July 11, 1864: Battle of Fort Stevens

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The culmination of Early’s raid on Washington, the skirmishing at Fort Stevens, one of the many forts guarding Washington, on July 11-12, really didn’t amount to much, Early quickly realizing that the fort was now manned partially by veteran troops of the VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, dispatched by Grant to guard Washington, and that whatever opportunity he had ever had to seize Washington by a coup de main was now gone.

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Early withdrew on the evening of July 12 and by July 13 was south of the Potomac, his raid on Washington becoming simply a matter for historians.  The attack on Fort Stevens is now chiefly remembered for the visit by President and Mrs. Lincoln during the engagement, and Lincoln becoming the only American president during his term of office to come under combat fire.

Lincoln stood on the parapet to view the Confederate skirmishers apparently oblivious  to the shots being fired around him, and the men near him being wounded.  Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., future Supreme Court Justice, a veteran soldier of three years with the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, the “Harvard Regiment”, yelled at him, “Get down you fool!”  Lincoln, amused by this, got down, and congratulated Holmes on knowing how to speak to a civilian.

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