00193 - 1st New York Light Artillery; Fort Richardson; Fair Oaks, Va; 1862 [LC-DIG-cwpb-00193]
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Constructed as one of the defensive forts around Washington, Fort Richardson was named for General Israel Richardson, who was killed at Antietam in 1862. Most of these earthwork forts were similar in nature to Fort Richardson. The typical fort was made of packed earth that was 7-9 feet high with an exterior slope of 45 degrees. Both features helped to deflect incoming artillery as well as attacking infantry. The top of the slope was a minimum of one foot thick and extended to eighteen feet at the bottom.
Outside of the parapet was a ditch dug six feet deep around the exterior. The slope was allowed to grow grass to help prevent erosion. The interior of the forts had vertical posts 4-6 inches thick and about 5 ½ feet long that allowed the occupants to take a defensive position right next to the parapet of earth and still return fire. In some cases, this caused problems. Specifically, injury from the top of the relatively thin walls being struck by artillery and wood timbers becoming flying shrapnel. To prevent this mishap, some of the forts replaced the posts with an interior sod wall that provided similar protection without the danger of shrapnel.
To protect the gunpowder and other ammunition stored in the fort from incoming artillery, a “Bomb-proof” was constructed in the center of the fort. This was a heavy earth structure using much thicker timbers. While the outside walls of the fort were supported with timber 4-6 inches thick, the “Bomb-proofs” had timbers no less than twelve inches thick. The interior was generally twelve feet wide with a roof of seven feet. This allowed powder to be stacked three rows wide for the entire length of the magazine. While the exterior of the fort wall could be as thin as one foot at the top, the “Bomb-proofs” had a minimum thickness of ten feet on all sides. These walls were made up of layers of clay two feet thick and tightly packed vs. the fort exterior walls made of common soil.
In all, as many as 53 forts at any one time surrounded Washington. A total of 22 batteries with 643 guns and 75 mortars defended the area. This area was assigned 25,000 infantry, allowing two men for every yard of perimeter with an additional support man behind those two. To man the artillery, an additional 9,000 troops were stationed; allowing three sets of relief crews for each gun. Finally as support, were about 3,000 cavalry, to help quickly move troops as needed during an attack. Following the war, these forts were quickly abandoned and the property sold to investors. Most of the structures (including Fort Richardson) have completely disappeared. Today, only a small marker designates what was once an important part of the defense of Washington.