Discussion Encampment Layout

Fort Huger Civil War Encampment Layout

Fort Huger Civil War encampment layout

It is difficult to ascertain the exact compliment of soldiers that were stationed at Fort Huger and the encampment.  Union Commander John Rodgers, in command of the U.S.S. Galena, reported on May 12, 1862 that the garrison at Harden’s Bluff had, by his estimate, less than 50 men.  Captain J. M. Maury, commanding officer of Fort Huger, lamented in a letter to the Confederate Secretary of War that he did not have a compliment of men sufficient to properly man the guns at the Fort.  Captain Maury stated that he had two artillery companies belonging to an infantry battalion of five companies in all, stationed outside the fort.  The battalion was under the command of Lt. Colonel Archer.

The organization of the Army of Northern Virginia included troop divisions of regiments, companies, and platoons (NPS 2007).  A regiment is divided into 10 companies consisting of a total of 1,100 officers and men.  A company included two to three platoons or approximately 100 officers and men.  A platoon consisted of five squads with one officer and 50 men (NPS 2007).  According to this formula, the presence of five companies that totaled the force allocated for Fort Huger would include almost 500 officers and soldiers.  However, having a full compliment at any level of organization was not common.  It appears that the companies to which Captain Maury referred were either severely understaffed in relation to the prescribed compliment for a standard company or Captain Maury understood a different connotation for the term company that may have been commonly used by other members of the Confederate Army.  Captain Maury requested three additional companies of artillery to supplement the two artillery companies assigned to Fort Huger.

Fort Huger Civil War Encampment with Huts

Fort Huger Civil War encampment with huts

Military encampments were based on designs by Frederick W. A. Von Stueben.  During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington became worried about the lack of uniform guidance and practices and believed that it affected battlefield performance.  He employed Von Stueben to design camp layouts that would help address the issue.  Von Stueben contended that a camp was a tactical position and needed to be on defendable terrain with access to supply delivery.  Soldiers also needed to be able to react quickly with minimal obstacles like wagons or animals to hamper them. Von Stueben even devised rules for entering and establishing a new camp as well as breaking camp.  Although Von Stueben’s camp designs were modified over the years, mostly to accommodate the size of a given military unit, the general principles were still in place during the Civil War (Whitehorne 2006).

Encampments during the Civil War were set such that a color line, or regimental front, was established and was the basis for the layout of the rest of the camp. A series of streets ran perpendicular to the color line and were lined by a row of tents or huts on either side of the street.  Tent or hut openings faced the street.  The kitchens were placed behind the tents.  Company officers resided behind the kitchens (Whitehorne 2006).  Billings (1993:73-74) notes that strict adherence to the regulations depended on the officers in charge, and there was often a “go-as-you-please order of procedure.”

There are no descriptions or plan maps of the layout of the structures in the encampment, but it can be presumed that, based on Commander Rodgers’ estimate, at least 50 soldiers were stationed at Fort Huger.  In addition to housing for the soldiers, the encampment likely would have included a commissary and quartermaster quarters.  The structures present at the encampment should have been laid out following army regulations based on Von Stueben’s original designs.

Fort Huger Civil War Encampment Hut Construction Diagram

Hut construction diagram

According to Captain Maury, Lt. Colonel Archer had the overall command of the men stationed at the encampment for Fort Huger, but it appears that he stayed a few miles south in Smithfield, Virginia.  However, if he did reside at the encampment, Lt. Colonel Archer, or other ranking officer, would have resided at one end of the encampment, and the adjacent rows of huts should stretch across the remainder of the site in order of decreasing rank.  It is also possible that the quartermaster would be placed adjacent to Lt. Colonel Archer’s hut.

Nineteen debris mounds were identified within the site boundaries.  Several of the debris mounds exhibited brick on the surface making them easier to identify.  Tree falls are a common occurrence in the site vicinity which made the identification of debris mounds that did not exhibit brick on the surface difficult.  The leaf mat and vegetation also added to the difficulty of identifying debris mounds.  Probing and shovel testing were used to determine if other mounds were indeed debris mounds.  Billings (1993) stated that two to four men would be assigned to a hut.  Estimating for 50 or so men, there should have been between 13 and 25 huts.  It is quite probable that there may be other debris mounds that were not identified.

There is a substantial gap between the debris mounds identified at the site, and if structures could be identified inside this gap, a distinctive pattern might be determined.  As it stands, to determine camp layout we looked for linear relationships between the debris mounds.  Looking at the western half of the site, the debris mounds appear to be lined up in rows oriented approximately north/south and east/west, although not precisely on the cardinal directions.  In the east half of the site, debris mounds show a similar pattern.  The debris mounds in the excavation area were also oriented approximately east/west.

Unfortunately, determining which orientation (north/south or east/west) delineates a row of structures cannot be determined.  The road that is shown to lead to Fort Huger on Gilmer’s (1863) map is believed to have been located south of the site based on the relative positioning of the barracks site and Fort Huger.  Remnants of the old road, however, could not be identified south of the site.  The two old road beds that are present at the southern end of the site are believed to have been related to logging activities in the area.  The creation of these roads may also have masked evidence of any previous road that was present in this vicinity.

If the road leading to the fort was located on the south side, troops mustering for battle would need to proceed toward this road, and it may have served as the color line upon which the layout of the encampment was based.  Gilmer’s map (1863) shows the road with an approximately east/west orientation.  Applying Butterfield’s (1862) map of Civil War encampments to site 44IW0204, the streets running perpendicular to the color line would be oriented north/south.  In turn, the rows of structures would have the same north/south orientation.  Indeed, the debris piles do show a pattern that approximates this layout.

The entryways of the structures along a particular row should all face the street.  Butterfield’s (1862) camp schematic shows the entryways of the officers’ facing the rest of the camp.   If our hypothesis for the camp layout is correct, the excavated structural remains may have been officer’s quarters and/or the quartermaster as they are located at the northern end of the site and the color line would be at the southern end.   That would suggest the officer’s quarters at 44IW0204 also would have faced a different direction than other structures in the camp.  However, structural remains within the excavation area were not sufficient enough to determine the orientation or locations of walls or entryways.  Without more archaeological evidence on the location of other structures and their orientation, the true layout of the encampment cannot be determined.

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