Fort Stevens was named after Union Brig. Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia, September 1, 1862.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Fort Stevens, now partially restored, was built to defend the approaches to Washington from the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) which was then the main thoroughfare from the north into Washington. Originally called Fort Massachusetts by the soldiers from that state who constructed the fort, it was later named after Brig. Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly (Fair Oaks), Virginia, September 1, 1862.
In the summer of 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a deathtrap around Richmond and Petersburg. When Grant had moved south, he stripped Washington, D.C. of many well trained troops. As a result in July of 1864 there were only 9,000 troops to defend the city, down from over 23,000 that had been there the year before. Those that were left were primarily poorly trained reserves. Lee sought desperately to find a way out of his predicament around Petersburg. He decided to send General Jubal A. Early with about 20,000 troops to strike at Washington, which his spies had reported was poorly defended. On June 12, Early started his march from behind Petersburg, and by July 9, he was at Frederick, Maryland, where he demanded and received $200,000 to spare the city. On the same day, Early defeated Union Gen. Lew Wallace at the Monocacy River. In the light of later events, Wallace's defeat after a stubborn fight became a victory for the Union because he was able to delay Early's advance for a day. On July 10, Early encamped at Rockville, Maryland, 10 miles from Fort Stevens.
As a result of the rapid and successful movement of Early, the men of the War Department seemed paralyzed, and would give no orders except as they received them from Grant. Grant understood the situation and sent the 25th New York Cavalry, which left City Point, Virginia, on July 7 and reached Fort Stevens midnight of July 10. Also on the 7th, the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the 6th Corps, under Gen. Horatio G. Wright, left City Point. A few hours later Gen. W. H. Emory, with part of the 19th Corps just returning from New Orleans to join Grant, left Fort Monroe for Washington.