In 1881, William Elliott was now a Colonel and in command of the forts that overlooked Washington. After war was declared, he demanded the city's surrender to avoid its destruction, but was rebuffed. As dawn rose the next day, Colonel Elliott ordered his guns to fire on the city. However, US forts stationed around Washington returned fire, and after a few hours of bombardment, Colonel Elliott ordered his guns to stop.
Due to the strong troop presence in Washington, Colonel Elliott's position during the war was precarious. Although he ordered his forts to occasionally bombard the city, it wasn't with the vigor he'd originally shown during his opening salvo. In May 1882, Colonel Elliott's position finally improved as he received infantry reinforcements, and made preparations to support the army attack on Washington. However, the war ended before this could happen.