Thursday, March 19, 2015

Civil War Views: Battery Martin Scott

This week's "Civil War Views" takes another look at the strategic Potomac River crossing of Chain Bridge. The defenses around the bridge became the subject of many wartime photographs and sketches. Aside from a lower battery at the Washington end of the bridge, another gun emplacement, known as Battery Martin Scott, occupied the heights immediate above. The battery was initially composed of two 32-pounders and one 8-inch seacoast howitzer mounted en barbette. Two 6-pounder rifled guns apparently replaced these three artillery pieces.

A few months ago, I discovered that the New York Public Library has made available a collection entitled, Sketches for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper : 138 original drawings of the Civil War by staff artists, 1861-1864. This set of drawings contains many fascinating images of Washington and environs during the early days of the Civil War. Among the drawings is this sketch by Arthur Lumley of Battery Martin Scott:

"High Battery at the Chain Bridge" (courtesy of New York Public Library)

As my friend and fellow blogger Craig Swain has pointed out, the three guns depicted here aren't very precise renderings of the actual armaments at the battery. Below the battery, the wooden span of Chain Bridge crosses the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the more distant Potomac River. A mule team pulls a boat along the canal. The gun position offers a commanding view of the Virginia shoreline and hills. Incidentally, Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen protected the approaches to Chain Bridge on the Virginia side. They cannot be seen here, but sat on the hills opposite the battery.

Lumley's sketch appears as an engraving in the November 9, 1861 issue of Frank Leslie's:

(courtesy of
The paper said the following about the illustration of Battery Martin Scott:
WAR is a fearful and wonderful teacher of topography. Places and objects which a few months ago were known only to travellers, or those dwelling on the spot, are now "familiar as household roads." Washington and its adjacent localities  are to the majority of readers now as well known to them as to their denizens. Among the more prominent spots is the Chain Bridge, which crosses the Potomac river at the Little Falls, about five miles above Washington City. It is the direct route from the camp at Tenellytown and Georgetown to Lewinsville and Langley, and is consequently a position of much importance. Our readers will perceive that the National Government has erected a powerful battery on the Maryland side, so as to sweep with utter destruction any hostile force. Now that the Federal Capital is safe, we trust Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee will be rescued from the rebel hordes, whose presence is unwelcome to the people of those States as it is humiliating to the National cause. (at 389-90.)
Today, I'd venture to speculate that once again, few outside the Washington area know the Chain Bridge! But Lumley's sketch reminds us of  the importance of such places over 150 years ago. So the next time you cross the river there, whether because you commute across the bridge daily, or because you are on a vacation in the area, think back to the sketch and engraving as you look up at the bluffs overlooking the Potomac.


Benjamin Franklin Cooling III & Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (2010 ed.);  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 9, 1861; OR1:21:1, 911.

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