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PETERB_080120_007.JPG: Battery 5 Trail:
On the ground before you, the first major attacks against Petersburg occurred. This bloodletting marked the beginning of nine months of siege.
This 0.6-mile trail will take you through Battery 5 of the Confederate Dimmock Line, captured by the Federals on June 15, 1864. Along the way, you will also see the position of the famous Union mortar, the "Dictator".
The walk includes a set of stairs and a moderate (10%) slope. Mobility-impaired visitors can reach the position of the "Dictator" by taking the right fork of the trail.
For almost three months in 1864, the "Dictator", a 13-inch seacoast mortar, fired into the city of Petersburg.
PETERB_080120_008.JPG: Battery 5 of the Dimmock Line
PETERB_080120_009.JPG: Uprooted By War:
The gentle depression in front of you is the only vestige of the Josiah Jordan House. The house was dismantled by Union troops during the siege of Petersburg.
War came to the Jordan farm in late 1862, when Confederate engineer Charles Dimmock laid out ten miles of defenses to protect Petersburg. Battery 5 of the "Dimmock Line" stood only yards from the Jordan House.
When Union and Confederate armies swarmed over this area in 1864, dozens of farmers like Jordan were uprooted, their homes damaged or destroyed, their woodlots cut, and their fields ravaged. The landscape still bears the scars.
"Every tree, stump and fence has disappeared... What was once verdant is now a wasteland of dust and dirt." -- John Haley, 17th Maine Infantry, January 20, 1865
The ruins of Edge Hill, five miles west of here, symbolized the fate of many Petersburg-area homes. It was the home of William Turnbull and served as Lee's last headquarters during the campaign.
PETERB_080120_015.JPG: Location of the Josiah Jordan House
PETERB_080120_016.JPG: Artillery at Petersburg
"The campaign became quite scientific, so that after the first few weeks, we learned to tell by the sound the nature of every missile that passed over us, and knew which ones to dodge. The mortar shells had the most terror for us. The ordinary field-pieces or siege-guns that threw shells directly through the air did not disturb us much, as we lay behind our breastworks."
-- Theodore Gerrish, 20th Maine Infantry
In front of you are just some of the types of cannon used in the Civil War. Some are bronze, some iron. Some are rifled - they fired conical shells. Others are smoothbore - they fired the traditional cannonball. Some had a range of nearly two miles (one could fire more than five miles); others could throw a shell only 1,000 yards.
The projectiles fired by these cannon ranged in weight from six to 65 pounds.
Ranges given are typical, not maximum (one mile = 1,760 yards)
(1) Union 12-pounder Napoleon, bronze. Range 1,200 yds.
(2) Confederate 12-pounder Napoleon, bronze. Range 1,200 yards.
(3) Confederate 12-pounder field howitzer, iron. Range 1,000 yds.
(4) Austrian 6-pounder field gun, bronze. Range 1,000 yds.
(5) Union 12-pounder howitzer, bronze. Range 1,070 yds.
(6) Union 24-pounder Dahlgren boat howitzer, bronze. Range 1,300 yds.
(7) Union 24-pounder howitzer, bronze. Range 1,270 yds. Note battle damage.
(8) Union 32-pdr howitzer, bronze. Range 1,500 yds.
(9) Union 6-pdr (2.6") Wiard, iron. Range 1,000 yds.
(10) Confederate 3" rifle, bronze. Range 2,000 yds. Note battle damage.
(11) Union 14-pounder James rifle, bronze. Range 2,000 yds.
(12) Confederate 3" rifle, iron. Range 3,000 yds.
(13) Union 3" ordnance rifle, iron. Range 2,800 yds.
(14) Union 10-pounder Parrott rifle, iron. Range 3,200 yds.
(15) British 12-pounder muzzleloading Whitworth rifle, iron. Range 8000 yds.
(16) British 12-pounder breechloading Whitworth rifle, iron. Range 10,000 yds.
