Fort Stevens was built in 1861 on land partially owned by Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, a free woman of color and a farmer.
In 1862 soldiers tore down Thomas's house to expand the fort. During a visit to Fort Stevens, President Abraham Lincoln consoled Thomas with a promise of compensation for her property. There is no record, however, that she was ever paid.
On July 11, 1864, Fort Stevens was the site of the city's only Civil War battle, when General Jubal A. Early's Confederate troops advanced from Silver Spring down Seventh Street Turnpike (now Georgia Avenue) and attacked. President Lincoln was on the ramparts during the second day of fighting. Union forces were able to repel the enemy, but nearly 900 soldiers were killed or wounded on both sides. Thomas, born in 1821, continued to live at Fort Stevens until her death in 1917.
Fort Stevens was built to defend the approaches to Washington from the Seventh Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue), which was then the main thoroughfare from the north into Washington. Originally called Fort Massachusetts by the soldiers from that state who constructed the fort, it was later named after Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia, September 1, 1862.