Civil War Defenses of Washington
Historic Resource Study
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New fortification construction continued until the end of the war and even afterward but it tapered off considerably in 1863. But, in addition to and following the new fortification construction in the Defenses of Washington, much other related work was necessary. Even before the fortifications were completed, alterations, maintenance and repair work was necessary, some almost every day. [1]

Barnard, in January 1862, exclaimed, "I deem it my imperative duty, after many representations to headquarters and to the chief of artillery on the subject of garrisoning the fortifications and preserving them from dilapidation, to call the attention of the Commanding General again to the subject, and to say that unless more effective measures are taken, these works, with their armament, must fall into ruin." Edward Frost, civilian Army engineer employee, reported, in May 1862, " . . . in compliance with your instructions of yesterday, I proceeded on that day to Fort Lyons & made arrangements by which the work of construction & especially of repairs will be recommenced on Monday morning." By October 1862, Barnard felt compelled to state, "The preservation of these works is another important consideration." In December 1862, Frost wrote: "In accordance with instructions given by General Barnard, various changes have been made, and some are still to be made, in the interior features of the several Forts and much incidental work is accomplished from time to time in the way of maintenance." On January 16, 1864, Barnard declared, "The $300,000 ask for of Congress will I think, complete everything in hand and leave a fund available for the ever recurring repairs which such a system demands." Less than a month later, care and preservation of the fortifications became an official duty of the Army as Article 17, in the regulations for the care of field-works and the government of their garrisons, issued as General Orders No. 42, War Department, February 2, 1864, stipulated that "Commanding officers will pay special attention to the police and preservation of the works." [2]

In his post-war report on the Civil War Defenses of Washington, Barnard reported; "The operations of 1864 . . . were confined mainly to the repairing, strengthening, and perfecting of existing works." In a March 1864 inspection report of the defenses, Assistant Adjutant General James A. Hardie, later the U.S. Army Inspector-General, remarked: "Every spring repairs will be necessary at every fort." Another observer reported that with some exceptions, ". . . the time was devoted to keeping in good repair those [works] already constructed." Thus, to keep the fortifications combat ready, constant maintenance and repair was necessary. [3]

The works in the Civil War Defenses of Washington required constant maintenance and repair for a variety of reasons. Aging took its toll. The longer the works stood, the more they required maintenance and repair due to deterioration. In July 1864, Alexander observed that, "The defense of the [Long] bridge is very imperfect, owing to the dilapidation and decay of Fort Jackson." Later the same year, he exclaimed, "They [the forts] have all been provided with abatis, but some of it is over three years old, and so rotten and broken as to be almost useless as a means of defense, and so dry as to be easily set on fire." The next year, in 1865, Alexander reported, "An examination of Forts Haggerty & Bennett shows them to be in a very dilapidated condition, requiring extensive repairs if the forts are to be maintained." [4]

Natural elements were the cause of a great deal of the maintenance and repairs. In April 1864, Army Chief of Staff, Major General Henry W. Halleck reported to Lieutenant General U. S. Grant, commanding General of the Army, that, " . . . some of the works are not completed and the recent heavy rains have so injured some of them as to require extensive repairs . . ." Hardie wrote that, "In all older works the frost and rain have done more or less injury . . ." Barnard, in October 1862, observed, "The winter acts severely upon these earthen scarps and exterior slopes." The 59th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment reported, in March 1862, " . . the washing away of the sodding from the Magazine of Fort Franklin." [5]

Water was the most destructive of the elements. Water leaked into most of the structures erected at the fortifications and correspondence quite often contained phrases such as, "One of the magazines in Lyons needs repair . . . it is leaky and too damp for the preservation of powder," and, ". . . found one in such a state from leakage that it was wholly unfit for the storage of powder." In April 1864, a surgeon reported on the leaky and unhealthy condition of the bombproof barrack at Fort Marcy. Alexander, in a report of engineer operations for the year ending September 30, 1864, warned that new magazines were necessary to replace those "built of white pine boards and frame, in the quickest manner" in which the boards "now rotting out" were causing leaks "which render the magazines unfit for the safe keeping of ammunition." In his December 1864 report of the condition of quarters at Fort Whipple, the post commander observed that the roofs on barracks 2 and 3, all the cook houses and two of the officers quarters "leaked badly." [6]

