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Cheval de frise at the Confederate Fort Mahone defenses at Siege of Petersburg

The cheval de frise (plural: chevaux de frise) was a medieval defensive anti-cavalry measure consisting of a portable frame (sometimes just a simple log) covered with many projecting long iron or wooden spikes or spears. They were principally intended as an anti-cavalry obstacle but could also be moved quickly to help block a breach in another barrier. They remained in occasional use until they were replaced by wire obstacles just after the American Civil War. During the Civil War, the Confederates used this type barrier more often than the Union forces.[1] During World War I, armies used chevaux de frise to temporarily plug gaps in barbed wire.[2] Chevaux de frise of barbed wire were used in jungle fighting on south Pacific islands during World War II.

The term is also applied to defensive works comprising a series of closely set upright stones found outside the ramparts of Iron Age hillforts in northern Europe.[3]


File:GlassCheval de Frise.JPG

Cheval de frise, according to the later use of the term, broken glass studding the top of a wall in a nineteenth-century fort

French language: Cheval de frise means "horse of the Frisians".[4][5] The Frisians, having few cavalry, relied heavily on such anti-cavalry obstacles in warfare. The term came to be used for any spiked obstacle, such as broken glass embedded in mortar on the top of a wall.


Hessian map showing the placement of cheveaux de frise in the Delaware River in 1777.

An anti-ship version was designed by Robert Erskine as a means of keeping British warships from proceeding up the Hudson River during the American Revolutionary War. A cheval-de-frise was placed between Fort Washington at northern Manhattan and Fort Lee in New Jersey in 1776. The following year construction began on another north of West Point at Pollepel Island, but it was overshadowed by completion of The Great Chain across the Hudson in 1778, which was used through 1782.

Similar devices planned by Ben Franklin were used in the Delaware River near Philadelphia, in between Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer.[6] A cheval-de-frise was retrieved from the Delaware River in Philadelphia on November 13, 2007 in excellent condition, after more than two centuries in the river.[7]

The "knife rest" or "Spanish rider" is a modern wire obstacle functionally similar to the cheval de frise, and sometimes called that.


  1. Mahan, Peter. "Chevaux-de-frise". NPS. .
  2. Thomas Boyd (1923). Through the Wheat. University of Nebraska Press, 2000. pp. 226. ISBN 0-8032-6168-3. 
  3. Timothy Darvill (2002). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-953404-3. 
  4. "Chevaux de Frise". Charleston footprints. 2011-02-24. .
  5. Friesian horse.
  6. Lossing. "Field Book of the Revolution". Roots web. .
  7. "Revolutionary War Artifact from the Depths of the Delaware River". Independence Seaport Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

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