Then and Now Photos

These Then-And-Now pictures bring the Civil War Defenses of Washington back to life. The pictures bring together some of the more unforgettable pictures of the earthern forficiations with modern versions taken from the same location as the originals.

By 1865, Washington DC was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world. 68 forts and 93 batteries armed with over 800 cannons protected the Federal capital. In the aftermath of the Civil War, most of the defenses were destroyed as peace, prosperity, and urban sprawl altered the landscape. The National Park Service manages 17 of the original sites. Many of the original earthworks are overgrown with invasive plants and trees making them difficult to view and experience. This is our attempt to look back through the windows of time.

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  • Click and drag the center circle on each picture back and forth to compare the Then and Now images.
 
Fort Stevens
Union soldiers at Fort Stevens during the Civil War. Cannons line an embrasures at Fort Stevens.
3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery posing for an image at Fort Stevens in 1865 during the Civil War. Library of Congress
Historic photograph of Fort Stevens overlaid on current photograph at Fort Stevens Park. Portions of fort's northern section was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937-38. (NPS)
Fort Stevens, now partially restored, was built to defend the approaches to Washington from the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) which was then the main thoroughfare from the north into Washington. Originally called Fort Massachusetts by the soldiers from that state who constructed the fort, it was later named after Brig. Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill), Virginia, September 1, 1862.

The fort was at the epicenter of the Confederate army's Raid on Washington in 1864. During the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 11-12, 1864, enemy forces advanced within 100 yards of Northern Defenses before being driven back. On July 12, 1864, the President stood atop the parapet to observe the fighting and came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. It is the only time in American history in which a sitting president came under direct fire from an enemy combatant. 

This photograph captures the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Stevens 1865 and the reconstructed section of the fort today. The fort was abandoned by the army after the war. By 1900, remnants of the earthen walls were visible but rapidly deteriorating. To commemorate the site and battle, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) reconstruction the northern section in 1937-38. The reconstruction of Fort Stevens was slightly altered from the original engineering plans and construction. The most visible difference was placement of the flagpole and the fabricaiton of vertical cement posts to reinforce the walls. The original fort had horizontal wooden planks along the walls.The historic photograph was likely taken from the top of the eathern bombproof which was not created by the CCC.

 



 
Fort Stevens - Elizabeth Thomas and Civil War Veterans
A group of men in dress coats and a seated woman in front of a stone marker A wooden fence in front of a stone marker
Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, seated, and Civil War veterans of the Battle of Fort Stevens at the dedication of the stone monument marking the spot where President Abraham Lincoln was under enemy fire at the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 12, 1864. Library of Congress (Image by Willard R. Ross).
Fort Stevens stone monument marking the spot where President Abraham Lincoln was under fire during the Battle of Fort Stevens today. (NPS)
This image captures an incredible scene: the dedication of the stone marker at Fort Stevens on November 7, 1911. The monument marked the approximate location where President Abraham Lincoln was under enemy fire at the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 12, 1864. Present at the ceremony is Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, seated, the African American woman whose family owned the property where Fort Stevens was constructed during the Civil War and Union and Confederate veterans of the battle.  In September 1861, Union soldiers took possession of private land, including Thomas’s farm, to construct Fort Massachusetts, renamed Fort Stevens in January 1863. The fort’s expansion resulted in the destruction of Thomas’s home, orchard, and barn.

Following the war, Thomas spent years filing claims for damages against the federal government. She sold a portion her Fort Stevens acreage to William Van Zandt Cox who hoped to preserve the remaining earthworks and establish a park. Thomas became the local heroine connected to the Battle of Fort Stevens and was considered a key figure by veterans of the engagement. Her presence at the stone dedication demonstrates her status in regard to the Battle of Fort Stevens. An unconfirmed account states that Thomas was eventually awarded $1,835 in 1916, a year before she died.

