Civil War Defenses of Washington
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WASHINGTON, December 6, 1861.

Commanding Army of the Potomac, &c.:

GENERAL: It appears probable that our available appropriations will not suffice to complete entirely the defensive works about Washington. Forty-eight different works, some of which, like Forts Ethan Allen, Runyon, and Lyon, are of very large size, extensive abatis, &c., have been constructed, and many of them, besides the usual magazines, are provided with extensive bomb-proofs for quarters. For these constructions the sum of $344,053.46 has been available. It is probable that this sum will not entirely suffice, and that it will be more than exhausted by the close of the present month. I therefore request that an application be made to Congress for the immediate appropriation of the sum of $150,000 for completing the defenses of Washington.

You are aware that while hired labor has been extensively employed south of the Potomac, the works north of the river have been almost exclusively constructed by it.

I am, very. respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General and Chief Engineer, Army of Potomac.

ORA, I, 5 (serial 5), 676.

WAR DEPARTMENT, December 11, 1861.


SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of a letter of Brig. Gen. J. G. Barnard, chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac, setting forth the necessity for an early appropriation of $150,000 for completing the defenses of Washington.

In view of the urgency of the case, as expressed by the commanding general of the Army in his indorsement submitting the letter to this Department, I commend it to the early and favorable action of Congress.

Very respectfully,

Secretary of War.


Commander-in Chief Commanding Army of the Potomac:

GENERAL: By letter of the 6th I requested that an immediate appropriation of $150,000 be asked for "completing the defenses of Washington." I mentioned in that letter that our defensive system thus far consisted of about fortyeight works, mounting over 300 guns, some of which are of very large size; and I may add that the actual defensive perimeter occupied is about thirty-five miles, exceeding the length of the famous (and hitherto the most extensive fortified by extemporized field-works) lines of Torres Vedras by several miles. The amount which has been expended will not, therefore, considering the pressure under which the works have been built, appear extravagantly large.

I now remark that in asking for the sum of $150,000 for "completing the defenses of Washington" I have in my mind the fact that many of the works have been thrown up in the very face of the enemy, and are <ar107_511> deficient in profile; and in many other respects the system requires auxiliary works to complete it, which it will probably be deemed advisable to undertake early in the spring.

For this reason I have asked the sum of $150,000, but it is not likely that the works now in hand, and for which payments must be made this month, will require more than the balance remaining available. Hence the necessity of an immediate appropriation.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.


Respectfully referred to the Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, with the urgent request that the necessary steps may be taken to secure this appropriation.

Major-General, Commanding.

ORA, I, 51, Part 1 (serial 107), 510-11.

Washington, February
15, 1862.

* * * * * * * * * *

III. The following acts of Congress are published for the information of all concerned:

* * * * * * * * * *

2. AN ACT making an appropriation for completing the defenses of Washington, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for completing the defenses of Washington: Provided, That all arrearages of debts already incurred for the objects of this act shall be first paid out of this sum: And provided further, That no part of the sum hereby appropriated shall be expended in any work hereafter to be commenced.

Approved February 13, 1862.

By command of Major-General McClellan:


ORA, III, 1 (serial 122), 888-89.

WASHINGTON, October 21, 1862.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

SIR: In applying for authority (as I did about the 1st of September) to expend $50,000 upon the fortifications around Washington, I had not had time to make a thorough study of the matter, and asked this sum to meet the most obvious demand for additional works. An attentive examination of the whole line shows me that much modification and much auxiliary work is necessary in all the works heretofore built. The inclosed extract(*) from a letter from Colonel Kelton, assistant adju-tant-general, will explain this.

No work is so indefinite as an extensive system of field defenses like this. There is scarcely any limit to the amount of work which may be bestowed <ar28_462> on it, and the practical limit will depend on varying circumstances and individual judgment. The importance of such a system of defenses for Washington has been so fully demonstrated by events that there need be no argument on this score, and it is quite as clear that if defenses are necessary they must be so adequate, so complete, that in the hour of need they shall be fully equal to what is expected of them. Although they proved the means of saving Washington, they had not been made entirely so up to the time when Washington was recently threatened. I now desire, and am expected, to make them so. For this purpose I desire authority to expend to the amount of $100,000 more (should so much prove necessary) from the current appropriation for contingencies of fortifications and field works. I would make a suggestion in connection with this subject. Every one in authority is too busy to give any attention to this matter, and the consequence is that I am the sole judge, all questions therewith being referred to me.