Fire was always a fear. In January 1864, the commander at Fort Ethan Allen issued General Orders No. 1, with the following provision: "I. A barrel of water will be placed at each end of each barracks as a precaution against fire; buckets or camp kettles will be placed near the barrels ready for use." General Orders No. 42, War Department, February 2, 1864, regulations for the care of field-works and the government of their garrisons prepared by Brigadier-General William F. Barry, U.S. Army Inspector of Artillery, stipulated in article 22 that "The practice of building fires on the open parades, for cooking and other purposes, is prohibited, as it endangers the magazines." Alexander informed Halleck, in July 1864 that "To guard against fire, barrels of water and buckets are placed on the [Long] bridge at intervals of thirty or forty yards." Regardless, fires occurred, and Major F.H. White, commander of Fort Marcy, reported that defective flues and the bad condition of poor Sibley stoves caused a fire at the fort in the "bomb proof " on January 28, 1865. [7]

With gunpowder, ammunition, guns and other ordnance stored in various places in and around the Defenses of Washington, the chance of fire setting off an explosion was quite real. In 1864, "regulations for the care of field-works and the government of their garrisons," in the last part of the eleventh provision warned, "No fire or smoking will be allowed in the vicinity [of a magazine] when the doors or ventilators are open. Too many precautions cannot possibly be taken to avoid the chances of an explosion." On November 5, 1862, the 100-pounder Parrott gun at Fort Alexander fired four times, but the third and fourth shots burst in the tube and the gun tipped over, chassis and all, after the fourth. Perhaps the best known Civil War explosion occurred near General Grant's headquarters, at City Point, Virginia, at noon on August 9, 1864, when a barge carrying ordnance stores exploded, killing 70 men and wounding 130 and destroying 600 feet of warehouses and tearing up 180 feet of wharf. [8]

The worst explosion in the Defenses of Washington occurred on June 9, 1863, when the north magazine at Fort Lyon, in Virginia, blew up. A 26-man detail, under the command of a lieutenant, was using wooden spoons to remove caked powder, caused by moisture in the magazine, from inside shells. The lieutenant, unsatisfied with the slowness of the work, provided priming wire to some of the men to remove the caked powder. Friction from the wire scraping in one of the shells ignited the powder and set off the explosion of approximately 28,000 pounds of powder, about 18,000 pounds in barrels and roughly 10,000 pounds in various types of ammunition. The explosion killed twenty-one men, including two officers, and injured ten men [one account reported twenty men killed and fourteen men injured]. The blast tossed one gun on the rampart "into battery and tipped forward, with its muzzle resting on the parapet." The dirt and logs of the magazine were thrown in all directions. The men found shells as far away as 2,500 yards. Tents and wooden buildings near the magazine were completely destroyed, but most of the garrison, in the bombproof about 75 feet away, was unharmed. The explosion damaged only a small fraction of the fort. The next day, President Abraham Lincoln and his entourage, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and General Samuel P. Heintzelmann, visited the fort to see first-hand the results of the blast. [9]

Human error, such as in the case of the Fort Lyon north magazine explosion, indifference, carelessness and laziness were also causes for maintenance and repair. The 1864 "regulations for the care of field-works and the government of their garrisons," stipulated, in Article 17:

"Commanding officers will pay special attention to the police and preservation of the works. All filth will be promptly removed and the drainage particularly attended to. No one should be allowed to walk on the parapets, or move or sit upon the gabions, barrels, or sandbags that may be placed upon them. When injuries occur to the earthworks they should be repaired as quickly as possible by the garrison of the work. If of a serious nature, they should be at once reported to the engineer officer in charge of the work. All injuries to the magazines or platforms of the guns will be promptly reported as soon as observed: The abatis, being a most important portion of the work, must be always well looked to and kept in perfect order." [10]

Further, in Article 20, was the following:

"The garrison can greatly improve the work by sodding the slopes of the parapet, and those of the ramps and banquettes, or by sowing grass seed on the superior slope, first covering it with surface soil. The grass-covered or sodded portions of the parapets, traverses, magazines, &c., should be occasionally watered in dry weather and the grass be kept closely cut. Early in the spring and late in the autumn they should be covered with manure." [11]

