Extensive preserved earthworks at Bentonville Battlefield

This week, I visited the Bentonville [NC] Battlefield State Historic Site and was especially excited to examine some of the preserved fortifications on the battlefield. Bentonville is less than an hours’ drive from Raleigh and is well-known to Civil War enthusiasts here. For those of us who are studying the Raleigh earthworks, Bentonville provides some useful examples of what the remnants of Civil War fortifications might look like on the ground today.

I was surprised to learn that a National Park Service survey in the late 1990s found 15,000 feet of remaining earthworks on the battlefield. To me that’s a rich legacy left for those interested in Civil War fortifications. It also emphasizes to me the extent to which constructing earthworks had become a routine feature of Civil War battles by the time of the Bentonville battle (March 19-21, 1865). I’m sure that the 15,000 feet of remnants is probably a fraction of what was originally constructed there as the armies arrived and as the battle progressed over the three days.

The battlefield is encircled by a 10-mile driving tour that takes you to many of the key sites of the battle; it also walks you through a chronological story of the battle. However, some of the best and most accessible earthworks are within easy walking distance of the battlefield Visitor Center (point #2 on the tour map). These are a stretch of works built by the 1st Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, under orders from Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams, commanding the Federal 20th Corps.

Bentonville tour map with entrenchments marked

This photo taken from the plaque at a trailhead shows a somewhat faded map of the works identified in the NPS survey. It’s probably hard to read the specifics here, but you can tell from the pink-colored lines that the remaining works are substantial:

Map of remnants of Michigan Engineers earthworks, taken from a plaque at Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site.

If you cross Mill Creek Church Road from the Visitor Center and then cross the field, you can enter a trail that leads through the woods to a loop trail along some extensive stretches of entrenchments. This loop is also accessible through an entrance at the point marked #6 on the battlefield tour map.

Here are some photos I took along the way. A two-dimensional image doesn’t quite do justice to the real thing, but at least you will get an idea of what can be seen along the trail:

The Michigan Engineers works are at the southwest tail of the battlefield park. I also visited some earthworks at the northeast side of the battlefield, near the location of Gen. Sherman’s headquarters, marked as point E on the driving tour map. This was at the extreme right of the Union line on March 20, and the fortifications built there were apparently the work of 17th Corps, Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Francis P. Blair.

In exploring the locations of the Raleigh fortifications, I’ve found little to compare with these Bentonville remnants. These field fortifications wouldn’t correspond in every respect to defensive works built around a city. The rural character of the Bentonville site has resulted in less disturbance of these historic locations, whereas most of the the Raleigh sites have been subjected to urban development. Also, as near as Bentonville is to Raleigh, Bentonville is in the southern coastal plain of North Carolina, with a flatter terrain and sandier soil than Raleigh with its central Piedmont location and clay soil.

All the same, perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from examining preserved Civil War earthworks in other locations: A depression in the ground might be something more than just a hole or a ditch; and a mound might be something more than just a pile of dirt.

Please note: The Bentonville works can be seen from well-defined trails. I did not step on or walk into any of the works. I hope you won’t either!

A. Roy Bredenberg — 2 Oct 2020

Updated Google Map of Raleigh Civil War Fortifications

I wanted to share the most recent iteration of my Google Map of the 1863 Civil War fortifications that circled Raleigh, NC. Since I posted the first version in January 2020, I’ve added many photos of the current locations of the entrenchment lines and artillery emplacements (redans, or batteries). I’ve also flagged a number of earth mounds and topographical features which might or might not be related to the original earthworks, but which I think ought to be investigated.

Keep in mind that this is an initial effort, and can likely be improved upon in terms of precision. The process of correlating a 150-year-old map with the modern landscape involves some risk of error. I think many locations on this map are accurate with 50 feet or less. For some locations, though, I estimate a possible error of 100 or even 200 feet.

Here’s a direct link to the Google Map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=18wH-6qk3Uuwp6Lj3qWudsWGYiLY3Qae0&usp=sharing

And here’s a screen shot of the map, so you can get an idea what it looks like. I will also make this image clickable, so you can click right through to the Google Map.

