Historic America

Exploring Redoubt Park in Williamsburg, Virginia

This 1862 Confederate earthwork was designed to defend Williamsburg during the American Civil War. Today, you can enjoy a nature trail and learn its history at this quiet and unassuming preserve.

When Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan landed an army of 120,000 men at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula in late March 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder was tasked to delay him with 13,600 men until reinforcements arrived. With his mustache, large mutton chops, and plumed hat, Maj. Gen. “Prince John” Magruder cut a dashing figure. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and amateur actor with unconventional views on warfare for the time period.

He ordered his men to paint logs to look like cannon and march in circles, beating drums and making a racket to deceive the enemy into thinking he had a much larger force. He also employed Brig. Gen. Gabriel Rains’ expertise in “land torpedoes,” an early form of IED–buried or hidden artillery shells designed to explode when encountered.

Magruder eventually fell back from his line along the Warwick River to defenses east of Williamsburg, where he had built Fort Magruder and a series of 13 other redoubts stretching from Queen’s Creek in the north to College Creek in the south. A redoubt is a small fort outside an army’s main defensive position. He called it the Williamsburg Line, but he wouldn’t be there to defend it. Magruder took a leave of absence to seek medical treatment before the battle.

Redoubt #1 overlooked Quarterpath Road, which led from Williamsburg to the James River. It was the first redoubt built in the four-mile line and second largest, with three artillery pieces, cleared fields of fire, and felled trees called abatis pointed toward the enemy.

It’s so well-preserved today partly because it didn’t take part in the battle. Confederates abandoned it as they withdrew, a fact discovered by Union Col. William W. Averell’s cavalry. Averell’s commander, Brig. Gen. William H. Emory, thought it was too late in the day to capture the empty redoubt, missing an opportunity to flank the entire Confederate line.

Redoubt Park was dedicated on May 5, 2007 to celebrate the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg. The Confederate earthworks sat in the woods for decades until Riverside Healthcare donated 21.5 acres of land during its development for use as a public park. I’m glad this historic site is open for visitors, as it is one of the best preserved Civil War-era earthworks I’ve ever seen.

Redoubt Park is located along Quarterpath Road near GPS coordinates 37.254711, -76.684894, off US-60 (Pocahontas Trail), southeast of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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