In some instances, troops were quite efficient in carrying out such provisions as when, in January 1862, Barnard reported that both commanding officers and subordinates of the Fourteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (became First Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment), and Fourth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment (became First Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment), "feel pride in preserving their works in perfect order." But, he went on: "Such is not always the case, as the use and importance of the works are not appreciated, and where it is not, we may expect to see the timber work and abatis converted into tent floors and fire-wood." In 1863, Barnard exclaimed that he couldn't " . . . be responsible for the condition of the works if commanding officers assume to alter or destroy what has been done." He also reported that the "Commanding officers of Forts Cass & Woodbury have therefore, without authority, and in direct violation of their duties to preserve the defensive qualities of their works, wantonly impaired the same. . . ." In 1863, Barnard remarked: "On inspecting Fort Ellsworth yesterday I observed that the abattis has been much impaired by the chopping off of branches & indeed in some places had been carried off entirely." Alexander, in June 1863, wrote, "I think it my duty to inform you that the garrison at Fort Cass have removed the abattis from the gorge of that work. I understand that it has been cut up for firewood." The Department commander detailed various infractions at forts Mahan, Meigs and Dupont, in April 1862, including a negligent and careless guard, a leaky magazine, guns without tampions, and muzzles elevated and elevating screws badly rusted. [12]

B.S. Alexander warned, in October 1864:

"Improbable as it may appear at the present time, it is the part of prudence to remember that history repeats itself, and that we should guard against such a contingency in the future. To do this effectually, we must keep the defenses in order. These being built of perishable materials, like a railroad, require constant repairs; old magazines require to be repaired or rebuilt; new bomb-proofs are required in many of the works; decayed revetments must be renewed; worn-out gun platforms require renewal; decayed abatis must be replaced by new; the scarps require constant attention–they must all be sodded, or revetted with masonry before the works can assume a permanent character; all interior earthen slopes of traverses, magazines, bomb-proofs, camps, &c., should be sodded; besides, some additional redoubts and batteries should be built in order to render these already constructed more secure. For these objects, "To keep in repair and render more permanent the defenses of Washington," an appropriation of $500,000 for the fiscal year ending July 1, 1866, will be required." [13]

Thus, maintenance and repair work encompassed a wide variety of duties and activities to preserve the various materials integral to viable fortifications. Each month, Barnard, and then Alexander, submitted reports to the Chief of Engineers outlining the engineer work accomplished during the period. These reports and other correspondence detail the maintenance and repair work that varied from removing the old counterscarp gallery and erecting a new one at Fort Lincoln; to repairing the lunette at Fort Strong; reinforcing parapets and magazines at Forts Strong, Bennett, Woodbury, Tillinghast and Craig; removing the old magazine and building a new stone one at Fort Worth; repairing revetments, platforms, embrasures, etc. at Battery Wagner; rebuilding chimneys at Fort Ethan Allen; repairing parapets, traverses, etc. at forts Craig and Tillinghast; renewing abatis on the gorge line at Fort Cass; repairing slopes of the bastions at Fort Carroll; cutting nineteen embrasures in the revetment at Fort McPherson; trimming and sodding the bombproofs and traverses at Fort Craig, Tillinghast and Battery Garesche; repairing the interior revetment at Fort Albany; sodding the bombproof at Fort Ellsworth; making gabions at Camp Barnard; trimming the exterior slopes at Fort at Kennedys' Hill; trimming the counterscarp and glacis at Fort Morton; altering the parapet at Fort Chaplin for flank defense guns; putting a new roof on the bombproof and covering the same with earth at Fort Marcy; repairing the magazine at Fort Tillinghast; cutting loopholes in the counterscarp galleries at Fort Foote; dismounting the barbette guns and preparing new platforms for the siege guns at Fort Thayer; repairing and sodding the magazine at Fort Cass; anchoring the scarp revetments at Fort Barnard; sodding the crest, embrasures and interior slopes at Fort at Kennedys' Hill; completing platforms and traverse circles for two guns at Battery Rodgers; repairing the interior revetment of the parapet at Fort Reynolds; throwing up rifle pits for the flanking battery at Battery Slough; putting the road between Fort Lyon and the Little River Turnpike in thorough repair; building gun platforms for additional siege and field guns, etc. at Battery Cameron; removing one 32-pounder and one 8-inch howitzer in Fort Runyon from the water side and placing it in position in the fort to command the causeway near Arlington Spring, Arlington House, the Columbia Turnpike and the magazines of forts Albany and Scott; trimming and sodding the slopes and ramps, grading and trimming the terreplein, and reinforcing the parapet at Fort Ward; hauling two 200-pounder and six 30-pounder Parrott guns from the wharf to Fort Foote; and cutting and clearing a large amount of bushes and undergrowth from the front of the works, on both sides of the river. [14]


