Saturday, September 21, 2019

Fort Dushane: An Unprotected Civil War Fort that Once Protected the Union Army

Today's share comes as a guest post, courtesy of Michael Spencer of the Petersburg Battlefields Foundation (PBF). The folks at PBF are doing great things to help preserve the hallowed ground associated with the Petersburg Campaign. I encourage you to look into supporting their cause with a kind financial contribution or by purchasing a membership. Additional information about their efforts can be found by using underlined link above. 

Fort Dushane: An Unprotected Civil War Fort that Once Protected the Union Army 
by Michael Spencer

Just a few miles south of the City of Petersburg, within a recently developed neighborhood, stands a mostly forgotten Union fort that sits on land once hotly contested by two opposing armies. In the early Fall of 1864, this site represented the furthest point on the left flank of the Union armies operating around Petersburg. During the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 to 1865, this bastion witnessed thousands of troops march off to take part in large maneuvers against the opposing Confederate defenses. It also was visited by famous people such as Generals Grant, Meade and Warren, along with Secretary of State William H. Seward. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma) What is the story of Fort Dushane?

During the brutal four day Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad (also known as the Battle of Globe Tavern), which took place from August 18-21, 1864, forces led by the V Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac managed to take possession of and hold this Confederate supply line that ran into Petersburg. General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, wanted to ensure that their hard fought gains would not be lost to future Confederate attacks. He ordered Federal fortifications to be extended from the Jerusalem Plank Road (modern day Crater Road) west to Fort Wadsworth along the Weldon Railroad. South of this fort and to the west of the railroad, Company B, U.S. Engineers Battalion and members of the 50th New York Engineers began work August 30th on what would become Fort Dushane. Within a month, this fortification was nearly complete and included a bombproof that could hold 600 men, with eight traverses. Iron rails from the nearby Weldon Railroad were used to help protect the magazines and traverses. (Hess, In the Trenches)
Sketch of the fort, by Charles W. Reed
All throughout these operations, attacks were expected from Confederate forces. Some skirmishing did take place during the month of September. Charles Wellington Reed, member of the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery (and eventual Medal of Honor recipient) maintained an ongoing journal and drew many sketches during his time near Petersburg, including Fort Dushane. On September 17th, Reed wrote: “called up and prepared for action with some show of having one. [B]risk and lively skirmishing along our front and right from daylight till towards noon. [T]he rebs yelling and trying to force our skirmish line which was held”. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma)
On September 23rd, Reed noted in his diary: “our fort was named to day[.] [T]he fort is very near completion.”. This was the day that Reed learned Fort Dushane was officially given its name. Earlier in September, Generals Warren and Hancock recommended assigning names to the Union forts being established around Petersburg. Meade had his Corps commanders offer names of officers who had fallen since May 5th, 1864, which was the start of the Overland Campaign. (Hess, In the Trenches) This resulted in the naming of forts after officers such as Sedgwick and Wadsworth. Fort Dushane received its name from a fallen hero of Maryland.

Before the war, Colonel Nathan Thomas Dushane was a master builder and member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He entered the war with the 1st Maryland Regiment in June of 1861. He saw action throughout the war, including being captured at Front Royal in May of 1862. He fought with his all-Maryland brigade throughout the Overland Campaign and during the summer around Petersburg. (Hunt, Colonels in Blue) During the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad, his brigade, part of Ayres division, took part in the initial attacks that the V Corps made to capture that rail line. Dushane and his men fought throughout all the subsequent Confederate counterattacks that took place during the operations of August 18th -21st. Unfortunately for Colonel Dushane, he would fall during the last day of this contest. As Noah Trudeau wrote, during a Confederate artillery bombardment, one “shell neatly decapitated the officer in charge of the all-Maryland brigade, Colonel Nathan Dushane.” (Trudeau, Last Citadel)

The location of Fort Dushane is just a mile or two from the spot where Colonel Dushane was killed. It was an appropriate place to be given his name, being on the extreme left of the Union line at the time and near the area where he spent his final days fighting with his men.

Fort Dushane was the staging area for troop movements against the Confederate lines to the north and west. During late September, Union infantry and cavalry moved out from this area in what eventually resulted in the actions around the Peebles Farm and the capture of Confederate Fort Archer (later renamed Fort Wheaton). Later in October, General Hancock’s II Corps, which had been encamped around Fort Dushane, launched its maneuvers that ended up in the first attacks against the Boydton Plank Road and Hatcher’s Run. (Trudeau, Last Citadel)

An interesting visit took place on September 25th. According to Reed’s account, “Gen’s Grant, Meade, Warren, Humphrey, Senator [Secretary of State] Seward, and other dignitaries visited the fort to day”. This was apparently a tour of fortifications given to Secretary Seward by General Grant and high level staff. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma)

Today, Fort Dushane still stands despite over 150 years of potential destruction. Its rich but largely forgotten history needs to be preserved for generations to come. Fort Dushane holds an important role in the Petersburg Campaign that should be remembered and highlighted.

Images of Fort Dushane today.

Campbell, Eric A. 2000. A Grand Terrible Dramma: From Gettysburg to Petersburg: The Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed
Hess, Earl J. 2009. In The Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat
Trudeau, Noah Andre, 1991. The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865
Hunt, Roger D. 2007. Colonels in Blue: The Mid-Atlantic States


  1. Who owns the fort? Is that private or public land it is on?
    Thank you

  2. It's on private land, owned by Roslyn Farms.