Historic America Reviews

The Last Citadel: Petersburg by Noah Andre Trudeau


In The Last Citadel: Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau charts Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Petersburg Campaign, from June 9, 1864, when General Benjamin Butler first attacked defenses around the city, to  April 3, 1865, when Federal troops at last captured this vital Virginia railroad hub south of Richmond. The ten-month Siege of Petersburg was the longest and most costly to ever take place on North American soil.

Within this non-traditional history, Trudeau brings to life these dramatic events through the words of men and women who were there, including officers, common soldiers, and the residents of Petersburg. What emerges is an epic account rich in human incident and adventure, told through various chapters covering all aspects of the campaign. This revised Sesquicentennial edition includes updated text, redrawn maps, and new material.

The Last Citadel is divided into six parts, including a prologue and epilogue. The chapters are arranged into a rough chronology, but this is not strictly a chronological account of the siege. Each chapter uses a different subject to frame the narrative, from the effect of artillery bombardment on soldiers and civilians, the role of newspapers and the press, and even fraternization between opposing armies.

This is a unique and interesting way to look at the battle, drawing from a multitude of primary sources including military orders and dispatches, regimental histories, civilian diaries and letters, newspapers, and more. Trudeau organizes his book well, so that various perspectives never become jumbled or distracting. This keeps each chapter fresh and interesting, like reading a collection of articles rather than a weighty historical text.

Two incidents stand out: the Beefsteak Raid and Confederate sabotage at City Point. Grant was never able to completely seal off Petersburg or Richmond, and the Confederates looked for ways to exploit that failure. Supplying an army of over 100,000 men required a huge supply of food, including beef. Confederate cavalrymen led by Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton pulled off a daring raid Sept. 14-17, 1864 in which they rode behind Grant’s lines and rustled 2,486 head of cattle, bringing it back over 50 miles to supply their own army.

Grant’s headquarters was at City Point, Virginia on the James River. On August 9, 1864, a large explosion ripped apart an ammunition barge, sending wood, cannonballs, bullets, and shell fragments flying. 43 Union soldiers were killed instantly and another 126 wounded. At the time, it was ruled an accident, but after the war it became known as an act of sabotage by Confederate Secret Service agent John Maxwell using a timed explosive (he called it a Horological Torpedo) smuggled aboard the barge. Incidents such as these make the Siege of Petersburg a truly unique event in the annals of the American Civil War.

Noah Andre Trudeau (born February 23, 1949) is a former executive producer at National Public Radio who lives in Washington, D.C. He is a history graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. His other books include Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (1998), Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage (2002), and Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea (2008).

The Last Citadel: Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau revised sesquicentennial edition was published by Savas Beatie (El Dorado Hills, California) in 2014. The hardcover edition is 552 pages and retails for $32.95. The Kindle edition sells for $9.99.

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