Civil War Fort Sites and Fort Circle Park Historic District
These sites constitute some 1,300 acres of federal park land and compose a valuable cultural resource.
As the seat of the Union at the intersection of the North and the South, Washington D.C. played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Throughout the progression of the conflict, D.C. constructed numerous fort sites around the city center to protect the Union capital. By the end of the war, this extensive 37-mile defense system included 68 enclosed forts and batteries, 20-miles of trenches, and 93 unarmed batteries.
The Civil War Forts Sites include Batteries Kemble and Ricketts; and Forts Bayard, Bunker Hill, Carroll, Chaplin, Davis, DeRussy, Dupont, Greble, Lincoln, Mahan, Reno, Slocum, Stanton, Stevens, and Totten.
In the 1890s, during a national era of parkway construction, a “Fort to Fort Drive” was proposed. As the city was growing in all directions into these former fort sites, the 1902 Senate Park Commission Plan (McMillan Commission) proposed that 17 of the sites be converted into open parkland, with two portions of Fort Drive (one west of the Anacostia River and another east of the Anacostia) connecting most of the sites. However, despite these grand plans, Congress failed to comprehensively act.
Action finally took place following the establishment of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC) – now the National Capital Planning Commission – in 1926. By the early 1930s, a majority of the historic sites and the land needed for Fort Drive had been purchased by NCPPC. However, because of eventual funding issues, surface streets had to suffice for portions of the “parkway” – as opposed to a formal, newly-constructed Fort Drive parkway.
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed some sections of Fort Drive. The CCC also established picnic areas at some of the new parks – at former fort sites – and even constructed an amphitheater at Fort Bunker Hill Park. Most notably, the CCC reconstructed Fort Stevens – the site of DC’s only Civil War battle and, today, the most famous of the fortifications.
Despite not being fully realized, the planning resulted in various open spaces across the District – from Battery Kemble in Northwest to Fort Circle Park in Southeast. Additionally, portions of the parkway can be seen, for instance in Southeast (Fort Davis Drive, Fort Dupont Drive, and Fort Drive), Northeast (Fort Totten to Barnard Hill Park), and Northwest (Fort Drive near Fort Reno Park). Most importantly, residents can now enjoy the outdoors in numerous parks and witness history at the reconstructed fortifications at Fort Stevens. The properties are currently administered by the National Park Service and are utilized as educational and historical resources.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
(Amended June 19, 1973)
National Register: July 15, 1974 (Documentation revised September 13, 1978)