Civil War Defenses of Washington & the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens

July 10, 2014

Gettysburg, Manassas, and Antietam are famous Civil War battles remembered for President Lincoln’s address, the turning point of the war, and the bloodiest battle of the war. They are also battles that took place in states surrounding Washington, DC – within 100 miles of the nation’s capital. This week marks the 150th anniversary of the only and relatively unknown battle that took place in Washington, DC, the Battle of Fort Stevens.

024-005-01232-0[1]A Historic Resources Study: The Civil War Defenses of Washington by the Department of Interior’s National Park Service follows the history of efforts to defend Washington, DC from the city’s conception in the 1790s to the Civil War and the Battle of Fort Stevens. This publication is very descriptive painting a clear picture of what Washington, DC was like during the Civil War. The Union constructed a fortification system to protect Washington, DC that by the end of the war consisted of 68 enclosed forts and batteries, emplacements for 1,120 guns, and 20 miles of rifle-trenches. Because the city was the capital and the location of war departments and bureaus it had the largest collection of supplies, equipment, and materials. In the Foggy Bottom area where the Kennedy Center, George Washington University, and the Department of State currently sit, there was a depot of 30,000 horses and mules and the Washington Monument grounds housed an Army cattle-slaughtering yard.

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Company F, 3d Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery assembled at Fort Stevens. Photo by William Morris Smith, courtesy Library of Congress.

The Battle of Fort Stevens is the grand finale of the publication. After establishing the condition and role of the Washington, DC during the war, the book goes into step-by-step detail of the battle. Here is my perceived synopsis of the Battle of Fort Stevens: General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army gave orders to Lieutenant General Jubal Early to threaten Washington, DC, which had remained largely untouched during the war. Early led his troops through Virginia and Maryland, taking part in different skirmishes along the way. On July 9 at the Battle of Monocacy near present-day Frederick, Maryland, Early defeated the Union army, thereby opening up the route to Washington, DC. The Battle of Monocacy temporarily stalled Early, giving General Ulysses Grant more time to send reinforcement troops to defend the capital – ultimately derailing Early’s efforts. The Battle of Fort Stevens started on July 11 and ended with Early withdrawing his troops by July 13. The Confederate troops moved towards the Capitol along Georgetown Pike and Rockville Pike culminating in the Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place with the Capitol dome in sight – six miles away – on what was mostly open farm area around present-day Georgia Avenue near Rock Creek Park. The reinforcements sent by Grant and reports suggesting more Union troops were coming caused Early to retreat and end his pursuit of the city.

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Battle of Fort Stevens Map courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust

GPO’s early history is intertwined with the Civil War. One of GPO’s most significant print jobs was the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation produced in September 1862. Aside from production work done by the agency as part of the war effort, some GPO employees were part of the Interior Department Regiment organized to protect the city. With the threat of General Early closing in on Washington, employees were called on to defend the city but not needed when the reinforcement troops sent by General Grant arrived.

During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, think beyond the famous battles of the war and remember the skirmishes and other important battles like the Battle of Fort Stevens that may be unknown but are just as important.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS PUBLICATION?

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy these and other publications (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for these in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the author: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs.


A Botanic Garden for the Nation: “National benefits to be derived from exploration”

September 20, 2011

Guest blogger Nancy Faget sheds some light on a little-known Federal agency.

It’s always interesting to see what kinds of things I can learn from a Government publication. For example, I just found out that President George Washington asked the city commission to incorporate a botanical garden into the plan for Washington, DC.  He suggested the square next to the President’s House as a possible site. But it was President James Monroe who passed the bill to set aside five acres on the National Mall for a national botanic garden.  Thus, a living museum of plants was created as an oasis on Capitol Hill.

This National Garden is a living laboratory which includes the Rose Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Lawn Terrace, the First Ladies’ Water Garden, the Regional Garden, and an outdoor amphitheater.

