Petersburg National Battlefield | PARK AT A GLANCE

Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia

Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia

PARK OVERVIEW

Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia, preserves areas central to Union general Ulysses S. Grant’s military campaign in the summer of 1864 through the spring of 1865 against Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Starting with the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, near Locust Grove, Virginia (approximately 70 miles north of Richmond), Grant and Lee fought a series of battles, with each one getting ever so closer to Richmond. The last major battle took place just outside the city at Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12) and ended in a Union defeat. Each battle resulted in huge losses of life on both sides. Many of these battlefields are now part of Richmond National Battlefield Park and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Lee expected the fighting to continue in the Richmond area, but Grant had another idea. He instead quietly slipped away over the James River with 30,000 men and attacked Petersburg, a more lightly defended target, but one of huge strategic importance due to it being the junction of five railroads, plus it was connected to the James River by the Appomattox River that flowed just north of the city. Capturing Petersburg would in effect cut off supplies to Richmond, and both cities would soon be in Union hands.

On June 15th, Union forces attacked Petersburg from the northeast. The Confederates, under the command of General Pierre T. G. Beauregard, were able to hold out until Lee arrived with reinforcements on the 17th. The next day the fighting ended with Petersburg still in Confederate hands, but that was not the end of the conflict. Grant knew that continuing a frontal assault against heavily defended Confederate fortifications was just going to end in a blood bath, so he instead decided to cut off Petersburg’s supply lines from the south. To do so, the Union army gradually worked its way west, south of the city, capturing major roads and railroads along the way.

While called the Siege of Petersburg, the situation was never a traditional siege where an aggressor surrounds a city and waits for the defenders to run out of food and other supplies. First off, Petersburg was never surrounded, and Grant had no intentions of doing so. Confederate soldiers and civilians were always free to head north across the Appomattox River, which ran east to west just north of the city. There were no substantial supply lines to the north or east, for Virginia was bordered by Union states in those directions, and the farms and factories that were in northern Virginia were largely depleted and destroyed by 1865. The supplies came from the deep south and west, so all Grant had to do was create a semicircular blockade south of Petersburg from the Appomattox River on the east side to the farthest western supply line into the city, the South Side Railroad. By the time the siege ended on April 2, 1865, the Union line was over 30 miles long.

Furthermore, there was no sitting back and waiting for the Confederates to run out of food and other supplies. As the Union army moved west, there was fighting at each strategic road and railroad. The final major battle on April 1, 1865, at Five Forks was 30 miles west of Petersburg. The Battle of Five Forks ended in a Confederate defeat, and after subsequent fighting on the morning and afternoon of April 2nd, Lee began evacuating Petersburg that night by crossing the Appomattox River. He joined up with soldiers from Richmond (which was also abandoned) and headed west in an attempt to get around the Union left flank so that he could then take his army south to find General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee in North Carolina. However, Grant caught up with him a week later at Appomattox, Virginia, and the two sides clashed for the last time. Lee surrendered on April 9th.

Petersburg National Battlefield consists of four units. The Eastern Front Unit is where the major fighting began on June 15, 1864. The park’s main visitor center, the Eastern Front Visitor Center, is located here, and there is an eight-stop tour of the battlefield. There are also plenty of trails in the area that are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

The Western Front Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield preserves a few areas where fighting took place south and southwest of the city over the following nine months. The unit consists of a four-stop driving tour, with one stop being the Poplar Grove National Cemetery. There are no hiking trails or other attractions.

The Five Forks Battlefield unit is where the decisive battle of the Petersburg campaign took place. Union general Philip Sheridan clashed with Confederate general George Pickett (of Pickett’s Charge fame) in an attempt to take control of the South Side Railroad, the last major supply line to Petersburg. The Union victory sparked the end of the siege and Lee’s retreat from the city. Five points of interest are covered on a driving tour of the battlefield, and hikers, bikers, and horseback riders have another system of trails to explore.

Grant’s Headquarters, located at City Point seven miles northeast of the Eastern Front Visitor Center on the former plantation of Richard Epps, is where Grant set up his headquarters and built a massive supply depot. Situated right on the James River, it was an ideal location for receiving vital supplies to sustain his army. Grant even built a railroad from the depot to the front lines of the battlefield. The Epps home and the cabin where Grant actually stayed are only open to visitors on summer weekends, but the grounds are open year-round. Nothing remains of the buildings constructed for the supply depot.

OPERATING HOURS

The grounds of all units within Petersburg National Battlefield are open from sunrise to sunset year-round. Operating hours of the indoor facilities vary.

The Eastern Front Visitor Center is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. The Western Front Visitor Contact Station is open seasonally. The Five Forks Visitor Contact Station is closed until further notice.

Grant’s Headquarters is open on Fridays through Sundays in June, July, and August. It is generally closed the rest of the year.

All indoor facilities are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Times can always change, so before heading to the park, be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Petersburg National Battlefield.

ENTRANCE FEE

There is no entrance fee at Petersburg National Battlefield.

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Eastern Front Visitor Center
allow 45-60 minutes

Eastern Front Driving Tour
allow 3 hours

Western Front Driving Tour
allow 1 hour

Five Forks Battlefield Driving Tour
allow 1 hour

Grant’s Headquarters
allow 1 hour

Hiking and Biking Trails
an entire day’s worth of hiking


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Last updated on March 28, 2023
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