Remains of the Battle

In 2002 to 2006, the National Park Service undertook an archeological survey of Rock Creek Park. Until that time, most historians thought that little remained from the battle except part of Fort Stevens, in the midst of a developed area along 13th Street, and the Battleground Cemetery. However, archeologists working in the park began to find Civil War bullets and fragments of artillery shells. A detailed review of the written accounts of the battle showed that fighting did take place in the park. A further search was then made of locations suggested by the battle narratives, and further discoveries were made. Much of the battlefield does survive, within Rock Creek Park.

Five Fired Bullets, all dented and from impact. A rough, ball-shaped, iron case shot on middle right. A large dark brown, square-shaped shell fragment on far right.
Fired Bullets, a Piece of Iron Case Shot, and a Shell Fragment from the Battle of Fort Stevens.


The first finds of Civil War artifacts were on a southwest- facing slope on the east side of Rock Creek, an area shown as heavily wooded on pre-war maps. Both fired and dropped bullets were found here. Dropped, unfired bullets show where soldiers were standing while they were trying to load and fire their weapons, whereas fired bullets land where people were aiming. Therefore troops were firing from this slope, and somebody was firing back at them. Almost certainly the men firing from this spot were Confederate pickets working their way into the valley from the east, probing for a way around Fort Stevens. The fired bullets and shell fragments show that they did not have an easy time of it. The fired bullets were a mixture of .58 caliber rounds of the type used in the war's most common infantry arms and .52 caliber rounds from Sharps and Burnside carbines. These carbines were most often used by the cavalry, and we know that many of the Union pickets at the opening of the battle were dismounted cavalrymen.

Five different cylindrical bullets, one with a pinched midsection and another with hole in the middle. Three round buttons on bottom left. Long, cone-shaped, brass tip of a scabbard, on bottom right.
Military Artifacts found near one of Washington's Forts: Bullets, Buttons, and the Brass Tip of a Scabbard.


A large, brown, rocky-textured fragment of a 100-pound Parrot Shell.
Fragment of a 100-pound Parrot Shell, the Heaviest Weapon in Fort DeRussy.


A search was also made for evidence of fighting north of Fort DeRussy, on the west side of the creek. Archeologists have identified both the ridge where the Confederates built their breastwork and the ridge to the south where the Veteran Reserve Corps set up their line. The area of the Confederate breastwork was too heavily overgrown for effective use of a metal detector, so nothing was found there, but a large number of bullets and shell fragments were found on the southfacing slopes nearby. Among these were two fragments of a shell from the largest gun at Fort DeRussy, a 100-pound Parrot rifle. Both fired and unfired bullets were also found on the ridge where the Federals formed their line. Archeology therefore supports the obvious interpretation of the officers' reports, and confirms that significant fighting took place within the park. The entire battlefield has not disappeared, as was feared.

Part of a series of articles titled The Battle of Fort Stevens.

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Rock Creek Park

Last updated: April 20, 2020