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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: Michael F. Dwyer, 11/1973
Fort Circle/Defenses of Washington: Civil War
Inventory No.: PG:80-6
Other Name(s): Fort Foote
Date Listed: 9/13/1978
Location: Fort Foote Road , Fort Washington, Prince Georges County
Category: District,Site
Period/Date of Construction: 1863-1878
Description: Fort Foote was one of the largest areas in the defensive ring around Washington, being located on the east bank of the Potomac River at Rozier's Bluff, Prince George's County. It was a large complex of buildings and fortifications spreading over hundreds of acres. Today, the remains of the earthworks fort are in good condition. According to an 1881 report, the revetments of breast-height and slopes, and all the vertical walls of the interior structure, as magazines, bomb-proofs, galleries, etc., were made almost wholly of cedar posts, while the roofing of these structures were mainly of chestnut logs. The front of the fort was over 500 feet long and the earth walls were 20 feet thick. A central traverse ran the length of the fort and contained bombproof magazines and storage areas. Foundations of barracks remain as well as the shell of an engineer's storehouse, a pathway, and an old wooden bridge. A sprawling complex of fort structures, guns, barracks, parade grounds, etc., Fort Foote had a structure of one sort or another at virtually every extremity of the compound. Where the remains have been destroyed, those areas have now been converted to recreational park use, but the historic area is still a large one, extending from the riverbank storehouses to the parade grounds approximately 1/4 mile away. The whole of the park then should be considered an historic zone. Significance: At the opening of the Civil War in 1861, the Union Capital was virtually without protection, the city not having been threatened since the invasion by the British in 1814. The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack at Hampton Roads in 1862 created panic in the capital, and a circle of 68 forts was thrown up around the city. Designed for short-term use, of earth and timbers, these forts were intended to repel attacks by ground forces such as infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Fort Washington, at 16 miles south of the city, was deemed too far away to be adequately supported. At six miles south of the city, Fort Foote was constructed in 1863 to defend, together with Battery Rogers, the water approach to the city of Washington. The fort was designed as a water battery of eight 200-pounder Parrott rifles and two 15-inch guns. Fort Foote was named in honor of Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote who distinguished himself in the actions against the Confederate forts on the Mississippi Rivers and died of wounds on June 26, 1863. After the war, the fort was retained by the army, and used as a military prison and a fort until 1878 when the garrison was removed and the fort abandoned. The Federal government retained the property, however, and it was used as a practice area for military engineers in the early 20th century. During World War II, Fort Washington used the area for training Officer Candidates. After the war, the property was transferred to the National Park Service. The remains of this group of forts represents, collectively, an important remnant of the war. The Park Service owns 19 properties containing fort remnants from this period. Although combative action was only seen at one of the forts, Fort Stevens, in July 1864, the circle doubtless played an important dissuasive role in the protection of that city which symbolized the Union and its cause.
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