The Breakthrough Trail
— Pamplin Historical Park —
Brigadier General Samuel McGowan, a 43-year-old lawyer and politician from Abbeville, South Carolina, commanded the troops responsible for maintaining these fortifications from October 1864 through March 1865. McGowan's Brigade consisted of five South Carolina regiments numbering about 1,400 men during the time they spent here.
Although these original fortifications have eroded relatively little since 1865, their appearance has changed significantly. Most of the fieldworks around Petersburg contained large amounts of wood for strength and durability. The soldiers erected a row of vertical logs called a "revetment" and then began digging a ditch or moat about twelve feet in front of it. They placed the dirt from the excavation against the revetment to form an embankment, or "parapet." A firing step, or "banquette," behind the revetment allowed riflemen to step up behind the fortification and place barrels of their rifles over the "superior slope," or top of the parapet. McGowan's men worked on these fortifications continually, finding new ways to improve them, and repairing damage caused by the elements. Every brigade along General Lee's line had similar responsibility for the works protecting their individual fronts. Therefore, the Confederate line did not have a strictly uniform appearance along its length. The works reflected the construction techniques, craftsmanship, and diligence of the particular soldier defending them.
"These works were constructed according to rule - with a ditch in front of six feet depth and eight feet width, whence all the earth for the embankment was thrown; with an embankment of six feet height, twelve foot base, and four foot terreption; with a strong nest revetment, and banquette tread. These works should conceal troops marching behind them, would afford perfect protection from small arms and ordinary field artillery fire, and they could scarcely be stormed, on account of the ditch and the brush abatis in front. This was hard work, for we had to walk at least two miles over ground, almost always either shoe-deep in mud or frozen to the depth of a foot, and at other times running streams or water."
- Lt. James Fitz James Caldwell, McGowan's Brigade