Plate 83. Quarters of Men in Fort Sedgwick, Generally Known as Fort Hell

Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, text and positive by Alexander Gardner.
This view exhibits the bomb-proof quarters occupied by both officers and men in Fort Sedgwick. Excavations were made in the ground, and covered first with heavy pieces of timber, over which a layer of earth, of several feet in thickness, is thrown, suffcient [sic] to resist the penetration and explosion of any shell that might fall upon them. The interior of these habitations were made as comfortable as possible, according to the taste of the proprietor. Each had its fire-place, and, in the absence of brick and stone, sticks of wood and barrels were used to build the chimneys, being well plastered in the interior by mud to prevent them from taking fire. In many works, regular bomb-proof quarters were constructed. The scene presents a singular and grotesque appearance – to be appreciated it must be seen; no description will prove adequate. Few know the hardships and discomforts through which soldiers have to pass, and still they appear happy and contented. Fort Sedgwick is one of the most advanced points of the United States lines, standing boldly forward, and constantly inviting attack. The work is a very irregular one, and is thrown across the Jerusalem Plank Road, one of the most important thoroughfares leading out of Petersburg. It is a place of very great interest, on account of its exposed and prominent position for so long a period. Scarcely a day passed without witnessing a heavy artillery duel, and each hour of those many long and weary months, as two brave armies lay opposite to each other, could be heard the shrill, sharp report of some leaden messenger of death. It was here, as elsewhere, that only the reckless would dare expose the slightest part of the person even for a second, and well does this noted spot deserve the not very euphonious name to ears polite, as given by the soldiers, of "Fort Hell."
Nearly opposite to this work is Fort Mahone, known by the men as "Fort Damnation." The distance between the main lines here is about fifteen hundred feet, and between the pickets two hundred, the latter almost as strong as the former. On the morning of the 2d of April, 1865, this ground became consecrated and holy to the memory of the brave soldiers who fell in that glorious assault upon the opposing batteries, and to those who so courageously defended their post of honor – it was strewn with the dead and dying.
Currently not on view
Object Name
albumen photograph
date made
Gardner, Alexander
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 9 in; 17.78 cm x 22.86 cm
place made
United States: Virginia, Petersburg
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Gardner's Sketchbook
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Gardner's Sketchbook
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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