According to page 108 in the book “Mr. Lincoln’s Forts, A Guide to the Civil War Defenses (New Edition), written by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen (published by Scarecrow Press in 2010 :
“The fort (Woodbury) was named in honor of Brigadier General Daniel Phineas Woodbury, who died of yellow fever on August 15, 1864, at Key West Florida. Fort Woodbury was built on land owned by John Lamden and was a lunette with a stockade gorge. The fort’s perimeter was 275 yards and had emplacements for thirteen guns. The armament consisted of five 24-pounder guns, three 30-pounder Parrott rifles, four 6-pounder guns, and one 24-pounder Coehorn mortar. The fort contained two magazines and bombproof barracks.”
Fort Woodbury was actually named after the commander of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, Colonel Dwight Woodbury, who was in charge of the forts completion and occupation by the regiment in September of 1861. While it may, or may not have, had emplacements for thirteen guns along it’s perimeter, the three period drawings of the fort indicate that only five were in place. Private Eri House of Company K, one of the two companies manning the fort’s guns, stated that there were eight 24-pound guns mounted in the fort by the the time of his letter, dated September 1, 1861.
According to Cooling and Owen’s book, there are currently no visible remains of the fort which was located at what is now the intersection of Troy Street North and Court House Road in Arlington, Virginia. However, a historical marker pertaining to the fort is located at 14th Street and Court House Road.
Accounts of Fort Woodbury from the the men of the Fourth Michigan Infantry
Several letters from soldiers in the Fourth Michigan Infantry make reference to the fort, it’s construction, and dedication to Colonel Woodbury. One of them, seen here, was written by Lieutenant Harrison Jeffords of Company K on September 21, 1861.
Sergeant John Bancroft wrote this entry in his diary….”Aug. 16th (Fri.) — Pack up and move back one-half mile nearer the river. We are to build a fort. Raining yet.”
A few days later John wrote…. “Aug. 20th (Tues.) — On guard as Serg’t of the Guard. Our new camp commands a fine view of Georgetown and Washington. We are in the trenches building a fort. The works are being put forward as fast as possible.”
Bancroft goes on to write in his diary for the days of August 28-31 …”Aug. 28th (Wed.) — In the morning were out again. Work on the fort has been done by the 4th Michigan assisted N.Y. 23rd.
Aug. 29th (Thurs.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.
Aug. 30th (Fri.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.
Aug. 31st (Sat.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.”
Taken from a letter written by Private Eri House (of Company K) dated August 25, 1861, we read …” We are building a fort. We will not be able to use it in this battle if they keep advancing. It is very lazy business for me to be a soldier. I have got the birth of wagoner. It’s a very good birth. I am excused from all duty. The boys have all got to dig in the fort. The sergeants and the corporals, it makes them growl.”
Private Eri House wrote again about Fort Woodbury on September 1, 1861….”We are in a fort. We have built a fort here. The name of it is Fort Woodbury named after our Colonel. She has eight large guns — twenty-four pounders. Co. K and Co. F will man the guns. ¹ Solomon Wilsey will be the captain of K’s guns. We have a very good fort. The Potomac river is lined with soldiers. I think Washington is well guarded. The secession troops are advancing on us all the time. They are building forts in four miles of ours. We can see them shoveling dirt. We expect an attack every day — perhaps before tomorrow morning. We are getting well prepared for a fight. All we want is men enough to slay all they can produce. We want to take everything clean when we commence again. It will be a very tough battle.”
On September 1, 1861, Private Elum J. Todd (of Company H) wrote from “Camp Union” (which was the name of the regiment’s camp that was located adjacent to the fort during its construction)…. “We have been building a fort and we have got it almost done. We have got two of the big guns mounted. They are thirty-two pounders. We shall soon have it done and the guns all mounted.”
In his letter dated September 7, 1861, Corporal Austin T. Smith ( of Company K) wrote… “We have been to work building a fort which is now finished and we are now at work on a breastwork which, after being completed, will be about three miles in length. But we are not alone in this job. We have got to build about a hundred rods of it, and we shall have our part of it completed by next Sunday, if we have good luck.”
Private Alanson Piper (of Company B) wrote about the work on the fort in his September 8, 1861 letter which was co-written with his brother, Private Abel Piper ( also of Company B) …” We have got our fort almost done and will finish it in a few days. We are also building breastworks about a 1/2 mile long from our fort to another.”
Sergeant William Eaton (of Company A) wrote in this in his letter dated September 11, 1861…. ” You will not find anything of importance in the news line as I know of none to write for we have been having a very monotonous life for the last four weeks fortifying ourselves against an attack from the enemy. We are now situated on the Virginia side of the Potomac about 2 miles west of Georgetown where we (our brigade) have built quite a large fort where we have 4 large 32-pound siege guns and one mortar mounted ready to give the rebels the Military salute should they approach our line. From where we are camped we can see 7 large forts. I think if they should attack us, they will meet a much heartier reception than they are aware of.”
On September 14, 1861, Private Charles W. Phelps (of Company D) wrote this paragraph in a letter…. “Last night our pickets were driven in about a mile and the secesh burnt a number of houses and barns. They made a splendid light. We were all called out in battalion order. Under there was eight regiments, two batteries of artillery, and one cavalry company, and (we) were behind a breastwork which runs from our fort (Fort Woodbury, named after our Colonel) to the fort north of us.” This indicates that the breastworks that the regiment had been working on ran between the two forts.
