Petersburg Siege entrenchments

Photo above, of the Confederate defenses along the Petersburg line, courtesy Library of Congress.

Petersburg Siege Defensive Lines

Civil War Petersburg 150th Anniversary

The land tells the story of battles fought, so many in fact, that they were nearly impossible to count. For nine months the Union Army prodded, probed, battled, and cut railroad lines into the city of Petersburg, knowing if Petersburg fell, Richmond would fall like a domino to a child's touch. The celebrations at Petersburg ranged all along the line, from tours at City Point where General Grant had his headquarters, Lincoln spend two weeks on the River Queen, and supplies poured in for the Union men to real time events at Fort Stedman, Jones Farm, Five Forks, and Fort Mahone. From March 1st to April 3rd, the celebrations of the events that happened at Petersburg and clicked through to Richmond brought an end to nearly a year of Grant's relentless pursuit of victory. And that victory would soon come. FYI - Additional special events will be held at Petersburg through the year. Check with the park for details.

  • At City Point within the confines of the President's ship River Queen, a council of war had been held. They discussed what to do if a surrender would come from the Confederate Army. It was decided that generosity was in order. Of course, the war had not yet been won. There would be battles along the lines and breakthroughs to enact. But eventually, General Grant would command those breakthroughs at Ft. Mahone, Ft. Gregg, and elsewhere. They followed a major victory at Five Forks and railroad lines cut in the western front, almost forcing General Lee out. For visitors of these celebrations, they mentioned their favorite real-time tours, held at two sites, which commanded their attention; by the Park Service at Fort Fisher, at 5:30 a.m. on April 2, and the program at Pamplin Historical Park. But these were but two of the events that led to victory and showed the public one hundred and fifty years later what this long arduous campaign would be about. It would be a week before the first part of this story could see whether it held applicable terms, waiting for a coda to battles that the Confederate Army was still determined to win or at least escape to North Carolina and meet with the rest of their corps. Perhaps then, they could pursue peace instead of surrender. Domino One, however, had fallen. Petersburg was gone. Richmond would come soon.

    How soon would Richmond come? Within one day it would be evacuated, burning, and an influx of blue would replace the gray. It would scarcely past that day that the emancipation proclamation would finally be able to be enforced in the south.

  • Petersburg Then

    City Point - City Point was eight miles away and the epicenter of General U.S. Grant's headquarters operation. He was camped around the Eppes house and plantation. On the river were wharfs and ships supplying the 100,000 men who would be part of this siege with everything from guns to food to medical attention. There was drama there as well, not just general supply detail. It came in the form of sabotage by a Confederate spy, and meetings with a President.

    The Siege Defenses - Unlike the beginning of the war when major day or several day battles took place, predominantly after movement, the siege of Petersburg produced a systematic, almost chess like puzzle as Lee tried to defend his supply lines to Richmond and Grant tried to cut them. This brought on multiple battles and allowed both armies to create an amazing amoung of defensive breastworks (see photos above for 1865 and current views).

    City Point

    Appomattox Plantation - Yes, that was it's name, but don't get confused with the eventual location of Lee's surrender in Mr. McLean's house. This plantation was the name of the Eppes home. You can visit that today, with tours. Don't expect the wharfs to exist; they don't. However, Grant's cabin is there.

    The Defensive Line - While there are entrenchments and forts everywhere, some of the best examples of what many would have looked like are located at Stop 3 of the Eastern Front driving tour and within the private Pamplin Historical Park.

  • Petersburg

    1. Yes, a tour of a house. The Eppes plantation house at City Point (photo below) saw so much history amongst the bustle there in 1864 and 1865, the walls could do the tour. Luckily, the rangers at Petersburg are a wealth of knowledge about what went on, predominantly, just outside those walls. No, as stated above, the wharfs aren't there, and there's no hustle and bustle. In fact, it's kinda quiet. Just right for a reflective moment when you can reach back in time and create your own 1865 scene. Though most probably won't do it, we liked the walk along the riverbank where the wharfs had been. It's a steep way down from the house and might be better reached by going to the public park down the street.

    2. Tour stop #3 Eastern Front. Now this is what Petersburg is all about. Steep walls, pointy sticks, and an real understanding of how difficult it would be to overrun. Outside all the walks and talks, this is likely the location where you'll understand just what went on here.

    3. The Crater. Yes, those of us who are history oriented and read accounts of the Crater are thinking huge. It's not. Smaller today than during it's battle, for certain, but amazing none the less. Why amazing? Walk the path down the hill to the mine shaft dug by the Pennsylvania soldiers for the Union. First of all, how did they keep the element of surprise, because despite the difficulty to see the crest of the hill from there, it's not that far. It's one of those shake your head moments.

Photos of the Week and Park