Questions about a type of wood fencing

I recently saw a photograph of “The Bloody Lane” at the Antietam National Battlefield, and was amazed at the fencing on either side of it. Instead of running in a straight line, it zigzagged back and forth at a deep angle. Building it that way must at least triple the amount of ‘fencing’ to the length the fence extends.

In addition, unlike the post and rail type fencing I most often see, this had what looked like four or five layers of rails stacked up, woven together at each bend where one section joins the next. It’s hard to describe what I mean – well, sort of the way logs interlace at the corners of log cabins. Again, this must raise the amount of wood and labor needed by at least a factor of three.

Finally, each ‘zig’ has additional posts extending outward, butresses I guess.

The whole thing looks like an excercise in overkill to my eye, but I expect people in the past build things the way they did for a reason, just as we do today – I’m just wondering what that reason would have been. What kind of animal was a fence like that needed to keep in, or out?

Oh…here, I googled and found a picture, though it isn’t as good as the one I saw in the Boston Globe.

I think they were made that way because they don’t require fasteners.

The zig-zag pattern is part of the ‘bracing’ so that the fence basically supports itself. The Natchez Trace Parkway has a lot of this type fencing.


It reminds me of the stone walls around fields in a lot of rocky parts of the world: they were not really built as barriers, more as places to stack rocks. And it strikes me that if you are clearing forest for your fields, and have no ready export market for timber, and if you have only an axe and adze, so cutting mortises and tenons for a post-and-rail fence and burning the excess timber is out of the question, you might be happy to build a fence in a way that uses a lot of timber.


Yes, NinetyWit is correct.

This type of fence requires a lot more wood, but no nails.

At that time, nails were extremely expensive, and had to be hand-made by a blacksmith. But wood was very cheap (just chop down another tree, which you probably had to do anyway, to clear the land).

So substituting wood for nails was economically sensible.

Besides not using nails, it doesn’t dig post holes. This is the strudiest and most economical way to construct a fence simply through stacking of timber, and therefore, probably the fastest way.

It’s economy also comes from the fact that by alternating the stacking, you get spaced slats, rather than a solid wall.

The sturdiness comes from the way you get a piece of paper to stand on end – you fold it into an accordian fan. If troops, a stampede, or a hurricane comes through, this zigzaggy fence will more likely remain mostly intact compared to ones straight across.


Ziggy is the most economical way to draw a cartoon without being funny.