- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

The site occupied today by Walter Reed Army Medical Center saw considerable fighting in 1864 during Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s raid on Washington, and the houses and orchards on the hill provided a haven for Rebel sharpshooters.

One tulip tree in particular, which stood near present-day Building 12, was called the sharpshooters’ tree. Although it survived the battle, it succumbed to an ice storm in 1920. A memorial plaque with two cannon balls marks the spot.

Opened in 1909, the hospital was named for Maj. Walter Reed, an Army medical officer who proved that mosquitoes carried yellow fever and thus enabled the dreaded disease to be brought under control.

Ironically, the hospital’s first patient was a civilian, Homer Greenfield, a local lad who severely cut himself one day while picking strawberries and was stitched up just before the hospital formally opened. Greenfield later made a return visit after being wounded in World War I. Thousands of American soldiers have received care at Walter Reed, as have VIPs such as Gen. John Pershing, President Eisenhower, and first lady Barbara Bush.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission chose the hospital for closure, citing its location, the age of the facilities and the lack of buildable space in the area. The commission recommended that the Army and Navy consolidate their medical facilities at Bethesda by 2011.

Although there are no firm plans yet for the property, the State Department has expressed interest in an international chancery center, and other agencies would like to build offices there.

Historic preservation on the grounds remains problematic, even though the Civil War Preservation Trust has listed the circle of forts that guarded Washington during the Civil War as some of the nation’s most endangered battlefields, and this is the only actual battlefield in the District.

One persistent problem is that efforts involve many organizations and agencies. Wally Owen, assistant director of the Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria, says more needs to be done.

“Walter Reed sits on land that was central to the Confederate attack on Washington,” he says. “Abraham Lincoln viewed the battle from the parapet at Fort Stevens and was under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. This and the battle here is an incredible story that has never been adequately told.When Walter Reed finally closes its doors, I believe some of the land should be set aside and used as an area park to tell the story of the Confederate raid on Washington. It would promote economic development through heritage tourism and provide green space.”


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