Battle of Fort Stevens

Last updated
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
Red pog.svg
Battle of Fort Stevens location
USA Maryland location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Battle of Fort Stevens (Maryland)
Usa edcp location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Battle of Fort Stevens (the United States)

The Battle of Fort Stevens was an American Civil War battle fought July 1112, 1864, in what is now 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.



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]

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 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]

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,

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 the Confederate assault in the midst of one of the worst hot spells in its history, lasting 47 days without rain with temperatures exceeding 90 °F (32.2 °C). The Congress and prominent residents left town to escape the heat as much as the impending Confederate advance. [11] However, President Lincoln remained near the city, staying with his family at the Soldier's Home in present-day Northwest Washington, but a steamer waited on the Potomac to evacuate them if the situation became 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 31,000 troops and 1,000 artillery pieces in 160 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 open fields of fire. Six companies of the 8th Illinois Cavalry were stationed in front of the northern defenses. [13]

Despite this impressive array, Washington was in truth 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 wounds, 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 Confederate army matched the effective Union troop strength.

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]


Monument in Silver Spring, Maryland to 17 unknown Confederate dead from the battle ConfederateMonumentGraceChurchSilverSpringMD.jpg
Monument in Silver Spring, Maryland to 17 unknown Confederate dead from the battle

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 the Civil War Defenses of Washington. 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]

See also

Related Research Articles

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House Major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes more simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania, was the second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Following the bloody but inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, Grant's army disengaged from Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army and moved to the southeast, attempting to lure Lee into battle under more favorable conditions. Elements of Lee's army beat the Union army to the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, and began entrenching. Fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, 1864, as Grant tried various schemes to break the Confederate line. In the end, the battle was tactically inconclusive, but both sides declared victory. The Confederacy declared victory because they were able to hold their defenses. The United States declared victory because the Federal offensive continued and Lee's army suffered losses that could not be replaced. With almost 32,000 casualties on both sides, Spotsylvania was the costliest battle of the campaign.

Siege of Petersburg Battles of the American Civil War

The Richmond–Petersburg campaign was a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia, fought from June 15, 1864, to April 2, 1865, during the American Civil War. Although it is more popularly known as the siege of Petersburg, it was not a classic military siege, in which a city is usually surrounded and all supply lines are cut off, nor was it strictly limited to actions against Petersburg. The campaign consisted of nine months of trench warfare in which Union forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Petersburg unsuccessfully and then constructed trench lines that eventually extended over 30 miles (48 km) from the eastern outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, to around the eastern and southern outskirts of Petersburg. Petersburg was crucial to the supply of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Numerous raids were conducted and battles fought in attempts to cut off the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. Many of these battles caused the lengthening of the trench lines.

Battle of Chantilly Battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Chantilly took place on September 1, 1862, in Fairfax County, Virginia, as the concluding battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign of the American Civil War. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's corps of the Army of Northern Virginia attempted to cut off the line of retreat of the Union Army of Virginia following the Second Battle of Bull Run but was attacked by two Union divisions. During the ensuing battle, Union division commanders Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny were both killed, but the Union attack halted Jackson's advance.

Battle of Nashville Major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Nashville was a two-day battle in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that represented the end of large-scale fighting west of the coastal states in the American Civil War. It was fought at Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15–16, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood and Union Major General George H. Thomas. In one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army during the war, Thomas attacked and routed Hood's army, largely destroying it as an effective fighting force.

Battle of Cedar Creek United States historic place

The Battle of Cedar Creek, or Battle of Belle Grove, fought October 19, 1864, was the culminating battle of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the American Civil War. Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early launched a surprise attack against the encamped army of Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, across Cedar Creek, northeast of Strasburg, Virginia. During the morning fighting, seven Union infantry divisions were forced to fall back and lost numerous prisoners and cannons. Early failed to continue his attack north of Middletown, and Sheridan, dramatically riding to the battlefield from Winchester, was able to rally his troops to hold a new defensive line. A Union counterattack that afternoon routed Early's army.

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain 1864 battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought on June 27, 1864, during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the most significant frontal assault launched by Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman against the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, ending in a tactical defeat for the Union forces. Strategically, however, the battle failed to deliver the result that the Confederacy desperately needed—namely a halt to Sherman's advance on Atlanta.

