Petersburg National Battlefield | GRANT’S HEADQUARTERS

General Ulysses S. Grant's Headquarters at City Point near Petersburg, Virginia

General Ulysses S. Grant’s Headquarters at City Point near Petersburg, Virginia

GENERAL INFORMATION

The Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield is located northeast of Petersburg at City Point, a historic district at the confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers. This is where Union general Ulysses S. Grant not only set up his headquarters for the duration of the fighting at Petersburg, but it is also where he built a massive supply depot to keep his army going. He even had a railroad built from the depot to the front lines, and as the army moved west around Petersburg, the railroad was extended. The entire operation was on the property of Richard Epps, who at the time owned 2,300 acres on all sides of both rivers. The land now owned by the National Park Service is only 15-acres of the farm called Appomattox Plantation. The rest of the Epps property was sold off over the years and is now developed with residential housing and business districts.

LOCATION

1001 Pecan Avenue
Hopewell, VA 23860

OPERATING HOURS

The operating hours for Grant’s Headquarters change all the time depending on staffing and funding. At the time of this writing, the grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk. The buildings—Appomattox Manor and the cabin in which Grant made his headquarters—are open from 9 AM to 5 PM on Fridays through Sundays in June, July, and August. 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.

VISITOR INFORMATION

All of the supply depot buildings at City Point were removed after the war, and most of the plantation buildings on the Epps property were torn down over the years. However, Appomattox Manor (the Epps’s house) and Grant’s cabin are still standing and are open to visitors.

Appomattox Manor at the Grant's Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Appomattox Manor at the Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

While Appomattox Manor and Grant’s cabin may be closed when you visit, the grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk for those who would like to walk around the property. However, the site’s parking lot is closed whenever the physical facilities are closed, so you must park on the street (free of charge) or continue down Pecan Avenue a tenth of a mile to a city parking lot (also free). It’s a nice walk back to the park, though it is up a steep hill. A lot of the houses that line the street were around during the Civil War (plaques identify the historical houses). There is an ornate gate across the property driveway that may be closed, but don’t let this fool you into thinking the grounds are also closed. There is a small pedestrian gate to the left that is always open. By the way, only park employees and those with handicap parking permits are allowed to use the driveway and park at the house.

Street parking at the entrance of the Grant's Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Street parking at the entrance of the Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Grounds of Appomattox Plantation at the Grant's Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Grounds of Appomattox Plantation at the Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

View of the James River from Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

View of the James River from Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

The first stop on your visit to Grant’s Headquarters should be Appomattox Manor for no other reason than you can watch a 15-minute film, A Mere Question of Time, about the events that took place here during the Civil War. It’s nothing more than a narration with old photos, but it is very informative. The film shows on demand, so just ask the Ranger to start it for you. In addition to the film, the first floor of the house is open for self-guided tours.

The Epps Plantation is located high above the James River on a bluff, but if you want to get down to the shore, there is a trail that runs along the base of the bluff. To access it, park at the city parking lot at the end of Pecan Avenue. There is a gazebo and a couple of picnic tables at the start of the trail.

Start of the riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Start of the riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

The trail itself runs a third of a mile before ending at a thicket of brush. It starts off as a wide grass trail, but once around the base of Appomattox Plantation it becomes a traditional hiking trail. Overall, it is flat and easy to walk, plus it is right along the water, so there is nothing obstructing the view. Allow 20 minutes to walk to the end and back.

Riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Riverbank trail around the Appomattox Plantation at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

You can also get down to the water via a trail at the Grant’s Headquarters parking lot, but this only leads to a popular fishing location. There is plenty of room to fish, but you can’t walk very far along the shore at this point due to vegetation growing right up to the waterline on either side of the fishing spot.

Trail from the Grant's Headquarters parking lot in City Point to the fishing spot, Petersburg National Battlefield

Trail from the Grant’s Headquarters parking lot in City Point to the fishing spot, Petersburg National Battlefield

Popular fishing spot at the Grant's Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Popular fishing spot at the Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

CITY POINT DURING THE CIVIL WAR

The Union Army first arrived at City Point in early June and began constructing a depot with facilities on par with a small city, complete with offices, warehouses, and bakeries—roughly 280 buildings in all. On average, 40 steamships, 75 sailing vessels, and 100 barges arrived each day with supplies. Everything was unloaded along a half-mile wharf built for the occasion. The Depot Hospital, one of seven at City Point, covered 200 acres. By the time winter arrived, 1,200 tents and 90 log barracks had been erected to provide housing for wounded troops.

