Shepherd Parkway- American Civil War

Giesboro Point and the Cavalry Depot Headquarters
Giesboro Point and the Cavalry Depot Headquarters. The Shepherd Parkway ridge can be seen in the background.

Shepherd Parkway during the American Civil War, 1860-1865

At the onset of the American Civil War in 1861 George Washington Young offered to sell his property to the Government $100,000, the offered was declined. Instead, the Union army rented the land for $6,000 per year. During the following year G.W. Young freed his slaves, when the DC Compensated Emancipation Law was enacted.

During the war Washington became the staging ground for the entire Union Army. 68 fortifications were built to defend the Nation's Capital from Confederate attack. The city doubled in population, soldiers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, oxen were used to transport military weapons from one fort to another, livestock grazed on the National Mall and Shepherd Parkway was used for fortifications, military roads, a cavalry depot, a cavalry camp (called Camp Stoneman after General George Stoneman, Chief of the Cavalry Bureau), and hospital buildings (Saint Elizabeth being one and the another near Fort Carroll).

Camp Stoneman roll call
Camp Stoneman roll call. The Potomac River can be seen in the background.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Fort Carroll and Fort Greble

Named after Major General Samuel Sprigg Carroll, a native Washingtonian and West Point graduate, Ft. Carroll was established on the ridge southeast of Giesboro Point. It was irregular in shape but had a relatively large perimeter, at 340 yards this fort became a hub for officers and soldiers garrisoned east of the Anacostia River. The fort and its battery were initially built to protect the cavalry depot and prevent attacks on the Washington Arsenal and Navy Yard. As the war went on into its third year more buildings were built. The stockade could house more than 30,000 horses, several hospital and administration builds were erected, barracks, and Camp Stoneman, to the northwest, served home to thousands of cavalry soldiers.

Fort Greble was named in honor of Lieutenant John T. Greble who was killed at the battle of Big Bethel on July 10, 1861. The fort was an irregular, 327 yard perimeter earthwork structure that occupied the southern end of the ridge in Shepherd Parkway. In conjunction with forts in Alexandria, VA the fort protected the Potomac River. Its guns commanded the ravines along Oxen Run and Piscataway Road (now called Martin Luther King Avenue), which headed downtown. Most Sunday mornings a parade of soldiers could be seen marching from Ft. Greble to the Regimental Headquarters at Ft. Carroll for religious services.

Fugitive slave at a contraband camp
This man was a fugitive slave and referred to as Contraband. He is pictured here at camp, possibly near Forts Greble and Carroll.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Although these forts never saw any major action, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were aware of their strength, this is perhaps why General Jubal Early decided to attack from the north in 1864 in the battle of Ft. Stevens. They did however provide training ground for soldiers preparing for combat.
The most interesting story about these forts may not be about the soldiers who protected them instead about the civilians who maintained them.

As the war progressed fugitive slaves sought refuge and entered the city's boundaries providing an available labor force to help finish and then maintain the forts. These fugitive slaves were referred to as contraband. Contrabands who worked for the forts created camps nearby. Through a loop-hole method the Federal Government could maintain their status in the Union by considering them as "contraband of war".

When the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery, was enacted and former slaves were granted freedom many of them stayed nearby. By the end of the nineteenth century the area had become home to many African Americans communities.

Explore more: Shepherd Parkway | Early History | Colonial Era | Civil War | Postbellum

Last updated: August 31, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1900 Anacostia Drive SE
Washington, DC 20020


(202) 690-5185

Contact Us