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Funkstown – How Foggy Bottom Helped Win the Civil War

By Frank Leone

When Confederate General Jubal Early threatened to take Washington in July 1864, “invalid and convalescent” soldiers from the Veterans Reserve Corps, based at Camp Fry, just south of Washington Circle along 23rd St., rushed to its defense.  Reinforcements sent by Union General Ulysses S. Grant (The Sixth Corps) arrived, and after some fighting, General Early withdrew. President Abraham Lincoln was present at Fort Stevens, becoming the first (and so far only) sitting president to come under enemy fire. 

The Civil War transformed Washington, tripling its population. Foggy Bottom hosted the city’s largest accumulation of supplies, storehouses, and barracks, as well as commissary warehouses and a large bakery. Supplies arrived at the “Western Wharves” on the Potomac River at G Street. Camp Fuller, a huge remount depot holding up to 30,000 horses and mules, harness repair and blacksmith shops, forage dumps, and wagon train camps was located on 21st and 22nd Streets near the Potomac. (After a horrific fire killed hundreds of horses, the stables were relocated across the Anacostia River in 1863.) Soldiers’ tents lined the Potomac and wooden barracks were erected in Snows Court. After the War, these barracks housed some of the many emancipated African Americans who sought refuge in Washington D.C.

"Camp Fry, Washington, D.C.," 1863. Note Camp Fuller to the back left and the U.S. Naval Observatory at the back right, perhaps with a Washington Gas holding tank at the far right.  (Published by Charles Magnus, New York. GWU Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection AS 38)

Camp Fry was a hub for collecting and distributing supplies to Union soldiers. It was the quarters for soldiers of the Veteran Reserve Corps, originally known as the Invalid Corps. Created in 1863, the Corps was made up of men who had been “disabled by wounds or by disease contracted in the line of duty” – including men missing limbs and eyes, those with rheumatism, epilepsy, bullet injuries, and those with what we would now call PTSD. These men had received medical discharges, but volunteered for additional service. They served as guards at federal buildings, escorted prisoners of war, and provided security for railroads and supply depots, freeing up more able-bodied men to fight at the front. The Corps, originally wearing pale blue uniforms, were sometimes derided as “hopeless cripples, shirkers, and cowards” by regular soldiers. (A wonderful video on the Veteran Reserve Corps was presented at the 2022 D.C. History Conference.)

9th Veterans Reserve Corps Band, with their dog (Library of Congress)

In July of 1864, Confederate General Early marched north through the Shenandoah Valley, crossed the Potomac, won a battle at the Monocacy River (which slowed his advance), marched through Rockville and threatened Washington. The city was in a panic – although surrounded by 68 forts with a defense perimeter extending 37 miles, those forts were undermanned and undergunned. The First Brigade, U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps (four Regiments) under Colonel George W. Gile moved from Camp Fry to the front and occupied rifle pits in the defense of Fort Stevens and nearby forts. On July 11 and 12, The Veteran Reserve Corps engaged the Confederate troops and suffered one fatality and 21 men wounded. Major-General McCook, who commanded the defenses of Washington, complimented the Veteran Reserves in his official report stating: “To Colonel Gile and the officers and men of the First Brigade, Veteran Reserve Corps, I am largely indebted for the success of my efforts in keeping the enemy from our line until the arrival of the Sixth Corps.”  Washington was saved.

Western Wharves, Georgetown to the left, and now Kennedy Center to the right, Watergate South at the harbor (Library of Congress)

SourcesDay Al-Mohamed, “The Invalid Corps” Film, 2015; Richard M. Lee, Mr. Lincoln’s City:  An Illustrated Guide to Civil War Sites of Washington, EPM Pubs. 1981; Marc Leepson, Desperate Engagement, St. Martin’s Books, 2007; Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington, 1861-1865, Harper & Bros., 1941; Emerging America, “The Invalid Corps – Corps of Honor”; Foggy Bottom Association History Project.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Check out our post on Foggy Bottom’s Manila House.  Also, did you know that the last resident/operator of the grocery store at the Fitzgerald House (842-844 New Hampshire Ave.) was Japanese American Jesse S. Shiwa and his family?




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