PARKERSBURG - A promontory atop a ridgeline overlooking the Baltimore & Ohio rail line and Little Kanawha and Ohio rivers, Fort Boreman Hill's elevation and location provided a strategic vantage point for a Civil War fort.
The B&O at that time was the most important east-west rail line linking the Atlantic coast with the American interior, and so was of vital importance for the safe shipment of military supplies, and troop transport.
At the beginning of the war, the rail line was the most important route through West Virginia, running from Washington D.C. and Baltimore through Maryland entering West Virginia at Harpers Ferry and continuing on to Wheeling and Parkersburg. It was the only railroad connecting Washington, D.C., to Cincinnati and St. Louis.
"There were concerns primarily over control of the railroad, which was such a big asset to both sides during the war, but the Little Kanawha and Ohio Rivers were also important, the connection for the boats, shipping of timber supplies and transport for troops and other river travel," said Bob Tebay, former Wood County commissioner and co-chairman of the Fort Boreman Park advisory board. Tebay noted the earthen fort on the hill was enough to afford the protection the soldiers needed to keep a watchful on the comings and goings below.
Before and during the first weeks of the war the railroad remained neutral. When Maryland remained in the Union, the railroad sought protection from Federal troops as the route now passed through distinctly rebel territory especially in the eastern counties of western Virginia. The railroad was priceless to both the north and south because it allowed easy access to the other's territory.
On May 28, 1861 Confederate troops captured more than 100 miles of the main line between Point of Rocks and Cumberland, Maryland. Tracks between Grafton and Parkersburg, both in Virginia at that point, were also destroyed by Confederate troops. After the Confederate attacks on the railroad, rail company president John Garrett, a native Virginian, fully supported the federal government and was willing to pay for the repairs to the railroad, but he asked for protection.
Col. George Thom, aide-de-camp was ordered to go to Baltimore and Major General Robert C. Schenck to examine the railroad and branches to the Ohio river and designate positions for blockhouses.
Although log quarters were reportedly constructed on the hill initially, construction of the actual earthen fort was formally ordered in 1863. The hill at that time was known as Mount Logan and was owned by Jonathan B. Beckwith, "a gentleman of doubtful loyalty to the union," according to reports from the time. The land was confiscated and Co. A of the 11th West Virginia Infantry began construction of the fortification.
While the fort played a strategic role during the war, records show cannons at the fort were not used in military action, but only to denote special occasions such as the creation of West Virginia as a state, and to honor visiting dignitaries.
"While stationed at Fort Boreman, the soldiers saw no military action during the war. There was one occasion, according to reports, where the cannon was being fired to salute a dignitary coming down the Ohio River. It apparently misfired, blew the cannon up, killing one man and injuring a couple others," said Jim Miracle, with Carlin's Battery Civil War reenactors.
"They spent a lot of their time clearing the trees, clearing a line of sight for firing and the trenches. They also constructed some shacks with available materials so they could get in out of the weather. But the rocks and elevation provided a good vantage point," Tebay said.
According to H.E. Matheny, in his book Wood County, West Virginia In Civil War Times, "plans called for two trenches about four feet deep in a semi-circle around the hill alternating directions in a zig-zag. Large logs were placed on the outer wall, two high and two abreast. Stone and earth were packed between the logs, leaving portholes for firing."
Col. Daniel Frost of the 11th West Virginia Infantry Co. A, assumed command of the fort on Aug. 21, 1863. In September 1864, Capt. John Carlin received orders to take command of the Parkersburg fortification post. The fort was garrisoned in 1864 by a detachment of Battery D (1st West Virginia Light Artillery) which wintered in the quarters prepared for them by the 11th West Virginia Infantry Battery H of the First West Virginia arrived in December of that year. By the end of the war the fort was garrisoned by the 32nd New York Independent Battery.
Government reports note 136 Union soldiers garrisoned at the fort until the autumn of 1865 to protect the rail line.
Located just off U.S. 50, Fort Boreman Hill Historic Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now part of the West Virginia Civil War Trail.