Civil War Defenses of Washington | FORT STEVENS

Cannon on display at Fort Stevens

Cannon on display at Fort Stevens


See the Park Map web page for an interactive fort location map.


LOCATION

Fort Stevens is situated where Fort Stevens Drive dead ends into 13th Street / Piney Branch Road. This is the only fort of the Civil War Defenses of Washington that has been reconstructed and actually offers something to see for the typical tourist, and not just die hard Civil War fanatics. However, like most of the fort sites, there is no parking lot so you must park on the street—use either Quackenbos or Rittenhouse Streets.


WHAT TO SEE

Back in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, an organization created to put men back to work after the Great Depression, reconstructed two walls of Fort Stevens and set up artillery exhibits. If you plan to tour the Civil War Defenses of Washington, you definitely should start here so you can see exactly what an earthen Civil War-era fort looked like. Very little remains at the other forts other than small hills and gullies of former walls and moats, so it’s hard to imagine what you are looking at, which is why first stopping at Fort Stevens is the best way to begin your fort tour.

Dry moat and exterior wall of a typical Civil War-era earthen fort

Dry moat and exterior wall of a typical Civil War-era earthen fort

Interior walls are reinforced with timbers that act as retaining walls for the dirt hills

Interior walls are reinforced with timbers that act as retaining walls for the dirt hills

Parapet and embrasure where cannon were mounted

Parapet and embrasure where cannon were mounted


HISTORY

Fort Stevens was the only fort of those surrounding Washington, D. C., to be directly involved in a battle. By the summer of 1864, the Union had commenced attacks on Richmond and Petersburg, so Union General Ulysses S. Grant began pulling troops from the defensive forts around Washington to serve on the front lines, leaving only 9,000 men behind from what had been 23,000. When the Confederates learned about this, General Robert E. Lee ordered General Jubal Early to take advantage of the depleted Union defenses, with the ultimate goal of forcing Grant to reassign front line troops back to Washington and thus taking the pressure off of the Confederates in their own territory. Early launched an attack with 20,000 men against Fort Stevens on July 11, 1864. The battle lasted two days before the Confederates withdrew, a result largely due to the fact that Grant was able to shift men back to Washington just in time for the attack. President Abraham Lincoln came to the fort to witness the battle, and is thus the only president to come under direct fire during a war.

Fort Stevens was originally called Fort Massachusetts after the Massachusetts soldiers who built it, but it was renamed to honor Brigadier General Issac Ingalls Stevens, who died at the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862.

Plaque commemorates Abraham Lincoln's visit during the Battle of Fort Stevens

Plaque commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s visit during the Battle of Fort Stevens

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on April 26, 2020
Share this article