Screen shot of A. Roy Bredenberg's Google Map of the Raleigh 1863 earthworks

ARB — 12 Aug 2020

Gen Grant Suggested Invading NC and Occupying Raleigh in January 1864

In January of 1864, U.S. Maj Gen Ulysses S. Grant suggested invading North Carolina with 60,000 troops from New Bern, shutting down the port at Wilmington, taking over the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, and capturing the capital city of Raleigh.

The plan was set out in a letter from Grant to Henry W. Halleck, general-in-chief of U.S. forces, and is quoted in Adam Badeau’s 1881 Military history of Ulysses S. Grant: from April 1861 to April 1865, Vol 2. Badeau had served on Grant’s staff.

Here’s Grant’s letter to Halleck, quoted by Badeau:

Nashville, Tennessee, January 19, 1864.
Major-General H. W. Halleck,
Washington, D. C.:

Confidential.

I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously-attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in lieu of these, one to be taken farther south. I would suggest Raleigh, N. C, as the objective point, and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make Newbern the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured. A moving force of sixty thousand men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee should withdraw from his present position. In that case, the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist. A force moving from Suffolk would destroy, first, all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarcely meet with serious opposition. Once there, the most interior line of railway still left to the enemy—in fact, the only one they would then have—would be so threatened as to force him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia, and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our armies into new fields, where they could partially live upon the country, and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of North Carolina troops to desert and return to their homes. It would give us possession of many negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the post now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea-coast. It would enable operations to commence at once, by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters. Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying the country and the armies that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can.

I have written this in accordance with what I understood to be an invitation from you to express my views about military operations, and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon, I shall always believe is at least intended for the best, and until fully tested, will hope to have it prove so.

U. S. GRANT, Major-General

In explaining the context, Badeau says that this plan actually came from Grant’s chief engineer, Brig Gen W. F. Smith, who had served in the eastern theater:

Brigadier-General W. F. Smith was at this time chief engineer on Grant’s staff. He had served in the army of the Potomac, a division during McClellan’s Peninsula and Antietam campaigns, but his appointment as major-general not having been confirmed by the Senate, he was reduced to the rank of brigadier. Never having himself served at the East, and having no other officer near of Eastern experience, Grant consulted Smith…

Badeau explains why this New Bern plan never came about:

All these ideas were those of Smith, upon whose judgment in this matter, for the reasons mentioned, Grant, in his own unacquaintance with the country and campaigns on the Atlantic coast naturally relied. When, however, he visited the East in person, and studied for himself the situation there, he at once abandoned these plans and views. After his first visit to Washington, he never dreamed of undertaking or advising the operations sketched above.

To me, this emphasizes that, while an invasion of Raleigh was never formally planned, it could have been seen as a possibility — and thus a legitimate concern on the part of Gov Vance and a valid rationale for the construction of defenses.

ARB — 7 Feb 2020

 

Railroad Map: Union Raids on RR Posed a Threat to Raleigh

I think most of us who study Civil War Raleigh recognize that Union raids from the coast helped spur the building of defenses around the city in 1863. By mid-year, Union cavalry had begun to attack the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, one of the principal routes of supply for Petersburg and Richmond.

I thought it would be useful to post the following map of Confederate railroads, which shows the Wilmington and Weldon, but also the interconnections between railroads in the south and mid-Atlantic. You can see from the map that the railroad ran uncomfortably close to Raleigh, less that 50 miles at some stretches. So it’s understandable that the attacks on places like Kenansville, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount caused much concern. If Federal forces had succeeded at taking possession of the railroad, Raleigh would have become a natural target.

Map of Civil War Confederate railroads shows how close the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad came to Raleigh, NC.
Confederate railroads

Credit for this map: United States Military Academy

ARB — 4 February 2020

Reconstructed Earthworks at Petersburg Natl. Battlefield

So far, my research indicates that there might be locations in Raleigh where the city’s Civil War earthworks can still be identified and studied. There might not be much left above ground, but archaeological studies are capable of investigating subsurface sites, and some of the prospective locations remain undeveloped or lightly developed even today. Certainly it should be possible to stake out such things as lines of entrenchments, parapets, and rifle pits on today’s landscape.

I would think that a variety of historic preservation efforts might be made, depending on the nature of the site — even if it just means marking out where an entrenchment line once stood, or placing an interpretive kiosk at a location. Another possibility would be to do some kind of reconstruction. This has been done at some battlefield parks, and could be an interesting project for Raleigh, especially at a location owned by a public or non-profit entity, or even a supportive private owner.