In the midst of everything else going on in the Civil War Defenses of Washington, experiments also occurred. On May 2 1863, Colonel Henry L. Abbot, Corps of Engineers, furnished General Joseph G. Totten, Chief of Engineers, diagrams illustrating the four experiments conducted by the First Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment, on May 16, to determine the penetration of elongated projectiles into an earthen parapet near Battery Garesche. On August 10, 1863, experiments tested the penetration of shot from a 30-pounder Parrot Gun at Battery Cameron. Eleven days later similar experiments at Battery Cameron occurred with a 4-inch gun. [15]


In the course of construction of the fortifications and later alterations, maintenance and repair, the Army Engineers realized that a record of their work was necessary. They, therefore, created numerous maps and plans that, today, are a fairly good record of the fortifications and the work accomplished. Army civilian engineer employee Edward Frost aptly described the endeavor, in December 1862, in the following message to Alexander:

"It becomes a matter of some importance to decide what shall be done in respect to mapping the lines; and preparing some record for reference hereafter of the works as they now stand, as well as for convenience in making thereon notes of future changes or additions." [16]


Perhaps, the item that required the most maintenance and repair was the magazine. The magazines' greatest problem was that it leaked and was, therefore, frequently damp, making it impossible to fulfill its main function of storing ammunition and gunpowder. In May 1862, one officer, after inspecting the magazines at Fort Lyon, informed Captain Frederick E. Prime, the Chief Engineer on the Defenses of Washington, that he "found one in such a state from leakage that it was wholly unfit for the storage of powder, which had to be removed to the other which leaked very badly. I do not consider that in their present state they answer the end to which they were designed." No one was surprised when in May 1864, Brigadier General A.P. Howe, Inspector of Artillery, in his report of an inspection of the works in the Defenses of Washington, made frequent derogatory comments regarding the magazines such as for Fort Bennett–"Magazine., one; leaks in places"; Fort Ward–"Magazines, three; two serviceable, one unserviceable; new ones being built"; Fort Sumner–"Magazines, two; only one of which is dry and in good condition."; Battery Vermont–"Magazines, one; not dry; wants repairs"; Fort Meigs–"Magazines, three; two not dry, one dry and in good condition"; and Fort Foote–"Magazines, three, only one of which is completed; completed one in good condition." [17]

The magazines required a variety of maintenance and repair in addition to solving leakage problems. This work included "putting earth covering on magazines"; "trimming and sodding magazines;" "repairing . . . sodding of magazines;" "putting stockade in front of magazine," "framing magazines," "framing roof logs for magazines"; "roofing completed;" "timber revetment of . . . magazine completed;" "shelving magazines;" "inside sheeting of one magazine on;" "making wire gauge doors for magazines," "3 wire gauge doors hung in magazines and screen put on ventilators." Of course, the explosion of Fort Lyon's north magazine, on June 9, 1863, necessitated the construction of a new one. In October 1864, Alexander informed the Chief of Engineers, Richard Delafield, of general problems with many of the magazines:

"The new magazines stated above as needed are to replace those first constructed, which were built of white pine boards and frame, in the quickest manner, when the earlier forts were being hastily thrown up. The boards of these buildings are now rotting out, causing leaks, which render the magazines unfit for the safe keeping of ammunition. They should be rebuilt in a more permanent manner of logs and oak boards." [18]


Like the magazines, the bombproofs were damp, leaked, and sometimes flooded. But, water was even a greater problem in bombproofs because, in some cases, the engineers made them into living quarters. Water was not, however, the only repair and maintenance problem in bombproofs. Thus, the bombproofs, like the magazines, required constant repair and maintenance. [19]

In January 1864, Barnard informed the Chief of Engineers, Joseph G. Totten, that within the Defenses of Washington, the " . . . magazines and bomb-proofs are now in a very bad condition." In July 1864, Barnard, in reporting that the new bombproof at Fort Ethan Allen was not yet completed, observed that the "frame is up" and the "water proof roof is on" but it still required an earth covering, laying the floors, and putting up the siding. In October 1864, Alexander wrote: "Most of them [the works] are provided with good bomb-proofs . . ." but ". . . new bomb-proofs are required in many of the works . . ." [20]