 



 
Fort Totten
Union soldiers lean on cannons under an archway that reads "TOTTEN" Historic photograph of Fort Totten superimposed on present day image of Fort Totten Park.
Sergeants of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Totten's sallyport (rear-entrance) during the Civil War. Library of Congress
Historic photograph of Fort Totten's sallyport (rear-entrance) superimposed on a present day image of the fort. Notice the considerable deterioration of the fort's earthen walls earthen over the years. (NPS)
This photograph perfectly captures the Civil War Defenses of Washington Then and Now. The historic photograph provides a detailed glimpse of the elaborate construction details of the capital forts. In the photograph, sergeants from the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery pose at the sally port (rear-entrance) of Fort Totten. An earthen magazine (ammunition and weapons storage) is clearly visible behind the soldiers and cannon.

The modern image shows natural reclamation of the landscape. The land were the fort was constructed was returned to the original property owner following the Civil War. In the decades following the conflict, trees, brush, and invasive plants have grown to cover the degrading earthen walls. Today, Fort Totten Park is managed by the National Park Service as part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington.



 
Fort Totten - Cannon
Soldiers pose with a large cannon on a fort wall Overgrown woods
Officers of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery posing with Fort Totten's 100-pounder Parrott rifle during the Civil War. Library of Congress
Approximate location where Fort Totten's 100-pounder Parrott rile was located. Today, the fort is overgrown was trees, brush, and invasive plants. (NPS)
This image encapsulates the fragile nature of earthworks and the difficulty of preserving them. In the historic photograph, officers of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery pose with Fort Totten's massive 100-pounder Parrott rifle. The cannon, Gun No. 13, was mounted at the fort's northeast bastion and saw action during the Battle of Fort Stevens. The rifled gun provided auxiliary battery support to Union defenders in and around Fort Stevens on July 11-12, 1864. The 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery served in the Department of Washington (Twenty-second Army Corps), August 1864-September 1865.

The modern photograph shows the current conditions at Fort Totten, including the area where the cannon was emplaced. The walls are heavily overgrown with trees, brush, and invasive species. These current conditions are common at the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Without daily maintenance, earthworks deteriorate and are exposed to thorny fines and briars that thrive in disturbed dirt. 



 
Fort Carroll
Cannons lined along an embankment in a large, cleared area. A residential street with houses and trees
Fort Carroll's northeast section during the Civil War. Library of Congress
Fort Carroll today. The modern photograph of Fort Carroll was taken at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and 1st Street SE, the approximate location of the fort's northeast section. (NPS)
This photograph captures the short-term service of the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Built to protect the Federal capital during the war, the earthen fortifications were abandoned by 1866, and both modernity and natural reclamation led to their destruction. 

The historic photograph captured the northeast section of Fort Carroll, including the bastion (projecting part of a fortification built at an angle to the line of a wall) located at the top right. Fort Carroll was built to prevent attack on the Washington Arsenal and Navy Yard, but also the ravines of Oxon Run giving access to the roads leading to Washington.

Fort Carroll was abandoned by the army following the Civil War. Urban sprawl, including the building of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE. The road cuts through the fort proper. A section of the forts's earthworks were preserved during the 1930s and are located in the woods west of the road.

The modern photograph of Fort Carroll was taken at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and 1st Street SE, the approximate location of the fort's northeast section.
 



 
Fort Totten - Outer Works
A historic image of Sibley tents overlaid on a modern image of a forest. Woods and paved trail
An historic photograph of Fort Totten's southeast section overlaid on a current condition photograph. Library of Congress
Fort Totten's southeast section, including tents and George Thomas Property, in the background. (NPS)
This photograph creates a fascinating juxtaposition between the historic altered landscape of the Civil War Defenses of Washington and the modern natural reclamation at Fort Totten Park.

The overlaid historic photograph captured the southeast section of Fort Totten, including the earthen walls and ditch, abatis ( branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy), and road that paralleled the fort. Fort Totten was built on the property of George Thomas, who's structures can be seen in the background. 

This is believed to be an early image of Fort Totten. The large sibley tents present in the background were replaced by wooden barracks and structures by the end of 1862. Today, Fort Totten is 1 of 17 sites managed by the National Park Service as part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington.



Last updated: September 1, 2019

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