The year is 1864. It’s another brutally hot day in a long Washington summer. The war that has torn the nation asunder rages into its third year…
That seems so very far away here in the District. Protected by a ring of formidable fortresses, you never gave much thought to your own safety. To your family’s safety. You’re a reservist in the U.S. Army, but your daily job is issuing stamps as a clerk in a Federal customs house. Relatively speaking, that’s the good life.
But today is different. Today, there are reports that a 10,000 man rebel Army has crossed the Potomac into Frederick County. Everyone knows that army will soon make the turn south towards its target. And those impregnable forts around the city? In truth, they are severely undermanned. President Lincoln and General Grant sent the bulk of those troops south to attack Richmond…
The call comes. You grab your rifle. And with resolution, you begin the walk up Seventh Street NW to defend the capital of the United States from destruction.
On Saturday, the National Park Service Civil War Defenses of Washington commemorated the 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens. Visitors and local residents enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day as they took in musket firing demonstrations, lively music and lectures to celebrate the history that was forged here in cannon fire and blood.
Fort Stevens In the Line of Fire
The great thing about this program is that no matter how many times you come, there’s always something new to learn. This year’s event seemed to be the largest variety of activities since I began attending three years ago. This year, there was a renewed focus on the Army reserve troops who manned Fort Stevens before and during the battle, until reinforcements could arrive from Richmond. Park Ranger Steve Phan tells the story eloquently:
Civil War Culture
Doug Jimerson is professional recording artist. He and his group, the Civil War Comrades, regularly perform 18th and 19th century music for the National Park Service and national historic sites. Today, they taught the audience several intricate and highly entertaining dances from the Civil War period.
United States Colored Troops
My son and I also strolled by a presentation given by re-enactors of the 23rd, 27th and 31st United States Colored Troops. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the gentleman’s name, but he gave the assembled audience a very detailed history about how the Colored Troops were organized, who their officers were and the types of missions they were trained for. He also demonstrated the firing procedure for several rifles and an officer’s handgun.
This celebration was once again a highlight of the Brightwood community calendar. This commemoration never fails to spark a new interest in learning more about the Civil War period and visiting other nearby battlefields like Petersburg and Appomattox.