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CITY POINT

Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia

City Point is best known as the location of the main Union army supply depot during the Siege of Petersburg.  During the siege, General Grant built his headquarters there.  City Point also contains Appomattox Manor, the plantation home of Dr. Richard Eppes from 1851 to 1896.  The house was located in the center of Dr. Eppes' plantations and served as the administrative center for plantation operations.
The following article was provided by Gail Brown.

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As part of the overview and assessment of the City Point Unit, researchers have focused on the social relationships and the structured plantation landscape of the Eppes plantation.  By focusing their attention on these aspects of the City Point Unit, University of Maryland researches revealed how Appomattox Manor and its grounds fit into the surrounding landscape before and after the Civil War.  In order to study these relationships, researchers looked at the Eppes' journals in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society.  Dr. Eppes kept daily journals;

. . . taking note, besides my daily transactions, of every important event occurring on my estates.  There will be from time introduced my opinions on different agricultural subjects.  As I am engaged probably more extensively than any man in the State in improving my land, should I meet with success, it may be interesting to those who come after me, to see by what means I succeeded and in what way I erred profiting by my success & guarding against my errors (Eppes: 3 Sept. 1852).

Eppes not only recorded agricultural issues, but also his views on slavery, economic conditions, industry, and the approaching war.  After the war and a break in his journals, Eppes continued to write about life in post-bellum Virginia.  His concerns focused on his plantations and economic situation.  He recorded how southern society changed after the war, and he addressed issues related to free African-Americans, depressed economic situations, agriculture, and northern military authority.

By reading these journals researchers can explore how Dr. Eppes structured his plantations in order to maintain authority over his natural resources and his slaves.  Researchers examined his relationships with his slaves and the living conditions they faced.  More importantly we were able to explore these same issues after the war.  What makes these journals very interesting is that they provided Eppes' opinion about the effects the Civil War had on southern society, especially his plantation.

These journals provide a larger context for City Point.  Not only can we see City Point as the Union military headquarters during the last year of the war, but we can now view the Civil War, and the Siege of Petersburg, as part of the larger frame of American history and see just how the Civil War came about, and how it affected a portion of American society.
View of the Appomattox and James rivers from the rear of Appomattox Manor.  The land on the right hand side is the Eppes Island plantation, and the land on the left is the Bermuda Hundreds plantation.  From his position on this bluff, Dr. Eppes was able to keep his plantations, the rivers, and the river traffic in constant observance.  This helped him in controlling his enslaved workers and the natural resources available on his plantations

As part of the cultural resource overview of the Petersburg National Battlefield City Point Unit, research was conducted on the structured landscape of the Eppes' plantations on whose land the City Point Unit now rests.  The City Point Unit is most commonly known as the location of General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters and the main Union Army supply depot during the Siege of Petersburg.  City Point is also the location of Appomattox Manor (Figure 1), the plantation home of Dr. Richard Eppes.  The lands that currently make up the City Point Unit served as ornamental gardens, service areas, and slave quarter locations for Dr. Eppes' home and plantation. Surrounding City Point were 2231 3/8 acres of land that made up the four plantations of Dr. Eppes' holdings: Bermuda Hundred, Eppes Island, Hopewell, and Appomattox.

Though the City Point Unit is made up of only a small portion of the original plantation, it served as the command and control center for plantation operations.  From his home Dr. Eppes began to structure and develop his plantations in a way which fit his ideal perceptions.  As John Vlach observed, "To mark their dominance over both nature and other men, planters acquired acreage, set out the boundaries of their holdings, had their fields cleared, selected building sites, and supervised the construction of dwellings and other structures.  The design of a plantation estate was an expression of the owner's tastes, values, and attitudes" (Vlach 1993: 1).  Dr. Eppes was no exception.

Daily journals kept by Dr. Eppes, located in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society, allow us the opportunity to explore his ideal structure and his recorded reality of the landscape.  Throughout the journals, Eppes noted his land purchases, his reasons for purchasing the land, and his plans for utilizing the land.  His notes on the landscape coupled with his notes on African-American slaves and freedmen on his plantations gave researchers the opportunity to examine how the structured landscape functioned with those living and working on it.

Dr. Eppes took over the daily management of his plantations in 1851.  At that time he owned only two plantations (Eppes Island and Bermuda) and portions of a third at City Point.  In 1854 he began to explore options for expanding his land holdings to the south of City Point, and in his journals Eppes stated his reason for purchasing new land,

My object in buying is to have surface for my surplus hands as I shall be overstocked in 8 or 10 years unless I extend which I must either do or sell, being loathe to do the latter I am compelled to do the former.  This one of the evils attendant on slavery & there is no choice left ergo large farms a natural consequence where slavery exist (Eppes: Jan. 15, 1853).

Eppes thus directly tied his land purchasing patterns directly to the institution of slavery.

In his journals Dr. Eppes described his attempts at constructing his dominance over his landscape, those who worked for him, and the resources which allowed him to remain in the upper social class.  Eppes constantly maintained his property boundaries with his neighbors, and made sure no violations of these boundaries occurred (Eppes: Dec. 27, 1852; Jan. 22, 1853; Jan. 22, 1859; July 11, 1859). After purchasing new property Eppes would have the new land surveyed and have its boundaries well marked (Eppes: Jan. 22-23, 1858; Feb. 11, 1859). Eppes would make sure that boundary markers in the forms of natural or man made features were left, and that his slaves, overseers, and neighbors were aware of their location (Eppes: Feb. 25, 1859).  Eppes became upset if these markers were disturbed in any manner, even to the point of punishing slaves if they cut down a tree which served as a boundary marker (Eppes: Feb. 28, 1859).  Throughout the journals, Eppes would make daily rounds through his various plantations to provide added security to his property, as well as, to check on work progress and to make sure everything was in order including his property boundaries.  With his home situated in the center of his plantations, it was easy for Eppes to reach every corner of his plantation.

