Five Forks Unit


Petersburg Main Unit
Five Forks Unit
Federal Picket Line
City Point

An Archaeological Overview and Assessment
of the Five Forks Unit

Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia

Brooke S. Blades, Author

David G. Orr and Paul A. Shackel, Principal Investigators

Report Submitted to the National Park Service, National Capital Region, under the 
U. S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Petersburg National Battlefield

bulletManagement Summary (below)
bulletAcknowledgments (below)
bulletContents (next page)

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Management Summary

An archaeological overview and assessment of the Five Forks Unit (Dinwiddie County, Virginia) of Petersburg National Battlefield was undertaken by the University of Maryland in 1998.  The overview and assessment was initiated under the terms of a cooperative agreement that was supervised by Dr. David Orr and Superintendent Michael Hill of the National Park Service and awarded to Dr. Paul Shackel in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland.  Dr. Brooke Blades conducted the background research, directed the field survey, and wrote the final report.  Park Historian Chris Calkins and Mr. Gail Brown of the Department of Anthropology assisted the field survey in March 1998.

No prehistoric sites have been located within the Five Forks Unit, but the recovery of projectile points by a local collector and the inventory of identified sites in Dinwiddie County indicate that later Archaic, Woodland, and possibly Paleoindian loci are possible within the boundaries of the unit.  The landform configuration of uplands above small tributary streams and stream junctions reinforces the probability of evidence of prehistoric occupation.  The historic occupation of the Five Forks vicinity had commenced by the mid-eighteenth century if not earlier.  A mixture of tobacco plantations surrounded the "Five Forks," a junction of three roadways, during the late eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century.  The labor on these plantations was supplied primarily by African-American slaves in virtually all cases.  The Civil War battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, intruded upon this rural landscape for only one day, but the impact of the end of the siege of Petersburg was profound.  The post-Civil War residents of the Five Forks area sought to maintain the essence of their economic structure despite dramatic social changes.

The configuration of the modern agricultural fields is different from that which existed in 1865, although the overall rural character of the landscape has been maintained.  The sites of two farm dwellings that were standing at the time of the battle are located within the unit: the Boisseau/Young farm west of Church Road and the Sydnor farm north of White Oak Road.  These farm dwellings probably disappeared during the twentieth century.  A third site had evidently burned in 1851 and was called the "Chimneys" at the time of the battle; the site lies northeast of the Sydnor farm.  The Gilliam farm dwelling of "Burnt Quarter" was built in the eighteenth century and still stands south of the park, although lands that were once included in the Gilliam farm fall within the boundaries of the park.  Several dwellings and other structures that were built after the Civil War remain standing within the Five Forks Unit.


This research was undertaken within the terms of a cooperative agreement between the National Park Service and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland.  The agreement was initiated by Dr. David Orr of the National Park Service and we are most grateful to him for his support and encouragement.  Superintendent Michael Hill, Chief of Resource Management David Shockley, and others on the staff at Petersburg National Battlefield have provided consistent support for and interest in our research.  I wish to extend a particular note of appreciation to Park Historian Chris Calkins, who unselfishly shared his extensive knowledge of sources relating to the Five Forks campaign, who accompanied us in our field survey, and whose research has greatly improved the quality of this study.

The cooperative agreement was awarded to Dr. Paul Shackel in the Department of Anthropology at Maryland, and I am most grateful to Paul for involving me in the project.  Kim Schmidt at the department guided me with patience and skill through various administrative matters.  Gail Brown, a graduate student in the department, very kindly assisted the field survey at Five Forks.

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