Scene from the Confederate Overlook trail at Sailor's Creek Battlefield.
America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historic State Park
In many ways it's been one of those unknown battles of the Civil War, spliced between the sieges at Richmond and Petersburg and before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. But it was here, during Lee's retreat from those initial two, trying to escape by fleeing south to North Carolina, all while Grant's army mirrored his movements and tried to prevent that, that the first blush of this might not happen came to bear. Photo above: Hillsman House, Sailors Creek Battlefield.
- What is There Now
As the fires burned in Richmond, Confederate forces left their trenches in both Richmond and Petersburg and headed west, intending to eventually turn south toward North Carolina and meet with Johnston's Army of the Tennessee. The forces would meet at Amelia Court House, where rations would be waiting. They did not come. But Grant's army did. Trying to keep ahead of the pursuing Union army, Robert E. Lee made a steady line west, eventually reaching the dual creeks known as Sailor's. Basically, Grant's men, were there to meet them and three separate actions occurred.
The action would begin at two crossroads at opposite ends of what is now a fine State Battlefield Park, placed into being by National Park Service veteran Chris Calkins. It's still emerging, with trails and vistas in the middle of getting the land back to what it looked like in 1864. Those initial actions, at Holt's Corner to the north, and Marshall's Cross Roads to the south, soon will become a more rapid engagement in its center. Surrounding the Hillsman House, at 5:15, the general engagement begins. By its end, eight Confederate generals have been captured along with thousands of men. But the action at the Lockett Farm, on land that is preserved, but not part of the park, tells the tale even further. Bogged down by trying to cross a double bridge over at the confluence of the two creeks, the Confederates lose 1,700 more men to capture and 300 wagons. In all, the Battle of Sailor's Creek cost General Lee 7,700 men, one quarter of his remaining army..
If you make it to Sailor's Creek, you're going to find a new and very well interpreted visitor center and musuem. You can also tour the Hillsman House, on certain days, plus get a talk and tour of the structure around which much of the fighting occurred. But one suggestion that's not always noted, please continue past the Hillsman House to Holt's corner. You can listen to a Lee's Retreat recording there, then turn left for about a mile or two, to Lockett's Road. Turn left there again and soon you'll be at a wayside to Lee's Retreat and the story of the action here. Across the road, there's a stone plaque telling of the history of the home and action (it's still standing and occupied, so please don't go in their yard), but it is preserved. Continue further down that road into the hollow of Big and Little Sailor's Creek. This is where the Confederate Army got bogged down.
Sailor's Creek Battlefield Park
Visitor Center with a fine collection of exhibits. You can get a brochure of the park, too, that tells you about the various sites to visit. There are facilities and picnic tables outside.
Park Size: 341 acres.
The Walking Trails (Custis Lee and Confederate Overlook) - On both sides of the park road to the north, walking trails take you into the action. These are relatively new. Although first part of the park system in 1936, there has been a whole new rebirth to the Sailor's Creek Battlefield site since 2008 and much of it is still ongoing. Signs and markers telling you about the trail are better completed on the west side, as least in April 2015, but both will likely soon be done. These trails are very hilly and both just under one mile.
The Hillsman House - The house served as a field hospital after the battle which raged around it. Inside there are exhibits about the hospital and tours about its function in the battle are given. Ask at the Visitor Center about when. There is also a picnic grove at this location, plus a Lee's Retreat wayside.
How Much to Visit
Sailor's Creek Battlefield - Free.
High Bridge State Park - $3 parking fee
Park - Dawn to Dusk, Visitor Center 10-5 Monday-Saturday, 12-5 Sunday.
Where is It Located
The park is located on Sayler's Creek Road in Rice, Virginia. It is north Route 617 from Route 307 off Route 360. If you're coming along Route 460, then take Route 617 south.
Sailor's Creek - 38,691 in 2014 (and it deserves more).
High Bridge - 203,058
Website - Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historical State Park
Photos, History, and More Spotlights
Sailor Creek Photos
The visitor center (above) is the place to start your visit. There's orientation and plenty of exhibits about what went on here. Photo below: Off the beaten track and outside the park boundaries, the Lockett House, standing during the battle, is a must see if you venture west. Ask at the visitor center how to get there.
Once you've gone to Sailor's Creek, if you've got time, take a detour to High Bridge State Park (above) in Farmville. There, another river prevented Lee from stopping Federal pursuit. This time a failed attempt to burn it. It's a couple mile walk back and forth from the parking lot, but well worth it. Boy, that bridge is high and you can see the impassability of the river and gorge below for an army if the bridge had been burned.
High Bridge State Park
Richmond Battlefield Park
Petersburg Battlefield Park
Appomattox Court House National Historic Park
America's Best History where we take a look at the timeline of American History and the historic sites and national parks that hold that history within their lands.
Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com and its licensors.