Prior to the fighting at Petersburg, a railroad ran from Petersburg to City Point—the City Point and Petersburg Railroad—but the Confederates tore up the tracks for four miles. The rail bed remained, and Grant had his engineers reuse it when building a railroad to the front lines of the battlefield. Called the U. S. Military Railroad, it eventually included 21 miles of track and over a mile’s worth of trestles across ravines and streams. Twenty-six locomotives and 275 rail cars were shipped by boat to City Point from Washington, D. C. Seven miles of the railroad was up and running by July 7, 1864, just three weeks after the initial Union attack on Petersburg.

The rail lines in Virginia were owned by different companies, and each had its own gauge (width) of track to keep competing trains off (trains had wheels set the same width apart as the tracks they ran on). Once Confederate general Robert E. Lee and his army retreated from Petersburg on April 2, 1865, Union soldiers set about converting commercial railroad tracks to the gauge used by the Union army trains. This work continued through the end of April, nearly a month after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Starting in June, the soldiers began removing all of the military track and returning it to City Point where it and most of the buildings and materials were either sold off or shipped to Alexandria, Virginia, thus returning the property to Richard Epps.

A major setback at the City Point depot occurred on August 9, 1864, when a barge loaded with artillery shells and small arms ammunition—an estimated 80,000 pounds of black powder—exploded. The blast destroyed half the wharf, and debris was rocketed a half mile in all directions. Forty-three men were killed and 126 injured. Nobody knew what caused the blast until after the war. Turns out John Maxwell, a Confederate spy, had planted a bomb on the barge.

President Abraham Lincoln, along with his wife and son, Tad, visited City Point on March 24, 1865, only eleven days before Lee slipped out of Petersburg. Lincoln stayed for two weeks touring the battlefield and visiting the hospitals. In less than a month after he left, he was assassinated.

APPOMATTOX MANOR

Appomattox Manor at the Grant's Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Appomattox Manor at the Grant’s Headquarters unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Appomattox Manor was built in 1763 by Richard Epps Sr. By the time the Civil War rolled around, his son Richard owned property. Richard Jr. was one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. He was a doctor, but he also ran a plantation with slave labor.

Union gunboats were using the James River and passing by the Epps plantations as early as 1862. When the boats bombarded City Point and severely damaged his house, Epps moved his family into the city where he worked in the Petersburg military hospital treating wounded soldiers. His wife and children ended up fleeing to Pennsylvania when the Siege of Petersburg began in the summer of 1864; they returned only after the war ended in May 1865. Once the Epps left, 106 of their 122 slaves ran off. At least six of the men ended up serving in the Union navy and army.

During the Siege of Petersburg, while General Grant lived in a small cabin on the grounds, Appomattox Manor was used as the office of General Rufus Ingalls, the Quartermaster General in charge of the entire supply depot.

Back of Appomattox Manor facing the James River, Petersburg National Battlefield

Back of Appomattox Manor facing the James River, Petersburg National Battlefield

There are three rooms on the first floor of Appomattox Manor that are open to the public, two of which are decorated as they might have been in 1864. Just watch out for the creepy mannequins. And yes, they are very creepy. Just imagine zombies coming for you right out of The Night of the Living Dead or the human museum in the original Planet of the Apes. They actually made me jump when I entered the room despite the park Ranger giving me a heads-up before I ventured off to see the house.

Zombies in the library of Appomattox Manor, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Zombies in the library of Appomattox Manor, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

The Dining Room is unfurnished and now houses a few exhibits, including a map table of the City Point depot layout. There are also some reproductions of historical photographs and a couple cases of artifacts and memorabilia, including a timing device just like the one used by John Maxwell to blow up the black powder barge. In fact, the one on display belonged to Maxwell, and he’s the one who invented it. He called it a horological torpedo.

