The Bermuda Hundred Campaign
Construction of the Howlett Line
The earthworks here were constructed after the Battle of Ware Bottom Church. Prior to that, this area was the advanced picket line for the Army of the James and would have consisted of a series of rifle pits dug by Federal soldiers. After capturing this advanced line, the Confederates likely set about connecting the pits with a shallow rifle trench facing east. As battle lines stabilized, the existing ditch was deepened and widened, while a parallel outer line was dug. Dirt was thrown onto the center, creating a large mound. The resulting earthwork was approximately 30 feet wide with a moat in front and rifle trench on the back. The Howlett Line was named after a home at the north end of the line on the James River. The line stretched for over 3 miles from the James River to the Appomattox River. These fortifications were the "cork in the bottle" that prevented Butler from moving toward Richmond.
Anatomy of the Howlett Line
These works were constructed with a slope that allowed the Confederate defenders to sweep the area in front of them with rifle fire. Head logs or sand bags provided cover and a narrow opening through which a rifle could be aimed and fired. Federal soldiers approaching this trench would have confronted a seven-foot deep moat. They then would find themselves crossing a twenty-five-foot wide parapet. If driven away from these works, the defenders could then fall back to reserve lines in the rear. This form of construction maximized effectiveness while minimizing the labor needed to create if.
A view of Confederate fortifications seen from Fort Harrison on the north side of the James River. The Federal advance rifle pits are in the foreground. A soldier is standing atop the main Confederate line in the back right of the photo. A row of sharpened tree limbs known as "abatis" can be seen in front of the Confederate lines. The Howlett Line would have had a similar appearance.This sign was sponsored by Chester Station Camp 1503. Sons of Confederate Veterans