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The forts on the south side of the Potomac.

The forts on the south side of the Potomac, grouped immediately about the Aqueduct Bridge, were Forts Bennett, C. F. Smith, Strong, Morton, Woodbury, and Corcoran. The latter was a tete-du-pont, or defense of a bridge, covering the Virginia end of the Aqueduct Bridge. It was on a slight plateau above the river, but was itself commanded by higher ground around Arlington Heights. In the two center photographs cannoneers are loading big guns in Forts Corcoran and Woodbury. These are both cast-iron muzzle-loading 32-pounder guns, mounted on wooden carriages with front pintles. Technically, the upper part of the mount is the carriage, and the lower part, running on the traverse wheels, is the chassis. The front pintle allowed the gun to rotate through an arc of 180 degrees. An interesting aspect of the loading of the big gun in Fort Corcoran is the officer holding his thumb over the vent. This was to prevent the influx of oxygen while the charge was being rammed home. After the gun was heated by several discharges, it was possible to fire it merely by removing the thumb from the vent. Woe to the man handling the rammer if the officer inadvertently removed his thumb before the charge was rammed home! The premature discharge followsing would blow him into atoms, that is, if he should be thoughtless enough to expose his body before the muzzle of the cannon. Many distressing accidents occur in this way, both in peace and war, where amateurs handle the guns. The well-trained artillerist stands aside from the muzzle when ramming home the charge. Fort Corcoran was constructed to defend this important bridge from assault on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Fort Strong was originally Fort De Kalb and with Forts Corcoran, Bennett and Woodbury constituted the defense of the bridge at the time the capital was threatened by the Confederates after Lee's defeat of General Pope's army in August, 1862.

Union arch of the Washington aqueduct: guarding the aqueduct — forts at an upper Potomac approach to Washington

Loading 32-Pounders in Corcoran and Woodbury

Down the Potomac from Union arch


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