Daily Archives: 16 November 2009

The “Masked Battery” of Leesburg

On Saturday I had the opportunity to examine the “Masked Battery” along Edwards Ferry Road up close – with Jim Morgan, authority on the Battle of Balls Bluff!

A quick refresher is in order.  This earthwork straddles Edwards Ferry Road just east of the main Fort Evans site, but its exact date of construction and details of use are unknown.  In my mind, there are four major questions regarding this earthwork:  Was the position provisioned for artillery use?  Did it link into other works defending the approaches to Leesburg?  When was it built?  Was it the “masked battery” mentioned in Federal reports after Balls Bluff?

The battery trench is more or less linear.  The north end features a redan.  But the south end curves back with terrain and ends with a trace.

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Masked Battery (Not to Scale)

From the road the most impressive features are the ditch and front slope of the works on the north side.  Up close the ditch is no less impressive.

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Ditch in Front of Works

Unseen from the road, the works have at least two indents or cuts which may be vestiges of gun ports.  One is along the wall about half way from the road to the redan.

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Possible Gun Port

The bastion itself has one spot which could be a gun port.  In the photo below, a small limb lays directly across the low spot in the wall.

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Peak of the Redan

Note the redan forms a very sharp angle here, forming a refuse against the natural slope of the ground to the north (right of the photo).  While I cannot rule out the dent was made by a fallen tree at some point in the past, the position is proper for a fortification of this type.  While these are not formal embrasures, I am convinced the works were provisioned for artillery.

In 1861, the slope in front of the fortification was cleared of trees.   Today, it is a stand of woods just at the edge of Leesburg.  Only in the fall and winter, with the foliage down, can one appreciate the position’s command of Cattail Branch.

View from the Battery

Jim and I covered the ground around the battery looking for related earthwork traces.  Specifically looking at locations where logically connecting and related earthworks would be.  Alas, there were none we could see.  So while the battery stands adjacent to Fort Evans, either no connecting earthworks existed, or they have vanished with time.

Regarding the time period of construction, nothing on site offers a handle to date the works.   As such, it is hard to associate these works directly with the Battle of Balls Bluff and concurrent actions at Edwards Ferry.  I am inclined to agree with Jim with regard to the label “masked battery.”  The term was thrown about by the participants rather loosely, and attributing a single earthwork as THE masked battery is difficult.  All that can be said for certainty is Major John Mix, leading a detachment of the 3rd New York Cavalry, encountered a Confederate force along Edwards Ferry Road in the vicinity of Cattail Branch on the morning of October 21, 1861.