When Virginia seceded to join the Confederacy, Union troops moved into the Arlington area of northern Virginia. This movement was to stop the Confederates from seizing the United State Capital. During the next seven weeks the Union forces built forts along the Potomac River. Following the First Battle of Bull Run and Union Major General George B McClellan’s becoming the commander of the Army of the Potomac, it was decided that Washington, DC needed even more protection.
Union Brigadier General John G Barnard was appointed the chief engineer of the defenses of Washington. Fort Stanton was the first of these new forts. It was located in Garfield Heights and was begun in September 1861, across from the Washington Navy Yard. Work went fast, and by Christmas that year Fort Stanton was completed and fully armed. By the summer of 1862 the fort was garrisoned. In 1864 Fort Stanton was reported to be armed with six 32 pounders, three 24 pounders field howitzer, four 8 inch guns, and was garrisoned by the 4th New York Heavy Artillery and 88th Pennsylvania Infantry.
After Confederate General Robert E Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9th 1865, there wasn’t much reason to keep the forts around Washington, DC. The forts were dived into classes; first class being those that should be kept active, second class should be kept in reserve, and third class should be abandoned. Fort Stanton was listed as first class, as it defended the Washington Navy Yard. As listed Fort Stanton received maintenance and continued to be fully garrisoned. However with the Civil War over military budgets were cut, and soon all the first and second class forts were looked at as surplus. The guns were taken out of Fort Stanton, and the land the fort sat on was returned to its original owners. Fort Stanton was abandoned March 20th 1866.