National Battlefield Park
The Petersburg National Battlefield preserves and commemorates the 9 ½-month Siege of Petersburg from June 1864-April 1865. Petersburg’s five railroad lines, two major plank roads, and its access to the Appomattox and James Rivers made it a major transportation center for the Confederacy. From 1862-1864 the Confederates built a total of 55 batteries to defend Petersburg.
After Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s bloody repulse at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864 he decided to surprise Lee by moving the Union forces across the James River and attack Petersburg before the Army of Northern Virginia could react. In the first four days of the campaign from June 15-18, Grant lost 10,000 soldiers in a failed attempt to capture Petersburg. He did, however, cut two of the railroads servicing Petersburg and several roads leading into the city. Grant decided to besiege Petersburg, and the city and its citizens were subjected to over nine months of bombardment, fear, and loss. The Federal breakthrough of Confederate lines by the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps and severance of the Southside Railroad after the Battle of Sutherland Station on April 2, 1865, necessitated the Confederate withdrawal from Richmond and Petersburg that night. Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse was a mere seven days in the future.
The Eastern Front offers a four-mile driving tour with eight wayside exhibits:
- Stop 1- Confederate Battery 5, which was captured by Union troops on June 15, 1864.
- Stop 2- Confederate Battery 8, which was captured by United States Colored Troops (USCT).
- Stop 3- Confederate Battery 9, also captured by USCTs on June 15, 1864.
- Stop 4- Harrison Creek, which became the Confederate limit of advance after their attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865.
- Stop 5- Fort Stedman, attacked by General Robert E. Lee to relieve Union pressure on his right (western) flank.
- Stop 6- Fort Haskell, which held firm under repeated Confederate attacks after Fort Stedman fell to the Confederate troops.
- Stop 7- Fort Morton, which was the site of “the 14 gun battery” that supported the abortive Union attempt to penetrate the Confederate defenses after the explosion that began the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1865.
- Stop 8- The Crater, where Brigadier General Elliott’s South Carolinian brigade suffered scores of casualties when the gunpowder exploded beneath them. Some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place here as the Confederates eventually recaptured their front line trenches.
Source: Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior