Fort Stevens Endangered
Most Endangered Battlefields 2010
Fort Stevens, DC - July 11-12, 1864
FORT STEVENS WAS part of an extensive ring of fortifications surrounding Civil War Washington, but in July 1864 these defenses were vulnerable. More than 48,000 soldiers had left the city in the spring of 1864 to reinforce the Army of the Potomac, leaving the capital defenses manned by 9,000 militiamen, clerks and convalescent troops.
On July 11, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early reached the capital’s northern outskirts and probed the Union defenses. Veteran Union soldiers were rushed from the trenches at Petersburg, arriving at the northern defenses with little time to spare. Early recognized the futility of continuing the attack and abandoned any hope of taking the city. President Abraham Lincoln, watching the action from Fort Stevens, came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. “We didn’t take Washington,” Early famously told his staff officers, “but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell.”
THREAT: As the nation’s capital has grown, the forts that once stood at its fringes, ringing the city, have been absorbed into neighborhoods. Some have been destroyed, but those that remain, like Fort Stevens, face significant difficulties as urban historic sites.
Beyond these endemic problems, Fort Stevens faces an immediate threat from one of its neighbors in the Brightwood community. Last year, Emory United Methodist Church applied for an exemption to build an immense community center complex, well in excess of what local zoning allows, immediately adjacent to the fort. With a five-story brick wall blocking the line of site from the fort, the new building would significantly degrade the experience of visitors. While the National Park Service and other preservationists recognized the church’s need for expansion, they objected to the scope of the project and sought to find a compromise – potentially one that could also incorporate a limited amount of visitor services, like restroom availability. Unfortunately, church officials proceeded with the full scope of their plans. The District of Columbia Office of Planning voted 3 to 1 to approve the project on February 23.
CWSAC has classified Fort Stevens as a Priority IV, Class B battlefield.