Recently Doug Crenshaw and I visited Sailor’s Creek, the only major battle of the Appomattox Campaign. Fought April 6, 1865, it was just three days before Appomattox, but of course no one knew that yet at the time.
The site is a Virginia State Park and has an outstanding exhibit area in the visitor center. They detail the march to the area, the battle, and the aftermath. Throughout the space are rare artifacts and detailed maps (I love maps!).
The park is fortunate to preserve most of the area of fighting, thanks to recent efforts by the American Battlefield Trust (If you donated, thank you!). While Antietam and Shiloh often hailed as some of the most pristine battlefields (and rightly so), Sailor’s Creek is certainly up there too.
We explored nearly every hiking trail, and as we both noted, the best way to study a battlefield is by walking it. Looking at our battle maps was helpful, but when we saw the ground and noted the numerous swales and steep hillsides, it made us appreciate the movements of the troops and the experiences of the soldiers even more.
The park has gone to great efforts to restore the original landscape, including removing non-historic trees, replanting trees in other areas, and adding worm fencing. The effect is remarkable, as one can look around and see a similar view to what the soldiers saw in 1865, without much traffic or power lines. Its not a huge battlefield, but it had its fair share of maneuver movement. Unlike many larger battlefields, there are points where you can see nearly all they key areas of the battlefield.
Sailor’s Creek was a bad day for the Army of Northern Virginia, with about 7,700 men captured, and 9 generals. My guess is that Lee realized it was over after that day, and only kept moving west to find a better position to make a stand.
A highlight of the park is the restored Hillsman House, an original structure pressed into service as a hospital after the battle. The park has incredible accounts by those who were treated there and can even place individuals where they lay on the floor. The rooms are set up as they would have been that evening, one of the most impressive interpretive exhibits I have ever seen.
Finally, I see the park at Sailor’s Creek as a tribute to retired manager Chris Calkins, who has dedicated himself to the study and preservation of the battlefield. Chris was the park’s first superintendent, designed the visitor center, created the exhibits, and donated research materials to the park library. It shows how much good one person can do.
Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park is northeast of Farmville, well worth a stop if travelling between Richmond and Appomattox.
For more information: General information (virginia.gov)