Richmond Airport Civil War Fortifications – Richmond, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Richmond Airport Civil War Fortifications

The airport was once a Civil War battleground, and the earthwork defenses can still be seen today. 

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Many international airports have interesting histories, but only the one in Richmond can claim fame to being built on a series of Civil War earthwork fortifications, some of which survive to this day.

For most of the American Civil War, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy was established in February 1861, but never recognized by any other government or nation. Its constitution legalized and protected slavery. Richmond lay at the industrial center of the South, and served as a critical source of weapons and supplies for the seceding states.

The Virginia capital was surrounded by a series of three expanding rings of earthwork fortifications: earthen berms and ditches that were defended by infantry and artillery. These earthworks were designed to allow the Confederate troops to hold off numerically superior Union forces.

The Richmond earthworks saw several pitched battles, and were the site of one of the first uses of aviation in combat, when Civil War aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe ascended in a balloon during the battle of Seven Pines in 1862 to observe these very fortifications for weaknesses.

You can still see traces of the Richmond defenses today, over 150 years after the end of the war. They were rediscovered when the Richmond International Airport access road was laid, and the city placed several markers and cannons to mark the locations. Now, these cannons guard the city, pointing out across what was formerly battleground, and now airport runways.

Know Before You Go

It may be possible to park on the shoulder of the road (Airport Drive) at points to view the fortifications, but expect possible attention as this is immediately next to the Richmond Airport.

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