The Battle of Fort Stevens that took place in Washington on July 11 and 12, 1864, has never received much attention. Those involved in commemorating its anniversary this weekend hope to change that.
Four days of activities are planned for July 10-13, with several events added recently.
Also, the firing of a cannon at the fort, located at 13th Street and Georgia Avenue NW, was just announced. It will be the first time that sound will be heard at Fort Stevens since the battle ended.
The schedule includes a panel discussion on Washington’s Civil War Forts, a Civil War historians roundtable, a one-hour hike through several of Washington’s forts and a commemorative program at Fort Stevens. That will be followed by an afternoon of crafts, music and children’s activities and a memorial service honoring those Union soldiers who died at the battle and are buried at nearby Battleground National Cemetery.
The cannon will be fired at the conclusion of Saturday morning’s commemorative program. According to Susan K. Claffey, president of the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington, getting that part of the program in place took an extra effort. “The challenges were a permit from D.C…and assembling the folks with black powder certification to fire it.”
The battle of Fort Stevens is remembered as the first and only invasion of the city during the war. The audacious Gen. Jubal Early came within seven miles of the White House, causing panic in a city whose residents had come to feel safe within their ring of forts, soldiers and cannons.
It is also remembered as the battle that President Lincoln came to watch. On July 11, he and his wife Mary rushed out to the fort to see what was happening. They returned the next day as the battle began.
Lincoln climbed up on a parapet to better see the action. When the man standing next to him was shot, military officials forced their commander to get down. Before the day ended, there was a real battle for Lincoln to watch when several brigades from the fort marched out on to the open field and were attacked by the Confederates.
That night, Early and his men slipped away and back to the safety of Maryland and then Virginia. The Union claimed victory.