How to Build a Civil War-Style Fence

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Modern barbed wire fences have replaced civil war style fences in many places.
Modern barbed wire fences have replaced civil war style fences in many places. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

A split-rail fence is commonly associated with the Civil War era. Images of famous Civil War battles often contain images that show split-rail fences in the background. Split-rail fences are still used today, in part because of their simple construction. However, the method of constructing a split rail fence today is different than during the Civil War era. Modern construction requires fewer materials to span greater distances. Before beginning to build a Civil War-style fence, it helps to view images of the era and modern style.

Things You'll Need

  • Split rails
  • Measuring tape

Lay down one split rail on the ground for your first section of fence. Then, at the end of that split rail, lay on top of it the split rail for your next section of fence, overlapping it by about a foot. Make sure that you place the second split rail at an angle to the first split rail.

Interlace every split rail until the first two sections are as high as you want them. Place two split rails standing vertical to the fence right where the two sections intersect. Put a rail on either side and criss-cross them at the top. This provides stability for that intersection of fence and prevents it from coming apart.

Move down to the end of the second section of fence and start your third section. Remember to angle it opposite the angle of the second section. Your fence will have a wide, V-shaped pattern that reverses itself with every two sections of fence line. This takes more materials than constructing a modern fence, but it’s how fences were built at that time. The expense of nails and the abundance of wood available made it cheaper and easier to construct the interlaced Civil War style.

Lift the bottom split rail of the second section and place the first split rail of your third section underneath it, overlapping it by about a foot. Continue to interlace split rails in this fashion until the fence is as high as the first two sections.

Move to the end of the third section and repeat the above step, ensuring you continue the wide, V-shaped angle. When done, put in the two vertical support rails and move to the end of the section, repeating the above steps until the fence line is complete.

References

  • “Fences: Authentic Details for Design and Restoration;” Peter Joel Harrison; Oct. 1998
  • “The Fence Bible;” Jeff Beneke; Mar. 2005
  • “Wooden Fences;” George Nash and James P. Blair; Mar. 1999
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