In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat

Synopsis

The Petersburg campaign began June 15, 1864, with Union attempts to break an improvised line of Confederate field fortifications. By the time the campaign ended on April 2, 1865, two opposing lines of sophisticated and complex earthworks stretched for thirty-five miles, covering not only Petersburg but also the southeastern approaches to Richmond. This book, the third volume in Earl Hess's trilogy on the war in the eastern theater, recounts the strategic and tactical operations in Virginia during the last ten months of the Civil War, when field fortifications dominated military planning and the landscape of battle.

Hess extracts evidence from maps and earthworks systems, historic photographs of the entrenchments, extensive research in published and archival accounts by men engaged in the campaign, official engineering reports, modern sound imaging to detect mine galleries, and firsthand examination of the remnants of fortifications on the Petersburg battlefield today. The book covers all aspects of the campaign, especially military engineering, including mining and countermining, the fashioning of wire entanglements, the laying of torpedo fields, and the construction of underground shelters to protect the men who manned the works. It also humanizes the experience of the soldiers working in the fortifications, revealing their attitudes toward attacking and defending earthworks and the human cost of trench warfare in the waning days of the war.

Excerpt

Petersburg was the longest, the most complex, and perhaps the most important campaign of the Civil War. Gen. Robert E. Lee staked the fate of his Army of Northern Virginia on the outcome of this campaign, which lasted from June 15, 1864, to April 2, 1865. He had lost the strategic initiative to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland campaign that preceded the confrontation at Petersburg and was fighting to save both his army and the Confederate capital. Even with the important triumphs achieved by Federal troops in the West, the Confederates were still holed up in what a recent historian has called their “last citadel,” the lines that defended Richmond and Petersburg. in fact, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s grand march from Atlanta to the sea and through the Carolinas was primarily a movement to bring 60,000 western veterans to help Grant reduce that last Rebel stronghold.

Field fortifications played a pivotal role in the operations of both armies at Petersburg. in fact, no other campaign of the Civil War saw such heavy reliance on earthworks to promote the grand tactical goals of opposing field armies. After 292 days of continuous contact, the trenches stretched for some thirty-five miles from a point southeast of Richmond to the area west of Petersburg, crossing two rivers, two rail lines, and several major roads. At several points along those lines, engineers had designed defenses in depth, and all along the front of the trenches were extensive fields of obstructions to trip up and delay an attacker. the obstructions included a minefield that stretched 2,266 yards before a section of the Confederate works. Dams across creeks created water barriers, and exten-

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