A hundred and forty-nine years ago today the Confederates stood with sight of the unfinished US capitol dome—the closest they would get to it under arms. The resulting fracas is usually called the Battle of Fort Stevens and altho minor compared to contests like Gettysburg, it was a hard fought action, well remembered by those who were there.
Frank Cooling, whose book the Day Lincoln Was Almost Shot I will be reviewing, puts noon on July 11, 1864 as the hour of maximum danger. For a few hours in the early afternoon all that stood between Jubal Early’s boys and the White House were a motley crew of home guards, convalescents, and clerks. With arrival that afternoon of the Union VI Corps, however, the danger was over.
The other danger was that President Lincoln insisted on rubbernecking on the parapet at Fort Stevens and came pretty close to getting shot by a Confederate sharpshooter, and in fact a surgeon standing near him did take a bullet in the leg, thus making him the only sitting president to come under enemy fire.
CWPT has an excellent map of the action (that I had a hand in making), and Cooling and Wally Owen have a more detailed account. Fort Stevens was another small but vital action that’s been all but forgotten.
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