Friday, November 9, 2012

Petersburg National Battlefield

I had the day off today, and decided to take a hike.  Originally, I was going to head to a state park about 2.5 hours away, and then I just thought how nice it would be to not drive that far.  I also was thinking about Veterans' Day this weekend, and decided to honor our veterans in my own way by hiking around Petersburg National Battlefield.  To all of you veterans out there (I am not a vet but my older brother is) - Happy Veterans' Day, and thank you for your service to the US of A!

Petersburg, Virginia was the longest siege in American history, lasting about nine and half months from June, 1864 to April 2, 1865.  I cannot even imagine the suffering involved in this siege warfare, which was critical to bringing our great Civil War to an end.  Petersburg was crucial to Richmond's few remaining supply routes because it was a major southern railway junction.  Grant knew that if he could take Petersburg, Richmond would fall and Lee's army would be unsupported and without supplies.  It took a long time, with several major battles and 10's of thousands of casualties, but eventually the inevitable happened and Lee had to abandon his lines and flee towards his army's surrender one week later at Appomattox Courthouse.  As I walked the now peaceful and even beautiful grounds, I thought of the veterans - now long gone - of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia that faced each other here in deadly earnest 148 years ago.  I honor the vets of both armies, because although I do not agree with their cause, the Confederate soldiers were also Americans who fought and suffered for what they believe in.  May they all rest in peace.

My walk was about 7.5 miles long, and was pretty easy - no major uphills or downhills, and the path was smooth and level for the most part.  I really enjoyed myself, with my little hike through mostly beautiful forests with a historical twist.  Here is a map of where I walked, starting and ending at the star, and heading in the direction of the arrows - counter clockwise.

I saw a little wildlife on the hike - plenty of gray squirrels, a red-bellied woodpecker, a turkey vulture, and a rarely seen animal that I will blog separately later about in my "What am I?" series.  I've indicated four historic sites with little American flags.

Is this the railway to nowhere?  No, it is the only surviving portion of the railway line from City Point to the Union lines at Petersburg.  Ships would steam up the James River to the huge Federal supply depot and trains would deliver the supplies to the troops.  50,000 tons of supplies were so delivered.  By contrast, the Confederate soldiers were extremely under supplied and malnourished.
At the time of the battle, this would have looked like moonscape, with fortifications, trenches, and artillery everywhere.  Very few trees would have stood here.  Now, most of where I walked was lovely forest.

Here is a monument to the Maine First Heavy Artillery.  On June 18, 1864, they made an ill-advised attack on strong Confederate lines and were slaughtered.  In 10 minutes, 600 men from Maine fell here - an average of one per second!
Thank God, there is peace and union between Maine and Virginia now!  As a former Maine resident, and a current Virginia resident, and as an American, I am very grateful for that.
The seal of the Great State of Maine has a farmer (left) and a sailor, a moose and a pine tree, the Latin word "Dirigo" ("I Lead"), and a star - maybe the North Star?
The guns at Fort Stedman are silent now.  This was the site of Robert E. Lee's last offensive engagement, as Confederate troops attacked and briefly captured this fort in late March, 1865.  Two weeks later, Lee's once great army no longer existed.
These peaceful woods are in the 300 meters between Fort Stedman (a Union position) and Colquitt's Salient (a Confederate fortification that is behind my position here).  It was this fortification that the First Maine attacked on June in 1864.
This is Gracie's Salient, another Confederate fortification of the day.
Unlike the 20th and 21st century wars, in the Civil War, civilians were rarely targeted.  But if one was unlucky enough to have one's home in the midst of two warring armies, the results were predictable.  The Taylor family lost their home and farm buildings near the start of the Petersburg siege.  It must have been devastating for them.

From time to time, the path through the woods passed by old trenches and other fortifications, still preserved despite 150 years of weather and erosion (and forest growth).  This is a good example of a trench line.  The siege at Petersburg was a harbinger of the awful trench warfare in World War I, just 50 years in the future.


  1. You take the most interesting walk and I so enjoy reading about them.
    Beautiful pictures too.

  2. Thanks - I am glad that you enjoyed this. It was a very fun walk, with interesting things to see.