On June 20, 1862, Edward Frost told the overseer of the Defenses of Washington, South of the Potomac River, that the bombproof at Fort Ward required repair "to prevent the roof from falling in." Repair and maintenance work included: putting earth covering on bomb-proofs at Forts Ward and Corcoran; "trimming and sodding bomb-proof " at Fort Ethan Allen; "hauling and hewing timber for bomb-proof " at Fort Morton; putting a new roof on the bombproof and covering it with earth at Fort Marcy; cutting loopholes on bombproofs at Fort Stanton; erecting a stairway to breast height on the bombproof at Fort Ellsworth; and rebuilding the bombproofs at Battery Jameson. [21]

In April 1863, the First Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment's quartermaster requested lime to whitewash works in the Defenses of Washington. His request was originally denied but, soon afterward, the Chief Engineer of the defenses sent a written communication stating that whitewashing was a necessity. On April 10, Colonel T.R. Tannatt referred the request to Barnard observing that " . . without the lime it is impossible to properly care for and preserve the wood work pertaining to forts, and keep the same in proper condition." Ten days later, Barnard replied that whitewashing was conducive to cleanliness and health in the bombproofs and made them lighter, thereby making all parts of the work clearly distinguishable even in dark. [22]

Since many of the bombproofs served as quarters, the chance of fire within them was great. On December 2, 1863, Barnard informed Augur that the stovepipes in use in the bombproofs were dangerous due to sparks from them. Later that month, civil engineer A. Grant Childs forwarded a sketch showing improvements in the arrangement of stovepipes to act as a spark arrester in bombproofs, suggesting that the Quartermaster Department adopt his idea, if not too late. Following the fire in a bombproof at Fort Marcy, in January 1865, already mentioned, the General commanding the Department of Washington directed his Chief Ouartermaster, Colonel M.I. Ludington, that due to the great danger of "fire in those bomb proofs" occupied as quarters where the use of vitrified earthen pipes as the lower end of the flues, with straight pipes, " . . double elbows be introduced in every case in which bomb proofs are used as quarters and heated by stoves." [23]


In General Orders No. 42, "regulations for the care of field-works and the government of their garrisons," prepared by Brigadier General Barry, U.S. Army Inspector of Artillery and issued by the War Department in February 1864, article 17 stipulated: "The abatis, being a most important portion of the work, must be always well looked to and kept in perfect order." In January 1863, Barnard declared: ". . . I need scarcely tell you that an abattis is one of the most essential things to the security of a field work." But, as Barnard reported in January 1862, "as the use and importance of the works are not appreciated" . . . "we may expect to see the timber work and abatis converted into tent floors and fire-wood." [24] Early in the war, timber abounded in the Washington, D.C. area so it was common to read directives such as "You are hereby authorized to cut such poles and abattis in rear of Fort Blenker as may be needed for your work in that vicinity." Later, though, much of the timber had been cleared but abatis was still required as Alexander demonstrated in October 1864, writing "These works are, generally speaking, in good condition, so far as their interior arrangements are concerned, the principal defect being the want of good strong abatis around some of the forts." But, scarcity of wood was only one of the problems pertaining to abatis. [25]

In January 1863, Barnard observed "On inspecting Fort Ellsworth yesterday I observed that the abattis has been much impaired by the chopping off of branches & indeed in some places had been carried off entirely." In May 1863, Colonel A. Piper, commanding the Third Brigade, Defenses North of the Potomac, requested that General Barnard be notified that the abatis in front of Fort Baker was 20 yards in front of the glacis, with the public highway breaking its continuous line, thereby allowing the enemy to reach the ditch at two points without passing through it; he suggested that the abatis might be placed immediately in front of the ditch. In June 1863, at Fort Cass, the garrison had "removed the abatis from the gorge" of the work and cut it up for firewood. Colonel Alexander, in October 1864, observed "They [the works] have all been provided with abatis, but some of it is over three years old, and so rotten and broken as to be almost useless as a means of defense, and so dry as to be easily set on fire" and, therefore, the ". . . decayed abatis must be replaced by new . . ." Barnard observed, "The replacing of abattis around our works is getting to be a matter of difficulty & expense . . ." early in 1863. [26]

