The war in the East 186164

War The East

Major John Gross Barnard was appointed Chief Engineer of Washington, DC in 1861, and was responsible for planning the fortifications that surrounded the capital. Promoted to brigadier general, he directed the siege works atYorktown in 1862, and by 1864 was Chief Engineer of the armies in the field under Grant. (National Archives 530217)

Defenses of Washington, May-July 1861

The Federal capital was considered vulnerable at the outset of the Civil War, and a number of forts, blockhouses, and infantry parapets were hastily constructed to protect the northern approaches from Maryland and the bridges across the Potomac River. Most of these works, and many of those that followed after, were built under the guidance of Major, later Brigadier General, John G. Barnard. The Superintendent at West Point when war broke out, Barnard used Mahan's Treatise on Field Fortification as his principal reference manual.

When the Federal army moved into Northern Virginia on May 24, 1861, Barnard oversaw the erection of the first fortifications there. Fort Corcoran and associated defenses were built in May 1861 to command the approaches to the Aqueduct Bridge. A bastioned earthwork, this fort was garrisoned by the 13th New York Infantry, and had a perimeter of 576 yards plus emplacements for 10 guns, which were initially manned by Co. K, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. Linked with this were the outworks called forts Bennett and Haggerty. The former fort had a perimeter of 146 yards and emplacements for five guns, and was designed to bring under fire the slope northwest of Fort Corcoran. The latter possessed a perimeter of 128 yards with emplacements for four guns, and was built to protect the slope south of Fort Corcoran. Two more large bastioned earthworks were thrown up to guard the approaches to the Long Bridge. With a perimeter of 1,484 yards, Fort Runyon was established at the northern end of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, while the much smaller Fort Albany, with a perimeter of 429 yards and emplacements for 12 guns, was placed about a mile farther down the Columbia Turnpike.

Big Bethel, 1861

Field fortifications and entrenchments featured at Big Bethel, the first land battle of the Civil War, fought on June 10, 1861. Despite being surrounded by Virginia state troops, plus those of the Provisional Confederate Army, Federal forces had garrisoned Fortress Monroe on the Peninsula, in Virginia, since the beginning of the conflict. On the night of June 9, Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the District of Annapolis, ordered units under Brigadier General Ebenezer W. Pierce to attack a small Confederate force led by Colonel John Bankhead Magruder (nick-named "Prince John"), dug in at a small hamlet called Big Bethel, about eight miles inland.

The position held by the Confederate troops at Bethel Church was described as "a natural strongpoint" which Colonel Daniel Harvey Hill, commanding the 1st North Carolina, decided to fortify. Despite initially having at his disposal only "twenty-five spades, six axes, and three picks," Colonel Hill ordered his troops to throw up a redoubt consisting of breastworks on four sides forming a rough rectangle. A "masked" or

Big Bethel Battlefield

Drawn by Corporal William B. Taylor of the Charlotte Grays, Co. B, 1st North Carolina Infantry, this detail from a plan of the Battle of Big Bethel fought on June 10, 1861 shows the Confederate fortifications. It is oriented with the north at the bottom. (Library of Congress)

concealed battery was also established in a small salient on the opposite bank of the river, in order to protect the approaches to the County Bridge, which carried the Sawyer Swamp road.

The Federals advanced towards the redoubt where the Confederates knelt waiting in their concealed trenches. As they proceeded towards a very harmless-looking fence, house, cowshed, and barn, a member of Duryee's Zouaves remembered how "the curtain fell." The masked battery was suddenly exposed to full view, and did not lose any time in opening fire.

Meanwhile, the Confederate infantry in the advanced positions, consisting of the Virginia Life Guard,

15th Virginia, were ordered to kneel in their trenches to avoid being seen until the enemy was in "the middle of the open field" at their front. According to their commander, First Lieutenant Charles P. Rady, "the men of the first platoon rose, and taking deliberate aim, fired; the shots had good effect, seven of the Zouaves falling, two killed and the remainder wounded ... We immediately drew upon us the fire of the Zouaves and one piece of cannon, but our men were undaunted, and between every fire of the dastardly crew they rose by file and fired. Nearly every time a man was felled." Although the Confederates were required to temporarily evacuate their salient later in the short battle, the Federals were shaken by such an effective use of field fortifications, and withdrew in great chaos and disorder back to Fortress Monroe.

Drawn by Corporal William B. Taylor of the Charlotte Grays, Co. B, 1st North Carolina Infantry, this detail from a plan of the Battle of Big Bethel fought on June 10, 1861 shows the Confederate fortifications. It is oriented with the north at the bottom. (Library of Congress)

Manassas, 1861-62

When the Federal army under Brigadier General Irwin McDowell advanced south towards Manassas Junction on July 17, 1861, Major Barnard and seven other engineer officers accompanied it and supervised the construction of a number of field works. Issued the day before, McDowell's general order to his army stated: "Each column is provided with entrenching tools and axes, and if the country affords facilities for obstructing our march, it also gives equal facilities for sustaining ourselves in any position we obtain. Troops will march without tents, and wagons will only be taken with them for ammunition, the medical department, and for entrenching tools."

