ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Cannon Branch Fort, Virginia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Cannon Branch Fort, Virginia
Cannon Branch Fort
One of the earthwork redoubts built to protect
Manassas Junction during the Civil War, historic
Cannon Branch Fort is in Manassas, Virginia.
Cannon Branch Fort
The original earthworks of
Cannon Branch Fort are
preserved at a historic site in
Manassas, Virginia.
Cannon Branch Fort Historic Site - Manassas, Virginia
The Forts of Manassas Junction
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Updated May 12, 2012
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Vital Rail Junction
Railroad tracks can be seen
leading past the surviving
earthworks of Cannon Branch
Fort (notice the embankment
at the bottom of the photo).
Cannon Branch Fort
A walking trail leads through
the earthwork remains of the
fort. It once was manned with
Union troops.
Quaker Guns at Mayfield Fort
Surviving fortifications and a
"Quaker Gun" exhibit can be
seen at a second historic site
nearby. Mayfield Fort is also
open to the public.
It is unique that of the two Civil War forts that
survive in Manassas, Virginia, one is Union
and the other is Confederate.

Cannon Branch Fort, a rectangular earthwork
redoubt on the west side of Manassas, is
thought to have been built by Federal troops.
The other surviving earthwork,
Mayfield Fort,
was constructed by Confederates.

Now preserved as part of an 11-acre historic
site, the Civil War fort is one feature of a hill
that has a long heritage. Overlooking Cannon
Branch, a creek that flows into the Broad Run
River, the hilltop was first occupied by Native
Americans during the prehistoric era.

Archaeologists have found evidence of a
hunting base camp there, along with a variety
of stone artifacts including a quartz spear
point, fire-burned stone and quartzite flakes.
These early hunters roamed the area looking
for game and also gathering nuts, roots,
berries and other edibles from the forests. As
many as 17 related sites have been found
within a two mile radius of Cannon Branch
Fort.

The site is most noted, however, for its Civil
War earthworks. Built atop a hill overlooking
the trestle bridge where the Orange &
Alexandria Railroad crossed Cannon Branch,
the fort was designed to command the vital
rail line with its cannon.

Exactly who built the fort and when is a bit of
a mystery today. It was not one of the twelve
original forts constructed by General P.G.T.
Beauregard in 1861 to defend Manassas
Junction. This leads most historians to
believe it was built in 1863 or 1864 by Union
forces.

The Confederate army evacuated Manassas
in March of 1862, allowing the vital junction to
fall into the hands of the North. Union
General George McClellan was then making
a slow advance on Richmond via the
Peninsula formed by the James and York
Rivers.

As the Confederates withdrew, Federal
troops advanced and took their places in and
around Manassas.

Roughly one year later, in April 1863, General
Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker commanded
Union forces that seized the town of
Warrenton, Virginia. With this objective taken,
he reopened the Orange & Alexandria as a
supply line for his army. The fort at Cannon
Branch likely was constructed at this time or
shortly after.

Hooker's advance ended in disaster on May
1-2, 1863, at the
Battle of Chancellorsville.
He was replaced as his army reeled back
from that bloody engagement and General
Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern
Virginia across the Potomac and into
Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Lee's campaign, in turn, ended in a disaster
of his own at the Battle of Gettysburg and he
withdrew his army back into Virginia. The
Union Army of the Potomac, under General
George Gordon Meade, followed.

July and August of 1863 saw Federal troops
from Pennsylvania, New York and other
states arrive in Manassas. They remained in
the area until the following spring.
Historic Sites in Virginia
Defenses like Cannon Branch Fort were held
by the Federals through the winter of 1863-
1864 to protect the Orange & Alexandria from
cavalry raids. Additional troops followed and
the earthworks were held until the danger
diminished late in the year.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the
earthwork forts around Manassas were left
as scars on the landscape. Time eventually
erased all but a few of once powerful
ramparts. The hill on which Cannon Branch
Fort stood returned to nature and the site
today is in a grove of trees. The area was
used for agricultural purposes (as a dairy
farm) until the 1980s.

Archaeologists have studied the earthwork
traces and determined that the fort was
rectangular in shape and measured 105 feet
by 145 feet. Only 80 feet from what during the
Civil War was the Orange & Alexandra
Railroad, the garrison would have been able
to fire on the tracks from almost point blank
range.

Cross sections prepared by archaeologists
show that the fort was built by digging two
parallel trenches, the dirt from which was
thrown into the space between to create a
berm or rampart. The original parapet was
about fifteen feet wide, but its height during
the war is unknown.

The highest parts today are only a couple of
feet high, but the worn outline of the fort's
walls can still be seen. Cannon Branch Fort
was about the right size to hold either a
company of infantry or a battery of field
artillery.

Cannon Branch Fort is open daily from
sunrise to sunset and is free to visit. The site
includes a walking path, interpretive markers
and the faded earthworks of the redoubt
itself. The historic site is at 10611 Gateway
Boulevard in Manassas, Virginia.

Please click here to learn more about the
history of the fort.

Please click here to learn more about a
Confederate fort at Manassas.
Photos by Savannah Brininstool