(17) Union 30-pounder Parrott Rifle, iron. Range 6,000 yds.
(18) Union 8" siege & garrison howitzer, iron. Range 2,200 yds.
(19) Union Navy 32-pounder, iron. Range 1,700 yds.
(20) Union 8" siege & garrison howitzer, iron. Range 2,200 yds.
PETERB_080120_018.JPG: Artillery at Petersburg. See the previous sign.
PETERB_080120_020.JPG: Still Battery 5
PETERB_080120_025.JPG: Battery 5 of the Dimmock Line:
In 1862 -- two years before the first Federals appeared at the city's gates -- Confederate Captain Charles Dimmock oversaw the construction of a ten-mile line of defensive works ringing Petersburg. In front of you is Battery 5, one of the largest of the fifty-five artillery positions in the Dimmock Line.
Most of the works you see at Battery 5 were built by slaves. The parapet to your left was added by the Federals after the battle here on June 15, 1864.
On June 15, 1864, more than 30,000 Union troops marched from the east toward the Dimmock Line. Only 2,300 Confederates stood between the Federals and Petersburg.
PETERB_080120_034.JPG: Opportunity Lost:
"At that hour, Petersburg was clearly at the mercy of the Federal commander, who had all but captured it."
-- Gen. PGT Beauregard, CSA, Confederate Commander, June 15, 1864
"Deeming that I held important points of the enemy's line of works, I thought it prudent to make no further advance."
-- Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith, USA, Union Commander, June 15, 1865
At 7pm on June 14, 1864, the boom of Union cannons to the east foreshadowed a Union attack on the Dimmock Line. Minutes later, soldiers of the Union Eighteenth Corps broke through the undermanned Confederate line and swarmed over the woods here at Battery 5. In two hours, the Federals captured 1.5 miles of Petersburg's defenses.
Though few Confederates stood between the Federals and the streets of Petersburg, Union Maj. Gen. William F. Smith stopped his advance to await reinforcements. Nine months of tedious, deadly siege would pass before the Federals would again have such an opportunity to capture Petersburg.
PETERB_080120_059.JPG: The lack of leaves on the trees lets you see what lies behind the park boundaries.
Sept 1864: "... the enemy frequently shoot very large shells into Petersburg & do some damage to buildings, but the people are getting used to it, so they don't mind them...." -- ALP Varin, 2nd Mississippi
Famous but militarily ineffective, the "Dictator" fired on Petersburg from this spot during July, August, and September 1864.
The Dictator was a 13-inch seacoast mortar similar to the one in front of you. It was the largest gun used during the siege and could lob a 225-pound explosive shell more than two miles. During its service in the siege lines, the Dictator fired 218 rounds at Petersburg and its defenses.
A battery of 10-inch mortars are work. Watching mortar shells arc through the night sky became a popular -- and sometimes dangerous -- spectator sport.
PETERB_080120_075.JPG: Powder Magazine
PETERB_080120_095.JPG: Battery 8
PETERB_080120_097.JPG: Battery 8 of the Dimmock Line:
On June 15, 1864, after seizing Battery 5, Union troops swept southward along the Dimmock Line. Men of the 1st and 22nd US Colored Troops captured Battery 8, overcoming heavy resistance from part of Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise's Virginia brigade. By the morning of June 16, the 1.5 miles of Confederate works between Batteries 3 and 11 were in Union hands.
After capturing this section of the Dimmock Line, the Federals incorporated parts of it, including Battery 8 into a second line of siege works. Battery 8 would see combat only one more time, when Union guns here helped repel the Confederate breakthrough at Fort Stedman in March 1865.
PETERB_080120_132.JPG: Sutler Store:
Civil War sutlers were enterprising merchants who followed the armies into the field. This reconstructed sutler store is of a type used y sutlers at Petersburg.
