The image above shows a US National Park Service reconstruction of a portion of a Federal fort along the lines contested
during the Siege of Petersburg. The bright and peaceful grassy meadows of today belie the grim conditions encountered by the
soldiers of both sides of this final desperate struggle for success or survival. In 1864-65, little if any grass remained due
to the excavations to create the various forts and earthworks. The treading of thousands of feet, both human and animal,
condemned any vegetation fortunate enough to survive the construction of these fortifications. Few trees would have remained
after eager builders harvested those available for construction materials. Certainly, as temperatures grew cold, soldiers took
anything that burned for fuel to keep warm.
With the coming of winter, the soldiers of both side, but especially the Confederates, suffered greatly. In February of 1865,
General Lee would write to President Jefferson Davis about the condition of his men and the impact of winter.
"Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, they had to be retained in line of battle, been in the same condition
the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults
and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations
and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet. I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports
that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. If some change is not
made and the commissary department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage
survives, must fail under this treatment."
An unidentified photographer took the image above of military fortifications at Petersburg, Virginia. If you click on the image,
a closer look exposes the conditions the men endured during the siege. The US Library of Congress did not identify the units to
build or inhabit these fortifications. The image was taken from an observation tower, explaining the seemingly aerial view.
If you were fortunate
enough to be an officer or a member of the engineers, your surroundings tended to be a little more civilized. Shown here is an
example of the cabins built by the soldiers of the 50th New York Engineers. Although made from the logs and branches from
locally harvested trees, close inspection reveals the great skill and attention to detail during the construction of these
quarters. Esthetics and architectural design along with windows, chimneys, and smooth walkways all merged to help keep the
inhabitants in relative comfort. Click
here to view the spectacular
Poplar Grove Church, a portion of which is visible to the right of this cabin, built in a similar
fashion also by the 50th New York Engineers.
endured by those on the front lines were far less homelike. Men burrowed into the ground or heaped soil onto impromptu structures
to build bombproofs to protect themselves from the shelling. Most often sitting in dirt or mud, the men did what they could to get
through the day. Most also dared not poke their heads above the upper rim of the earthworks for fear of being caught by the
ubiquitous sharpshooters of either side. By clicking on the image to the right, you can see multiple images offering a
glimpse into the conditions the soldiers tolerated during the ten month siege. Page may take time to load with slower connections
due to the number and size of the images.