Defenses of Leesburg – Part 1

Leesburg, Virginia offers many reminders and place-names echoing the Civil War.  One that has interested me since moving here is the numerous defensive works built in and around town by both sides during the course of the war.   These works span the time from just after the First Manassas to about mid-way through the war.  Some of the works were active during the Battle of Balls Bluff.  Others may be reminders of Federal occupation.    Three historical markers discuss these works:  Virginia State marker T-51 “Balls Bluff Masked Battery“, A similarly titled Civil War Trails Marker, and finally a Civil War Trails Marker discussing wartime activity in and around Leesburg.

The most useful resource I’ve discovered thus far is a report commissioned by the town to survey these works as historical artifacts. Documentation of Eight Civil War Forts and Earthworks in the Vicinity of Leesburg, Virginia was delivered  in 2002, and was prepared by Joseph Balicki and Walton Owen II,  of John Milner Associates.    About a third of the report included actual documentation of the sites and analysis of source material.  The remainder reprinted several Federal advisories with regard to earthwork management.

Source material for the report included the Official Records, but also Confederate Engineer: Training and Campaigning with John Morris Wampler by George Kundahl (University of Tennessee Press, 2000).  Wampler was a native of Leesburg, and originally joined the 8th Virginia Infantry.  Wampler would serve on the staff of General Nathan “Shanks” Evans in an engineering capaicity in the fall of 1861.  Later Wampler was transferred to the west, serving as Chief Engineer for the Army of Tennessee for a time.  He was killed by a Federal bombardment at Battery Wagner, outside Charleston in August 1862.

Eight sites were surveyed – Fort Evans, the Masked Battery, the Richmond Howitzers winter camp, the Goose Creek battery position, an infantry winter camp with entrenchments, Fort Beauregard, Fort Johnston, and a trench line near the Balls Bluff battlefield.  Fort these works, the survey team provided rather detailed site survey diagrams for all but Forts Beauregard and Johnston.  Furthermore, of interest of those wishing to visit the sites today, all but the three named forts (Evans, Beauregard, and Johnston) are either clearly visible from roads or open for on site visits.   I would stress that the three named forts and the masked battery stand on private property.

Fort Evans was the largest, most active, and most important.  The fort today is on the site of an international corporation’s North American headquarters.  While the names and particulars of ownership are easily netted via searches, I’m reluctant to say too much about the owners here.  While the management there is approachable, they are concerned about trespassing.   I was allowed to tour the grounds, but out of respect for their wishes, I’ll only post photos of the grounds that are taken from the public roads.

The Masked Battery and Richmond Howitzers winter camp were built within sight of Fort Evans and lay adjacent to Edwards Ferry Road.  While the Masked Battery is on private property, the road bisects the works, which are easy to see from a passing car.  The artillery camp is within a city “set-aside” further up a ridge line from the battery.  Any earthworks around the camp are difficult to make out except in the winter when undergrowth is dead.  The most significant remains around the camp are depressions from the winter huts.

The Goose Creek Battery position is just north of Virginia highway 7 and boasts two easily identified gun pits.  The position defended the southeast approaches to Leesburg and a crossing point over the creek.  Today the site is part of another “set-aside” sandwiched between the creek, a housing subdivision, and the highway.

The infantry winter camp site extends north from Fort Evans Road, east of the modern Highway 15 bypass (and the large outlet mall complex).  A new strip mall development has encroached upon this site since the survey.  Portions of the works that were indicated by the survey team are not extant today.  However, the city must have required the developers to preserve portions of the earthworks, as today the line is within a “tree preservation area.” The 13th, 17th and 18th Mississippi garrisoned the line at different times in the winter of 1861-62.

Fort Beauregard is more of a place name than an actual fort, in my opinion.  A housing development stands on the site – a ridge line overlooking Leesburg from the southeast.  Sections of the development have the “look” of earthworks, but could just as easily be post war terrain modifications. The location is entirely private property.

Fort Johnson also stands on private property, overlooking Leesburg from the west.  One can only view it from a distance, but the outline of the fort is visible in Google Earth maps.  The fort itself may be the most impressive of the set, but pending close inspection, that remains undetermined.

Lastly, the trench line on the Balls Bluff Regional Park grounds is accessable, but only after a good hike!  The works were not used in the battle of Balls Bluff, but possilbly occupied during the following winter by Confederates and by Federals during different occupation periods.  Portions of the earthwork line were lost to a housing development in the 1990s.  About 300 feet remain.  Just enough to leave an interesting set of questions regarding the purpose and function.

The eight sites represent a loose ring around Leesburg:

Leesburg's Defenses (Based on Google Earth image of town)

Leesburg's Defenses

The image is based on a Google Earth satellite view of the town and surrounding area.  Indicated for reference are the locations of Edwards Ferry, the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike, and the Balls Bluff Battlefield.   Over the next several weeks I’ll present each site in more detail, as my notes can be polished for presentation.

Follow Up Posts:

Part 2:  Fort Evans.

Part 3:  Masked Battery.

Part 4:  Artillery Camp.

Part 5:  Infantry Trenches (SE of Fort Evans).

Part 6:  Goose Creek Battery.

Part 7:  Forts Beauregard and Johnston.

Part 8:  Potomac Crossing Trenches.

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4 responses to “Defenses of Leesburg – Part 1

  1. Craig,

    You mentioning the defenses of Leesburg has somehow brought back some memories I have of the Potomac batteries. I can’t figure out why I’m making a connection, but it just happened.

    Anyway, when I was in high school, oh, back a few years in the early 80s, I lived in Quantico. One day, I, along with a few reenactors, took a trip out to one of the batteries just off Dumfries (can’t remember, but is that Opposum Point?). I remember we had to cross some RR tracks and went onto some sort of private land (I want to say it had something to do with petroleum). When we reached the battery position, I was amazed to see that there were firepits there that were intact. I don’t remember that there were any markers, but I’m curious if you have seen any dealing with the old shore batteries.

    Also, if memory serves me, I remember some shore battery guns mounted in the old senior officers housing in Quantico. I never took the time to really look at the tubes, but now I’m wondering if there were any markers describing them and their history in relation to the shore batteries. Do you know?

    Robert

  2. Robert,
    The nearest “marked” site is Freestone Point (http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=4820). But that’s closer to Woodbridge. Unlike Georgia and South Carolina, I don’t know the Virginia seacoast fortifications like I should.

    South of Quantico in Stafford Co. were the defenses of Aquia Creek. Several markers are in the system for those.

    Now there is a beat up Navy 32-pdr at Waller Hill at Quantico. Could that be the one you are referring to?

  3. Yes, I think Opposum Point (actually, I think some maps show it as “Possum Point”) was closer to Dumfries.

    That 32-pdr is probably the tube to which I am referring. I thought there were two up there, but since I saw them back in my high school years and it was dark on the night I first saw them (it), well… let’s leave it at that… :-)

  4. Pingback: Preserving Earthworks: How its done in Leesburg | To the Sound of the Guns