PETERB_080120_134.JPG: Infantry Earthworks:
"Attacking entrenchments had been tried so often and with such fearful losses that even the stupidest private now knows that it cannon succeed, and the natural consequence follows; the men will not try it. The very sight of a bank of earth brings them to a dead halt." -- Col. Charles Wainwright, USA, June 18, 1864.
Re-created here are samples of some of the infantry earthworks that ringed Petersburg -- works that one man said made the landscape resemble "an immense prairie dog village."
As the siege wore on, assaults against entrenched positions became rare. Most of the pitched battles at Petersburg took place beyond the flanks of the armies, as the Federals inexorably pushed westward to cut the rail lines and roads into the city.
The distance between the elements of the re-created works on the ground before you has been greatly compressed for illustrative purposes.
The trenches offered little shelter from the weather. In this 1864 sketch (below), troops huddle under makeshift shade shelters.
The pickets gave warning of attack. Obstructions like abatis, fraises, and chevaux-de-frise were designed to slow an enemy advance. Infantry in the earthworks and artillery in nearby batteries and forts could then decimate the attacking lines.
PETERB_080120_139.JPG: "In memory of the valorous service of regiments and companies of the U.S. Colored Troops, Army of the James and Army of the Potomac, Siege of Petersburg 1864-65."
PETERB_080120_141.JPG: Monotonous Toil:
"The romance of a soldier's life disappears in a siege. The change of scenery and the lively marches are gone, and the same monotonous unvaried rounds of toil take their place. Sunday and weekday are all alike."
This quiet wood was once a busy encampment. Here, during the winter of 1864-65, Union soldiers fought not Confederates, but boredom and toil. They drilled, they primped their huts, they read mail and newspapers, they played, and they waited -- for their turn in the trenches (a dangerous assignment) or the call to battle.
That call to battle came only three times to the Pennsylvanians camped near here. On one of these -- the morning of March 25, 1865 -- they rushed from these camps to resist the Confederate breakthrough at Fort Stedman, one mile to the west (to your left).
PETERB_080120_148.JPG: Harrison's Creek -- Dividing Line
PETERB_080120_150.JPG: Dividing Point:
Twice during the Siege of Petersburg, Harrison's Creek became a dividing point between contesting armies.
June 15, 1864: After being driven out of the Dimmock Line, the outnumbered Confederate defenders of Petersburg formed a new line on the heights across the stream from you. They held this position until June 17 -- weathering repeated Union attacks -- then pulled back safely to the line they would hold for the remainder of the siege, a half mile west of here.
March 25, 1865: Harrison's Creek also marks the farthest advance of Lee's last offensive.
After breaching the Union line at Fort Stedman, Confederates under Brig. Gen. James A. Walker advanced to and beyond Harrison's Creek. Pennsylvanians of Brig. Gen. John Hartranft's Union division rushed from their camps to meet the attack. Volleys rolled across the fields here; soon the overmatched Confederates retreated to Fort Stedman and, eventually, to their own lines.
PETERB_080120_166.JPG: A Final Effort:
Desperate to relieve the Union noose strangling Petersburg, on March 25, 1865, General Lee used pre-dawn darkness and stealth to pierce the Union Line here at Fort Stedman.
"We were very much elated at first, as we though we had won a great victory." -- Capt. R.D. Funkhouser, 49th Virginia
Though initially successful, the attack soon lost momentum. Union reinforcements arrived and counterattacked. The Confederates fell back over and into the fort; hundreds were killed or captured. Never again would Robert E. Lee launch a major offensive. A week later, Petersburg would fall.
PETERB_080120_168.JPG: Colquitt's Salient Trail:
The Colquitt's Salient loop trail will lead you over ground involved with two of the most dramatic events of the Siege of Petersburg.
On the walk to Colquitt's Salient, you will shadow the advance of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery during its tragic change on June 18, 1864. On your return, you will be walking in the footsteps of the Confederates who attacked Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865. The trail is half-mile long -- about a twenty-minute walk.
