DescriptionThe 2,659-acre Petersburg National Battlefield, 2 miles east of Petersburg via Washington/Oaklawn St. (SR 36), was established to preserve and interpret the battlefields where 10 months of grim trench warfare sapped the strength of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate army and led to the fall of Richmond.
Petersburg was an important point through which supplies moved to Richmond, as five railroads converged at Petersburg with only one line leading to the capital city.
Despite disastrous losses at Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved on from Richmond, intending to cut off its line of communication with the South at Petersburg and compel the evacuation of the Confederate capital. Four days of furious fighting—June 15-18, 1864—forced the Confederate line back about a mile, where the armies entrenched and Grant began his siege.
Between June 25 and July 23, Union volunteers, including many Pennsylvania coal miners, dug a 511-foot-long mine shaft that ended beneath the Confederate line. Quietly carrying out tons of soil in cracker boxes, the Union men packed the shaft with 4 tons of black powder which, when ignited, created a 170-by-60-foot crater 30 feet deep. The blast produced 278 casualties. Only faulty Union plans in the following battle and the prompt action of Confederate troops saved the city. The deep depression created by the explosion is called The Crater.
Confederate lines stretched farther south and west as the soldiers were forced to defend both the eastern and western sectors against the Union's attempt to take the city. On April 3, 1865, Lee evacuated Petersburg and Richmond, an action that culminated 1 week later in his surrender at Appomattox Court House. About 42,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate soldiers were casualties in the Petersburg Campaign.
The park includes miles of original earthworks. Outstanding features are The Crater; Battery Five, where Grant's army first struck and from which he later shelled Petersburg with a 17,000-pound seacoast mortar known as “The Dictator”; Fort Stedman, where Lee's last grand offensive failed; the site of Fort Morton, near which the concentration of Union artillery used at the Battle of The Crater was stored; City Point, the Union supply center and logistics base where Grant and President Lincoln conferred for 2 weeks near the end of the siege; Five Forks Battlefield, about 17 miles southwest of Petersburg, site of the last major battle for the South Side Railroad on April 1, 1865; and Poplar Grove National Cemetery, where 6,000 Union soldiers are buried.
The 4-mile self-guiding Battlefield Tour begins at the Eastern Front Visitor Center; part of the tour road is reserved for hikers and cyclists. From four points on the tour road, walks lead to major battle sites. The 16-mile Siege Line Tour picks up where the Battlefield Tour ends and leads to park areas south and west of Petersburg. The park is open daily 8-dusk. Closed Jan. 1, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Things to SeeEastern Front Visitor Center
An important holding spot to Richmond, Petersburg saw 10 months of brutal Civil War fighting before falling to the Union army.