Fort Stevens in Washington, D.C.

Bronze map of Fort Stevens.

Built in 1961 and originally called Fort Massachusetts, this Union installation was one of 68 forts built to defend Washington, D.C. from attacks by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Due to its strategic location, the Union Army took possession of the property belonging to Elizabeth Proctor Thomas and her siblings, a free Black family residing at the Seventh Street Turnpike. Two tales involving President Abraham Lincoln have emerged in the lore of Fort Stevens.

One features Thomas being consoled by Lincoln while watching her home, barn, and orchard being razed to build the fort as the president intoned “It is hard, but you shall reap a great reward.” She was ultimately compensated $1,835 in 1916, a year before her death.

The other involves a person believed to be either future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, or perhaps Ms. Thomas shouting to Lincoln “Get down, you fool” as a warning to him to take cover from the fire of Confederate sharpshooters.

The site sat abandoned after the war until Lewis Cass White, a veteran of the Battle of Fort Stevens, led an effort to preserve the fort and ultimately erect a stone memorial to commemorate the lives lost there on July 11th and 12th, 1864.

The site is now maintained by the National Park Service Civil War Defenses of Washington, and it features two Civil War cannons, though it once housed as many as 19. The northern and western-facing sides of the fort still feature many hilly battlements and there is a bronze map of the fort near the two cannons.

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