Many examples of such reconstruction can be seen at the Petersburg [Virginia] National Battlefield. Clark Thompson recently posted a great collection of photos from Petersburg on the Facebook group “American Civil War.” I’m not sure that I can embed his photos here, but it might be possible for you to see them by following the link to his album:

ARB — 2 February 2020

Google Map of Raleigh’s Civil War Earthworks

I’ve developed a Google Maps version of the 1863 Henry T. Guion map of Raleigh’s Civil War defenses. See “1863 Map of the approaches to Raleigh NC and Civil War entrenchments (Guion map).” I’m hoping that this interactive map will give researchers a better idea how to find the locations of the artillery emplacements and the lines of entrenchments on the modern landscape. One of the things I like about this Google Map is that it’s possible to view the Civil War locations on either a street map or a satellite map, or even with a “terrain” overlay. (To find these options, scroll all the way down the key window.) If you view this map on a mobile phone, your GPS should be able to show your location relative to where the fortifications were.

Here’s an image of the Google Map. To go to the interactive version, click on this image or on the link that follows:

Click here to open the Google Map.

This Google Map should be considered a first iteration. To develop the map, I first identified a set of anchor points, indicated in purple. I have a good level of confidence that these anchor points identify locations that have not changed since the Civil War, such as the main Mordecai house, the Capitol building, and the Dix Hospital main building. I used these anchor points to mark the likely locations of the redans (marked as red points) and the angles in the entrenchment lines (marked as black points). Then I drew the entrenchment lines in black. If you’ll click on any red or black point marker, you will see my rationale for positioning that point. Yellow points indicate mounds or other features that could represent remains of earthworks.

I call this Google Map a first iteration because I recognize that there is a fair amount of error. For most locations, I would estimate that the Google Maps point could be perhaps 50 or 100 feet off from the actual location. A more precise take-off from the Guion map (whether by me or someone else) could probably produce a better correlation.

A note about historic preservation: As far as I can tell, no one has ever carried out a concerted and comprehensive archaeological study of the Raleigh earthworks. Certainly very little of these structures remains today in any readily identifiable form. The redans (artillery emplacements) no longer exist as such, but in some cases their platforms can still be discerned. Some of the entrenchment lines ran through areas that have not been extensively developed since the Civil War, so it might be possible to identify remains of breastworks, even if all that is left are low mounds or depressions in the ground.

Archaeology nowadays is capable of studying underground structures non-invasively, at least to some extent. I would think that some kind of study should be possible, at least along some stretches of the approximately six miles of historical entrenchments. I can imagine that, if some remains can be identified and studied, it should be possible to undertake some level of historic preservation, with the cooperation of property owners.

If any readers find this map useful as an exploration tool, please leave a comment below to let me know what you discover.

ARB — 24 January 2020

Redans, Angles, Entrenchments – Labeling Features on the 1863 Map of Raleigh’s Wall

I’ve been developing a Google map of the Civil-War-era map of the defenses here in Raleigh, NC. (To see that map, take a look at “1863 Map of the approaches to Raleigh NC and Civil War entrenchments [Guion map]“).

In creating the modern-day map, I’ve been trying to decide what terms to use for the various features on the 1863 survey. Lt Col Henry T. Guion, the author of the map, did not include a key, so I’ve had to do a bit of study in glossaries and guides to decide how to label the portions of wall themselves.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, although these designations are still preliminary.

I’m calling these “Redans”:

These are the artillery emplacements on the map. I had read that a redan is technically headed by a salient angle (a point, as in the structure to the left). So I wondered about the example to the right, which presents a blunt surface to the enemy. However, I later read that this flat surface is called a “pan coupé,’ and can be a feature of a redan.

These I’m referring to as “Angles”:

I had been calling them “corners,” but sources seem to agree on the term “Angle.”

I’m calling this an “Entrenchment Line”:

I’ve thought about using the term “Parapet,” but I’m still unclear whether a parapet can refer to the entire wall above the level of the ground, or whether a parapet is an added feature on top of the wall itself.

