On July 11-12, 1864, Confederate troops and Union soldiers clashed within DC at the Battle of Fort Stevens.
Below you’ll find Nine Amazing Facts about the battle – including the fact that only a matter of a few hours kept Washington from being overrun and that only a matter of a few feet kept Lincoln from being wounded or killed at the fort.
Follow this link to learn more about a weekend of commemoration activities in and around Fort Stevens (off 13th Street NW) - including talks, hikes, re-enactments and memorials.
- Washington was defended by the old, the lame and government clerks. When Confederate troops reached the area, many of the defenders of the Nation’s Capital were wounded soldiers convalescing in Washington, older veterans, and War Department clerks (which makes you wonder whether combat was part of the GS-5 job description). Where were nearly all of the regular Union troops? With General Grant near Petersburg, Virginia—where they thought all of the Confederate soldiers were pinned down.
- Washington was just a few hours away from being overrun. What Union commanders didn’t know was that thousands of Confederate soldiers broke away from Petersburg, hurried through the Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia and Maryland, and then marched on to Washington. Grant was finally alerted when a small force of Union soldiers engaged the rebels south of Frederick at the Battle of Monocacy on July 9th. The Confederates won that battle—but the day of fighting allowed just enough time for Union soldiers from Petersburg to reach Washington and defend the city. Arriving by steamship, they marched up what is present-day Georgia Avenue to Fort Stevens.
- Abraham Lincoln was just a few feet away from being killed or wounded. The cartoon above exaggerates how exposed he was when Lincoln visited Fort Stevens on July 12th, but a sniper did wound an army doctor standing a few feet away from the President.
- Frederick, Maryland was still feeling the financial burden of the rebel advance less than 30 years ago. On the way to Washington, the Confederates traveled town by town demanding large sums of money or else they would burn the place down. Frederick paid a $200,000 ransom, which the city borrowed from four banks. The debt was not fully paid back until 1986.
- Confederate forces didn’t need GPS. They took a pretty direct route to Fort Stevens. Using present-day street names, they marched down Rockville Pike, turned left on Veirs Mill Road and turned right on Georgia Avenue.
- Lincoln became the only sitting President to be fired on by the enemy during wartime. Abe may also have been fired upon during a visit to Fort Stevens on July 11th.
- Lincoln may be the only sitting President ever to give orders on the battlefield. Many reports say it was Lincoln, himself, who told Union solders at Fort Stevens to destroy neighboring houses and buildings if the structures were suspected of harboring Confederate sharpshooters. When rebel forces saw that seasoned Union troops had reached Washington, they realized it was futile to mount an all-out attack. Instead, the Confederates engaged in skirmishes, sniper fire and occasional artillery volleys before beginning their retreat.
- The President looked out at a U.S. Vice President opposing him in battle. As Lincoln watched from Fort Stevens, the man who was second in command of the Confederate troops opposing him was Major General John Breckenridge, who had been Vice President under the previous administration of James Buchanan.
- Wheaton got its name because of the battle. When the Union’s Sixth Corps under Brigadier General Frank Wheaton pushed the Confederate forces back into Maryland, Wheaton’s troops lost 59 men and had 145 more wounded in three hours of fighting. In gratitude, a local town renamed itself Wheaton, getting rid of the rebel symbolism in its previous name—Leesborough.