Forts and Battlefields

Petersburg National Battlefield

The Siege of Petersburg, encompassing several battles and smaller actions, was fought between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865, around Petersburg, Virginia, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The siege ended in a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 70,000 total casualties.

Today, only a small portion of the battlefield, mainly northeast of the city, has been preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield. It would be impossible to preserve all the extensive earthworks that ringed the city south of the Appomattox River, but many forts and landmarks have been turned into city parks. The battlefield has been divided into two fronts: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is four miles and the Western Front Driving Tour is 16 miles.

The Siege of Petersburg wasn’t technically a siege because the city wasn’t entirely surrounded, but it shared similar characteristics, including fortifications, mortar bombardments, and near-constant, low-intensity fighting. It lasted 9 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Over time, the battle lines crawled westward as Ulysses S. Grant tried to find a way to cut Lee’s main supply line to the west and south.

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Five Forks National Battlefield

The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, at junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia between Confederate units under command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s V Corps in the American Civil War. The battle was a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 3,700 total casualties, most of which were Confederate.

Five Forks National Battlefield is part of Petersburg National Battlefield Park. The park has a visitors center, several cannon and monuments (erected in the 1960s), and a driving tour. The tour consists of five stops. There hasn’t been much development in this quiet neighborhood, so the battlefield is remarkably preserved.

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Cold Harbor Battlefield

The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought in Hanover County near Mechanicsville, Virginia from May 31 to June 12, 1864 between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle was a Confederate victory and resulted in approximately 18,000 total casualties. It was the last engagement of Grant’s Overland Campaign.

The Cold Harbor Battlefield is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Only about 300 acres of the approximately 7,500-acre battlefield are currently preserved. The Civil War Trust has managed to save 69 acres, but preservation efforts are ongoing.

The earthworks pictured above were dug and manned by troops of Confederate Lt. General Richard Anderson’s First Corps. On June 1, men of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw’s divisions fell back to this final position. On June 3, the left flank of the Union XVIII Corps and the right flank of the VI Corps attacked this site. Union and Confederate soldiers found themselves 200 yards apart in some places. Confederate soldiers built sheltered tunnels leading from the rear to their entrenchments, so they could move supplies back and forth without being exposed to fire.

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Malvern Hill Battlefield

The Battle of Malvern Hill was fought in Henrico County, Virginia on July 1, 1862 between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle was a tactical Union victory and resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

The Malvern Hill Battlefield is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Nearly unaltered in appearance since 1862, it is the best preserved Civil War battlefield in central or southern Virginia. Such a well-preserved battlefield presents a unique opportunity to study the terrain and put yourself in the shoes of a Civil War soldier at the battle.

Malvern Hill was the final engagement of the Seven Days battles. McClellan decided to make his final stand on this gently-sloping hill, which offered clear fields of fire for his artillery. General Lee hoped Confederate artillery would suppress the Union guns, but it failed to do so. Thousands of soldiers died in pointless frontal assaults against this formidable position.

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Third Winchester (Opequon) Battlefield

The Battle of Third Winchester (or Battle of Opequon) was fought in Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

Like other battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, the Third Winchester battlefield is a result of piecemeal purchases of private property, spurred by donations from preservationists. The Civil War Trust has preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield. The most recent acquisition was made in 2009 by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Third Winchester was the largest Civil War battle, in terms of importance and number of troops engaged, in the Shenandoah Valley. 40,000 Union soldiers fought 10–12,000 Confederates, with predictable results. The Union soldiers, however, were inexperienced and fighting Jubal Early’s veteran divisions. Despite losing the battle, the Confederates inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties.

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Front Royal Battlefield and Bel Air Mansion

The Battle of Front Royal was fought in and around Front Royal in Warren County, Virginia on May 23, 1862 between troops under command of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 800 total casualties.

Though a relatively small engagement, the Front Royal Visitors Center offers an extensive self-guided driving tour connecting several key sites, including Prospect Hill Cemetery, Bel Air Mansion, and Richardson’s Hill. Depicted above is the courthouse, around which two opposing Maryland regiments fought in a pitched street battle.

Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.

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Gettysburg National Military Park

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863 in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a Union victory and resulted in approximately 48,000 total casualties.

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves 3,965 acres and maintains approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials. Because the battle was fought in and around the town (home to 7,620 people and Gettysburg College), it would be impossible to preserve the entirety of the battlefield, but extensive efforts have been made to restore preserved land to its 1863 appearance. With 1-2 million visitors per year, Gettysburg is perhaps the most popular Civil War battlefield.

Battlefield tour guides are knowledgeable and well-trained. Applicants actually go through a process of written and oral exams, held every other year, before being licensed by the National Park Service. In 2008, the park built a new, $29.4 million visitor center with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. It houses a cyclorama, galleries, temporary exhibit spaces, an archive, two theaters, a full-service restaurant, catering kitchen, classrooms, gift shop/bookstore, staff offices, and a conference room, and employs 85-105 full time employees. It’s truly impressive.

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