Hiking to Fort Stevens

Washington Travel Blog

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Assembling at Ford's Theatre

Fort Stevens is a little-known Civil War historic site in the District of Columbia. I'll tell you its story as I describe a visit I made there on a hike with my son's Boy Scout troop.

The plan for the hike this day (one of several that Spring to help the Scouts attain the Hiking Merit Badge) was to follow the National Capital Lincoln Trail. It's not a actual trail, but an urban hike designed to visit a number of historic sites in Washington, DC, associated with Abraham Lincoln and his presidency during the Civil War.

We began by assembling at Ford's Theatre at 10th Street, NW. This is, of course, the location where Lincoln was assasinated in April 1865.

Hiking through Rock Creek Park
We went on a tour of the theatre and saw the Presidental Box where President and Mrs. Lincoln sat. The theatre itself has been restored, with replica chairs in use instead of fixed seats. We also saw the small museum on site.

From Ford's Theatre, we made our way up along 10th Street to H Street, NW. H street led us across to the intersection with New York Avenue. New York Avenue Presbyterian Church stands at this site, and was the church Lincoln and his family attended during his presidency. Continuing in the direction of the National Mall, we passed Lafayette Park and the White House. Then it was down 17th street to Constitution Avenue and the National Mall. We followed a tree-lined path along Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial.

Hiking up the ramparts
The group paused for a while at the Lincoln Memorial to study the inscribed quotations from Lincoln and take in the famous view down the Reflecting Pool toward the Washington Monument. (The Memorial opened in 1922 to anchor the western end of emerging National Mall. Before that time, the area had been a swamp--and the Memorial almost wasn't built--but that's a tale for another blog.)

Leaving the Lincoln Memorial, we followed Rock Creek Parkway under the footings of Memorial Bridge and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to an entrance to Rock Creek Park.  Rock Creek Park is a urban park running the length of Northwest Washington. Here, we continued along roads, footpaths and finally trails as the terrain became more akin to an urban wilderness.

Arrival at Fort Stevens
This Sunday was cool but sunny and we encountered many others out for a walk or hike. Along the way the group passed under Connecticut Avenue, unseen by pedestrians above, and even through a section of the National Zoo. At one point we were assailed by a barrage of experimental pedal-powered alternative-energy vehicles racing down a hill. (The Scouts wanted to test drive those!) A grove of trees right next to Rock Creek itself offered shade for our lunch stop.

Finally, we emerged from the park in a residential neighborhood in Northwest Washington almost at the Maryland border. From here, it was a few blocks along Georgia Avenue to our objective, Fort Stevens. 

Fort Stevens was one of a circle of defensive forts built during the Civil War to protect Washington, DC, from Confederate attack.

Fort Stevens
The most famous engagement at Fort Stevens occurred July 11-12, 1864 when Confederate forces under Jubal Early attacked the fort in an atttempt to capture Washington. (There is a speculative novel in which the Confederates win this battle, Washington is captured and Lincoln taken prisoner.)  Aware that the conflict was near, President Lincoln ventured out to what was then the rural outskirts of Washignton to view the engagement. He was there while the battle raged and is the only sitting President, as Commander in Chief of the military, to come under actual fire. Today, Fort Stevens is primarily a series of surviving earthworks with interpretive historical markers and two cannon.

The Confederate forces were repulsed, but forty-one Union troops were killed in the battle. They are buried at nearby Battlefield National Cemetery, the smallest of the National Cemeteries. We stopped to visit Battlefield National Cemetery as we walked along Georgia Avenue.

Our arrival at Fort Stevens concldued the hike along the Lincoln Trail. To finish, we walked a short distance over to Fort Totten Metro station, crossing to Northeast Washington in the process. (Fort Totten takes its name from another of the Civil War Circle Forts.) Metro took us back to Springfield and the end of an enjoyable day of hiking and history.

bigmac993 says:
What a great experience for youngsters!
Posted on: Mar 16, 2013
spocklogic says:
Very interesting entry - a different take on DC to enjoy. Nice job!
Posted on: May 24, 2011
Deepakudage says:
It is really wonderful post you are sharing.
I have read about the fort stevens & It has really great history.

vacation Spots
Posted on: Mar 21, 2011
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Assembling at Fords Theatre
Assembling at Ford's Theatre
Hiking through Rock Creek Park
Hiking through Rock Creek Park
Hiking up the ramparts
Hiking up the ramparts
Arrival at Fort Stevens
Arrival at Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens
Battlefield National Cemetery
Battlefield National Cemetery
New York Volunteer Cavalry Monument
New York Volunteer Cavalry Monument
Washington
photo by: b93sp