Washington, D.C. was a garrison city during the Civil War.
Early on in the war, the Union Army ringed the city with a series of 68 earthen defense forts. Most of these forts have disappeared, leaving nothing but their names across the region (Fort Totten Metro, Fort Dupont Park, Battery Kemble). A fragment of Fort Stevens, the target of Confederate assault in July 1864, is preserved as a memorial, complete with cannon and parapet, but more mysterious, and magical, is Fort DeRussy, which has been almost completely swallowed by forest. Located near the busy intersection of Military Road and Oregon Avenue, Fort DeRussy is accessible via a small, modestly marked dirt path into the woods of Rock Creek Park. Several hundred yards in, an even smaller path branches off to the left. And there, overgrown by trees and bushes, is a six-foot dirt moat which butts up against dirt walls a dozen feet high. The walls form a ring, enclosing an area about the size of a basketball court.
Fort DeRussy’s shining moment came when confederates attacked Fort Stevens a mile to the east. The fort was heavily engaged during the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 11-12, 1864. Fort DeRussy’s provided battery support to Fort Stevens to the northeast and also engaged rebel infantry north of the Defenses of Washington.. Altogether, Fort DeRussy had 11 guns and mortars which fired a total of 109 rounds to aid in the defense of Fort Stevens. Its 100-pounder Parrott rifle was the largest piece of artillery in the engagement, and was very effective in checking the Confederates’ advance. It had a range that reached nearly all the way to Silver Spring, Maryland, and could destroy large bodies of troops.
While its military career is long since over, today Fort DeRussy is still perfect for running maneuvers as it may be the best spot in Washington for a game of capture the flag.
Know Before You Go
From the northeast corner of Oregon Ave. and Military Road, follow the dirt path east into the woods for a couple of hundred yards. Take the path branching to the left, marked by a sign. The fort is 50 yards on.