Thursday, December 27, 2018

Earthworks in Your Neighborhood: Richmond's North Side

In gathering research for a new project, I've been poring over Confederate and Union maps of Richmond's Civil War fortifications. Just for kicks, I matched a Corps of Engineers map with a current USGS topo map to identify the approximate, modern-day location of the old earthworks in Richmond's North Side. This was my neighborhood growing up - my family lived in Ginter Park until the late 1970's. In March 1864, Union forces targeted this portion of the Richmond defenses during the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid.
North Side Richmond: Confederate defenses depicted on modern topo map

Below is the relevant part of the Union engineer map from the Library of Congress. Federal cartographers completed this in 1867 under the direction of Major Nathaniel Michler and Captain Peter Michie of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Mike Gorman of the National Park Service has posted a larger-scale version of the Michie-Michler map at his website Civil War Richmond.
Detail from Union engineer map of Richmond with position of Union attack added (LOC)

Richmond's defenses were extensive. Throughout the war, Confederate officials expanded them gradually, eventually forming a vast network consisting of a ring of detached forts near the city surrounded by an Intermediate and Exterior (or "Outer") Line of earthworks. Several additional trench segments and detached batteries dug here and there augmented the principal lines. Most of the labor for these fortifications came from slaves impressed from their owners by the Confederate government. 

During the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid, a Union cavalry column overran the Outer Line at Brook Hill on the Brook Turnpike (now Brook Road) just north of where I-95 and Route 1 intersect today. The Union horsemen then headed south on the turnpike and threatened the Intermediate Line just south of today's Laburnum Avenue. After several hours of skirmishing, the column withdrew back north. The unsuccessful operation is detailed in Bruce Venter's book Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864

As a child, I had no idea my home stood at the site of a Civil War engagement. In heading down the Brook Road, the cavalry trotted past the future sites of Arby's, Azalea Mall, Willey's Drug Store and Johnson's Hardware on Bellevue Avenue - all the way to the home of piano instructor extraordinaire, Sarah Worsham Landrum (granddaughter of Confederate veteran and author John H. Worsham). The Intermediate Line ran close to, or perhaps even through, the Worsham property at the corner of Brook and Walton. 

Today, to my knowledge, only small traces of the works remain around the North Side. For example, a section of the defenses on Brook Hill has been marked and preserved. As I recall, there is also a small marker somewhere on Confederate Avenue near Brook Road at the site of the Intermediate Line. Perhaps, others have noticed additional traces hiding in plain sight.

Here is detail of the left portion of the map.

Here is detail of the right portion of the map.