Cannon Branch Earthwork Fort, Manassas, Virginia

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By John Cowgill

Many of us drive past the Cannon Branch Earthwork Fort on either Virginia Route 234 or on Gateway Boulevard, having no idea that it is nearby.

It does not appear to be a fortress. Since it is an ‘earthen’ fort, the fort walls that were created by piling on dirt from the grounds around it to create the walls; they have eroded over the years. Earthen forts were easy to create because they did not require stones or bricks to create walls, and construction of earthen forts could be done quickly.

There is little known history about the fort itself, but its name comes from a nearby stream. It was one of many earthen forts built around Manassas, but one of the few not overcome by development. It was built by the Union Army during the Civil War to protect the nearby Orange and Alexandria Railroad line, which supplied Union troops during the war. (The line is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway today.)

The Cannon Branch Earthwork Fort is one of many local Civil War sites. It is located in western Prince William County, on Gateway Boulevard at the intersection with Carolina Drive. A paved walkway enters the fort, making it easily accessible for wheelchairs. The site is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year, and parking is available.

John Cowgill ( loves to visit historic places to include lesser known sites. He loves taking road trips, and he loves railroads. You can also follow him on Facebook at ‘John Cowgill: Photographic Journeys’ and John Cowgill: DC Railroad Examiner. You can also check out ‘John Cowgill: Stories of the Railroad’ at


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