23rd PA at Ft. Stevens
General Early presses on from his Victory at Monocacy and his pressing through Rockville Maryland, but his forces were exhausted. It was decided not to enter Washington on the 10th, but to rest his troops and enter the following morning. On the 11th of July, General Early’s troops enter Washington D.C., on the Seventh Street Road at noon but are Halted at Ft. Stevens. The General could see weakness in the Fort but also that every hour more and more Union Troops were arriving from the docks. His delay allowed Union Troops to secure the Fort and other High ground in the city.
Skirmishing continues in the morning between the troops, and the Capitol of Washington is on the verge of Capture. Early planned an attack at one o clock but it was delayed by a heavy thunderstorm that both armies took cover from. During the storm, Union Soldiers arriving from Petersburg upon steamers poured into the Fort and City... President Lincoln arrives at Fort Stevens to see the Battle and is nearly picked off by a rebel sharpshooter. Nearby at The White House, enemy shells land on the lawn. This would mark the only time an acting President would be under direct fire from the enemy. By night, General Early is forced to retreat from Washington, and head toward Petersburg Virginia.
Wray at Ft. Stevens
William J. Wray of The First Veterans Reserve Corps, Company K was Stationed and in Command of a Battery at Fort Stevens in July 1864. During the Heaviest Bombardment of the Fort, confederate shell was exploding everywhere. Wray’s Battery was under heavy fire and after a time, the men left their post to take cover. This enraged Sargent Wray who earlier in the war had been wounded rescuing the flag of the 23rd Pennsylvania in 1862 and then being shot through the left eye at Fredericksburg. Even when he had a ticket home, lying wounded in a York, PA Hospital days before Gettysburg, he decided to muster enough courage to volunteer in an Invalid Unit against the same General Early in July 1863. He would have no cowards in his presence here an oderedthe men back to their guns, make a slight change of position while under fire and return fire.
Wray’s Actions at Fort Stevens would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor and he would become the only Soldier in History to earn it while being in a Veteran Reserve Corps of wounded Veterans. Early’s Failure to capture Washington was the final bullet in the coffin for Lee. He had sacrificed him and his Ten Thousand troops from the army of northern Virginia for a month, when they were still needed to defend Richmond. The Rebels would never enter Northern soil again in force. Washington though frightened and in panic was safe and would never come under attack again.
WRAY, WILLIAM J.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company K, 1st Veteran Reserve Corps. Place and date: At Fort Stevens, D.C., 12 July 1864. Entered service at:------. Birth: Philadelphia, Pa. Date of issue: 15 December 1892. Citation: Rallied the company at a critical moment during a change of position under fire.
The information to put this write-up together was taken from the following sources:
© February 14th 2011
- "Birney's Zouaves" The 23rd PA Infantry Volunteers
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