• !5-inch Rodman Cannon

    Civil War Defenses of Washington

    District of Columbia

Sergeant William W. Reed

Sergeant William W. Reed was was a Sergeant in Co I of the 127th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was garrisoned to the Defenses of Washington at Fort Ethan Allan from August to December 1862. Fort Ethan Allan, Fort Marcy, and other batteries on the northern bank of the Potomac River were built to protect the Chain Bridge and Leesburg Pike. Some of Fort Ethan Allan's trenches are located on grounds of George Washington Memorial Parkway, today.

Below are Reed’s diary entries while garrisoned at Fort Ethan Allan. His diary reflects a tour of duty that was half boredom and half excitement. The experiences that he recounts in his diary are similar to those soldiers garrisoned at nearby Fort Marcy and the other fortifications of the Defenses of Washington.

The original copy of Reed’s diary is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the citation is: Reed, William W. Dairy (1862). Co. I, 127th PA Infantry. Call no. AM.12938.

Saturday, August 23, 1862
Up at 4am. Bread in Haversack, tents struck. formed in line & parched off. I at the hed of the reg’t next the musicians. First heat terrible and I thought I should have to swing [?] my knapsack. Our route lay through a very pretty country—after the first rest of the load seemed much lighter. Strong men gave up & fell in the rear. I kept up with the advances. Halting just below Fort “Ethan Allen” lay down on my knapsack & fell asleep. Col coming & wagons arriving we moved a short distance into the hill. we pitched tents & found ourselves encamped near the “chain brdige Va” on the hill in a most beautiful locality. Down to the brook & took a bath. A splendid spring

Sunday, August 24, 1862
Up at sound of revielle, Roll call & inspection of arms—Down to the river. with the Capt. & messmates. washed clothes in the mountain stream a more beautiful spot could scarcley be conceived of. Towering hills with rugged [?] & rocky sides on every [illegible] An occasional camp visitor on the different eminsman[?]. Fort Ethan Allen. Just behind us with rough abattis and deep mont and drawbridge inside Bomproof barracks & magazine. Heavy guns en barbette Fine springs convenient—Prospect of remaining here for some time. “Dress parade” in front of the Fort. Signal lights visible on the hill sides at the different forts. Playing cards & indulging in all sorts of profanity in many of the quarters. Others observing the day to the best of their ability. wrote J.S. Kane “rec’d 4 letters [illegible]

Monday, August 25, 1862 [almost illegible]
Called up at 4 am to make a detail for guard—Five Roll call-cold & frosty feeling. Drilling [illegible[ company on the heavy guns in the fort [illegible] from [illegible] Returned at 9 a.m. Witnessed thef iring of 5 shots Peculiar whiz of a shell as it [illegible] flew through the air. Infantry drill to 11. Dress parade—Talk with the Col very kindly [illegible]

Tueday, August 26, 1862
Roll call at 5. Morning report. Report guard. Over to Fort. Drill 1 ½ hour on heavy gun. In afternoon on drill & dress parade. Signal rockets at night visible from the different forts. Letters [illegible]

Wednesday, August 27, 1862
Up at 5. Roll call Drill atht effort on heavy gun. Master of pieces. Drill acting 1st Lieut. Error of “Sample” Plain talk to Captain. Letters [illegible]

Thursday, August 28, 1862
Drill, 40 rounds of cartridge, rain

Friday, August 29, 1862
Called up and marched to the fort at 5 am. Expectation of an attack—Fort guns manned and spotted. Great speculation as to cause & result. Relief formed & everything in fighitng [illegible] Forster scared. move bags & baggage into the fort. Captain exhibited the spirit of any thing soldier [illegible] Kept in the fort all day and posted at the guns. No dinner. Capt [illegible] shows himself. Arrival of part of McClellans forces. Grand Army indeed—A rough looking set. Dirty in the extreme—nothing to ent[illegible] slept on the ground.

Saturday, August 30, 1862
Startling rumors afloat—Cannonading herad quite distinct—Quarters in the fort. Thoughts of home & memories dear—Little use. Moved our tents inside the fort. By [illegible] of labor secured a floor covered with canvas—commenced to rain in the evening when the thunder[?] became clearly apparent.