Earthen Fortifications
Photographed after capture in 1862, these Confederate field fortifications at Manassas,Virginia consisted of a hurdle revetment behind an earthen parapet with an embrasure. Note the artillery platform in the foreground. (Library of Congress B817-7171)
Captured Confederate fortifications at Manassas,Virginia in l862.The remains of a gabion revetment can be seen in the middle ground. A vertical post revetment protects the battery in the background. (Library of Congress B817-7936)

Meanwhile, the Confederate army concentrated at First Manassas established extensive rifle pits and entrenchments along the southwest bank of Bull Run during June/July 1861. The brigade forming "the advance forces of the [Confederate! Army of the Potomac," under Brigadier General M. L. Bonham, was ordered to fall back to prepared trenches in the face of the Federal advance from Washington. Two days later, Lieutenant Colonel George W. H. Legg, 5th South Carolina Infantry, wrote a letter to his local newspaper The Carolina Spartan stating, "We will have it today. We have been entrenching ourselves all night. We are well fortified at McLane's [sic] Ford." Several days before the commencement of fighting, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard ordered a "heavy" abatis about 200 yards in depth to be constructed on the western side of the Stone Bridge across the Run. As General McDowell reported on August 4, this discouraged his forces from advancing at that point and he decided to "turn the extreme left" of the Confederate position at Sudley's Ford.

On the day of the main battle, Major Barnard supervised Federal engineer and pioneer troops as they entrenched on the northern banks at Blackburn's Ford as part of a holding-flanking movement. Entrenchments and a battery were dug either side of the approach to the Ford, and an abatis was constructed across the road. Barnard described the battery as having "a log revetment for the interior slope, and some ten or twelve feet of dirt in front." This battery was occupied by Co. D, 2nd US Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant O. D. Greene, and consisted of four guns placed with two either side of the road. Farther back along the same road, Lieutenant Frederick E. Prime, US Engineers, oversaw the pioneers of the Garibaldi Guard, or 49th New York Infantry, as they constructed a redoubt with two embrasures. According to Prime, this work would "sweep the old Braddock road, and resist any attempt to outflank us from the left, by Union Mills road or road from Gaines' Ford."

After the battle got underway on July 21, the pioneers under Captain B. S. Alexander, US Engineers, crossed over the Stone Bridge one by one, and set about cutting away the Confederate abatis, in order to clear the way for General Robert C. Schenck's brigade to fall on the enemy right flank. Unfortunately, the Federal forces collapsed moments before Schenck's brigade could be marshaled across the bridge, and the whole Northern army fell into a full-scale retreat.

Following their victory at First Manassas, the Confederates continued to fortify and entrench their positions around Centreville and Manassas Junction

during the remainder of 1861. After General J. E. Johnston evacuated the last of his army from that location on March 9, 1862, in response to McClellan's move to the Virginia Peninsula, Union reconnaissance parties reported them in detail. Those at Centreville consisted of "two lines, one facing east and the other north. The former consisted of seven works, viz: one bastion fort, two redoubts, two lunettes, and two batteries, all containing embrasures for 40 guns, and connected by infantry parapets and double caponiers. It extended along the crest of the ridge a mile and three-quarters from its junction with the northern front to ground thickly wooded and impassable to an attacking column. The northern front extended about one and a quarter miles to Great Rocky Run, and thence three-quarters of a mile farther to thickly wooded, impassable ground in the valley of Cub Run. It consisted of six lunettes and batteries, with embrasures for 31 guns, connected by an infantry parapet in the form of a cremaillere line with redans. At the town of Centreville, on a high hill commanding the rear of all the works within range, was a large hexagonal redoubt with ten embrasures." Meanwhile, the defenses at Manassas consisted of "a system of detached wTorks, with platforms for heavy guns arranged for marine carriages, and often connected by infantry parapets. This system was rendered complete by a very large work, with 16 embrasures, which commanded the highest of the other works by about 50 feet." Following the Confederate withdrawal from Manassas in March 1862, McClellan ordered the re-fortification of that place, plus the re-opening of the Manassas Gap Railroad, with blockhouses built to protect its bridges.

Extension of the Washington defenses, 1861-64

Following the debacle at Bull Run in July 1861, it became a priority to surround Washington with a chain of fortifications. A resolution from the House of Representatives, dated July 8, requested that Secretary of War Simon Cameron should provide "plans and estimates" for the completion of defensive works around the city. Major Barnard, Chief Engineer attached to the headquarters of McDowell, was soon engaged in the task.

In developing the system of fortifications around Washington, DC Barnard looked to historical examples, especially the Lines of Torres Vedras, which were planned and supervised by Colonel Richard Fletcher, Royal Engineers, to protect Lisbon from Napoleon's invasion of Portugal in 1810-11. In January 1863, Barnard wrote: "The theory of these defences is ... to occupy the commanding points within cannon range of each other by field-forts, the fire of which shall sweep all the approaches. These forts furnish the secure emplacement of artillery. They also afford cover to bodies of infantry. The works may be connected by lines of light parapets, or ground (where practicable) may be obstructed that the enemy's troops cannot penetrate the interval without being exposed, for considerable time, to the effects of artillery or musketry fire of the forts."

Barnard's first priority was the building of a chain of lunettes, called forts De I<alb, Woodbury, Cass, Tillinghast, and Craig. Earthworks connected the former two forts, as this was believed by him to be "one of the most

Construction of FortTotten began in August 1861 and was finally completed during 1863. Named for Brigadier General Joseph G.Totten, Chief of Engineers, it occupied a high point north of Washington, DC and mounted 20 guns and mortars, including eight 32-pounders.The 100-pounder Parrott rifle in this fort provided long-range support when Confederate General Jubal A. Early's forces attacked nearby Fort Stevens on July I I and 12, l864.This view of the interior shows three of the guns on barbette carriages, and the banquette tread and slope behind the parapet. Also note the bomb-proof on the right. (Library of Congress B8I I-23I3B)

Field Fortification

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