Sergeant Hubert Dwight Smith (of Company H) wrote in his letter dated September 14, 1861….”`You inquire how I spend my time. It is about as you supposed, only I do not consider that being a Picket Guard worse by any means than drilling, or working on our entrenchments. Our pickets occupy a very responsible stand when on duty and [it] causes them to feel that dignity and manhood, which the position inspire in a true soldier.
I cannot give you a very accurate description of our forts & c. but will try and draw a crude diagram to represent the forms.
First a fort (#1) [at] the level of the ground.
(#2) a step [up] of four ft.
(#3) top of step and sustains the foundations of the cannon.
(#4) top of embankment, about six feet wide, and the guns are set down so as to [be] on a level with it, and so arranged to be turned either right or left., as necessity demands.
(#5) is the trench 14 ft. wide and ten deep.
(#6) solid earth. The sides are lined with thoroughly packed sod. The front, or entrance side, is guarded by picket posts ten feet high and six or eight inches in thickness, the sides hewn so as to meet closely, forming a light wooden wall with portholes to shoot out from.
Breastworks are in this form. (see diagram) We stand in the trench to load, step up on 1st step with our foot on second, fire over the top, fall back and load, while the rear rank performs the same. The steps are all well sodded and look very nice. The particular names for this is various steps, slopes, and c. & c. about the fort and the other, I have not learned. So please do not show this to anyone.”
On the following day, September 15, 1861, Sergeant Hubert Smith wrote….” Last night (September 14, 1861), while on parade, the Adjutant read the order [of] Gen. McClellan, calling “a small fort thrown up and built by the 4th Mich. Regt. by the name of Fort Woodbury” so that instead of writing from Camp Union, we address you from a more honorable station. Our Col. made some very appropriate remarks, stating his surprise of the honor shown him–the name being solicited by the Regt., unbeknownst to him”.
G. O. # 9 Gen. George B. McClellan, Headquarters Army of the Potomac Sept. 9, 1861
Article XVII of G. O. # 9 September 9, 1861 “The naming of Fort Woodbury”
On September 16, 1861, Henry N. Strong, the chaplain of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, gave the following address during the occasion of “The Raising of the “Stars & Stripes” over Fort Woodbury”. It’s very probable that this speech was delivered as part of a regimental ceremony dedicating Fort Woodbury in honor of their Colonel Dwight Woodbury….
“Officers and Soldiers:
Ye may remember to have read that years ago, certain presumptuous men, in a distant Land , went out from their Legislative Halls to enact the solemn farce of burying the Bible. They may have dreamed, in there hours of madness, that by their act, they would blight the hopes of immortal men, and, in perpetuating their malice towards God, perpetuated the miseries of their countrymen.
Others, equally misguided, dwelling in a portion of this fair Country, not long ago, in spiteful mockery, buried the Stars and Stripes; our Nation’s Flag; and covered it with the soil which its free folds alone had consecrated.
But ye have learned, among those other sacred letters of the nursery, that death has in itself the seed of future life; that burial is God’s prophet of a coming resurrection.
That buried Bible lives! It’s light and life are shared by millions of faithful men; our houses and hearts by it are hallowed. That buried Flag-striped with our Father’s blood; starred with the symbols of God’s protecting and defending love-yet waves our flag, on many a hill top, above many domes; yea, still waves over our threatened Capitol.
Ye are summoned here to defend it, and in the laws of God, His Government in America. It means peace in the homes ye have left, quick at the hearthstones where your dear ones kneel; and reunion with them is hinge upon its triumph over rebellions
Today it floats above this fabric, reared mainly by your hands. Given to the breeze amid our prayers, you my comrades, will turn every eye on me , and respond with the noblest resolution of your souls, while I say to these commanding officers, who are exercising God’s authority over us, not as expressions of the impulse of the occasion, but as the educated purpose of our hearts; – Lead us where ye dare lead brave men, and we will prove the words of our gallant Colonel to be true. Words, uttered when he received at the hands of the fair women, the miniature color of his Corps; -“Sooner than trail to treason, this Flag shall become the Pall of the Regiment.”
In his letter dated September 21st, 1861, Private William Lindsey (of Company H) wrote…. “I hurt my back lifting on the cannon [while] helping [to] mount it and have not been able to stir around much since.”
Private Elum J. Todd also wrote “We have moved from our old camp where we built the fort.” in a letter dated October 3rd, 1861.
On October 5th, 1861, Sergeant John Bancroft again wrote “Last week we took up our encampment at Fort Woodbury and moved it, clearing up stumps and grading the streets in the nicest order, making one of the finest camps this side of the river and as oftentimes we have left it”
There is also an account of the Fourth Michigan Infantry while it was stationed at Fort Woodbury that is written by Private Matthew Baird, from Company E of the Third Michigan Infantry. The diary entry is shown here with the transcript of the relevant entry shared below it.
“August 26th Today I paid a visit to the 4th Mich. Regt. to see one or two old acquaintances. This is a healthy robust looking regiment. It is stationed a half a mile west of Fort Corcoran and formed part of Sherman’s brigade. The 4th is at present engaged in building another fort on a commanding situation to the right of their camp. The work has progressed finely since they began. The boys seem to be in good spirits, jovial, and full of life.”