Civil War Defenses of Washington

In 1861 President Lincoln ordered construction of a ring of fortifications to protect the Union Capital during the Civil War. The result was 86 forts and 93 batteries connected by 32 miles of military roads. Today a network of 20 preserved sites forms a linear ring of parkland and trails in Washington, D.C. For a brochure describing the Civil War Defenses of Washington, see Click here to download a hiking guide to a route between the Tenleytown Metro station (near Fort Reno) and the Fort Totten Metro station.

This 5.6-mile stroll down tree-line sidewalks and wooded paths visits three of these sites and includes a walk through Glover-Archbold Park, a favorite natural area of Capital City residents. There’s no need to pack a lunch because the midpoint of the segment goes right through Tenley Circle. Both ends are accessible via public transportation. You can also walk just the north or south portions, using the Metro station at Tenley as an end point.

Start: Oregon Avenue at Fort DeRussey in Rock Creek Park.
End: Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park at Canal Road and Foundry Branch.
Parking: Oregon Ave., near Fort DeRussey (0.0), Fort Reno on Chesapeake Street (2.0), Canal Road (5.6)

The Walk
0.0 Fort DeRussey, at the Oregon Avenue entrance to Rock Creek Park. Fort DeRussy was built on a hill to provide crossfire on the approaches to Fort Stevens on the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) and to control the countryside to west of today’s Rock Creek Park. It supported Fort Stevens in the only battle fought in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, July 11-12, 1864. The parapet’s earthworks still display the openings where guns were mounted. The moat around the parapet is evident, and rifle trenches outside the parapet can be seen. From here, go south on the Western Ridge Trail.

0.1 Military Road.

0.4 Grant Road. Turn right

0.6 Broad Branch Road. Turn right.

1.2 36th Street. Turn left

1.5 Cross Connecticut Avenue.

1.6 Turn right on Ellicott Street.

1.7 Reno Road. Turn left, then immediately right on Fort Drive.

1.8 Cross Nebraska Avenue.

1.9 Fort Reno. Named for Major General Jesse Lee Reno, who died from wounds received at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862, it was built during the winter of 1861 shortly after the Union Army’s defeat at the First Battle of Manassas. Situated at the highest point in Washington, Fort Reno eventually became the largest and most heavily-armed fort circling the city. Its commanding views of the surrounding countryside made it an important link in the defense of Washington.

2.0 Chesapeake Street, at south end of park. Go south on 40th Street away from park.

2.3 Cross Tenley Circle; stay on 40th Street.

2.4 Veasy Street. Turn right, then left at the end of the street.

2.5 Van Ness Street. Turn left.

2.6 Turn right on foot trail into Glover-Archbold Park. A three-mile trail runs the length of the park, which stretches from the Potomac River nearly to Tenley Circle. With seven stream crossings along the way, the defining feature of the route is Foundry Branch.

3.3 Cross Massachusetts Avenue.

3.7 Cross Cathedral Avenue.

3.9 Cross New Mexico Avenue.

4.1 Reach footpath to Battery Kemble and Palisades Park. For a side trip to Battery Kemble, turn right here, then turn right at the trail fork. Cross 44th Street at Edmonds Street; then stay on the trail. Cross Foxhall Road. Cross 49th Street into Palisades Park. People who grow up in Washington, D.C., know Battery Kemble Park as one the best sledding hills in the city.

4.4 Trail junction. Continue straight.

4.8 Trail junction. The path leads left (east) into Whitehaven Park.

5.1 Cross Reservoir Road.

5.6 Tunnel under Mac Arthur Boulevard. Reach C&O Canal Towpath at Canal Road and Foundry Branch.


For information:
•C&O Canal,
• DC Heritage Tourism Coalition,

• Fort Dupont Recreation Center,

NPS National Capital-East, (202) 690-5185.
• NPS National Capital-Central, (202) 426-6841,

• U.S. National Arboretum,

• Rock Creek Park,

• Washington Parks and People,


Region: Washington D.C.
Activity: Birding, Hiking, History

Last updated: January 11, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Potomac Heritage NST Office
P. O. Box B

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425


(304) 535-4014

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