On June 9, 1864, Union cavalry and infantry attacked Petersburg with the intention of gaining control of this important transportation hub to cut the supply lines to Richmond. They Yankees were met and driven back by a small unit of Virginia reserves comprised mostly of 'old men and young boys' - a common nickname for this battle. Six days later Union Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac crossed the James River on a one-half-mile long pontoon bridge while Union Gen. Butler’s corps crossed the Appomattox River and attacked Petersburg from the other side. The Confederates were routed from their trenches back to Harrison Creek, and over the next two days more sections of the Confederate line were captured. Reinforcements were then sent in from Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia who held the ground and commenced the nine-month Siege of Petersburg.

Visiting the Petersburg Battlefield

Your best bet to tour the Battle of Petersburg is to begin at the Eastern Front Visitor Center at the Petersburg National Battlefield Park. Here there is a staffed visitor center, museum, film, and gift shop. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is a 4-mile tour that features eight stops with interpretive signs, exhibits, audio stations and hiking trails. The first stop features a hiking trail to the Confederate Battery at the Dimmock Line and the Union's giant 13-inch 'Dictator' 17,000 pound mortar that fired 225-pound shells into downtown Petersburg 2 miles away. Stop 3 is the site of the position captured by African American troops and features a monument to the United States Colored Troops (USCT), recreated fortifications and a scenic hiking trail to Meade Station. The third stop at Harrison Creek features a scenic hiking trail along the Confederate line. There are stops at the Union Forts Stedman, Haskell and Morton where there are hiking trails, artillery exhibits, interpretive markers and audio stations. It is from a 14-gun battery at Fort Morton that Union Maj. Gen. Burnside viewed the unfolding of the notorious Battle of The Crater.

Petersburg Earthworks and Cannon

Confederate Battery 5 along the first stop of the driving tour was one of the strongest defenses at Petersburg.

Petersburg Earthworks and Cannon

The third stop on the Eastern Front Driving Tour features recreated siege fortifications.

In addition to the driving tour, The Eastern Front Battlefield features a Recreational Trail System of hiking, biking, equestrian and interpretive trails that connect the stops on the Eastern Front Driving Tour. An app is also available from Civil War Trust that features four tours that cover all of the major actions of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign including actions at Petersburg. This excellent resource contains driving directions to all stops as well as readings, photographs and interactive media describing the background and battle actions.

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

Pictured at the top: The Battle of the Crater was viewed from the Union battery at Fort Morton.

Historical Photo

Petersburg Duncans Brigade

The war in Virginia - the 22nd Colored Regiment, Duncan's brigade, carrying the first line of Rebel works before Petersburg / from a sketch by our special artist, Edwin Forbes. 1864 (Library of Congress)