Thus, the Chief Engineer of the Defenses of Washington monthly reports to the Chief of Engineers included many references to abatis. In the report of operations for June 1864, work included "laying new abatis" at Fort Ethan Allen and relaying the same at Fort Woodbury. In the report of operations for September 1864, work entailed "laying abatis" at forts Tillinghast, Totten and Slocum. In October 1864, the engineers oversaw "renewing abatis on the gorge line at Fort Strong and renewing abatis at Fort Woodbury." At Fort Morton, workers were "excavating for and laying abatis" in November 1864. In October 1864, Alexander submitted a report of operations for the year ending September 1864, showing "abatis repaired" at Fort Marcy; "abatis renewed" at forts Tillinghast, Craig, Carroll, Totten, Slocum and Stevens; and observed that the ". . . abatis requires to be renewed along the whole line from Fort Albany to Fort Lyon, inclusive, with the exception of Forts Berry, Garesche, Ward, and Williams." Abatis work continued until the defenses were no longer required. [27]


The Washington, D.C. area endured the constant movement of men, animals, supplies, armament and ammunition within the Defenses of Washington for military purposes on many city streets, and county roads in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. In addition to the numerous roads in existence in the Washington, D.C. area when the Civil War began, the Army Engineers oversaw the construction of thirty-two to thirty-three miles of roads during the war, between 1861 and 1865, for use within the Defenses of Washington. Both military and civilian streets and roads required continual maintenance and repair. [28]

In November 1862, Barnard forwarded a letter from Colonel Alexander to the Department pertaining to the upkeep of the roads. Alexander observed:

"The necessity of having roads and the importance of having good roads being admitted, we ought not, with the experience of last winter before us, to allow ourselves to be caught in the same condition again. It is an easy matter to say that the roads were horrible; that they were nearly impassable; that the expense of supplying the troops was enormously increased in consequence; that the number of wagons engaged in this business was double what it would have been with good roads; that the wagons were broken down and worn out; that mules and horses were disabled in great numbers; and that the troops were sometimes without provisions & the animals without forage. But all this would not convey any adequate conception of the terrible condition of these roads." [29]

Soon after, on December 2, 1862, Alexander wrote: ". . . I beg to suggest the following plan of keeping it [the road] in repair during the winter so that it may at all times answer the purpose for which it was constructed." As he considered the new road connecting with the line of defenses from Fort Alexander to Fort Massachusetts, he suggested that the road be divided into sections and the garrisons of the nearest fort would keep the road repaired. Elaborating, he stipulated that the garrison of Fort Alexander, using 20 to 25 men every day, could accomplish repairs in section 1, from Fort Alexander to the head of the reservoir. Repair would "consist in filling up the ruts, leveling sunken places, attending to the drainage, &c." Each fort would have a cart, furnished by the Quartermaster Department, with the post's name imprinted on it, along with horse and harness to be used only for repairing the fort and adjacent roads. In conclusion, Alexander suggested that the same plan could be used throughout the whole line of defence. [30]

In response to Alexander's suggestions, the Headquarters, Second Brigade, Defenses of Washington, North of the Potomac, at Fort Pennsylvania, issued Special Orders No. 73 on December 14, 1862:

"The Military road from Fort Alexander to Fort DeRussy is divided into sections for the purpose of keeping it in repair during the winter so that it may at all times answer the purpose for which it was constructed.

Section I. From Fort Alexander to the head of the Reservoir to be kept in repair by the garrison of Fort Alexander.

Section II. From the head of the Reservoir to Tennallytown to be kept in repair by the garrison of Fort Mansfield.

Section III. From Tennallytown to Broad Branch to be kept in repair by the garrisons of Fort Pennsylvania and Kearney.

Section IV. From Broad Branch to Rock Creek to be kept in repair by the garrison of Fort DeRussy.

The work of repairs will consist in filling up the ruts, leveling sunken places, tending to the drainage, &c From twenty to thirty five men daily might be advantageously employed on each section.

Regimental Quartermasters will make requisitions for carts, horses, harness, one for each Post, the name of the Fort will be painted on the cart and orders issued that these carts are to be used exclusively for repairs of the Forts or the adjacent roads.

Regimental Quartermasters will be held responsible that these orders are obeyed and that the roads are kept in repair." [31]

In many instances, Barnard and Alexander insisted that it was ". . . indispensable to begin work immediately before winter rains are upon us . . ." The December 1862 report of the Commission, "to examine and report upon the plan of the present forts, and sufficiency of the present system of defenses for the city," echoed these beliefs; in one place, the Commission report declared: "On the south side of the Potomac there are roads enough, or nearly so; but they require much work, such as widening, raising, constructing of culverts, &c., to make them practicable for winter." Elsewhere the report included the following remark: "Much work, however, is required on the main stems leading from the city, to make them practicable in the winter." Near its end, the Commission report offered the following: "It has been estimated that the work on roads about Washington requires ten regiments for twenty days, and efforts have been made to obtain this or an equivalent of labor in some other shape." In October 1864, Alexander emphasized the need for road repair when discussing the defenses north of the Potomac River: "The present length of the military road, with its branches, is about eighteen miles. It is in a passable condition, but needs repairs in some places." [32]

