Battlefield marks beginning of siege
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jun 17, 2014, 13:13
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Re-enactors demonstrate a cannon to visitors at the battlefield. The re-enactors were portraying members of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery.
The Union Army, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, made its way into the City of Petersburg on June 15, 1864. Now 150 years later, the Siege of Petersburg was commemorated with a weekend of events at Petersburg National Battlefield.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Union soldiers marched into the area ready to cut off the supplies being sent to the Confederate soldiers. The events over the weekend highlighted the efforts of the Confederate soldiers and their defense of Petersburg.
The visitors to Petersburg National Battlefield over the weekend not only learned about those attacks back in June 1864 but also stood on the very ground at the Eastern Front Unit were the battles had taken place.
Over the two-day event, visitors had various stops throughout the battlefield including artillery and infantry demonstrations, living historians discussing the role of the U.S. Colored Troops during the June battles, Park Rangers giving details regarding those battles against the Union soldiers and there were also demonstrations depicting the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, which included blasts of a cannon.
Chuck Maurer, of Petersburg, stood under a tent Sunday afternoon and spoke to Jimmy Blankenship and Julia Steele, with the Petersburg National Battlefield, discussing artifacts of that time period as well as a piece of equipment he brought to the battlefield, an auger. That piece of equipment was used by soldiers to dig holes in the ground searching for craters, hoping to avoid being blown to bits.
Maurer found the steel rod in the Appomattox River last year. He said he straightened it out and wanted to bring to the historians, hoping to get a story on the piece of equipment. Though Maurer enjoyed his time on Sunday at the battlefield, he glanced around, wishing that others had come out to take part and celebrate history.
“It’s kind of a disappointing turnout,” Maurer said. “A lot of people don’t care about history anymore. It’s not Nintendo I guess.”
Despite the small crowd on Sunday afternoon, many of park rangers said the crowd over the course of the weekend was favorable, noting almost 500 people came through the park on Saturday.
Further up the hill on the Eastern Front of the battlefield, blasts of a cannon rang out along with shouts of excitement from visitors. Randy Watkins, a park ranger for Petersburg National Battlefield, had on another type of uniform Sunday afternoon as he told those anxiously awaiting the blasts about the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery division during the battle.
Watkins said no more than 2,200 troops occupied the field. He said the cannons were towed by horses during the Civil War, often being moved from place to place as they were needed. He further explained that the cannonballs were about 12 pounds each, ranging from two to two and a half pounds of gun powder.
Kyle Gibson, 5, of Chesapeake held his hands over his ears as the re-enactors counted down before firing the cannon, letting out an excited squeal as the smoke cleared after the blast.
Michelle Gibson, held Kyle on her lap during the demonstration and said he was excited and ready for the cannon to be fired.
“My husband was looking for a cool place to go,” Michelle said. “He looked on the internet and found this so we drove on over to visit.”
The 150th celebration continues Wednesday with a program at the battlefield. “The Charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Unit” walking tour will begin at 4:30 p.m. The men of the 1st Maine made their charge at 4:30 p.m. on June 18, 1864 and lost almost 75 percent of their regiment within 10 minutes.