Battle of Monocacy battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Monocacy was fought on July 9, 1864, approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) from Frederick, Maryland, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early defeated Union forces under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace. The battle was part of Early's raid through the Shenandoah Valley and into Maryland in an attempt to divert Union forces away from Gen. Robert E. Lee's army under siege at Petersburg, Virginia. The battle was the northernmost Confederate victory of the war. While the Union troops retreated to Baltimore, Maryland, the Confederates continued toward Washington, D.C., but the battle at Monocacy delayed Early's march for a day, allowing time for Union reinforcements to arrive in the Union capital. The Confederates launched an attack on Washington on July 12 at the Battle of Fort Stevens, but were unsuccessful and retreated to Virginia.

Third Battle of Winchester Battle of the American Civil War

The Third Battle of Winchester, was fought just outside Winchester, Virginia, on September 19, 1864, during the Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War.

Second Battle of Kernstown

The Second Battle of Kernstown was fought on July 24, 1864, at Kernstown, Virginia, outside Winchester, Virginia, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. The Confederate Army of the Valley under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early soundly defeated the Union Army of West Virginia under Brig. Gen. George Crook and drove it from the Shenandoah Valley back over the Potomac River into Maryland. As a result, Early was able to launch the Confederacy's last major raid into northern territory, attacking the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Maryland and West Virginia and burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in retaliation for the burning of civilian houses and farms earlier in the campaign.

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.

Battle of Cool Spring battle in the American Civil War fought July 17–18, 1864

The Battle of Cool Spring, also known as Castleman's Ferry, Island Ford, Parker's Ford, and Snicker's Ferry, was a battle in the American Civil War fought July 17–18, 1864, in Clarke County, Virginia, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The battle was a Confederate victory.

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.

Battle of Totopotomoy Creek Battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, also called the Battle of Bethesda Church, Crumps Creek, Shady Grove Road, and Hanovertown, was a battle fought in Hanover County, Virginia in May 28–30, 1864, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The Army of the Valley was the name given to the army of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's independent command during the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns in the summer and autumn of 1864. The Army of the Valley was the last Confederate unit to invade Northern territory, reaching the outskirts of Washington, D.C.. The Army became defunct after its decisive defeat at the Battle of Waynesboro, Virginia, on March 2, 1865.

Eastern Theater of the American Civil War War

The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War consists of the major military and naval operations in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina.

Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.) historic fort in Washington, D.C.

Fort Stevens, formerly named Fort Massachusetts, was part of the extensive fortifications built around Washington, D.C., during the American Civil War.

Daniel D. Bidwell Union Army General

Daniel Davidson Bidwell was a civic leader in Buffalo, New York, before the outbreak of the American Civil War. He enlisted early in the war and then was appointed colonel of a regiment of infantry. He was promoted to general in command of a brigade in early 1864, leading it until he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

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., and as far as York, Pennsylvania, but was crushed by Union forces under General Philip Sheridan, losing over half his forces and leading to the destruction of much of the South’s food supply. After the war, Early fled to Mexico, then Cuba and Canada, and upon returning to the United States took pride as an "unrepentant rebel" and white supremacist. Particularly after the death of Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1870, Early delivered speeches establishing the Lost Cause position. Early helped found the Southern Historical Society and memorial associations.

The following Union Army units and commanders fought in the Battle of Fort Stevens of the American Civil War on July 11–12, 1864. The Confederate order of battle is listed separately.

Ulysses S. Grant and the American Civil War Wartime career of the prominent Union General.

Ulysses S. Grant was the most acclaimed Union general during the American Civil War and was twice elected President. Grant began his military career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839. After graduation he went on to serve with distinction as a lieutenant in the Mexican–American War. Grant was a keen observer of the war and learned battle strategies serving under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. After the war Grant served at various posts especially in the Pacific Northwest; he was forced to retire from the service in 1854 due to accusations of drunkenness. He was unable to make a success of farming and on the onset of the Civil War in April 1861, Grant was working as a clerk in his father's leather goods store in Galena, Illinois. When the war began his military experience was needed, and Congressman Elihu B. Washburne became his patron in political affairs and promotions in Illinois and nationwide.


  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