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Friday, February 10, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Civil War blockhouses used a medieval design

In a previous Civil War Photo Friday I wrote about Union blockhouses, simple fortifications that proved effective against bushwhackers and cavalry raiders. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness includes a fictionalized account of Bloody Bill Anderson's attack on a blockhouse at Fayette, Missouri. Above is a photo of a typical Civil War blockhouse. Note that the top floor is bigger than the ground floor.

In his Medieval Mondays series, fantasy/mystery author A.J. Walker wrote about Motte-and-Bailey castles, those cheap and quick wooden forts made famous by William the Conqueror. A photo of a reconstruction of one of these castles at Saint Sylvain d'Anjou dans le Maine et Loire, France, stuck me immediately.
Same construction! A little research found that this to have been common with these 10th-12th century castles. Not all of them had this feature, and not all Civil War blockhouses did either, but it's interesting to see the similarity in design.

For the castles, this feature was called a bretasche, and apparently added structural stability, one flat wall being weaker than a staggered wall with cross supports between the floors. It would also increase the number of defenders who could use their bows (or Springfield rifled muskets) from the firing platform.

Blockhouse photo courtesy Library of Congress. Castle photo courtesy Wikipedia.


  1. That's really interesting. I wonder if that kind of architecture was passed down through the generations or they both just had a similar idea. Looking forward to your post for the origins blogfest!


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