Should I get it (proposed land purchase), my estates will then form a square N, E, W & S from my residence in short distances of each other (Eppes: Jan. 15, 1853).

Eppes' plantation management followed the rule of order.  Included in his journals was a copy of the Southern Planter.  In this publication it states,

No business of any kind can be successfully conducted without the aid of system and rule, and these are the more essentially necessary . . .  A place for everything, and everything kept in its place.  A rule for everything, and everything done according to the rule (Anon. 1852: 4).

It appears Eppes attempted to follow the journal's advice, as he managed his plantations by system and order (Eppes: Jan. 2, 1853). The journals show many instances of Dr. Eppes discovering things out of order during his daily rounds.  Finding that his slaves, "Were in the habit of scattering their hoes about the plantation," Eppes decided an inventory of equipment was needed on one plantation (Eppes: March 11, 1852).  Incidents of trespassing were also noted by Eppes, when he came across hunters, fishermen or other trespassers on his property (Eppes: April 18, 1852; May 8, 1856).

By maintaining rigid order on his plantations and keeping a close watch on his property boundaries, Eppes was able to maintain a sense of authority over his land and workers.  His system coupled with those plantation systems of his neighbors allowed the planters a means of keeping control over their property.  They knew who was crossing plantation boundaries, and observed the movement and actions of those people on their plantations (Eppes: Nov. 12, 1851; April 18, 1852; Sept. 4, 1859; Jan. 20, 1860).  This system of control, however, did not survive the Civil War.

Dr. Eppes returned to City Point in the summer of 1865 to find his landscape greatly affected by the military operations during the siege of Petersburg.  He, however, quickly began to organize his plantations and start farming operations.  Eppes attempted to reestablish his former way of managing his plantation based upon his landscape's structure in conjunction with his neighbors.  With changed social and troubled economic situations, Eppes' old form of structure and plantation management did not succeed.

Eppes had to develop new forms of social control over his workers.  No longer could he rely upon enslaved workers tied to the plantation.  Freedmen were allowed to leave the plantation on their own free will, and could choose to live and work where they wanted.  Eppes also had to find new ways of protecting his other plantation resources.  With many of his former neighbors not returning or not attempting to resume their plantation operations, Eppes could not rely upon them to look for individuals crossing property boundaries.  This lost network combined with poor economic conditions lead to a significant increase in the amount of theft from Dr. Eppes' plantations.  Thefts including livestock, crops, and even a building were recorded by Eppes (Eppes: Nov. 5, 30, 1867; April 10, 1868; Jan. 25, 28, 1869; July 28, 1869; Nov. 27, 28, 1869).  In order for him to diminish his losses and continue to make a profit, Eppes appeared to reduce the amount of land he directly observed.  Eppes concentrated his efforts on his Island plantation, even living on that plantation at various times, while only visiting his family at City Point (Eppes: Dec. 20, 1869).  Eppes proceeded to rent the remainder of his property to other farmers or tenets (Eppes: Oct. 7, 1869; Dec. 4, 1869; Aug. 8, 1870).

Dr. Eppes' home located at City Point remained the center of the Eppes family.  However, its function within the plantation structure changed with new social and economic situations brought about by the Civil War.  From acting as the administrative center for plantation operations before the war, to simply serving as the planter's home, the Civil War compelled Dr. Eppes to view the landscape around him differently and changed the function of his home at City Point.

The Eppes' journals give us an opening to explore the effects the Civil War had on the civilian population in and around City Point, Virginia.  It gives us a glimpse at how the planter population, especially Dr. Eppes, reacted to the changing social conditions, and how they attempted to order the environment around them to fit their needs.  By conducting this study it grants us the chance to place the City Point Unit into the larger historic context in which it belongs.  City Point allows us an opportunity to view and explore the organization and actions of the Union Army during the last year of the Civil War, but it also does more.  In addition City Point tells the story of the events leading up to the war and those that followed which affected the civilian population.  Not only do Dr. Eppes' journals provide us with a view of his life and those of other planters, but also an insight of African-Americans, and middle class Euro-Americans. With his journals we can see the events surrounding the Civil War, and place the military actions at City Point and Petersburg in a larger historical context.

Bibliography:

____________
                                 1852  Plantation and Farm, Instruction, Regulation, Record, Inventory
                                  and Account Book.  Mss1Ep734d293, In the collections of, the
                                  Virginia    Historical Society, Richmond.

Blades, Brooke
                                  1988  An Archaeological Survey of Historic Occupation at City Point,
                                  Virginia.  National Park Service, Mid-Atlantic Region.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1851 September 29 - 1852 March 11.
                                   Mss1Ep734d289, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1852 March 12 - September 30.
                                   Mss1Ep734d290, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical Society,
                                   Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1852 October 1 - 1854 March 11.
                                   Mss1Ep734d291, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1854 March 12; 1855 October 24 -
                                   1857 December 31. Mss1Ep734d292, In the collections of, The
                                   Virginia Historical Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1858 January 1 - November 19.
                                   Mss1Ep734d294, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1858 November 20 - 1859 August 11.
                                   Mss1Ep734d295, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1859 August 12 - 1862 July 1.
                                   Mss1Ep734d296, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1867 July 1 - 1868 August 2.
                                   Mss1Ep734d298, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Eppes, Dr. Richard
                                   Diary of Dr. Richard Eppes, 1868 August 1 - 1870 October 1.
                                   Mss1Ep734d299, In the collections of, The Virginia Historical
                                   Society, Richmond.

Vlach, John Michael
                                    1993  Back of the Big House.  The University of North Carolina
                                    Press, Chapel Hill.

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