Finding Fort Owen

by Fred Ray on July 10, 2010 · 4 comments

Believe it or not there are still “lost” Civil War forts that occasionally come to light. One such was Fort Owen, which played a brief but pivotal role in the events of April 2, 1865 at Petersburg. Named after Louisiana artillery officer Col. William Miller Owen, the fort had a short life, being constructed in a hurry on March 25-26 on the main Confederate line near Battery 45 just south of Fort Gregg after a dam washed out, leaving that portion of the line minus its water obstacle.

Because of the swampy ground in the vicinity, the right of the Union Sixth Corps attack passed slightly to the west it on the morning of April 2, but Union light forces soon turned east and began probing the fort, which like the rest of the line was lightly held at the time. Union skimishers even took Owen briefly, capturing the garrison and some guns. The Confederates soon recaptured the fort (and the two guns) before the Yankees could bring up their main forces, which allowed them for a time to put in flanking fire on the bluecoats attacking Fort Gregg some 700 yards to the north. For a time it formed the southwest corner of the remaining Southern line. Later that afternoon the fort was abandoned and quickly forgotten, sliding into the obscurity that covers it today.

When I was writing the section on the Petersburg breakthrough in my sharpshooter book, I kept coming across references to Fort Owen, but it was not marked on any map I could find. Will Greene, whose Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion is considered the best work on the subject, mentioned it only in passing. Knowing that fellow author John Fox was working on a book on the battle of Fort Gregg (Confederate Alamo, which I will review shortly), I asked him about Fort Owen.

“Never heard of it”

Intrigued by the mystery, John did some searching while walking the ground at forts Gregg and Whitworth, and stumbled onto Fort Owen right where it should have been—a short walk south of Gregg. Amazingly, although the entire Petersburg area has been greatly disturbed, forts Gregg, Whitworth, and Owen still survive.

As you can see, it’s still in pretty good shape for a fort that old. You are looking northeast. This is on the outer defense line and the water is in the old moat, Confederates to the left and Yankees to the right. If you made a half turn to the left and there were no trees, you could see Fort Gregg.

The fort appears to be on CSX railroad land, and naturally this is something that needs preserving.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Brendan Hamilton July 11, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Great find, Fred. I spent a couple hours at Fort Gregg a few years ago and was really struck by how haunting (and forgotten) the place felt. I’d also never heard of Fort Owen–thanks for rediscovering it.

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Michael C. Hardy July 12, 2010 at 8:25 am

Great post Fred – however, given that a basketball court, picnic shelter, and restroom facilities now occupy Fort Witworth, am now sure it should be considered “surviving” to any great extent, at least not compared to Fort Gregg.

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John Fox July 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

It is sad that the state of Virginia has allowed recreation facilites to be built inside the walls of historic Fort Whitworth. At least Fort Gregg is on NPS property and I am hoping with the April release of “The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Peterburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865” that the NPS will provide better signage and interpretation of the spot.

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tony short July 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Levi Short was at April 2 at Fort Gregg. My great-grandfather was at 100 NY . Levi’s dad was a chemist who was in the famous so-called SHORT’s Greek Fire and tried thru Mr. Lincoln’s help to a new weapon. Well. the attempt at Charleston 1863 really did not work. Levi sr died at Phila. Pa Nov. 29 1863. Levi jr died 1922 at Buffalo NY.

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