Sunday, August 31, 1862
raining, mud ankle deep

Monday, September 1, 1862
Rain in torrents

Tuesday, September 2, 1862
Up at 5 struck tents & moved back to camp. Boas[?] at 10 am. In fighting [illegible] & moved back to the fort in the evening & slept on the ground. Enjoying a Virginian deer[?] equal to a young [illegible]

Wednesday, September 3, 1862
back to quarters then back to fort

Thursday, September 4, 1862
93rd P Regt. encampted on the hill opposite the fort

Saturday, September 6, 1862
rumors of occupance of some cities in Maryland

Sunday, September 7, 1862
at the rier bathing & washing my clothes

Wednesday, September 10, 1862
Capt. with 21 men Good duty at chain bridge. 1st & 2nd Lieut to Washington. Ugly[?] reports from there during the day. At 8 p.m. balance of company marched down Tore up the bridge on the Virignian side. Hard work though attended by some merry jokes—singular establishment on the Md. side Capt & etc. Col down to see us Slept on the bridge. Funny dreams.

Thursday, September 11, 1862
Came up to camp for breakfast & stayed until after dinner. Went to the bridge. After disposing of my accomtrements strolled in to with Santo, McCorments, & Gross toward Georgetown about 1 ½ miles [illegible] 40th Mass [illegible] Laid down with I Able to sleep. Commenced to rain. rugged tent with our blankets.

Friday, September 12, 1862
Woke up at 1 A.M. & found myself lying in four inches of water. In company with McCormick came up to camp. Trouble relative to ration [illegible] of rebels occupation of Green Castle, Pa. Men wild, no go home [illegible]

Saturday, September 13, 1862
Struck tents at 8 ½ & pitched again on a new spot

[various entries on picket details, not recorded]

Friday, September 19, 1862
Good breakfast. Line removed farther out. Stationed on the road near Langley. Visit Langley. Common country village. Have good time. Stand guard and go the grand rounds at night.

Saturday, September 20, 1862
Up and indulge in a good breakfast. Coffee fresh bread & butter. Fried crackers & potatoes. Boiled potatoes & meat. Corn. Cheese & Herring. Gay. Reliever came into camp.

Friday, September 26, 1862
Company on duty at “Chain Bridge” remain in camp [illegible]

Saturday, September 27, 1862
Company still on Picket at Chain Bridge.

Saturday, October 4, 1862
Company went on Picket Posted on the Leesburg Pike. Advance at Langley & outpost ¾ mile beyond staement with the Lieut & members of our mess at Headquarters. Took dinner with the resident of the house good for 25ct the first civilized meal in two months. Good times. Major a good old fellow. Disposal to be clever. Roosted on porch. House an Old Virginia Mansion with 460 acres of a Plantation attached.

Sunday, October 5, 1862
Woke up to find the sun shining brightly. the wind acting[?] gently among the trees a most beautiful morning. Sented on the lawn in front of the old mansion wrote a letter to Miss A.M.G. A fine [illegible] breakfast prepared by R.&R—Mr. Kimble & Capt. [illegible] etc.

Took dinner at house. “Apple dumplings & oysters” In evening started out to visit “Nelsons” with countersign “Halifax” overtakin on the road “Alick McCormick” [illegible] & myself visited Langley. Negro meeting & etc.—ground rounds at midnight.

Monday, October 6, 1862
Went on Picket line south from Leesburg along Vienna Road. Commencing at Nelsons. Acting 2nd Lieut. commanding half the line—over it several times during the day & night.

Firing at night at either a man or phantom by 1st Lieut. & Knighton Stroll to sutler shanty. “Mr Donaldsons” daughter & etc.

Wednesday, October 15, 1862
Out to Lieut Morgan’s post. Started off and took breakfast at a Mr. Wrens Pretty daughter & etc. very enticing good [illegible] people Virginia hospitality [illegible]

Thursday, October 16, 1862
Up early and after a refreshing bath of head & hands. Back to Mr. Wesn with Lieut Morgan [illegible] shook hands [illegible] with the family. An expressed their desire to see us again. Pretty daughter modest & shy. Relieved at noon. Back to camp a round about way. Marching orders in evening [illegible].

Did You Know?

Samuel Cooper

The Civil War Defenses were generally named after well known Union officers (many deceased during the war). This was not always the case. Fort Williams was first named Fort Traitor because the owner, Samuel Cooper(left), pledged an oath to the Union only to become a Confederate later on in the war.