The founders of the country had an understanding of plants and gardens as a national benefit.  In the beautifully produced A Botanic Garden for the Nation, published by the U.S. Botanic Garden, I learned many interesting facts that I didn’t expect to find. For example, Thomas Jefferson emphasized that the Lewis and Clark expedition should look for plants and vegetables.  The U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1842 also was charged partly with gathering plants and seeds from around the world.  As the expedition traveled 87,000 nautical miles charting oceans and coastlines, the botanists and naturalist aboard the ships collected plant and seed specimens.Although the color photographs in the book are spectacular, it’s also a fascinating read.  Here are some other bits I discovered:

  • The Botanic Garden houses more rare plants all the time as gifts are received from foreign governments and (incredibly) as a result of law enforcement actions!   When rare or endangered species are confiscated, they often are sent to the Botanic Garden for its collection.  For example, The Vietnamese orchid in the Garden’s collection was seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  It’s now working with FWS and a commercial grower to produce marketable quantities of this orchid for sale and distribution to other public gardens.
  • The Garden also was established as an important plant rescue center for orchids and succulents.  Through a program, present species may be prevented from going extinct.  It has a production facility that works to propagate plants for exchange with other institutions.
  • In the Garden’s Medical Collection, visitors find the saw palmetto, from which fruits are studied to treat prostate cancer.  Turmeric is included in the collection because of the anti-inflammatory benefit.   In cultures where turmeric is used regularly, rates of Alzheimer’s disease are significantly lower.

Best of all, the photos of Bartholdi Park and the National Garden look so inviting, they make me want to grab A Botanic Garden for the Nation, sit in the sun, and just ponder the seasons!

You can buy your own copy for garden reading on the U.S. Government Online Bookstore, or find it in a library.


Secret Codes and the Founding Fathers

November 5, 2010

Never say “never.” I recently blogged about Thomas Jefferson’s Library, a reprint of our third President’s library catalogue as recreated by his secretary, Nicholas P. Trist. I’ve always been intrigued by Trist’s subsequent checkered diplomatic career, so I added, “Trist later had a controversial career as a diplomat – if I ever find a Government publication concerning him, you’ll hear all about it,” assuming that the chances of finding a book like that were practically nil. Meanwhile, I had requested copies of a number of publications from the Center for Cryptologic History at the National Security Agency to blog about. After they arrived, I began thumbing through Masked Dispatches: Cryptograms and Cryptology in American History, 1775-1900. Of course, the title of Chapter 15 is “Nicholas Trist Code.”  That’s why I decided to discuss this book first.

Masked Dispatches presents some of the Founding fathers as active participants in spycraft. America’s first espionage code was devised by Benjamin Tallmadge, General George Washington’s director of secret service, for use by a spy ring set up in New York in 1778. Another chapter discusses Washington’s supplying of invisible ink to Tallmadge. What would Parson Weems have thought?

Not surprisingly, Thomas Jefferson’s contribution to the world of codes and ciphers was a mechanical device – a wheel cylinder. Although not much came of this invention, which was developed some time before 1802, in 1922 the Army adopted a similar device, bearing out President John F. Kennedy’s White House remarks to a roomful of Nobel Prize winners: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Even less surprisingly, Aaron Burr, that brilliant and ever-controversial character, appears in Masked Dispatches, as does John Quincy Adams in his role as America’s representative at the Prussian court. While in Berlin, he developed a sliding strip cipher – apparently not the easiest device to use, but another tribute to early American ingenuity and aptitude for secrecy.

The book includes much more – a chapter on Civil War ciphers, the use of codes during the 1876 Tilden-Hayes Presidential election scandal, and several descriptions of State Department codes. Particularly intriguing are the many reproductions of the various codes and ciphers, so  puzzle lovers and would-be spies can spend hours encoding and decoding.

Masked Dispatches and other publications on the history of cryptology can be ordered from the Center for Cryptologic History area of the National Security Agency’s web site, or you can find it in a library. I’ll be blogging about some more of these excellent books in the near future.

Oh, wait, Nicholas Trist! According to Masked Dispatches, when he was Chief Clerk of the State Department, President James K. Polk sent him to Mexico as a secret agent in an effort to end the Mexican War. From Mexico, Trist wrote to Secretary of State James Buchanan and explained his design for a code. It was a book code, but the title of the particular book he used was a mystery until the 1980’s, when shrewd scholarly detective work revealed that it was an obscure book on the Spanish language (Verdaderos principios de la lengua castellana by Joseph Borras). Trist successfully negotiated the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, but only after ignoring his recall by Polk. The President accepted the treaty but fired his emissary – and Trist didn’t even get paid for his time in Mexico!


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