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Civil War Blog

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Touring the Petersburg National Battlefield – Fort Stedman

Posted By on March 28, 2013

Today’s blog post continues a multi-part series on the Petersburg National Battlefield – that portion of the battlefield which made up the Eastern Front, where the opening assaults and the Battles of the Crater and Fort Stedman occurred.  All parts of the series can be accessed by clicking on the series title here, Touring the Petersburg National Battlefield.  Recent photographs taken at the battlefield are interspersed with the official, interpretative statements made at the various tour stops as well as statements from the National Park Service brochures and web site.  Many men from the Lykens Valley area participated in this battle and the Battle of the Crater itself was noteworthy for the participation of coal miners from Schuylkill County.

Continuing now to Stop 5, Fort Stedman.

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The Battle of Fort Stedman is depicted on the historical marker below (click on picture to enlarge).

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Desperate to relieve the Union noose strangling Petersburg, on 25 March 1865, General Lee used pre-dawn darkness and stealth to pierce the Union line here at Fort Stedman: “We were very much elated at first, as we thought we had won a great victory.”

Though initially successful, the attack soon lost momentum.  Union reinforcements arrived and counterattacked.  The Confederates fell back over and into the fort; hundreds were killed or captured.

Never again would Robert W. Lee launch a major offensive.  A week later Petersburg would fall.

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Berms showing the location of Fort Stedman

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The Fort Stedman Monument is at the left of the berms.

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The Pennsylvania Monument at Fort Stedman

Fort Stedman

In the last grand offensive movement of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Fort Stedman, with adjacent works, was captured at 4:30 A.M., 25 March 1865, by a well selected body of Confederates under the command of General John B. Gordon.

An Advance was made with great determination over the broken Union lines, then through the ravine, and up the rising ground to the eastward, for the purpose of cutting the U.S. Military R.R. and thus make successful the Confederate plan of severing the Army of the Potomac and destroying its base of supplies at City Point.

This movement was checked, and the direct assault in the recapture of these embattlements, was made by the Third Division Ninth Corps Army of the Potomac, in whose memory this tablet is erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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How the Fort Was Built (click on picture to enlarge).

Description of the Union-built Fort Stedman:

“It is quite interesting to see a fort going up. The men work in the manner of bees.  The mass throw the earth; the engineer soldiers do the ‘rivetting,’ that is, the interior facing of the logs.  The engineer sergeants run about with tapes and stakes, measuring busily;and the engineer officers look as wise as possible and superintend.”

With up to six cannons and 300 infantrymen as garrison, Fort Stedman was typical of the more than 30 forts that studded the Union siege lines.  Its main distinguishing characteristic:  the Confederate line lay only 300 years away.

Union engineers elected to leave Stedman’s trees standing – an uncommon luxury for the troops stationed here….

Dirt and logs gave shelter against Confederate shells and bullets.  Life in the fortifications was, wrote one soldier, “Endurance without relief; sleeplessness without exhilaration; inactivity without rest; apprehension requiring ceaseless watching.”

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This series of posts continues tomorrow at Stop 6.


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