The Defenses as a Symbol of the Union Cause
During the Civil War, many Americans were mindful of the British attack on the nation's capital during the War of 1812 that resulted in the burning of the White House and U.S. Capitol. Americans were acutely aware that control of the capital city could define a nation. Washington, D.C., therefore, played a significant part in the Union strategy and became a political symbol of the Union during these turbulent years.
The Defenses of Washington were a tangible expression of the Union cause. Northern leaders firmly held on to the belief that if Washington fell into Confederate hands other countries would recognize the South and back it with defensive troops and financial support. The military leaders of the south believed this as well.
This sentiment was summed up by John G. Barnard, supervisor of the construction of the defense system encircling Washington, D.C. The following excerpt is from his report, A Report of the Defenses of Washington, to the Chief Engineers:
Did You Know?
The Civil War Defenses of Washington exist because of geology and topography. The strategic high ground where the fortifications are located stretches between two considerably different geologic terrains: the Piedmont Plateau to the north and west and the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the east.