By Peter Hermann, Updated: Friday, December 27, 3:23 PM
A bullet fired during what was described as a running gun battle Thursday night on the plaza of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum on U Street Northwest damaged a panel listing names of black soldiers who fought for the Union Army.
No one was struck by the gunfire, according to D.C. police, but the granite plaza in front of the museum’s Metro station was littered with spent shell casings and two glass panels at the bus stop at U Street and Vermont Avenue in Northwest were shattered.
Frank Smith, the museum’s director, said police told him more than 60 shots were fired about 9:30 p.m. Two people who live steps from the Metro station described gunfire between youths in the plaza and others in a car on U Street. No arrests have been made.
At least one bullet whizzed by a statue depicting riflemen and a sailor — emblazoned with the words “fighting for freedom” and “Civil War to civil rights and beyond” — and struck the Wall of Honor that partially encircles the monument. The wall is lined with 166 stainless steel panels containing the names of 209,145 black soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
A bullet struck the left edge of a panel containing names from the 121st Regiment, Colored Infantry, which formed in Maysville, Ky. It did not hit any of the names directly, although the “H” in Henry Foster’s name and the “A” and “d” in Adolph Ebermayer’s name were dented.
“Anything can be fixed,” Smith said. “And we will fix this. It’s a national monument. It can’t stay like this for long.”
Smith called the neighborhood safe and said this was the first instance of gunfire since the museum opened two decades ago. The U Street corridor has had numerous robberies, however, and some shootings, mostly late at night on weekends.
“We still have problems,” said a resident who lives near the plaza and said there was still a scrap of yellow police tape on her front railing. A teenager who was visiting the area with a group found a 9mm shell casing; it couldn’t be determined if it was from Thursday night’s shooting.
Smith said he was relieved that the bullet missed, by about 10 feet, a panel from the 128th regiment, Colored Infantry, which was formed in South Carolina. One of its soldiers, Caesar Cohen, ran away from a plantation to enlist. He was Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather.
“That would’ve been a tragedy,” Smith said.