PETERB_080120_170.JPG: Fort Stedman
PETERB_080120_174.JPG: Hare House Site:
About this house swirled the tide of battle on June 18, 1864, and during "Lee's Last Grand Offensive," March 25, 1865.
PETERB_080120_181.JPG: Maine First Heavy Artillery monument
PETERB_080120_189.JPG: The cannons here symbolize the opponent's changed ground here at Fort Stedman.
PETERB_080120_201.JPG: Fort Stedman marker
PETERB_080120_202.JPG: Fort Stedman (marker):
In the last grand offensive movement of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Fort Stedman, with adjacent works, was captured at 4:30am, March 25, 1865, by a well-selected body of Confederates, under the command of General John B. Gordon.
An advance was made with great determination, over the broken Union lines, then through the ravine, and up the rising ground to the eastward, for the purpose of cutting the U.S. Military R.R.and thus make successful the Confederate plan of severing the Arm of the Potomac and destroying its base of supplies at City Point.
This movement was checked and the direct assault in the recapture of these embattlements, was made by the Third Division, Ninth Corps Army of the Potomac, in whose memory this tablet is erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
PETERB_080120_203.JPG: Fort Stedman:
"It is quite interesting to see a fort going up. The men work in the manner of bees. The mass throw the earth; the engineer soldiers do the 'riveting,' that is, the interior facing of the logs. The engineer sergeants run about with tapes and stakes, measuring busily; and the engineer officers look as wise as possible and superintend." -- Col. Theodore Lyman, USA.
With up to six cannons and 300 infantrymen as garrison, Fort Stedman was typical of the more than 30 forts that studded the Union siege lines. Its main distinguishing characteristic: the Confederate line lay only 300 yards away.
Union engineers elected to leave Stedman's trees standing -- an uncommon luxury for the troops stationed here. ...
Dirt and logs gave shelter against Confederate shells and bullets. Life in the fortifications was, wrote one soldier, "Endurance without relief; sleeplessness without exhilaration; inactively without rest; and constant apprehension requiring ceaseless watching."
PETERB_080120_219.JPG: Fort Haskell view toward Fort Stedman
PETERB_080120_220.JPG: Defending Fort Haskell:
Daylight on March 25, 1865, brought furious fighting to Fort Haskell.
"Our thin line maintained the banquette -- the wounded and sick loading the muskets, while those with sound hands stood to the parapets and blazed away." -- George I. Kilmer, 14th NY Heavy Artillery
Dazed Union survivors of the attack at Fort Stedman jammed into Haskell, where Southern artillery and the captured guns at Fort Stedman bombarded them. Union artillery to the south, thinking Fort Haskell had fallen, opened fire too. Then, soon after daylight, a Confederate division moved out of Fort Stedman and attacked Haskell through the ravine in front of you.
Union infantrymen and three cannon along this parapet of Fort Haskell rakes the Confederate lines. Only a few Confederates made it out of the ravine, and few of those who did survived.
PETERB_080120_239.JPG: View toward the Crater
PETERB_080120_241.JPG: A Fatal Error:
A division of African-American troops in Burnside's Ninth Corps was to have led the attack that followed the explosion of the mine. But just hours before the assault, Union army commander George G. Meade change the plan. The result: chaos and tragedy.
For weeks, the black tops had rehearsed their role as spearhead of the assault. But late on July 29, fearing public outcry should the African-American troops suffer heavy casualties, Meade ordered Burnside to pick another, all-white division to lead the attack. The unprepared white troops -- and the attack -- faltered.
The last-minute decision did not spare black troops the horror of the day. The division joined the battle at 8am, when the fighting had degenerated into a brutal, confused brawl. More than 200 black troops died. Another 400 were missing -- many of them dead too. No Union division in the battle suffered more.
Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside advocated using African-American troops to lead the assault. When overruled, he let his division commanders draw straws for the assignment. By this method, Burnside's weakest commander, James Ledlie, was chosen.
African-Americans troops at drill under the gaze of their white officers. Every black regiment was commanded by white commissioned officers.
PETERB_080120_244.JPG: Prelude to the Crater:
"The mine is all finished, the powder in, the fuse all ready... I hope that the attack will be successful, for if it is, we shall have Petersburg in our possession." -- Col. Stephen M. Weld, 50th Massachusetts, July 28, 1864
The predawn darkness of July 30, 1864, shrouded intense Union preparations on this ridge. Thousands of troops filed quietly into the ravine and trenches in front. More than 160 cannons crowded the earthworks to your right and left. Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the attacking force, took his place in the 14-gun battery (Fort Monroe) behind you. By 3:30am, all was ready. Only one detail remained: the explosion of the mine.
The Federals massed nearly 15,000 men and more than 160 cannons for the attack. Most of the earthworks that protected them were plowed over by the Taylor family after the war.
PETERB_080120_259.JPG: The fort attacked at the Crater
PETERB_080120_265.JPG: Marker showing "The advanced position 2nd PA Vlt (???), Heavy Art., July 30, 1864."
"Commemorating the 100th anniversary
The Battle of the Crater
July 30, 1864,
erected by the citizens of Petersburg,
July 30, 1964."
PETERB_080120_274.JPG: Mahone marker
"This stone marks
approximately the extreme
right of Mahone's brigade
when it re-captured the
on the 30th of July 1864.
Placed by the Petersburg
Chapter UDC November 1910."
PETERB_080120_287.JPG: Confederate Counterattack:
"I counted 21 Union flags flying from the Crater and these works. The sight gave me no hope of ever getting away alive." -- Capt. James E. Phillips, 12th Virginia Infantry.
Union disorganization gave the Confederates the time they needed to respond to the crisis at the Crater. At 9am, Confederate Brig. Gen. William Mahone's division rushed to the depression about 200 yards to your right. Just as the Federals were forming to renew the attack, Mahone's leading brigade charged.
In a wild melee against great odds, the 800 Virginians recaptured the trenches here, just north of the Crater. Later, other Confederates attacked the Crater itself. By mid-afternoon, the Crater and surrounding works were again in Confederate hands.
PETERB_080120_295.JPG: The Crater
PETERB_080120_301.JPG: Confederate Countermine:
Suspecting a Union mine, the Confederates dug two listening galleries here. They narrowly missed striking the Union tunnel, which was deeper. The depressions you see were caused by the cave-in of these galleries.
PETERB_080120_307.JPG: "A Stupendous Failure"
"It is agreed that the thing was a perfect success, except that it did not succeed." -- Major Charles F. Adams, Jr., USA
The explosion cleared the Union path to Petersburg. But instead of pushing through, the first waves of Union attackers simply stood at the Crater, gawking at the incredible scene.
Union hesitation allowed the Confederates to regroup. Southern batteries fired from the right and left; the Federals crowded into the Crater for protection. A thin line of Confederate survivors formed in the depression beyond the Crater. Though the Federals seized 150 yards of works on each side of the Crater, they advanced no farther. Dazed, confused, and leaderless, for hours they huddled in and around "the horrid pit." Meanwhile, Confederate reinforcements prepared to counterattack.
The 15,000 Union attackers -- including 4,300 African-American troops -- never reached their immediate objective, the heights of Cemetery Hill. Though the Confederates' morning counterattacks forced the Federals back into the Crater, it took four more hours to drive the Federals away altogether. General Grant called the episode "a stupendous failure."
PETERB_080120_310.JPG: The Crater:
"There was utmost consternation. Some men scampered out of the lines; some, paralyzed with fear, vaguely scratched at the counterscarp as if trying to escape. Smoke and duty filled the air." -- Col. William M. Master, 17th South Carolina Infantry
At 4:40am, on July 30, 1864, the men of Captain Richard Pegram's battery and two South Carolina regiments lay sleeping here at Elliot's Salient. A moment later, this placed turned into a smoking hole 170 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Two hundred and seventy-eight Confederates died in the blast. Two 1,700-pound cannons were hurled completely out of the works.
