Age-old trees stand like sentries at Battery Heights, a Civil War fortification in the City of Alexandria. Although no battle took place here, this site links contemporary Alexandria to a time when communities near the U.S. capital stood at the ready for attack.
These nearly three acres of green space contain the remains of an earthen battery and rifle trench, about 1,000 feet from the site of Fort Williams, one of four forts built for federal troops in Alexandria The fortifications at Battery Heights were constructed in 1863, as part of a line of earthworks that extended to the fort. Had there been an assault, troops and a field piece would have been moved into position here. A 2001 archaeological survey explained, “Enemy troops entering the ravine below would have been raked by crossfire from this battery and a similar fortified hill to the northwest.” The battery looms about 30 feet above the ravine floor, with the rifle trench positioned below it. The fortifications curve, crescent-shaped, 140 feet long and about 50 feet wide.
In 2003, the Battery Heights Homeowners Association donated an easement on this property to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, to preserve Battery Heights for all time.
The easement protects natural as well as cultural resources for the benefit of local residents: a spring, wetlands, a stream, and a stand of forest where white oaks, tulip trees, American beeches, Mayapples, and spicebush grow. Silently, still standing guard.
This piece, written by NVCT, appeared in For the Love of the Land: 100 Conservation Stories from Across Virginia, published by the Piedmont Environmental Council