Battleground National Cemetery

On this lunchtime bike ride, while I was riding north on Georgia Avenue with no particular destination in mind, I came across a small cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Avenue (MAP).  Located near Fort Stevens in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood, I found out that it is named Battleground National Cemetery, and it’s a military burial ground managed by the National Park Service, together with other components of Rock Creek Park.  Later, I found out a lot more.

The cemetery was created after the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place on July 11 and 12, 1864.  The battle was significant in that it marked the defeat of General Jubal Anderson Early’s Confederate campaign to launch an offensive action against the poorly defended national capitol city.  The Battle of Fort Stevens also gained notoriety as being the only military action in which the commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln, came under direct fire from an enemy force.  President Lincoln lived, but during the battle, 59 soldiers were killed on the Union side, and there were approximately 500 casualties on the Confederate side.

After the battle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs seized an acre of farm land to use for burying the dead. Under direction from President Lincoln and General Meigs, forty were buried on the evening of July 12, 1864, on the battlefield site. That night, Lincoln came to the site to dedicate it as Battleground National Cemetery.

The piece of land seized for the cemetery was previously part of a fruit orchard owned by farmer James Malloy.  When he returned to his land after the dust cleared from the battle, Malloy was upset that his land was taken and challenged the action. Through an act of Congress passed on February 22, 1867, the land was acquired and officially transferred to the Federal government, and on July 23, 1868, payment made to Malloy.

Battleground National Cemetery is one of our Nation’s smallest national cemeteries. The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two Civil War vintage 6-pounder, smoothbore guns.  Also near the entrance are monuments commemorating each of the units which fought at Fort Stevens.  They were the 25th New York Volunteer Cavalry, the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteer, the 122nd New York Volunteer, and the 150th Ohio National Guard.

The center of the cemetery is marked by a central flagpole, surrounded by 41 regulation marble headstones, marking the remains of the honored dead of Fort Stevens. Behind these headstones and to the east, stands a marble rostrum used to conduct yearly Memorial Day services. The four granite pillars are in memory of the four volunteer companies who fought at Fort Stevens.

Also within the cemetery grounds is a series of cast iron markers containing the first of the twelve stanzas of a poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead,” which was written by Theodore O’Hara in memory of those men who perished during the Mexican-American War.  The poem, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address found on the side of the caretaker’s lodge, are reminiscent of many national cemeteries.

For an aimless bike ride with no particular destination in mind, I sure came across a lot of interesting history.  Unfortunately, that portion of Georgia Avenue is not particularly bike friendly.  So I imagine the vast majority of those driving hastily by in their vehicles probably have no idea of what they are passing by, and the history behind it.

         

         

    

         

                   
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

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