- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2014

If you have ever wondered what Abraham Lincoln saw when he came under Confederate fire, a visit to Fort Stevens would be in order.

And if you have ever imagined Union troops preparing for battle, touring Fort Mahan could add grist to your imagination.

The remnants of Civil War-era fortresses encircle the District of Columbia — vestiges of Union efforts to safeguard the nation’s capital during the conflict that tore apart the country.

Today, the network of ruins, artifacts and preserved sites amid the city’s rolling hills and tree-filled spaces, maintained by the National Park Service, form the Fort Circle Parks of hiking and biking trails.

Fort Stevens

At first glance, this fort looks like a close-sheared grassy expanse meant for a game of soccer or Frisbee. But beware: If you start a game, you might find yourself face to face with the muzzle of a cannon.

Two cannons are embedded in a series of mounds that stretch across the middle of the field in a half-circle. The mounds are fortified by low cement walls fashioned to resemble the long-discarded wooden supports they replaced.

A dried-out moat runs along the base of the mounds. If you sit for a moment in this grassy groove and gaze out at the field, you can almost feel the rumblings of approaching Confederate boots and hear the scrape of saber against saber.

At the intersection of 13th and Quackenbos streets in Northwest is where President Lincoln is said to have come under Confederate fire in 1864 in the Battle of Fort Stevens, though historians debate the accuracy of the account.

Of the 68 Civil War Defenses of Washington, Fort Stevens is the only one that saw battle, according to the National Park Service.

The nearby Battleground National Cemetery holds the remains of 41 of the 59 Union soldiers killed during the battle.

Fort Bunker Hill

Named for the site of the famed Revolutionary War battle, this fort once boasted 13-gun artillery. Now it is a fortress of vegetation.

Fort Bunker Hill stands at 13th and Otis streets in Brookland in Northeast amid seemingly impenetrable greenery on all sides.

Enter the thicket at street level and hike uphill toward the fort’s center to find a rock bearing a commemorative plaque. Also waiting to be discovered are the remains of an amphitheater commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression to create construction jobs for the Civilian Conservation Corps and host community events.

Though Bunker Hill lacks recreational facilities, it offers a great escape. The thick overgrowth envelopes you and provides a reprieve — as long as you can find your way out.

Fort Stanton

A bubble of green in a sea of brick apartments and manicured lawns, Fort Stanton is nestled in the triangle formed by W Street, Good Hope Road and Fort Place in Southeast. It once protected the Washington Navy Yard from Confederate invasion, though it never saw combat.

There you can hike through acres of dense greenery and come across some sparse remnants of the old fort scattered along the way.

Amid its reminders of a bygone era, Stanton bursts with life. Birds and crickets greet you at every turn among the fort’s ivies and trees.

It shares space with Fort Ricketts, which houses a picnic area.

After a round of hiking, you can visit the adjacent recreation center and ballfields, or walk just a few blocks to the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, which is devoted to black American history.

Fort Dupont

A full day’s excursion is needed to take in all that Fort Dupont has to offer. Now home to Washington’s only public indoor ice rink, the 376-acre, hexagonal park where the fort once stood features a community garden, picnic areas and venues for performances and gatherings, making it one of the city’s most entertaining locales.

Beginning Saturday, the park will host the Fort Dupont Summer Concert Series. The free performance series will showcase acts such as the Boys and Girls Club of Washington, the R&B Review, and the Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band.

In the throes of the Civil War, Dupont — a fortress of moats and felled trees — enclosed soldiers’ barracks, officers’ quarters, a guard house, and a deep well. Some of the original earthworks remain.

Dupont also served as a resting spot for runaway slaves making their way north to freedom.

This Army base was named for Navy Rear Adm. Samuel F. Dupont, who led a Union victory at Port Royal, South Carolina, early in the war.

Fort Dupont Park is at 3779 Ely Place Southeast.

Fort Mahan

It may sit atop a hill, but Fort Mahan was no shining example during the early days of the war.

With its nine sides and awkward position, the fort gave Union troops no way to see who was coming. Soldiers had to dig 400 yards of trenches around the encampment and equip them with rifles to guard against a flanking attack.

The fort’s remains still rest on the hill and are accessible to hikers willing to make the trip to the upper perimeter of the park.

Situated at Benning Road and 42nd Street in Northeast, the park includes a ballfield and picnic tables.

All forts are free and open to the public seven days a week, from dawn to sundown.

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