The Design and Construction of
Field Fortifications at Yorktown
The works at Yorktown were the most significant field fortifications of the eastern campaigns before the battle of Chancellorsville. Complex and strong, they call into question the previously held idea that reliance on fieldworks started in 1864. Large portions of them are well preserved, although the Confederate remnants are more easily accessible than the Union remnants.
McClellan's engineer officers conducted their preliminary survey of the Confederate line on April 6–12, while Barnard chose the site for the engineer and artillery depots. He also scouted the ravines and the road system to the rear of the proposed Union line. The heavy artillery emplacements received first attention. Batteries No. 1 and 2 were started on April 17 and essentially were completed in three days. No. 3 was begun, and sites were selected for Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 7. By April 22 at least four heavy artillery works were ready for guns, and No. 3 and No. 6 already had been armed with 20-pounder Parrotts and 10-inch seacoast mortars, hauled to the works by 100 horses.1
Eventually fourteen heavy batteries, five redoubts, and an unknown number of emplacements for field guns were constructed by McClellan's men. Battery No. 1, near the York River opposite the heaviest Confederate gun emplacements at Yorktown, consisted of a layer of logs with a layer of gabions on top, then a thick layer of sandbags topped the parapet and formed embrasures for the guns. Long, thick traverses were made of the same material as the parapet. The emplacement was located in the orchard of the Farinholt homestead, and the large frame house, just to the rear of the guns, made a superb observation post.2
Many engineers and infantrymen were impressed with the construction of Battery No. 4 because it was placed on the bank of Wormley's Creek. Capt. Wesley Brainerd and a party of the 50th New York Engineers cut the emplacement into the sloping bank, throwing dirt into the creek until they had room for as many as ten 13inch mortars. The 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery was responsible for placing and manning them. The entire floor of the emplacement was leveled, and a wooden platform was built for each mortar. The undulating creek bank was five to twenty