Land Defenses of Fort Monroe during the Civil war

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
There has been some interest expressed in the land defenses of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, after I wrote the post regarding the control of the harbor. I'll address the land defenses in this post.

Fort Monroe stands on Old Point Comfort, the peninsula that forms the north side of Hampton Roads and the west side of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. It is a large expanse of land, separated from the mainland by Mill Creek to the north. This expanse of land is larger today than it was during the Civil War due to fill provided to the Army, who occupied the site until just a few years ago.

Access to the fort was via two routes during Civil War time. The primary access was up an isthmus that is shown in the upper right of the following aerial photograph. That route is currently closed, and the secondary access is what is used today. Shown in the upper left of the photograph, it now consists of two bridges that meet at the entrance to the peninsula. In Civil War times, this access comprised a long, wooden bridge that could be easily defended. The route of concern, therefore, was up the isthmus from the northeast.
Color Land Approaches.jpg


The first defensive structure guarding this isthmus was the redoubt. This masonry-revetted earthen structure stood just outside the ditch around the main fort, and was surrounded by two wet ditches. The first, very large wet ditch was more of a swamp than a real ditch. The inner ditch, however, was a conventional ditch. Separating the two ditches were separated by a berm with angles that prevented it from being used for cover. The illustrations below show a plan view of the redoubt and a section view of the redoubt and the two ditches.
Monroe Redoubt Plan NARA Cleaned.jpg

Monroe Redoubt Section NARA Enhanced Reverse No Captions.jpg


The historic photograph below, courtesy of the Fort Monroe Authority and colorized by the author, shows an interior view of the redoubt, looking from the parapet of the fort. The main fort is shown in gray, where the redoubt is in sepia.
William Baulch Photos Redoubt Colorized.jpg


Behind the redoubt is an earthen coverface that protects the landward-facing face of the fort. It comprised two salient places d'armes and a central reentering place d'armes, as shown in the drawing below.
5 Plan of outworks.jpg


The earthen coverface had a masonry revetment at the base, leading to a steep exterior slope that transitioned to a superior slope.
1610832511162.png


In section, the coverface looks like the drawing below:
1610832618677.png


A portion of the outworks remains; the picture below shows what was typical of the of what existed:
1610832746038.png


Between the redoubt, the coverface, and the main work behind, an land attack on Fort Monroe would have been akin to suicide. Lt. Robert E. Lee worked on the defenses of the fort when he was with the Corps of Engineers, and knew well the strength of the fort. He would not have sacrificed his men on an attack that would prove fruitless.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
The first defensive structure guarding this isthmus was the redoubt. This masonry-revetted earthen structure stood just outside the ditch around the main fort, and was surrounded by two wet ditches.

I know it's been a week or two since you posted this, but I've been trying to understand it. Where would this redoubt have been positioned on the aerial photo you showed?

Roy B.
 

jackt62

Captain
Member of the Month
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
How were the surrounding moats constructed? Were they the last component of the fort to be built? I'm assuming they were filled by digging a temporary canal to the surrounding waterways?
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
How were the surrounding moats constructed? Were they the last component of the fort to be built? I'm assuming they were filled by digging a temporary canal to the surrounding waterways?
The ditches were excavated to provide fill for the ramparts of the fort, so yes, they often were constructed near the end of the construction process. They were sometimes excavated early, as at Fort Pulaski, and used to transport the stone and brick to the construction site. Rather than a temporary canal for filling the ditch, if it was a wet ditch, a permanent canal was created, complete with a sluice gate to control the level of water in the ditch. Some of these still exist; again Fort Pulaski provides a good example of that. The canal and sluice gate still operate to this day.

The ditch is connected to the river through an underground aqueduct that becomes a surface canal.
IMGP3199.JPG


This control gate controls the flow of water into and out of the wet ditch.
IMGP3201.JPG
P0004684.JPG


The canal goes out to the Savannah River.
IMGP3202.JPG


P0004684.JPG


IMGP3199.JPG
 
Top