In a few instances, the Army Engineers were more interested in obstructing roads than repairing them. Annie S. Frobel, a Confederate sympathizing Northern Virginia civilian observed, in June 1863, "More barricading fixed up in the roads again to day . . . These great immense piles of brush and things are fixed up here and there and every where and the roads, completely stopped, but still there are ways left to go round the barricades." Barnard, in his report of monthly operations, for January 1864, to the Chief of Engineers, reported that the force south of the Potomac was employed in building stockades on the roads leading to Aqueduct, Chain and Long Bridges. In March 1864, Army Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck directed the obstruction of all wood roads leading to the exterior and not required for military transport to confine travel through the lines to the main roads. [33]

Quartermaster Department

The Army engineer officers, men and employees were not the only ones that performed maintenance and repair work in the Civil War Defenses of Washington. In fact, the Quartermaster Department undertook a large part of that work. The Quartermaster Department accomplished much of the road maintenance and repair. In late 1862, Alexander observed: "I am aware that the improvement of these roads does not properly belong to the Engineers. Nor does it belong to the QM, Commissary, or any other Department Exclusively but all would benefit . . ." About the same time, John P. Slough, Military Governor of Alexandria, who "upon a personal examination" found that ". . . two roads leading out of Alexandria required attention" requested that Captain C.B. Ferguson, the depot quartermaster, have them repaired. The Quartermaster Department also furnished wagons, carts, horses and harness to be used in repairing the roads. [34]

The Quartermaster Department was also responsible for most of the buildings erected and removed within the Civil War Defenses of Washington. In January 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Elias M. Greene, the Department Quartermaster, received instructions that the quarters and mess house at Battery Cameron required pitch and the quarters and mess halls at batteries Parrott and Kemble required other materials for completion. In October 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Horace G. Thomas, at Fort Bunker Hill, applied for permission to move the large two story building now occupied as Headquarters at Fort Slocum and the building adjoining to this post to be re-erected as Brigade Headquarters; Captain Arthur S. Nesmith, Assistant Quartermaster, Hardin's Division, recommended the action with changes and Hardin approved. In 1864, upon request, Quartermaster Daniel H. Rucker ordered Captain Elisha E. Camp, Assistant Quartermaster, to send a carpenter to make the repairs asked for that included repairing the sentry boxes, erecting a shelter for the horse of the detailed Mounted Oderly on duty and to make repairs on quarters of officers and men at the south end of Long Bridge. In August 1864, Alexander requested of the Department Acting Quartermaster, Captain Elisha E. Camp:

"Will you please send & have the roof of the building occupied by these Head Quarters repaired. It is in a very leaky Condition. So much so that unless repaired in heavy rains it will be impossible to occupy it." [35]

The Quartermaster Department undertook much additional maintenance and repair work including cutting bush in front of fortifications. In July 1864, during the threat of a Confederate invasion of the Washington, D.C. area, quartermaster teamsters were put to work cutting the underbrush and new growth in front of the fortifications. In addition, the Quartermaster Department furnished implements, such as scythes, to help in the clearing. [36]

Another important Quartermaster Department duty was to dig, maintain and repair wells in the defenses. In October 1864, Alexander reported that the Quartermaster's had been so slow in cleaning, deepening and curbing wells in the forts South of the Potomac that he was considering doing the labor at Fort Ward "if the Chief Qr Master will supply us with the materials." The Fort Morton commander, in March 1865, reported: " . . . the well within this Fort was left by the Quartermasters Dept. In an unfinished Condition and consequently the Brick work in the interior of the Well is giving away." He then requested that it be repaired "without delay." [37]

In order to accomplish the maintenance and repair work within the Civil War Defenses of Washington, constant requests to the Quartermaster Department for tools and supplies were necessary, as discussed elsewhere. But, the Quartermaster Department received some interesting additional requests such as one in November 1864 for "2 to 3 hundred loads of manure from the Eastern Branch stables to put on the sod on forts across Eastern Branch." The Quartermaster Department also furnished any transportation required, including the wagons, horses, harness and forage. [38]

