Preserving Earthworks: How its done in Leesburg

In my younger days, I had the privilege of building my fair share of “earthworks.”  On training exercises, the Army’s practice called for those who dug the works to in turn fill them back in after the completion of training.  Certainly gave me an impression of the level of effort required to build the works, and at the same time how fragile those works could be.

That’s why I’m often surprised at the number of Civil War earthworks that survive to the present.  We often see these works mentioned as part of a preservation effort, either to purchase the ground on which the works are located or to stabilize the existing works.  These physical reminders, “artifacts” if you will, are important primary sources we can use to better interpret and expand our knowledge of the war.

Some time back I provided a rundown of the existing earthworks around my town of Leesburg, Virginia.  Among those works are some trenches just east of Fort Evans.

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Infantry Trenches near Fort Evans Road

The trenches, while ever so close to the concrete and steel, remain protected by fences.

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Fence protecting the infantry trenches

The protection is in part due to the recognition, by the city, of the value of these historic resources. Although the works are not part of any state or national historical site registry, the city has respected the locations.

For several years I’ve watched, with some anxiety, the progress of road construction about a half mile north of those infantry trenches, at the intersection of Battlefield Parkway (named for Balls Bluff, of course) and Edwards Ferry Road.  The extension of a much needed connector came very close to the “Masked Battery” location.  Here’s a photo of the construction site in 2008.

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Construction in 2008

The earthworks likely date back only to the winter of 1861-2, and thus were not part of the Battle of Balls Bluff as the “masked battery” name would imply.  Rather the battery was more likely part of the Confederate defense established after the battle.  More important to my Edwards Ferry study, the Federals may have used them in June 1863.  But that such is more inference than confirmed at this time.

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Temporary fencing near the works in 2008

During the war, the battery covered approaches to Leesburg from Edwards Ferry.  In the time I’ve lived here, Edwards Ferry Road evolved from a gravel side street into a heavily used two-lane asphalt road.  The location of the works, still defending the approach, places them directly in the path of expansion.

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Right side of the "masked battery" today

The photo above was taken while standing where the temporary orange fence stood in 2008 (use the telephone pole as a guide).

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Close up of the right side

During the construction, workers cleared the trees around the right side (south side of the road) along Edwards Ferry.  The work included a large drainage collection pond and extensive landscaping.  But the earthworks were not disturbed.

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Right side of the "masked battery"

The trenches on the right side remain on private property, and likewise undisturbed.

City officials tell me the care taken with the earthworks was “by design” and not some afterthought – smart progress and development with preservation in mind.