Fortifications ranged from the simple ditches to elaborately designed brick fortresses. They can be skirmish pits and entrenchments, infantry breastworks, artillery redans, earth and timber forts and bombproofs, martello towers, and concrete bunkers. Some were never used in war and others witnessed intense fighting.
Archaeological study and evaluation of field fortifications offers unique challenges. Some trenches were excavated to protect soldiers only for a few days (or hours). As they were temporary, they can be difficult to locate. Archival research can help predict their locations, but it takes a trained eye to ascertain their presence. Many of our clients develop property in areas fought over during the 1864 Atlanta campaign, and we are often called upon to distinguish trenches from firebreaks or agricultural terraces.
"The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have full fifty miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another all ready."
-General William T. Sherman
In many cases fortifications are still visible to even to a casual observer. Their historic context is well known, and we are tasked with defining their boundaries, evaluating their integrity, and determining their significance as related to the National Register of Historic Places eligibility criteria. These issues are important to our clients, as this information is used in planning future development.
Larger forts were sometimes rebuilt over many decades. Care must be taken to document how a defensive structure was changed during its different construction phases. Unlike traditional sites, fortifications typically have deeply buried artifact deposits and structural features. Sometimes heavy machinery is used to carefully strip away overburden. This takes a lot of skill from both the operator and archaeologist. We have used this technique, for example, to expose long filled in Civil War trenches in Cobb County (GA). We utilized a trackhoe to locate and document original brick magazine walls and heavy timber floors at Fort Albert Sidney Johnston, an earthen Confederate fort in Mobile (AL). Similarly, we used heavy equipment backhoe in Key West (FL) to locate the remains of an original entrance causeway outside the walls of Civil War Fort Zachary Taylor.