Petersburg Main Unit


Petersburg Main Unit
Five Forks Unit
Federal Picket Line
City Point



Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia

By Brooke S. Blades, University of Maryland

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

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 Main Unit (Prince George County, Virginia) of Petersburg National Battlefield was undertaken by the University of Maryland in 1998.  The study was funded by the Systemwide Archaeological Inventory Program (SAIP) of the National Park Service.  The project was initiated under the terms of a cooperative agreement that was supervised by Dr. David Orr and former 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 Gail Brown and Michael Wilkens of the University of Maryland assisted the field survey in January 1999.

Petersburg is most famous for the Civil War siege from June 1864 to April 1865 that led to the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.  The Main Unit of the park east of Petersburg contains extensive remains from the Civil War siege, including earthworks, battle sites, and encampment grounds.  Since the inner coastal plain of Virginia has witnessed repeated occupation during the prehistoric, colonial, and early national periods, the Main Unit contains archaeological sites spanning much of the spectrum of Virginia's past, from early Native American hunters and gatherers through English colonists and African-American slaves to the Civil War and post-Civil War eras.

No field survey oriented to the investigation of prehistoric occupation has occurred within the Main Unit.  A survey undertaken by MAAR Associates on the adjoining grounds of Fort Lee recovered considerable prehistoric evidence, particularly of Late Archaic occupations on higher terrace crests and ridges above creeks and Early-Middle Woodland occupation on lower creek terraces.  Such landforms are found within the Main Unit and therefore similar prehistoric evidence is anticipated.  Four large agricultural slave plantations emerged during the latter half of the eighteenth century on the ridge overlooking the Appomattox River.  Two or three smaller plantations and farms were erected during the second quarter of the nineteenth century.  All of these properties were destroyed or severely damaged during the Civil War siege and many of the associated dwellings were never rebuilt.  As a consequence, such sites provide an important opportunity to examine the physical dimensions of slave and slaveholder life on ante bellum plantations and farms.  Some of the properties were reoccupied into the twentieth century.  Evidence of World War I Camp Lee training trenches and encampments exists in the park, which also provides a physical archive of early National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps development activities.


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 funded by the Systemwide Archaeological Inventory Program (SAIP) and was initiated by Dr. David Orr of the National Park Service; we are most grateful to him for his support and encouragement.  Former Superintendent Michael Hill, Chief of Resource Management David Shockley, GIS Coordinator Richard Easterbrook, Historian Jimmy Blankenship and 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 accompanied us in our field survey and shared information gained through decades of research on the Petersburg siege.

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 once again guided me with patience and skill through various administrative matters.  Joe Muller, former GIS Coordinator in the department, prepared the GIS composite prints of historic landscape and modern topographic data that are reproduced herein.  Gail Brown and Michael Wilkens, former graduate students in the department, very kindly assisted the field survey.

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