Construction of Fort Totten began in August 1861, and was finished by 1863. It occupied a high point in advance of the Soldiers' Home or Military Asylum, President's Lincoln summer home. It was located in Washington about three miles north of the Capitol, close to Silver Spring, Maryland.
The fort mounted 20 guns and mortars, including eight 32-pounders. The fort's 100-pounder Parrott rifle provided long-range support to Fort Stevens during Confederate General Jubal A. Early's attack on that fort on July 11 and 12, 1864. Fort Totten was name in honor of Brig. Gen. Joseph G. Totten, Chief of Engineers.