A work involving so great an expenditure, and which is so important to the national safety, should have other authority than the opinion of a single individual, who may be influenced by personal motives. I would, therefore, suggest that a commission of three or four officers, of high rank, be directed to examine into and report upon the subject.

I commenced this work as chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac. When I was again (unsolicited by myself) put in charge of the defenses of Washington, it was at a moment of danger, and I felt the immense importance of bringing these works to the proper condition of efficiency. From previous familiarity, I was probably better qualified than any other to carry on the work. Under this impression, I accepted the task, and have no desire to remain connected with it a day after my services become more valuable elsewhere than here, a matter which it belongs to others to decide. Should the idea of a commission to examine and report upon the defenses of Washington be approved, I would suggest the names of Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks, commanding Defenses of Washington, &c.; Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. G. Totten, chief engineer, U.S. Army; Brig. Gen. M. C. Meigs, Quartermaster General, and Brig. Gens. G. W. Cullum and W. F. Barry.

Such a commission would be the more proper that Congress, at the last session, in making a special appropriation for fortifications of Washington, prohibited that appropriation from being applied to the commencement of any new works.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,

Brig. Gen. and Chief Engineer, Defenses of Washington.

[Indorsement. ]

OCTOBER 22, 1862.

The Adjutant-General will prepare an order for a commission, as suggested within.

Secretary of War.

ORA, I, 19, Part 2 (serial 28), 461-62.

WASHINGTON, December 30, 1862.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

SIR: I herewith present you the report of the Commission ordered by you to examine the Defenses of Washington, and report to you as to their efficiency, &c.

It will be seen that the Commission approve generally of the lines established and of the works, and that they attach very great importance to them; that they recommend some additions to or modifications of the existing works; some new works (five or six) to strengthen certain parts of the line, and that they purpose to add a new feature to the defensive system by the construction of works to defend the river from maritime attack. Their reasons are given in full, and it is not necessary for me to dwell upon them in this place.

The amount expended upon the system up to the time when I relinquished the charge last spring to take the field with the Army of the Potomac was about $550,000. This applied to the construction of upward of fifty forts and a number of batteries. Some of these works were of large dimensions, and many had, besides the usual magazine, extensive bomb-proofs, for the protection of the garrisons.

Notwithstanding the number of works built, the defensive system was in some parts still very weak, and everywhere there was need (as I stated in a report to the Chief Engineer U.S. Army a year ago) of auxiliary works, more efficient armament, &c.; and I also stated that there were important gaps in the line which should be filled.

When the Army of the Potomac retired from the James River, I was ordered to assume the command of the works and troops of Washington, and there was apprehension felt (as the result proved, rightly) for the safety of Washington.

Of course, it was my duty, both as engineer and commanding officer, to use the time and means disposable to increase the strength of the defenses. The northern side of the city, between the Potomac and Eastern Branch, which had been little exposed to attack the summer before, was, in August and September of this year, the most likely to be assailed, and from the Potomac to the Seventh street road it was exceedingly weak. <ar31_903>

When, for want of rank, I was superseded in the command, I continued to discharge the duties of engineer, under the full conviction that in that crisis (September 1) I could render no more valuable service to my country than to perfect the defenses of Washington.

I commenced on my first arrival to strengthen this part of the line. I directed the enlargement of Fort Massachusetts, and laid out forts and batteries to make a complete connection between the first-named work and Fort Alexander on the Potomac; at the same time I felled the timber to a distance of a mile in front, thus exposing the ground and making it impracticable to the enemy's movements.

On the south of the Potomac, rifle-pits were thrown up between the works, new gun-platforms laid, and the armament improved; obstructions made across the valleys of Four-Mile Run and Hunting Creek; Fort Lyon strengthened by advanced works, and batteries for field guns prepared. On the most prominent or commanding points 100-pounder rifled guns, on center-pivot carriages, were introduced, to bring under fire the whole external area an enemy must occupy in approaching our lines. These, and similar works, are fully described in the report of the Commission.

