The Union army built 68 earthen forts to defend Washington, D.C. from Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Fort DeRussy, constructed in 1861 by 4th New York Heavy Artillery, is one of the only Civil War-era forts whose outline still remains. Fort DeRussy's artillery, especially its 100-pound Parrott gun, was pivotal to defending nearby Fort Stevens from a Confederate attack in July 1864. The remains of the fort are now part of Rock Creek Park and have been largely overtaken by the forest, but visitors can still see evidence of the former fort. The site is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park.
Backstory and Context
During the American Civil War, the Union army built a series of earthen forts to protect Washington, D.C. Fort DeRussy, Fort Reno, and Fort Kearney controlled the Rock Creek valley and country roads approaching the city. The 4th New York Heavy Artillery built Fort DeRussy in 1861, naming it after Brigadier General Rene Edward DeRussy, whose son Colonel (later General) Gustavus DeRussy commanded the unit. The fort sits on a hill, situated to provide crossfire on the approach to Fort Stevens, which stood to the east.
Fort DeRussy's most significant military action was in July 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens. Fort DeRussy's 100-pound Parrott rifle was the largest artillery in the battle, supported by other guns and mortars which halted the Confederate advance on Fort Stevens.
After the war, the area of the fort reverted to civilian ownership. The materials fittings from the dismantled outbuildings -- timber, masonry, hinges, nails, etc. -- were offered for public sale. Advocacy for the preservation of the fort as a park began in the 1860s, and in 1890 Fort DeRussy became part of the new Rock Creek Park.
The earthworks of the fort are still visible, consisting of a parapet with openings for guns, a dry moat, and rifle trenches. The fort is inside what is now Rock Creek Park, and the forest has overtaken it. In 1974, the National Register of Historic Places recognized Fort DeRussy as part of a Civil War Fort Sites nomination.
National Park Service. Fort DeRussy. June 25th 2019. Accessed April 25th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/places/fort-derussy.htm
Plotz, David. Fort DeRussy, Atlas Obscura. Accessed April 25th 2020. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/fort-derussy.
University of Pennsylvania Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. Fort DeRussy, Cultural Landscapes Inventory. 2014. Accessed April 25th 2020. https://www.cultural-landscapes.org/fortderussy.