I wondered whether the way Guion drew these lines (three parallel lines) indicates anything about their construction, whether they are meant to be just earthworks, or whether they might include other materials such as tree trunks and stones — or something else. In the end, I settled on just plain “Entrenchments.” In his map title, Guion refers to the map as “Showing the line of intrenchments” around Raleigh, so I thought I would just stick with the generic term “Entrenchment Line” for the stretches of wall shown on the map.

Here is Guion’s map title:

So that’s where things stand now. Soon I hope to publish my Google map, which should provide interactive access to the locations of the Raleigh fortifications on today’s landscape. In the meantime, I’m considering these terms preliminary, so if any reader can offer better alternatives, please leave a comment below.

Some useful references:

“A Glossary of Fortification Terms,” American Battlefield Trust

“Glossary,” The Civil War and Northwest Wisconsin

A. Roy Bredenberg — 19 Dec. 2019

What could Civil War earthworks look like today? Example from Cold Harbor

I’ve been calling the Raleigh Civil War earthworks a “wall,” and they were such. But they were probably the kind of earthworks commonly constructed for defense during the Civil War.

I’ve been interested in knowing how we might recognize the Raleigh earthworks on today’s landscape, if any still exist.

Here’s an interesting two-minute walkthrough of the Confederate earthworks from the Battle of Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864, near Mechanicsburg, Va.). The narrator is Gary Adelman, chief historian of the American Battlefields Trust. From this video, you can see that, even after 150 years, Civil War fortifications could still be clearly visible today.

Roy B. — 8 Nov. 2019

‘Green’s Place’ 1863 Civil War artillery emplacement at Raleigh, NC, – southernmost redan, on today’s S. Saunders St.

Below, I’m posting a composite graphic showing where I think the southernmost artillery emplacement (redan) from Raleigh’s Civil War fortifications probably existed relative to today’s landscape. I’m giving this map location the tentative name “Green’s Place,” based on the apparent name of the Civil War-era landholder in the area.

Both the Drayton and Guion maps of the Civil War earthworks around Raleigh show a southernmost loop and redan almost due south of the downtown grid. I’m suggesting that these Green’s Place fortifications lay just north of today’s intersection of Raleigh’s Beltline (I-440) and South Saunders Street.

The Civil War maps show a promontory or hill of high ground above a slope heading down to Walnut Creek, which describes a distinctive loop that you can see on both the old and current maps. (I’ve been calling this a promontory because it is at the top of the slope leading down to the creek, but maybe there would be another better term for this landform.)

See more discussion below this graphic (click here for a higher-resolution PDF version of this graphic):

It’s possible that the promontory from Civil War times straddled the current location of South Saunders Street. The west side of the street is quite built up, but the east side is mostly bare right now, within the area generally circumscribed by South Saunders, Penmarc Drive, and the Walnut Creek Trail. At its highest point, within the corner of South Saunders and Penmarc, there was once a commercial or industrial building.

If the redan was located where South Saunders Street is now, or to its west, it’s likely that no detectable remains exist. However, on the less-developed east side of the Green’s Place promontory, remote sensing or an archaeological survey might be able to reveal the line of Civil War earthworks on today’s landscape.

ARB — 18 Oct. 2019

1863 Map of the approaches to Raleigh NC and Civil War entrenchments (Guion map)

This is a map dated 26 Oct. 1863 showing the city of Raleigh, NC, the surrounding ground and properties, the approaches to the city — and, especially of interest to this project, the batteries and earthworks built to defend the city during the Civil War — that is, the line of defenses I like to call Raleigh’s Wall.

If you’ll look at the inscription at the upper left, you’ll see that the map is attributed to H.T. Guion, Lt. Col., Artillery and Engineering. I believe this refers to Henry T. Guion, whose name appears in connection with other Confederate engineering works.

My research indicates that these entrenchments were begun in July 1863. The October date and the description “the line of intrenchments made by order of” Gov. Zebulon B. Vance, indicates to me that this map was drawn up after the wall was completed, or substantially so.

I obtained this map in electronic form from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It seems likely that this is the “captured Rebel map” from which B. Drayton of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made his better-known 1865 map of Raleigh’s wall. (See my previous post, “Map of the Rebel Lines at Raleigh, NC (Drayton Map).“)

The map below is a somewhat reduced version of the Guion map. Click here for a higher-resolution PDF version.

Map of the Civil War entrenchments around Raleigh, NC. By Confederate engineer Henry T. Guion, October 1863.

Map credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration