Saturday, May 7, 2011

Petersburg National Battlefield

Petersburg, Virginia

We have stopped for a few days in Petersburg, VA to do, what else, but tour battlefields. So here, without further ado, is a very condensed story of the Siege of Petersburg.  I won't make you suffer through a day by day account of the entire 9.5 months.

From early May until mid-June 1864, 4 major battles of the Civil War were fought at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River and Cold Harbor. At each of these battles General Grant's objective was to break the Confederate lines and to take the Confederate Capital of Richmond. At each battle – he failed as General Lee's lines held. Grant knew that the key to ending the war was the taking of Richmond so to that end he marched his army south of Richmond to the south side of Petersburg, set up a 30 mile long perimeter, and thus started a nine and one-half month siege of Petersburg.

Petersburg is where four railroad lines from the south met before continuing to Richmond. Most of the supplies to Lee's army and to the city of Richmond funneled through this point. Grant effectively cut off all supplies that normally would have been flowing in to Petersburg and Richmond from the south. The Union forces constructed over 30 miles of earthworks that matched the over 30 miles of earthworks constructed by the Rebels that protected Petersburg and Richmond to the north.

One of the great fiascoes of the Civil War occurred six weeks in to the siege in July 1864 when Union Soldiers under command of General Burnside (the man whose main claim to fame is that sideburns are named for him) decided to construct and explode a mine underneath the Confederate line and thus open the way in to Petersburg and on to Richmond. The mine was 511 feet long and at the end branches extended to the right and left and added 75 feet to the total length of the mine. Keep in mind – this was all done with picks and shovels and makeshift tools. When digging was complete the mine was charged with 8,000 pounds of black powder. The powder was ignited at 4:30 a.m. with the resulting explosion killing or wounding 278 Confederate troops. The crater was approximately 170 feet long and 80 feet wide. And now came the debacle – as Union troops rushed into the crater and were now below the Confederate Soldiers who started pouring shells and bullets into their opponents. By 8:30 that morning reinforcements had been sent in to the crater and now over 15,000 Federal troops were in or attempting to get in the crater. By the time all was said and done, the Union Army had suffered 4,000 killed, wounded or captured as against about 1,500 for the Confederates.

Once again a frontal assault had failed. But, the siege would continue until April 2 and would win out in the end.

And the battlefields just keep on coming...Tomorrow – The Breakthrough at Pamplin Park.

1 comment:

~Cheryl said...

Great crater story. Looks like you are having nice touring weather.