TALE OF TAKOMA – Jubal Early’s July 11 raid

TALE OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN

In July of 1864, the Civil War unexpectedly came to the Washington DC. The farmland on the northern fringe of the District bore the brunt of the invasion, sometimes called simply a raid, by upwards of 10,000 Confederate troops under the command of General Jubal Early.

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General Jubal Early. Photo courtesy the National Park Service.

On July 11 of 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early trained his binoculars on the battlements at Fort Stevens, protecting the northern approach to the Federal capital.  No uniformed troops were visible, just militia and recuperating veterans. The moment to take the capital was at hand, but his troops were not.  They were stretched along the dirt roads from Silver Spring to Rockville, exhausted from the four weeks of marching from Richmond, three-day stalemate at Harpers Ferry before finally crossing into Maryland.

Barely two days ago, Early’s men had bested Union troops at Monocacy just outside Frederick, but the confrontation had caused them many wounded and a day’s delay in fulfilling General Lee’s command to attack the Union capital.  A few skirmishes erupted between enemy troops. But Early had no choice but to postpone a fullscale operation till morning.
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Last year’s battle commemoration at Fort Stevens.  Photo by Eric Bond.

The delay proved critical. Word of Early’s movements had finally alarmed U.S. General Ullyses S. Grant far away from Washington laying siege to Richmond.  Hastily he began loading seasoned soldiers on transport boats and ferrying them back to defend the Union capital. The first reinforcements arrived late on the 11th, and when General. Early returned to the front the next morning, he discovered far more military uniforms.  No full-scale attack was ordered. After a few set piece confrontations in the open ground in front of the fort, Early realized he couldn’t prevail and settled for creating a panic, or as he put it, “we scared Ole Abe like hell.”


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President Lincoln was, in fact, on hand to observe the troop engagements. At one point, while he stood on the ramparts, a sharpshooter shot an Army surgeon who was standing next to the President. Lincoln was ordered to take cover.

Though the Battle of Fort Stevens was full-fledged engagement, the skirmishing and especially cannons targeting the Confederate sharpshooters operating from nearby houses, took a toll on the local landscape.  Cannon fire reached into farmland that would 20 years hence become Takoma Park.

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The Brashear farm was one, just south of Sligo Creek, well within range of marauding soldiers.  Sarah Willson, now married to Christopher Brashear, had already seen her father murdered by Confederate soldiers two years earlier while defending his nearby farm (on Georgia Avenue in today’s Silver Spring). Her two brothers, one pro-Confederacy and the other pro-Union were fighting over the inheritance. Along with other local families, she watched soldiers swarm the land, followed by curious onlookers once the battle was over.

Today, Brashear farm is the site of the city’s Community Center and three schools, which makes the Battle of Fort Stevens an intriguing addition to their study of the Civil War.

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Last year’s battle commemoration at Fort Stevens.  Photo by Eric Bond.

On Saturday, July 11, the 151st commemoration of the Battle of Fort Stevens will be held at the Fort, Quackenbos Street, NW  between 13th St. and Georgia Avenue from 10 am-4 pm.  The National Park Service event features Civil War re-enactors and other living history demonstrations, historic walks and talks, period music, and 19th century children’s crafts and games. Visitors can take note of the brass plaque marking the spot where President Lincoln was standing on the ramparts when a sharpshooter’s bullet struck the Army surgeon standing next to the President, who was summarily ordered to take cover.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.