European settlers obtained their first grants of land in what is now the Quantico area from the English government in 1654. During the American Revolution the navy of Virginia was based on the Potomac nearby. A Confederate gun battery overlooking the river at Evansport (as the town was then called) maintained a blockade of Washington, D.C., early in the American Civil War.
During the American Civil War, control of the Potomac River became very important to the armies of both sides. The Confederates picked the Quantico Creek area on the Potomac to set up gun batteries. This enabled them to make full use of several points where their artillery could reach anything on the water, thus deterring Union use of the water highway. These sites included Shipping Point, the present day site of the Marine Corps Systems Command, and Tennessee Camp, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
While battles took place in Manassas, Virginia and Fredericksburg, Virginia, the gun positions around Quantico were used until the end of the war. After a 12-day battle at the Spotsylvania Courthouse where the Union lost about 25,000 soldiers, the war moved out of the Quantico area.
In 1870 the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad reached the town, which two years later adopted the named Quantico, said to mean “by the long stream” in a Native American language.