On April 2, 1865, following the defeat at Five Forks - the 'Waterloo of the Confederacy' - the day before, Union Generals Grant and Meade launched a massive attack against the remaining Petersburg lines. The Confederate line was so thin due to casualties and desertions that the soldiers stood between three and four feet apart in a single line without reserves. The rear and right flank were exposed, and their supply lines had been cut. Early in the morning the 6th Maryland stormed the Confederate fortifications near Hart Farm and broke through. Continued Union assaults up and down the fortifications broke through and eventually collapsed the Confederate line. That evening Robert E. Lee ordered an evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and four years of Civil War would soon come to an end.

Visiting the Petersburg Breakthrough Battlefield

Pamplin Historical Park preserves and interprets the Petersburg Breakthrough Battlefield, a National Historic Landmark. Your best bet to tour the Petersburg Breakthrough Battlefield is to begin at the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier at Pamplin. The Museum offers an audio tour of seven galleries of multi-media and multi-sensory exhibits that present the daily life of a Civil War soldier.

From the museum, you're next stop should be the Field Fortifications Exhibit that features a recreated parapet and ditch earthwork. The exhibit shows how the original fortifications were built and what they would have looked like during the time of the Civil War.

pamplin historical park recreated fortifications

Recreated Confederate entrenchments show how the fortifications were originally constructed.

Next, you will want to visit the Battlefield Center across from the Field Fortifications Exhibit. The evocative shape of the building commemorates the collapsing of the Confederate line that can be seen along the Battlefield Trail. The center itself features a theater and exhibits.

From the Battlefield Center, head out the back door to start the Breakthrough Trail that will take you through the heart of the Petersburg Breakthrough Battlefield. The trail passes by nearly a mile of impressive, well-preserved Confederate fortifications and highlights areas where Union breakthroughs occurred on the Confederate line, causing a collapse that would send the Confederates into retreat and surrender seven days later. An audio tour and interpretive signs describe the battle actions leading to the breakthrough.

pamplin historical park union crossing pamplin historical park confederate earthworks

Union soldiers crossed the moat and charged the steep walls of the Confederate line during the battle. The earthworks at Petersburg Breakthrough Battlefield are part of a 45-mile long network of Confederate fortifications that defended Richmond and Petersburg.

The Breakthrough Trail offers three length options - long, medium, and short ranging from 1-1/4 mile to 1/4 mile. All three options pass by the site of the first breakthrough by the 6th Maryland. The trail itself consists of gravel track with boardwalks over boggy areas. The scenic trail is a little hilly in places. For those requiring accessibility assistance, all-terrain scooters are available and may be requested at the front desk.

There are also two optional side trails to the Civil War Adventure Camp, Hart Farm and the Headwaters Trail. The Hart Farm was witness to the fierce fighting of that day, and Mrs. Hart tended a mortally wounded Union soldier and later buried him in her garden. Headwaters is a nature and wildlife trail that passes by Confederate entrenchments and includes the Jones Farm Loop Trail created in partnership with the Civil War Trust that shows Confederate fortifications and crosses the Confederate picket line.

pamplin historical park civil war adventure camp

At the Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park participants of all ages can experience the life of a Civil War soldier in a reconstructed encampment.

In addition to the Breakthrough Trail, Pamplin Historical Park offers a wealth of other historical exhibits and activities for all ages, and you may want to spend more time there after the battlefield tour.

Visit Civil War Trust for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: The evocative architecture of the Battlefield Center commemorates the collapse of the Confederate line at Petersburg.

Historical Photo

Battle of Petersbury Courier & Ives The Battle of Petersburg Va April 2nd 1865, Currier & Ives, 1865  (Library of Congress)