opponents employ a siege in order to weaken their foe to the point where the combatants who are laying siege can eventually take the
position being held under siege. From mid 1864 to early 1865, Union General Ulysses S. Grant utilized multiple tactics to reach this
objective with the railroad junctions around Petersburg, Virginia. Along with targeted assaults on perceived weakened or
vulnerable positions, Grant attempted to extend the lines his numerically superior force to push General Lee to do likewise, stretching
Lee's smaller army to the breaking point. As part of the attempt to weaken and demoralize their enemy, union soldiers bombarded the
Confederate lines and the town of Petersburg. Although many types of artillery were used in this regard, the most familiar weapon
used was the mortar known as the Dictator.
During the late summer and early fall of 1864, the Dictator
fired shells weighing as much as 225 pounds into the Confederate lines and the city itself. According to the US National Park
service, the Dictator, the largest of any of the mortars used, shot 218 shells towards the town and its southern protectors. The mortar
pictured here, currently positioned along the siege lines of the Petersburg Battlefield, is similar to the original. With a range of
about two miles, the massive exploding shells could wreak psychological havoc even if they missed their intended targets. The
embankment in front of the mortar protected the men and their weaponry from counter-battery fire. Again, according to the National Park
Service, the original Dictator likely was melted down as scrap metal towards the end of the century. However, the mortar pictured here
is of the same type. Click on either image to also see a picture of the original Dictator.