Fort Evans – Defenses of Leesburg Part 2

As mentioned in part one, Fort Evans was the most important of the fortifications around Leesburg.  A quick look at the map shows Leesburg positioned near a northward leg of the Potomac River.  Over ten fords or ferries over the Potomac lay within a quick ride from the town to the east and north.  And on the Maryland side of all crossing points lay the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  To the west, passes over the Catoctin Mountains offered access to Loudoun Valley, and ultimately the northern passes over the Blue Ridge.  And to the south, about fifteen miles, were the Confederate defensive works around Centreville.  These geographic relations made Leesburg a potential staging point for a movement through Maryland on Washington, D.C.  It also made the town a perfect location for the Federals to flank the formidable Confederate works around Manassas Junction and Centreville.

Fort Evans defended Leesburg from the eastern approaches – chiefly the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike (Modern Virginia Highway 7) and the road to Edwards Ferry.  Placed on a knoll about 400 feet above sea level just east of town, the fort lay next to Edwards Ferry Road about half a mile north of the Pike.   The ground in front of the fort was at the time a mix of broken ground descending to Goose Creek, about a mile and a half east, which flowed into the Potomac near Edwards Ferry.  Blind spots abounded in front of the fort, and I’ll discuss the responses to those in later posts.

Construction on the fort began shortly after the First Manassas under the command of its namesake – Brigadier General Nathan “Shanks” Evans.  During this early period Captain John Morris Wampler served in the command in an engineering capacity.  However, his term in this capacity appears to be brief.  Still it is likely Wampler laid out Fort Evans in August-September 1861.

The fort was a four sided, odd trapezoid with four corner bastions.  The walls were five feet tall and roughly 30 feet thick.  The unequal sides enclosed 82,500 square feet.  While Evan’s command lacked heavy artillery, or even significant quantity of artillery, the fort was provided numerous gun platforms and firing points.  The fort’s longest side, measuring 340 feet,  faced Edward’s Ferry Road, about 150 yards distant.  The south side of the fort measured 320 feet, and today fronts along Fort Evans Road, roughly 200 yards away across a shopping complex.

Because no engineering documents have ever surfaced (either not produced or lost to time), the only way to study the layout of the fort is through observation of the fort as it stands today.  Based on the site survey from Documentation of Eight Civil War Forts and Earthworks mentioned in the previous post, and notes taken from an on site visit by permission of the land owner, I’ve drawn this rough sketch of the works:

Plan of Fort (not to scale)
Plan of Fort Evans (not to scale)

My pacing of the walls conformed within acceptable deviation from the Milner Associates surveys.  The north wall extended 340 feet long.  East wall was shorter at 270 feet.  The south wall measured 320 feet.  And the west wall was 305 feet.  Each face contains traces of gun embrasures as indicated on the diagram.  Two cuts in the south wall probably date to post war modifications of the grounds.  The larger is likely an enlargement of a sallyport.  Not depicted on the diagram, on my look at the fort, I noted what could be additional gun ports – one each on the north and east wall.

The bastions are most puzzling, as each seems to follow a different pattern.  The northeast is a squared gun platform with three depressions for gun ports.  The southeast bastion appears to be a classic lunette, or an odd triangle.  Its form is hard to trace, as a previous owner’s mausoleum stands there today.   The southwest bastion is a circular type with raised platform.  And the northwest bastion is missing today, although the ground suggests some raised firing platform existed.

A quick matching of the fort against the terrain in the nearby area shows many blind angles and offerings to potential attackers.  Furthermore, since Evans’ command possessed a single battery of artillery, the 1st Richmond Howitzers, the position was woefully undermanned.  The 1st Richmond Howitzers at the time of the Battle of Balls Bluff (October 21, 1861) possessed three or four field pieces.  Later in the winter, when Leesburg’s defenses came under the command of General D.H. Hill, the garrison received additional support.  At least one 4.62-inch siege rifle was forwarded from Richmond.

When the Confederates abandoned the defenses of Leesburg about the same time as the withdrawal from Centreville, the fort was apparently left intact.  When Federal General John W. Geary occupied Leesburg in March 1862, Fort Evans became a Federal fortification for a short time.   The diagram above may well reflect some changes made by Federal engineers at that time or during later use.

Little more is mentioned of the fort in the following years.  Rather odd considering that both major field armies would pass within sight of the fort at different times during the course of the war.  The Army of Northern Virginia marched by the fort in September 1862 as the Maryland Campaign began, on their way to White’s Ford north of Leesburg.  And in June 1863, the Army of the Potomac crossed at Edwards Ferry in front of the fort during the Gettysburg Campaign.  General Slocum of the XII Corps mentions occupying several fortifications around Leesburg, but does not name them directly.

As mentioned before, the fort is on private property and not generally open for the public.  One can glimpse the fort when looking south from Edwards Ferry Road, on the east side of Leesburg.

North Wall of Fort Evans
North Wall of Fort Evans

In this view, even at a distance, one can make out the gun ports.  The “stub” of what should be a bastion is a gap in the northwest corner to the right.   As it stands today, Fort Evans is probably the most significant remaining example of the Confederate defensive line across Northern Virginia in the summer of 1861.  We are indeed fortunate that the current land owner has preserved the site and not given in to pressures to develop.

13 thoughts on “Fort Evans – Defenses of Leesburg Part 2

  1. Larry, it does sort of hide in plain sight up there. I was impressed with the level of preservation, probably due in large part to the limited visitation over time.

    I’ll move across the road to the masked battery next up!


  2. I have visited the Fort and it is in great condition. I am not a historian , but have studied the Civil War for years and there are some oddities about this fort. It is in amazing condition and the owbers will let you vist with permission.

  3. Hi,
    I was raised on Fort Evans Farm. The fort was literally right outside the back door of my house. My step father was raised there as well. I believe his parents bought Fort Evans in the early 1930’s. My grandmother lived on the farm until she died in her 90’s a few years ago. My step father had a distant family member who fought in the civil and was in active duty at Fort Evans. That was the reason the family was so interested in purchasing the farm. Leesburg was an interesting town in which to be raised. The area is very rich in history.

    • Dear Ms. Carr: Why does the Carr mausoleum say “Reaching for Space…” in the inscription over the door? Some NASA connection?
      Thanks…Tom J. (visited Ft Evans on 6-16-12)

    • Dear TomJ,
      Lester Hayden Carr and his wife Helmi, owned a business called DECO. Developmental Engineering Corporation. They had contracts with the department of defense to develop communications technology. The large brick building next to the fort is where the business was located. Lester was very passionate about his work.

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