The depressions of four of the magazines (rooms that held the powder) exploded by Colonel Pleasants's men are still visible inside the Crater.
After the battle on July 30, the Confederates incorporated the Crater into their earthworks. Years of erosion and the removal of 669 bodies from the Crater and surrounding fields in 1866 have also altered the site's appearance.
PETERB_080120_329.JPG: Ventilation Shaft:
"Regular Army wiseacres said it was not feasible -- that I could not carry the ventilation that distance without digging a hole to the surface... But I have succeeded." -- Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, 48th Pennsylvania, July 23, 1864.
The most serious problem that faced Lt. Col. Pleasants was getting fresh air to the men working in the tunnel. He came up with a solution commonly used in the Pennsylvania coal mines.
One hundred feet into the mine, Pleasants' men dug a vertical ventilation shaft -- the remains of which are in front of you. They then placed an airtight canvas door across the mine opening and ran a wooden duct the length of the mine to the forward end of the chamber. The fire that burned continuously at the ventilation shaft drew stale air out of the mine; fresh air was drawn through the duct to the men working at the head of the tunnel.
The air-tight partition ensured that the fire would draw air from the interior of the tunnel, thus drawing the stale air away from the workers.
Fresh air drawn through the wooded duct replaced the stale air drawn out of the mine by the fire at the ventilation shaft.
Once beneath the Confederate works, the Federals dug lateral magazines, which they packed with 8,000 pounds of gunpowder.
PETERB_080120_332.JPG: The tunnel entrance. The Confederate fort is above. Note that the ground has sunk over time.
PETERB_080120_352.JPG: Digging the Mine:
"We could blow that dawn fort out of existence if we could run a mine shaft under it." -- A private of the 48th Pennsylvania, June 23, 1864.
Spurred by the offhand suggestion of a former coal miner, on June 25, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants put his 48th Pennsylvania to digging. Their objective: to tunnel under the Confederate line and blow up the battery at Elliott's Salient.
Beginning on June 25, 1864, and continuing for the next month, these Pennsylvania coal miners burrowed a shaft 511 feet into this hillside. Then they packed four tons of powder into the magazines under the Confederate battery. At 3:15am, on July 30, Pleasants lit the fuse and scrambled out of the tunnel.
Lt. Col. Henry A. Pleasants, a former mining engineer -- the architect of the Petersburg Mine.
Men of the 48th Pennsylvania dug the mine. Remembered one onlooker, "I used to watch them popping in and out of the hole like so many brown gophers."
The picket lines opposite Elliott's Salient were only 100 yards apart. Still, most military engineers thought it was impossible to dig a mine that could reach from the Union to the Confederate works.
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Wikipedia Description: Siege of Petersburg
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign was a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia, fought from June 15, 1864, to March 25, 1865, during the American Civil War. Although it is more popularly known as the Siege of Petersburg, it was not a classic military siege, in which a city is usually fully surrounded and all supply lines are cut off. It was ten months of trench warfare in which Union forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Petersburg unsuccessfully and then constructed trench lines that eventually extended over 30 miles around the eastern and southern outskirts of the city. Petersburg was crucial to the supply of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army and the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Lee finally yielded to the overwhelming pressure—the point at which supply lines were finally cut and a true siege would have begun—and abandoned both cities in April 1865, leading to his retreat and surrender in the Appomattox Campaign. The Siege of Petersburg foreshadowed the trench warfare that would be common in World War I, earning it a prominent position in military history. It also featured the largest concentration of African American troops employed in the war, who suffered heavy casualties at such engagements as the Battle of the Crater and Chaffin's Farm.
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