Maryland Outdoor Club
Sat, Jan 7 2006 - DC Civil War Forts Hike (View Original Event Details)

Event Organizer(s): Colin Babb
Participants:Colin Babb, Kathryn Lam, KC Yi, Jaili Fajardo, Kimberly Engle, Tom Reichelderfer, Leo Seung, Kelly Thomas, Ricardo Bulala, peggy clapp, Jen A, Katie Stofer, Tracey Wagner, Lori Bowes, Ian Wright

Write Up:
It was a very sunny but very cold winter’s day to tackle what proved to be a hike with a challenging route. This was an urban hike through what was in the 1860s (when these forts were built) meadows, fields, and farms. Today, the city has caught up and passed by these fortifications and nearly swallowed them up. They were built to protect the city against Confederate attack in 1861-62, and circled Washington for 37 miles. Despite the Union armies’ best efforts to lose battle after battle and leave the city vulnerable to Robert E. Lee, the forts of DC came under attack only once, in July 1864. The forts we visited were on the section of the city that witnessed that attack.

We first journeyed to the site of Fort Reno, what had once been the largest fort in the system on the highest elevation in the district (where today there is a reservoir and radio tower at Tenleytown near American University). We then headed for Military Ave. and Rock Creek Park, where nestled in the trees above the roads and bike paths is the remains of Fort DeRussy. During the Civil War, soldiers could look out over the valley of Rock Creek and see the other forts to the east and west and Silver Spring in the distance. Now, the forest has returned and the place is mostly a mound of dirt—albeit one that was clearly man-made. We watched as white-tailed deer sprinted by down below us, their hides blending in with the leave-covered ground.

We next crossed Rock Creek and headed up Military Ave. toward Fort Stevens, which sits close to Georgia Ave. (then as now a major road out of the city to points north). It was here that Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early sparred with the scratch Federal forces that remained to defend the city, and also where President Abraham Lincoln—eager finally to see what this whole combat thing was all about—twice came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters (who no doubt found his stovepipe hat to be an efficacious target). Today there’s a monument that marks the spot where Lincoln stood as an unfortunate Army doctor got shot and knocked off his feet next to him.

As we headed back, we took a slightly different route south through Rock Creek. After a spirited diversion up ridgeline above the creek (who knew there was a horse corral there??), we found the right path through a gulley (which incidentally, but for the mansions towering above us, could have been in the woods of western Maryland instead of in the middle of DC), and we headed out to the Van Ness metro stop.

Thanks to all who came out and endured a cold day. I hope everyone had a good time.

--Colin Babb



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