A History of Earthworks in the United States

Earthen fortifications have played a role throughout American military history.

Earthworks of varying size and complexity dot our battlefields and military sites and their identification can be challenging. Time, erosion, weathering, and human disturbances have modified most earthen fortifications to a degree that specialists are required to identify their type and function from what remains. The best way to determine an earthen fortification's function, its original extent or appearance at any given time, is to do research. Finding written accounts, maps, or photographs of a fortification at the time of its construction can go a long way in answering many questions a contemporary manager would ask. From this information, it becomes relatively easy to compare the surviving remnant with what was originally constructed. In many instances, however, historical information is not available and the only recourse is to make an educated guess based upon existing site features.

In the cases where historical documentation is inconclusive, identification of earthworks is first a process of eliminating all possible modern earthen structures from consideration, such as agricultural terraces or landscape berms. Once those possibilities have been discarded, a series of questions can be asked to narrow the field of possibilities. First, one needs to ask at what stage in the design evolution of earthen fortifications do these examples represent and what formal training or influences the military personnel might have had who constructed them? Second, what purpose did these earthen fortifications serve and under what circumstances were they constructed? Third, how would these earthen fortifications have looked, not only at the time of their construction and use, but post-battle, when agriculture resumed or the site was abandoned? In order to answer these questions, it is essential to become familiar with the period literature, both in Europe and America,that shaped military thought and design, as well as to understand the action and personnel of the battle and the post-battle land use changes.

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Article and Image Source: www.nps.gov

History, Earthworks, Defences, United States, Warfare



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