Exhibits in the Dining Room of Appomattox Manor, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Exhibits in the Dining Room of Appomattox Manor, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Horological torpedo just like the one used by John Maxwell to blow up an ammunition barge at Grant's City Point supply depot, Petersburg National Battlefield

Horological torpedo just like the one used by John Maxwell to blow up an ammunition barge at Grant’s City Point supply depot, Petersburg National Battlefield

The Library is the room where the creepiest of the creepy mannequins are on display (see the above photo). Epps used this as his office. The furniture here and in the next room, the Parlor, actually belonged to the Epps Family and was sold along with the house and property to the National Park Service in 1979. When Richard and his wife fled to Petersburg, they took with them the best of the furniture, which is what is now on display. Anything left behind was stolen or destroyed.

Parlor of Appomattox Manor, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Parlor of Appomattox Manor, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

GRANT’S CABIN

Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Grant’s headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

When Grant arrived at City Point in June 1864, he and most all soldiers at City Point lived in tents. In November, cabins were built to house officers and wounded men during the winter months. The only cabin to survive is the one in which Grant made his home and headquarters. The interior is not typically open, but the door is made of plexiglass so that visitors can look inside. The cabin is not very big, so what you see through the window is pretty much all there is. When I visited Grant’s Headquarters first thing in the morning, I was the only one there, so the Ranger opened the cabin so I could step inside and take photos. However, don’t expect this type of hospitality when you visit.

The cabin is furnished as it might have been when Grant lived in it. There is an office and a bedroom, though none of the furnishings are original to the cabin. Outside is a wayside exhibit with a short audio program about Grant and his stay at City Point.

Living area of Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Living area of Grant’s headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Desk in Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Desk in Grant’s headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Bedroom of Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Bedroom of Grant’s headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

When the fighting at Petersburg ended, which was just weeks before Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, all buildings at City Point were removed. Grant’s cabin, being of possible historical value, was the only one saved. It was moved to Philadelphia and put on display at Fairmount Park, and that’s where it remained until 1981 when it was returned to its original location at City Point. At the time, the cabin was termite ridden and covered in graffiti, and vandals had actually burned some of the wood in a campfire. Repairs had been made over the years, and the current damage had to be undone, so only about 10 percent of the cabin is original, mostly the brick portion (there is a fireplace). The original door of the cabin is on display inside Appomattox Manor.

Original door of Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

Original door of Grant’s headquarters cabin at City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield

SURVIVING OUTBUILDINGS

The kitchen building and a couple of smaller buildings are located to the left of Appomattox Manor. The kitchen, which was built around 1820, is open and has some exhibits inside. One half of the building is the kitchen and the other a laundry room. On southern plantations prior to the Civil War, the cooking and cleaning were done by slaves, usually women. After the war, former slave owners, if they still had any money and a house to come home to, often hired these same women for domestic help.

Kitchen and laundry building at Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Kitchen and laundry building at Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Prior to electricity, kitchens were often in separate buildings from the house due to the food being cooked on open fires. If the kitchen caught on fire, it would not damage the main house. Also, the fires produced a lot of heat, something not welcome in homes during the summer, especially in the south. An attached kitchen was added to Appomattox Manor in the early 1900s.

Exhibits inside the kitchen of Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Exhibits inside the kitchen of Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Exhibits inside the laundry room of Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Exhibits inside the laundry room of Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Next to the kitchen are three small, square buildings. One was originally a dairy and the other two were smoke houses. There is nothing inside them today that is of any interest to the public. At least one is being used as a storage shed by the National Park Service.

Former smoke houses and dairy at Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

Former smoke houses and dairy at Appomattox Plantation in City Point, Grant’s Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

If you are the only one at Grant’s Headquarters and start talking with the park Ranger who has nobody to talk with, you could end up spending two hours for a visit. However, baring an extended conversation, and excluding the walk along the shoreline, allow an hour. The film takes up fifteen minutes, and you can see the house and read the exhibits in another fifteen. All that’s involved in a visit to Grant’s cabin is taking a look inside. There are wayside exhibits on the grounds, and you’ll certainly want to walk around and take in the view of the river.

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Last updated on March 29, 2023
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