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Construction Field FortificationAcw Field Fortifications

The Confederate attack on Fort Stedman, March 25, 1865

Fort Stedman was a seven-sided redoubt with accommodation for 10 guns behind an earthen parapet. However, only four light 12-pounder guns were in place at the time, manned by the 19th New York Battery. The fort was garrisoned by 300 men of the 29th Massachusetts Infantry. A large bomb-proof was constructed in the parade of the fort, which was protected by a reinforced earthen parapet.The ground to the front of the fort was protected by picket trenches, and two distinct lines of entangling obstacles, including chest-high fraises.The inset illustration shows a cross section of a bomb-proof dugout.This was dug deep into the ground, heavily reinforced with sandbags, gabions, railroad iron, and huge wooden beams, and covered over with a deep layer of earth.

Attack Fort Fisher Acw

Based on a drawing by artist Andrew McCallum, this engraving was published in Harper's Weekly on April 15, 1865, and shows Confederate pioneers and axemen removing Federal abatis during the attack on Fort Stedman outside Petersburg on March 25. (Author's collection)

Sampson. The western lines were linked together by forts Baldwin and Gregg (No. 2).

Of the 31 Union forts built along the Petersburg line, no two looked alike. Finished in March 1865, Fort Fisher was the largest, covering five acres. One of the most unusual was Fort Stevenson, which was built on the reverse line in a distinctive inverted "W" shape. Located where the front siege line met Jerusalem Plank Road, Fort Sedgwick was the one perhaps best remembered by the Union veterans. Its close proximity to the Confederate lines made it a prominent and continual target for enemy mortar fire and sharpshooters. According to a New York soldier, this post became known as "Fort Hell" because it was nearer the Confederate lines and therefore subjected to "the hottest fire."

Meanwhile, the Confederates transformed their new lines into a formidable system of earthworks on well-chosen high ground highly favorable to retrenchment, palisades, and abatis. Colquitt's Salient, Grade's Salient, Elliott's Salient and Rives Salient made up the strongpoints on their eastern lines. Forts Mahone ("Fort Damnation") and Walker, plus Battery Pegram and Miller's Salient, strengthened the southern line. Forts Lee and New Orleans bolstered the western line. At the peak of the siege, some 51,000 men defended Petersburg against approximately 113,000 besiegers. Furthermore, the defenses of Richmond were stretched to a distance of 26 miles from White Oak Swamp, east of that city, to the Jerusalem Plank Road, south of Petersburg. By the end of the siege, the lines were 37 miles in length.

Based on a drawing by artist Andrew McCallum, this engraving was published in Harper's Weekly on April 15, 1865, and shows Confederate pioneers and axemen removing Federal abatis during the attack on Fort Stedman outside Petersburg on March 25. (Author's collection)

Field Fortification

Life in the Petersburg fortifications

In the forts and batteries

Inside and around the forts and batteries of both the Union and Confederate lines at Petersburg, troops led a troglodyte existence in bomb-proofs dug deep into the ground and heavily reinforced and protected by earth, sandbags, gabions, railroad iron, and huge wooden beams. These were often linked together, and to covered ways and boyaux leading towards the parapet, and were continually being repaired or extended by their occupants. According to one soldier: "The lines in some places became involved labyrinths, nearly impassable at night to one not familiar with the locality."

The men of both armies also spent much of their time building and repairing the main defenses of the forts and batteries they manned. The US Engineer Battalion, plus the 1st and 50th New York Volunteer Engineers, supervised much of the construction and consolidation of the Union lines. Llowever, the manual work was performed by non-specialist troops who put together gabions and fascines, both

The interior of Fort Sedgwick, and most of the other forts on the Petersburg line, was filled with a rabbit warren of bomb-proofs containing soldiers' quarters. (Library of Congress B8171 -7534)

Field Fortifications

Situated at the eastern end of the siege lines at Petersburg, and overlooking the Appomattox River, Federal Battery 5 contained Parrott rifles behind sandbagged embrasures. Note the battery flag fluttering from the parapet. (Library of Congress)

important materials in supporting the interior structures of large field fortifications. They also began clearing roads, building bridges, and making "covered ways" so that troops and equipment could be moved without presenting a target to the enemy. A company of the US Engineer Battalion under Captain Van Brocklin built Fort Stevenson, south of Petersburg, during September 1864 with the help of "1,400 infantry each day and 500 each night." Nearby Fort Patrick Kelly was thrown up by the same unit with the help of "a daily detail of about 600 men" during the same period.

Productivity digging ditches and trenches dropped sharply in rocky soil or close to enemy lines, where the work was always done at night. In one deep ditch in the Union lines, it took eight men to get one shovelful of earth to the top of the works, with one digging and the others perched in niches cut into the counterscarp and passing the soil upward. Flowever, as one officer explained, "Nothing in the world finds more willing workers than throwing up breastworks under the spur of hostile fire."

The Union army had ample manpower with which to build and garrison its forts on the Petersburg line, and orders were frequently given to fill them with "as many troops as they will profitably hold." In general terms, Northern forts were garrisoned with 300 men, while batteries were occupied by anything between 20 and 150 men, depending on the size of the work and the number of guns being manned.

Some Federal units served for almost a month in the Petersburg lines. For example, elements of the 3rd Brigade, Second Division, 2nd Army Corps, moved into the main line on November 1, 1864, where a portion of them garrisoned Fort McGilvery and Battery No. 5 on the extreme right, resting on the Appomattox River. The command remained in this position until the night of the 29th, when it was relieved by the 9th Corps and transferred to the left of the line, near the Vaughan road, where it went into camp.

The gun crews in the forts were often required to serve their guns en barbette, or over the top of the parapet, which meant they were exposed to enemy fire. Barbette platforms were generally placed wherever a wide field of fire was desirable, especially at salient angles to cover the sectors of the work without batteries. Commanding the 1st Brigade, Third Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac, in September 1864, Brigadier General R. De Trobriand reported that the position of two of the six guns in Fort Rice, served by the 3rd Battery, Maine Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Ezekiel R. Mayo, were "extremely perilous. Being now on high platforms in barbette, the men are fully exposed to the firing of the enemy's sharpshooters at a place where no one can show his head with impunity for five minutes." A Union gunner who served in Fort Sedgwick wrote, "I expend about 100 rounds of ammunition every day, and the picket and sharpshooters pour in such a continuous storm of bullets that the said fort is anything but an agreeable place."

The weather played havoc with the earthen field works in the Petersburg lines. Heavy rainstorms lashed northern Virginia towards the end of November 1864. On the 24th of that month, Brigadier General Byron R. Pierce, 2nd Brigade, Third Division, 2nd Army Corps, reported, "I found that two or three posts in front of

Situated at the eastern end of the siege lines at Petersburg, and overlooking the Appomattox River, Federal Battery 5 contained Parrott rifles behind sandbagged embrasures. Note the battery flag fluttering from the parapet. (Library of Congress)

Confederated Batterie

Confederate Battery No. 9; part of the "Dimmock Line," Petersburg, Virginia

Confederate Battery No. 9 (renamed "Fort Friend" after capture and reconstruction by the Federals) formed part of the "Dimmock Line" built outside Petersburg, Virginia, between August 1862 and March 1863. Built in the shape of a triple redan and without a gorge, it contained eight emplacements for 24-pounder siege guns mounted on barbette carriages. It was one of nine Confederate batteries captured on June 15, 1864 during the Battle of Petersburg. Having burst through a ravine between batteries 7 and 8, US Colored Troops attacked the Dimmock

Line from the rear.

Field Fortification

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