Revolutionary Rhode Island
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Blog Post by Gloria Schmidt
Fort Building: Fascines and Gabions
How did they build the steep walls of Butts Hill Fort? Noted military historian John Robertson was our guest on a tour of the fort last Saturday and we asked him that question. Robertson told us that “fascines” were used and he shared the benefits of using that material. Besides being a building structure, the fascines cushioned the blows of incoming cannon balls and spread out the impact.
Robertson suggested that when we have the fort ready for interpretation, we should have an example of fascines on display. They are bundles of sticks that are bound together. Bundles are five to twelve feet in length and their ends are trimmed square. These bundles are made ahead of time so they will be ready to frame the fort walls.
Some of the local brush can be used to make gabions, a basket like structure. Sticks are driven into the soil as a frame for a bottomless basket. Fresh cut brush is interwoven around the sticks (stakes). The gabions are arranged in rows and filled with dirt. The fascines are laid on the inside and outside of the dirt. Stakes anchor the structure and it is covered with sod or dirt.
This is backbreaking work and it was made more difficult because wood was scarce. Orderly reports from the Massachusetts militias that were aiding the French in fort construction recorded the constant need to cut wood. Some of that would have been for cooking, but pliable brush and other green wood could have been used for fascines and gabions.
For more information:
From “Castlebuilders, or how Fort Barton came to be” by William Drohan on the Tiverton Historical Society website.
The Revolutionary Soldier 1775-1783 by C. Keith Wilbur. Globe Pequot Press.