  25. Cooling 1989, pp. 237-238, 245.


Coordinates: 38°57′51″N77°01′44″W / 38.9641°N 77.0288°W / 38.9641; -77.0288