Moving and Destroying Buildings

From the beginning of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, in May 1861, the Army had to deal with numerous houses and other structures that impeded fortification construction and restricted the field of fire. In many instances the Army destroyed the structures, but in some cases, they moved them to other locations. Similarly, after the construction of structures in the defenses, such as barracks, quarters, mess houses, etc., the Army, in some instances, decided that it no longer needed them or wanted them relocated. Depending on the structure, various departments such as Army Engineers, Quartermasters Department, Signal Corpsmen and Ordnace Corpsmen, were responsible for their destruction or relocation. [39]

Imminent danger motivated some of this work. In August 1864, civil engineer William C. Gunnell requested the issuance of orders for the removal of company quarters from Forts Carroll and Greble so that the ammunition could be safely placed in magazines. General Hardin, commanding a division in the Defenses of Washington, requested, in September 1864, the removal of the Signal Station at Fort Lincoln to Fort Bunker Hill where it would be of much better use. [40]

In a "Memoranda compiled for the Guidance and Information of Officers Serving in the Defenses of Washington," drafted by Lieutenant Colonel Barton S. Alexander, but never issued, article 3 stipulated that "When any part of the line of the defense is threatened with an attack all houses, trees, bushes, and in general everything that could be used as a cover by the enemy's sharpshooters, should be removed for a distance of at least 600 yards from the line." Thus, some remaining structures were to be removed or destroyed upon the approach of an enemy. "In case of any demonstration of the enemy making a dash along the road from Bladensburg toward Benning's Bridge," . . . the "dwelling-house and barn close to the work [Fort Mahan] is highly injurious to the defense, particularly with a small garrison." A memorandum for Colonel Haskins in June 1863 on the situation at Fort Mahan recorded that, "A few days' notice ought to be given, and the buildings removed." In July 1864, at the time of Jubal Early's raid on the defenses, the house, barns, etc. near the counterscarp at Fort Mahan were removed. [41]

The necessity for the relocation or destruction of structures was a neverending problem. In July 1863, Barnard informed his superiors that "The strength of Fort Stevens and of the line between it & Ft. Slocum is most seriously impaired by the existence of a dwelling house & orchard on the right, and of a dwelling and outbuildings immediately in front " and urged that the Army "sweep away these obstructions at a few hours notice, and the occupants of the dwellings should be aware that in case of an advance of the enemy towards Washington, the buildings must be destroyed." Barnard, in May 1864, informed the Department commander that a collection of huts, probably erected by General Silas Casey's men, and now occupied by contraband, located immediately in front of the line of rifle pits crossing the Columbia Turnpike, "should not have been permitted in the first place," and must be removed henceforth as this "is one of the most probable approaches for an army and there are important batteries for field guns which would be entirely masked by the buildings." [42]


Quarters for both officers and men required constant attention. At Battery Cameron, the quarters required pitch in January 1864. The commander at Fort Whipple, in December 1864, reported that the roofs on barracks Nos. 2 & 3 and on two of the officers quarters leaked badly, the flooring required repair and many of the bunks within were "unservicable by the subtraction of various parts . . ." The commander of the guard at the south end of Long Bridge applied for carpenters to make repairs on the quarters of both officers and men in October 1864. [43]

Not all officers and men serving in the Defenses of Washington had satisfactory quarters. Many bombproofs in the defenses served as quarters. Others lived in camps of huts or tents nearby. But these living quarters had their limitations as at Fort Worth, where the men lived in Sibley tents, about which one officer reported that they were " . . . worn and no longer habitable . . " In some instances, the Army moved barracks from one fort to another but elsewhere, such as at Forts Carroll & Greble, the Army requested necessary orders be issued for the removal of company quarters. By late 1864, the War Department had decided to stop erecting barracks in the works around Washington. [44]

Living quarters even caused combat deficiencies. On June 29, 1863, Barnard, in reporting on the Eastern Branch defenses, remarked "I look upon the quarters as a great source of weakness . . . they are on the very point most favorable for an assault, and the matter is becoming worse every day by the addition of new buildings" and recommended that the troops move out of them into a nearby camp or ". . . the works themselves." A July 2, 1863 report on the condition of Fort Totten and the defenses on the right observed that many of the troops are outside of the forts "in very comfortable quarters," with the exception of forts Snyder and Carroll, that "could bring misfortune to them coming to be shelled by the enemy." [45]

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Last Updated: 29-Oct-2004