AN ARTICLE SUNDAY ABOUT THE 135TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CIVIL WAR'S BATTLE OF FORT STEVENS CONTAINED ERRONEOUS INFORMATION ABOUT OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. HE WAS NEVER CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES, ALTHOUGH HE SERVED ON THE SUPREME COURT FROM 1902 UNTIL 1932. (PUBLISHED 07/15/99)
Thomas Richardson, Alfred Starbird and Elijah Hufletin were struck down during vicious fighting on a hot, dusty, July day in 1864 as they helped hold off Confederate forces on the outskirts of Washington. That clash, known as the Battle of Fort Stevens, was the only time during the Civil War that Union and Confederate soldiers engaged in fighting in the District.
Hundreds of soldiers who were wounded or killed at Fort Stevens were remembered yesterday in a weekend ceremony organized by the National Park Service to commemorate the 135th anniversary of the battle with a "Civil War Freedom Weekend," featuring tours of the fort and cemetery.
The activities, which continue today from 2 to 4 p.m., are being held at the reconstructed fort at Georgia Avenue and Quackenbos Street NW and at the nearby Battleground National Cemetery. The military cemetery, where 40 Union soldiers killed in the Battle of Fort Stevens are buried, is one of the country's smallest.
A 41st soldier, a veteran of the battle who lived in Takoma Park, was buried there in 1936.
The ceremonies also honor people who aren't buried in a military cemetery and whose role in supporting the Union cause is little known.
"There were a lot of people who lost their property when the fort was built," said Park Service Ranger Gerrard Jolly, who is in charge of the weekend commemoration. "Betty Thomas had her house and land seized by soldiers assigned to build the fort. The Emory Methodist Church was torn down, and a lot of their parishioners lost their homes as well."
The land around the fort was cleared of buildings and trees to prevent a sneak attack, Jolly said. The church eventually received compensation and rebuilt at the same location. But according to several accounts, Thomas never received any money from the government, even though she made the request in person when President Abraham Lincoln came to the fort on July 12, 1864, to watch the battle. He reportedly told her that she would be paid for the loss of her house, but there is no record that she was.
After Lincoln talked with Thomas, he dodged gunfire as he stood on the earthen ramparts of the fort to see the troops of Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early arrayed across a rise just to the north. According to historians, a young Union officer named Lt. Col. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the future chief justice of the United States, shouted, "Get down, you fool!" and Lincoln meekly complied.
Veteran regiments arrived the night of July 11 to replace the inexperienced militia and the wounded soldiers from a nearby hospital who had been recruited to defend the fort. The next day, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright gave the order to push the Confederates back from the skirmish line. Early's men finally retreated toward the Potomac River when darkness fell.
In her book, "Testament to the Union," historian Kathryn Allamong Jacob describes the scene on the morning of the 13th:
"As news of Early's defeat spread, a host of sightseers headed out to the northern edge of town, where the full impact of the battle sank in. Bodies lay all over--some two hundred Union dead and wounded, about twice that many Confederates. As night fell, the official reports noted, the dead, 'were gathered in from the fields where they had fallen, wrapped in blankets and many laid in graves near Fort Stevens. With the rude tenderness of soldiers, they were covered with earth, and their names marked with pencil on little headboards of pine.' "
Within a month, 40 of those Union fighters were buried at Battleground National Cemetery in a ceremony attended by Lincoln.
Today the cemetery is a hushed place with maples and oaks shading the official military markers and four large granite memorials placed by various regiments. The one-acre plot is protected by a stone wall and guarded by two cannons used at Fort Stevens.
Jolly said the anniversary commemoration, including a wreath laying at the cemetery today, is a way to draw attention to the often overlooked sites. But in the interest of fairness, he suggests that visitors also see the memorial for 17 unknown Confederate soldiers who died at Fort Stevens. That marker is at Georgia Avenue and Grace Church Road in Silver Spring.
CAPTION: Above, Samarra Green portrays Betty Thomas, whose property was confiscated for the building of Fort Stevens, at the site of the Civil War battle near Georgia Avenue. Below, the weekend activities include tours of Battleground National Cemetery, where 40 Union soldiers are buried.
CAPTION: Peter Feiden and son Alex, 6, of Takoma Park, visit Fort Stevens, the District's Civil War battle site.