Question of the Week for June 23, 2014
We’ve heard historians at Petersburg refer to their battlefield as “the red-headed stepchild” of the Virginia battlefield parks. The story they tell doesn’t get the attention other battles and campaigns do.
Or does it?
What do you think: does Petersburg get the same kind of attention that other battles and campaigns get?
9 Responses to Question of the Week for June 23, 2014
I tend to agree with the historians. I consider myself to be as well read as any non professional historian and I have always been intimidated by the Petersburg campaign. Nine months, a changing (and un familiar OOB), and dozens of action….it is a lot to keep straight…close to 1/4 of the war. As opposed to Gettysburg or even the Overland campaign. Petersburg gets the short end of the stick.
I do think that the siege of Vicksburg commands more attention than the siege of Petersburg.
As a tourist who has visited all the battlefields in the East and some in the West, I can say that the signage and maps for Petersburg need to be improved. Some sites are hard to find.
But Gettysburg beats Vicksburg in the tourism industry every time. Maybe is there had been a Vicksburg Address . . .
cc2001 makes a good point. I direct my answer as to whether Petersburg is “the stepchild of Virginia battlefields”: Yes, but only if it has siblings who are also step-children. Cold Harbor deserves more signage and interpretation.
I think that if Petersburg gets less attention, it is probably because there was not one huge, spectacular focal point of a battle there on one date, but many, albeit equally notable and terrible, spread out over time and space. Also, for Southerners, it is probably painful as it is where THE loss occurred. For example, in the Atlanta area I notice that the battlefields where the Yankees won are now covered by interstate highways, neighborhoods and businesses; apparently they wanted to forget about them. But Kennesaw Mountain and Pickett’s Mill are beautifully preserved.
I must agree with Miss Amanda–she said exactly what I was going to say, at least as far as the length of time for the siege. Civil War buffs do not seem to be fans of sieges. They seem, somehow, underhanded–like starving folks out instead of doing the manly thing and fighting them face-to-face. This is not as easy to define as pointing out where Pickett actually charged.
I think Petersburg gets much less attention than any other major campaign in the east between the two main armies. On my Siege of Petersburg web site, one of my intro lines is: “The Siege of Petersburg has been criminally neglected in the study of the Civil War, and this site aims to partially rectify that lack of coverage.”
There were nine offensives against Petersburg, and cavalry raids on both sides. No book length study exists for the Second (Jerusalem Plank Road), part of the Third (First Deep Bottom), part of the Fourth (Second Deep Bottom), the Seventh (Warren’s Stony Creek Raid), or the Eighth (Second Boydton Plank Road aka Hatcher’s Run). I can find little on the skirmishes and other clashes on the Bermuda Hundred front during the entire Siege. There is a lot of story left to tell. My sincere hope is that the 150th anniversary draws more attention to the Siege.
As a resident of the area since 1989 (my home sits on an old Union encampment site in Prince George) I would have to agree….but there are definitely mitigating circumstances. I have visited over 200 battlefields in my life (signs of a mis-spent youth!)and Petersburg matches in scale a World War One or World War Two battlefield. It is MASSIVE! It covers urban, suburban, exurban and rural sites. It deals with the problem of so many jurisdictions trying to work together: 3 cities (Petersburg, Colonial Heights & Hopewell), no 2 of which agree on ANYTHING, 3 counties (Prince George, Dinwiddie & Chesterfield(and 7 more if you talk about the Apple Jack Raid, the Wilson-Kautz Raid & the Beefsteak Raid)) which have varying degrees of discord and 2 branches of the Federal government (the NPS at the battlefield park and the US Army with FT Lee cheek by jowl against the battlefield park).
As with many other areas preservation & interpretation often slam directly into the needs of 21st Century. The changing dynamics of a poor southern city have done little to preserve some of the best known areas. Forts Sedgwick and Mahone were bulldozed under during the Centennial for Walnut Mall…which itself was torn down to make way for a strip mall. The Flank Road built in the 1930s tries to follow the no man’s land with degrees of success. Petersburg & Hopewell have both made disastrous decisions over the years which have shattered much of their tax base and have left them with little in funding to pay for better interpretation.
All that said there have been some spectacular successes. Pamplin Park is a must see, the Battlefield Staff has really picked up their game. The work they have done to improve and enhance the viewscapes along the line are nothing short of first class. The new interpretive center at Five Works as well as the signage and turn offs have greatly improved the understanding of that battle. The heavy lifting of the Civil War Trust to preserve and interpret battlefields and working with the Civil War Trails to mark key locations. The way the local merchants have jumped in and realized the importance of preservation has had them put policing resources in place in some areas which have allowed historians to take back some sites.
Without trying to sound like the chamber of commerce, yes, the Petersburg BattleFIELDS are under visited. But as my friend Will Greene at Pamplin wrote in his seminal work on the breakthrough Breaking The Backbone of the Rebellion once travelers fight through Manassas to Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and The Seven Days battlefields, they often literally and figuratively run out of gas before Petersburg.
That’s too bad because they miss the very best of them all!
Well put Buck!