Confederate Pounder Coehorn Mortar

The Confederate attack on Fort Stevens,Washington, DC on July I I, 1864


Cold Harbor, 1864

Still determined to push on towards Richmond, Grant once again moved the Army of the Potomac in an attempt to outflank Lee's forces. Following several days of inconclusive maneuvering for control of the vital crossroads of Cold Harbor, Grant decided, on June 3, 1864, to launch an all-out assault on Lee's entrenchments, which consisted of the 2nd, 6th, and 18th Corps, totalling 50,000 men, along the Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor line. Although the Confederates were greatly outnumbered by a better-armed and physically fitter army, the combination of strong field fortifications, rifled infantry weapons, and well-placed artillery presented Lee with one of his most decisive triumphs of the 1864 campaign. Reaching within 50 yards of the Confederate breastworks, the advanced Federal units were forced to the ground by heavy enemy fire. During furious fighting on the extreme left of the Federal line, Barlow's division overran the lines defended by Breckinridge and captured an advanced position, but was thrown back trying to take Hill's main breastworks. Grant's main attack was crushed within eight minutes of its commencement. Meeting with withering artillery and rifle fire from Lee's lines, further Federal assaults were unable to make any further progress towards the Confederate lines. Grant gave up the offensive about 1 pm, some eight hours after the first attacks. Lee had lost only about 1,500 along his entire six-mile front. Grant's casualties totaled about 12,000 dead and wounded. In his memoirs, he later commented that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.

The armies confronted each other on these lines until the night of June 12, when Grant again advanced by his left flank, marching towards the James River. On June 14, the Federal II Corps was ferried across the river at Wilcox's Landing. On June 15, the rest of the army began crossing on a 2,200-foot-long pontoon bridge at Weyanoke. Abandoning all attempts to penetrate the well-defended approaches to Richmond, Grant sought to shift his army quickly south of the river to threaten Petersburg.

The Confederate attack on Fort Stevens, Washington, DC on July I I, 1864

The small polygonal redoubt called Fort Massachusetts was built in 1861 to guard the Seventh Street Road, or Turnpike, leading directly into Washington from Silver Spring. Expanded westward by the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery in February 1862, it was renamed Fort Stevens in January 1863 for Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, killed at the Battle of Chantilly,Virginia, September I, 1862. The original fort contained a five-gun battery, and a magazine that served as a small parados traverse. It was surrounded by a strong parapet and ditch.The extended fort included a larger magazine and a bomb-proof, both of which also doubled as parados traverses. Abatis also surrounded these works, although the gorge was only protected by a modest infantry parapet. By the summer of

1864, the garrison at Fort Stevens consisted of Companies C and G, 15 1st Ohio National Guard, commanded by Major J. L.Williams; Company A, 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, under Captain Wallace M. Spear; and one-half Company L, 9th New York Heavy Artillery, under Lieutenant S.A. Howe. Armament consisted of four 24-pounders on barbette carriages, six 24-pounder siege guns, two 8-inch siege howitzers, one Coehorn mortar, one 10-inch mortar, and five 30-pounder Parrotts.The enlarged fort played a significant role in repulsing the attempted Confederate assault on Washington, DC on July I I, 1864. President Lincoln observed this attack standing on the parapet of Fort Stevens, and came under fire from enemy sharpshooters. Surgeon Crawford, an army medical officer standing beside Lincoln, was hit by a Confederate round.

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