Monday, June 9, 2014

Introducing the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington

As many of you know by now, Shepherd Parkway contains the earthwork remains of Fort Carroll (just north of where South Capitol Street crosses the parkway) and Ft. Grebel (just south of the rec center of the same name at the end of Elmira Street SW).

In the words of the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington:

"At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860, Washington was a sleepy city of about 62,000 residents. Located south of the Mason-Dixon Line, entirely surrounded by the slave states of Maryland and Virginia, the Union capital was nearly unprotected with its only defensive fortification, Fort Washington,12 miles south. Washington was perilously vulnerable and realizing the potential danger the city faced, the Union army constructed additional fortifications for the city."

 "By 1865 the defenses of Washington included 68 forts, supported by 93 detached batteries for field guns, 20 miles of rifle pits, and covered ways, wooden blockhouses at three key points, 32 miles of military roads, several stockaded bridgeheads, and four picket stations. The defenseless city of 1860 had become one of the most heavily fortified cities of the world.

"Today, remnants of this complex system serve as windows into our nation's history. Not only did the Defenses serve their purpose well, deterring all but one Confederate attack on the capital which they repulsed, but they also impacted the city culturally, socially, and politically.  During the war, many enslaved people came to the fort system for safety and protection. They settled nearby, finding work at the forts and in Washington. Those settlements forever changed the cultural landscape of the city and became many of the neighborhoods that compose today's Washington."

Shepherd Parkway was purchased by the federal government and designated as parkland following the 1902 McMillan Commission plan for the District, which called for all of the land around the old fortifications to be linked in a grand "Fort Circle Park" surrounding the city. While DC the real estate boom of the 1920s and 30s made it difficult to acquire all of the necessary land to link the parks, the majority of the sites are protected park land.

Ward 3 has Battery Kimball, Fort Bayard and Fort Reno; Ward 4 has Ft. DeRussy (within Rock Creek Park) and the partially-restored Fort Stevens, the only fort in immediate DC area to see combat. Ward 5 has Forts Totten, Slocum, and Bunker Hill, among with extensive connectors.  Six forts east of the Anacostia River are linked by a seven mile hiker-biker trail that starts at Fort Stanton across from the Anacostia Community Museum and continues north to Fort Mahan, near the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station.

Shepherd Parkway, separated from Fort Stanton by  Suitland Parkway and the St. Elizabeths campus is a southern extension of this mighty greenway. Further south, in Prince George's County, Forts Washington and Foote parks tower over the Potomac. More forts abound in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia.    

In 2007, a group of of Civil War buffs, environmentalists, and neighborhood activists formed the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington to "stabilize, maintain, preserve, and interpret the Civil War Defenses of Washington for the benefit of Washingtonians and visitors to the District of Columbia – present and future."

Be sure to check out their website and upcoming events, including a July 12 reenactment of the Battle of Fort Stevens on its 150th anniversary.

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