With no other assistance from engineer officers than that of a single officer (valuable, indeed–that of Lieut. Col. B. S. Alexander), it has been necessary to employ a large number of civil assistants, superintendents, and overseers, to supervise the works and troops and laborers employed. This, together with the hire of laborers, the purchase of lumber and other materials, has required a large cash expenditure. You authorized (in August, I think) the application of $50,000 from the appropriation for the contingencies of fortifications, field works, &c.; to the Defenses of Washington, $50,000 more. This last sum will have been nearly exhausted at the end of this month.

It is exceedingly difficult to estimate for this kind of expenditure, and as the exigencies of the service have, since my return here, made it impossible to furnish the number of troops required for the labor, I am obliged to suppose that much of the additional work proposed by the Commission will be done by hired labor, and, making reference to past results, to estimate that an additional sum of $200,000 will be needed; for which I ask that an appropriation of Congress be requested. I also request that, until such an appropriation be made, I may be authorized to apply an additional $50,000 from the existing appropriation for contingencies of fortifications.

There has been but one other system of field works that I know of that is analogous to this in extent and character–the famous lines of Torres Vedras. These frustrated the design of Napoleon of driving the English from the Peninsula. They consisted of a greater number of works, but the works were smaller, and much less expensive in workmanship; yet on these lines, in a country where labor commanded but one tenth of what is paid in this country, $1,000,000 was expended from first to last.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,

Brig. Gen., and Chief Engineer Defenses of Washington.

ORA, I, 21 (serial 31), 902-03.

WASHINGTON, February 2, 1863.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War;

SIR: On the 30th of December, 1862, I addressed you a letter(*) to accompany the report of the commission ordered by yourself "to examine and report upon the plan of the present forts, and sufficiency of the present system of defenses for the city."

* * * * * * * * * *

I would add that in asking for all appropriation of $200,000, far the largest part of this sum is required to carry out the recommendations of the Commission, to connect with the system of defenses already established forts and batteries for the defenses of the Potomac.

Such works, though of earth and timber, must necessarily be expensive; and, indeed, they should be so carefully planned that hereafter they may be converted into permanent works, if desirable.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,

Brig. Gen., Chief Engineer Defenses of Washington.

ORA, I, 25, Part 2 (serial 40), 41-42.

Washington, May 22, 1863.

Commanding, &c.:

GENERAL: In informing you that on being deprived entirely, as I have been, of the assistance of troops on the south side of the Potomac, I should be obliged to suspend much important unfinished work, I only conformed to a necessity I cannot control. My pay-rolls for hired labor were, for the month of April, over $30,000, and at the end of that month only $14,000 of the $200,000 appropriated by Congress remained. At the end of the current month, probably not much over $10,000 will remain, and I have yet the important works recommended by the Commission appointed by the Secretary of War for the defense of the river to commence, besides the several new works commenced in progress. But it is out of the question to complete all that should be done with hired labor alone.

At the Chain Bridge there remains much to be done, and I will continue a force of mechanics, with some laborers, provided I can have the assistance of the troops.

Fort McDowell (or fort at the red house) is defensible, and can receive its armament. I shall be obliged probably to defer the construction of bomb-proofs. So at De Kalb, Woodberry, Cass, Tillinghast, and Craig, the thing to be done is the bomb-proofs, and I can do little on these except through the aid of the garrisons.

The fort behind Cass requires the labor of 500 men. All I can do is to keep a small force of laborers at work on it. The lines of rifle-pits and batteries are essentially complete.

There is some interior work on the different forts from Craig to Mott, but I can do no better than to furnish instructions, supervision, and some assistance to the garrisons.

The new works on the river, and those recommended on Traitor's Hill and at Corbett's house. I had expected to do with hired labor, and it is that I may be able to do them that I am forced to withdraw hired labor in great degree from finished works. No one is more tired of this work than I am. The probable allegation that it is endless may be frankly admitted.

The works, in the hasty construction and imperfect development given them two summers ago, were certainly a vast addition to the defensibility of Washington, but to make this line, 35 miles long, really a strong line, such as we need about Washington, the works of 1861 were but the beginning.

The artillery (the best we could get) was improper and not adapted to the purpose or the age. The garrisons need (if a protracted resistance is expected) to be sheltered by a certain amount of bomb-proof; and that these works should be, as intended, the points d'appui for movable troops, it was important that these last should have the protection of rifle-pits and properly located batteries for field guns. Your own observation must have shown you that in the last eight months vast amount of important work has been done, and that there is no comparison between the defensibility of Washington as it was eight months ago and as it is now.

