THE DEFENSES OF RICHMOND.
A Rebel officer who left Richmond on the 12th ult. [June 12, 1864] furnishes the [New York?] TRIBUNE with the following description of the fortifications around Richmond:—1
The defenses of Richmond consist of a large number of forts of various dimensions, so situated that mutual protection exists between them, while an interior circumscribing system of defense has been adopted as an additional security, should a single outwork fall.
To name and describe all the forts would be quite a tedious task, and I shall therefore only refer to a few of the most important ones.
Looking to the southeast we find Fort Jackson, near Fair Oaks, about three and a half miles from the city, between the New Bridge Road and York River Railroad.
Then comes Fort Johnson, just below the Chickahominy, in the neighborhood or a mile from the Mechanicsville Pike. This fort commands the Mechanicsville Bridge, and, in fact, all the bridges and fords between it and New Bridge.
Two miles and a half from the city, and about midway between the Virginia Central Railroad and Mechanicsville Pike, is the “Malakoff,” bearing on the Mechanicsville Bridge and Wilkinson’s or Railroad Bridge, and will, in fact, sweep all that part of the Chickahominy between the points named.
About two and three-quarter miles from the city, nearly midway of the Meadow Bridge Road and the Brook Run Pike, situated on a high hill, is Fort Beauregard, commanding the Brook Run Pike and Meadow Bridge Road. A mile and a half in advance of it is a great redoubt, bearing on the Meadow Bridge and the bridge over Brook Run, and all intermediate points on the stream.
Three and a half miles from the city, between the Brook Run Pike and the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, on an eminence, stands Fort Lee, commanding both these thoroughfares for a long distance, and commanding as well Brook Run Bridge and two fords on the Deep Run.
Within and without and between these forts are others on a smaller scale; and in addition to this, the intervals are inclosed by heavy curtains and ramparts from eighty to ninety feet in thickness. In front of the forts and ramparts are ditches twenty-eight feet in width, and twenty-two feet deep, in which are constructed Carnot walls of the most ingenious character.
I intended to give you a minute description of these forts, but other engagements will not permit me to do so now. In a week from this time, when the subject will be quite as interesting as it is to-day, I will minutely describe the position, character and strength of all the leading fortifications around the city.
There is no material of war that the Rebels find it more difficult to provide than gunpowder. The great scarcity of saltpetre and the difficulty of obtaining it from abroad, has excited among the Rebel leaders no little alarm. In October last the Ordnance Department determined to make some experiments with gin cotton. A quantity was manufactured, and subjected to various tests, which proved quite satisfactory. A charge, equal to one ounce and a half of powder, was placed in an eight-inch mortar with a sixty-four pound shot, which, on being fired, gave a range of 192 feet, which exceeds by several feet the range obtained from two ounces of the best cylinder powder. For another test a quantity of the cotton equal to two drachms was placed in an eprouvette, and on being exploded raised a weight of twenty-six pounds to the height of 4 ½ inches, showing a much greater power than is given this similar test by two drachms of approved powder.
These experiments were so satisfactory that the Rebel Government determined to employ the gin cotton for artillery fire, and ordered a large number of guns and howitzers manufactured in which it will be used to the exclusion of ordinary powder.
I did not learn the process, nor all the materials used in the manufacture of this article, but I know it is considered by the officers of the Rebel War Department as nearly one half cheaper than gunpowder; while it is their boast that they can furnish any amount that may be required. Mr. HARRIS says that in the latter part of April a cargo of military stores, including quite a number of cannon and howitzers, arrived at Washington from Europe, and that the ordinance was at once placed in the fortifications around Richmond, but that up to his leaving no trial had been made of them.2
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I asked on my Facebook page for peoples’ reactions to the information below. Here is Taft Kiser’s response: “Brett: Don’t know the fortifications but have spent a lot of time on the ground. This account comes at the end of Cold Harbor, so is describing just before things got serious. The locations he mentions are roughly from I-95 around in an arc to I-64. (Ft Lee now underneath Richmond International Airport.) Thinking in terms of a defensive arc around Richmond, this is maybe 20% of the works existing by 1865. There was relatively little fighting west of I-95 – back in the uplands. It happened east of I-95, sitting on the Fall Line – where the U.S. Army could move by water. This description does not extend down as far as the James. Modern I-295 is a general marker for the battle line by 1865. ↩
- “Defenses of Richmond.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 14, 1864, p. 1 col. 3-4 ↩