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Chapter 24 - Petersburg & Petersburg National Battlefield

The Petersburg skyline on the right looked, for the most part, remarkably the same as it did during the Civil War.

 

Before the war, the future of Petersburg was bright as the second largest city in Virginia and the seventh-largest city in the South.

 

Petersburg became more of a victim of time rather than a victim of war. Grant’s bombardment of the city did minimal damage, and the economy recovered after the war.

 

About a half-mile farther south, they came to a commercial intersection where a statue stood at the foot of the Merchant’s Tire & Auto parking lot. A likeness of Colonel George W. Gowen of the 48th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers was erected by the citizens of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. It was a rare statue of a northern Civil War soldier in the South.

 

A mile down the road, Carter and Wendell found their destination and turned in at a tin sign shaped like a fireplace, outlined in busted white neon, proclaiming King's famous BAR ● B ● Q Number 2.

 

They passed the one-way exit gate of the Petersburg National Battlefield.

 

He quickly circled the visitor center parking lot to start the tour drive through one of America’s most significant Civil War battlefields.

 

During the war, Petersburg became Richmond’s lifeline. Its railroads connected the capital of the Confederacy to the rest of the South. Grant couldn’t capture Richmond, but he could cut the capital off from its supply center.

 

To execute this stranglehold, Grant laid siege to Petersburg. Lee held the line, and the misery of modern trench warfare was born.

 

The Flood brothers drove along the siege line past Fort Stedman, where Lee led his last offensive, checked by Grant before checkmated at Appomattox Court House.

 

Beyond the earthen fort, at the beginning of the nine-month Siege of Petersburg, the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery took the heaviest regimental loss in a single action during the war, losing over 70 percent of its men in ten minutes.

 

The brothers rode through the rolling countryside, with barn swallows swooping in the air and bluebirds sitting on cannons, until they reached the last stop on the battlefield drive.

 

Where they found Garnett leaning over a split-rail fence, holding a brown bag and looking into a large, grassed-over hole in the ground. . . . The three men watched over the pit, greatly reduced in size by man and erosion over the years. This was the Crater.

 

A 511-foot tunnel from the Union defense line was dug to this spot by a regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners. The miners placed 320 kegs containing 8,000 pounds of gunpowder directly underneath the Rebel trenches. Barely before sunrise on July 30, 1864, the powder was ignited, producing a mushroom cloud and a 170-foot gap in the Confederate line.

 

Instead of Union troops moving around the breach, they marched into the freshly created 30-foot deep hole for what they thought was a ready-made fortress, but in reality was a deathtrap. Some of those Union troops were black, the first black troops to be deployed in Virginia for a major engagement. The southerners were outraged that the Negro was used against them in this fashion and shot the Union soldiers in the Crater like fish in a barrel.

Old Towne Petersburg

Petersburg National Battlefield