The fortifications of Petersburg 186465

Hell Really Exists

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In June 1864, the outer line of Confederate fortifications built around Petersburg stretched for ten miles, and began and ended on the Appomattox River, protecting all but the northern approaches to the city. The 55 partially enclosed artillery batteries were consecutively numbered from east to west, and were linked together with rifle trenches. The building of these works was ordered on August 4, 1862, and was initially undertaken by 4,000 troops from three Confederate brigades, who were eventually replaced by about 1,000 slaves, plus numerous freedmen, from Virginia and North Carolina. As late as March 1863, Dimmock was still conscripting slaves and free-coloreds to work on the line.

Known unofficially as the "Dimmock Line," for Captain Charles Dimmock who had supervised the construction of the Richmond defenses, the finished works around Petersburg were placed on high ground. They also had batteries and salients, such as Battery 5 to the east of the city, projecting out in front of the main defenses so they could deliver enfilade fire up and down the lines.

Unfortunately, the "Dimmock Line" had some important defects. Between batteries 7 and 8 lay a deep ravine that could provide a means of penetration by an attacking infantry force. There was a significant gap created by another ravine, along which flowed Taylor's Branch, between Battery 24 and Battery 25, near the Jerusalem Plank Road, one of several important southern routes into Petersburg. Furthermore, too many artillery pieces along the line were exposed en barbette above the parapets, and insufficient fields of fire had been cleared in front of them. Also, none of the Confederate batteries were completely enclosed. Although this permitted the evacuation of artillery pieces should there be a need to fall back quickly, it left these forts vulnerable to attack from the rear if their lines were penetrated at any point. However, according to General P. G. T. Beauregard, if properly manned, the "Dimmock Line" should have been almost impregnable. Unfortunately the Confederates were outnumbered seven-to-one on June 15, 1864, and the line was broken.

After the Confederate collapse and withdrawal to an inner line of works on June 18, 1864, Grant ordered the commencement of siege operations and the

The fighting at Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865

In June 1864, Confederate forces at Petersburg were under the command of General Beauregard. General W. F."Baldy" Smith's Union XVIII Corps arrived at the Dimmock Line around noon on June 15, and began their attack. By June 18, the Confederates were forced to withdraw to new positions closer to Petersburg. Shortly after, Lee arrived to direct operations in person.The Federal drive to capture Petersburg faltered though, and both armies settled down for a long siege. Shortly after, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants began digging a mine underneath the Confederate trenches.The Federals tunneled over 500 feet to the Confederate lines, and at 4.40 am on July 30, the mine was exploded, killing and wounding 278 men and creating a crater 170 feet wide, 60 feet across, and 30 feet deep. By March 1865, the Confederate supply situation was worse than ever, and Lee ordered a last-ditch assault on the Union lines at Fort Stedman.The attack was a disaster for Lee that cost 4,000 men. On April I, 1865, Grant finally managed to sever the last rail line leading into Petersburg, and a 14,000-man Federal assault began, crashing through the Confederate lines.The small Confederate garrison at Fort Gregg made a gallant stand, which bought time for Lee's army to withdraw.The respite was only temporary, though; on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.

Nicknamed "Fort Hell" because it was in a "hot place" opposite the Confederate lines, Fort Sedgwick was an enclosed earthwork with infantry parapets either side of the main battery and numerous bomb-proofs. (Library of Congress)

TORT SEDGWICK generally known as TORT HELL

Infantry Earthworks

Hell's Half Acre j SATTtRY NO.g

Hell's Half Acre

TORT SEDGWICK generally known as TORT HELL


Wet Plate Field

above left This cracked wet-glass plate shows the rifle trenches and parapets that linked the forts and redoubts together along the Petersburg lines. (Library of Congress DIG-cwpb-01323)

Federal army built a formidable system of forts and breastworks protected by miles of chevaux-de-frise, gabions, and abatis. A short distance behind the Federal front line was a "reverse line" that faced in the opposite direction to afford protection in the rear.

The mastermind behind the Federal siege lines to the east of Petersburg was Colonel James C. Duane, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac. Assisted by Captain Benyaurd, US Engineers, he designed a system of fortifications consisting of a series of small field works, capable of containing a battery of artillery and an all infantry garrison of about 200 men each. Most of these works were enclosed at the gorge, or rear, and were well protected with abatis or palisading from front and behind. Strong and continuous infantry parapets, with obstacles in front, connected the whole line. Bomb-proofs were constructed about every 20 yards, with both forts and batteries in close proximity to one another. The other lines around Petersburg were also based on these principles. Major F. Harwood, commanding the battalion of US Engineers, had charge of consolidating the outer line between forts Bross and Dushane. Captain Howell was responsible for the construction of Fort Fisher.

The eastern line of Federal works eventually consisted of Fort McGilvery (Redoubt A), Fort Stedman (Redoubt B), Fort Haskell (Redoubt C), Fort Morton (Redoubt D), Fort Meikle (Redoubt E), Fort Rice (Redoubt F), Fort Sedgwick (Redoubt G), and Fort Davis (Redoubt H). Those on the inner southern line were Fort Prescott (Redoubt I), Fort Alexander Hays (Redoubt I<), Fort Howard (Redoubt L), and Fort Wadsworth (Bastion Fort M), plus forts Keene, Tracy and Urmston. Forts Wheaton, [Union Fort] Gregg, Welch, Fisher, and Conahey surrounded the signal tower along the "Fish Hook" line to the southwest. The reverse southern line consisted of Fort Dushane (Bastion Fort N), Fort Davison (Redoubt O), Fort McMahon (Redoubt P), Fort Stevenson (probably Redoubt Q), Fort Blaisdell (probably Redoubt R), Fort Patrick Kelly (Redoubt S) and Fort Bross (Redoubt T), plus forts Clarke, Siebert, Emory, Cummings, and above left This cracked wet-glass plate shows the rifle trenches and parapets that linked the forts and redoubts together along the Petersburg lines. (Library of Congress DIG-cwpb-01323)

above right The men who helped build the Federal siege lines at Petersburg, Co. D, US Engineer Battalion, were photographed in camp during August 1864.Three of the men wear the "Engineer's castle" insignia on their caps. (Library of Congress B8171-7387)

Battery No. 5 projected out as a salient from the Confederate lines east of Petersburg. Containing four guns, it was captured during the Federal assault on June 15, 1864. (Library of Congress)

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  • gavino trevisani
    How many forts at petersburg?
    1 year ago

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