It is extremely difficult to keep up a large force of hired laborers, and as to contrabands, of which there are multitudes somewhere, cultivating Arlington or employed by the quartermaster, I have never been able to get any number.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


ORA, I, 25, Part 2 (serial 40), 513-514.

Washington, July 7, 1863.

Col. J. C. KELTON,
Assistant Adjutant-General:

COLONEL: In November and December last, a commission of officers, appointed by the War Department, investigated and reported upon the Defenses of Washington, recommending additional works at certain points they deemed weak; the perfection and improvement of other works; and the building of two water batteries for the protection of the city against naval attack.

To carry out these suggestions (approved by the War Department), I asked for and obtained an appropriation of $200,000.

The work has been prosecuted with all the vigor the means at my disposal would admit. Although the winter season was most unfavorable for such work, and with the limited amount of money available, as well as with regard to economy, it was not deemed advisable to employ very large gangs of hired laborers, yet, by aid of the troops, working whenever the weather and state of the ground would permit, the most essential works recommended by the commission, such as the advanced works around Fort Lyon; Fort Williams, on Traitor's Hill; Forts Whipple and C. F. Smith, on the Arlington lines; the additional works at the Chain Bridge; the union of Forts Alexander, Franklin, and Ripley into one (Fort Sumner); the completion and construction of Forts Mansfield, Simmons, and Bayard; the modifications of Forts Reno, De Russy, and Stevens; the extension of Fort Slocum, &c., and the connecting system of rifle-pits and batteries for field guns, were all pressed forward, so as to be in a condition, if not complete, at least of efficiency, for their uses, with the return of the season, when active field operations might throw Washington upon its defenses.

The two water batteries were commenced in May, one of them, being out of the line, requiring a very expensive work to render it self-sustaining. My estimates, however (so far as I could estimate at all), were founded upon my previous experience, in which I had been aided freely by troops, and I counted on their aid in doing most of the earthwork and rifle-pits.

Instead of this, however, as soon as the season favorable for work actually set in, almost every detail of troops was withdrawn. The extensive system of rifle-pits, incomplete and demanding thousands of men, was left for me to complete unaided.<ar45_597>

While I was conscious that the appropriation would not by any means suffice to do, thus unaided, all I had expected and was expected to do, I could not blink the necessity of applying it unsparingly to those matters most urgent. I employed 1,000 hired men.

When everything depended upon the results of the campaign in Maryland, and an unfavorable result would have brought the rebels upon us in a week, I took off all the force from Rosier's and put it upon rifle-pits and batteries between Rock Creek and Fort Lincoln.

About $50,000 of the appropriation now remains. I cannot with this finish what I have in hand.

Under the circumstances I have been obliged to expend this money, I think it proper to ask that $100,000 from the appropriation for "field works" may be made available for the Defenses of Washington. This appropriation is under control of the Engineer Department, but as the chief engineer has no control of field operations, and is not the judge of the necessity of field works of the campaign, I presume the General-in-Chief or the Secretary of War is the proper person to direct its disposition.

Details will be given, if required, as to the importance of continuation. Among other things is the important and expensive work of Rosier's–so important in case of a European difficulty.

I am, respectfully, &c.,


ORA, I, 27, Part 3 (serial 45), 596-97.

Washington, July
18, 1864.

The following acts and resolutions of Congress are published for the information of all concerned:

I. PUBLIC–No. 180.

AN ACT making appropriations for the construction, preservation, and repairs of certain fortifications and other works of defense, for the year ending the thirtieth of June, eighteen hundred and sixty-five.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United states of America in Congress assembled, That the following sums be, and they are hereby, appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for the construction, preservation, and repairs of certain fortifications, and other works of defense, for the year ending the thirtieth of June, eighteen hundred and sixty-five:

* * * * * * * * * *

For providing obstructions to be moored in the Potomac River, to render the shore batteries more efficient for the protection of Washington against maritime attack, three hundred thousand dollars.

For completing and rendering more permanent the defenses of Washington, three hundred thousand dollars.

* * * * * * * * * *

Approved July 2, 1864.

ORA, III, 4 (serial 125), 504-505

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