The Dictator 1864

The Dictator 1864

Saturday (6/14/14) was our last day of this trip, and one we were most looking forward to as it marked the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Petersburg. We started once again at the Visitor Center to find out the special events of the day. Many stops boasted reenactors, historians, and opportunities for additional information, but the Visitor Center had the best. Here, they had a variety of fun things for visitors. There was a tent housing artifacts found in Petersburg (and the layers in which they were found), so visitors could learn more about archaeology. They also had an area with tons of costumes for those who wanted to experience 1860’s apparel.

46th Virginia--then and now

46th Virginia–then and now

Our favorite part, however was meeting with the guys in the 46th Virginia. These gentlemen were representing their ancestors at the very place where their ancestors fought. The tall grass is left by the park service to mark where they were. As we spoke with these gentlemen, they shared the stories they had discovered. One ancestor had been captured and held as a POW. Another one had an ancestor who was killed the second day storming the crater. For each one, it was a surreal opportunity to spend time where their own ancestors had struggled, and in some cases, given their lives.

Reenactor by the Monument to the Colored Troops

Reenactor by the Monument to the Colored Troops

From the Visitor Center, we progressed on the tour of the Eastern theatre. We met many reenactors along the way. One told extensively about the involvement of the colored regiments, many of whom saw their first action at Petersburg. At another of the stops, we saw Emmanuel–our tour guide from the Grant headquarters who had told us he would be at Petersburg. Here, he read a letter about the power of persistence. Obviously, with the amount of death involved in the Civil War, the disposal of bodies was an ever going concern. Many families never saw their loved ones again, but more than we’d care to consider never had any idea where their loved one’s remains were laid to rest.
View of Taylor House to the Crater

View of Taylor House to the Crater

When bodies were buried, they were not often allowed to be moved. Yet one mother repeatedly bugged Congress long enough that they finally relented and allowed her to come and collect her son’s remains–more to shut her up than anything. An amazing story!

At Taylor house ruins, we met the ranger who gave the podcast tour we had listened to at the Crater. He shared that was incredibly stressful for him, as it was giving a tour with no audience or questions. He also shared with us some fun facts. First, there are no witness trees at Petersburg. Because this was a 9 1/2 month siege, soldiers used everything around for fires (cook stoves). He also pointed out all the barriers that allowed soldiers to work in such close proximity to each other without being seen–the rail line, walls, etc. all hid them from view.

Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House

Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House

By this time, we were starving, so we headed into town to find the Poe honeymoon house that Thomas Jefferson had suggested we try. Thanks to Siri, we made it, but this little restaurant is far off the beaten path–via one way streets and limited parking. The address, for anyone who wants to venture that way, is 12 West Bank Street, Petersburg, Virginia. Most of the parking is on the street, so you may have to walk a bit. Additionally, the coffee house is currently only open on weekends due to ongoing renovations of the suite where the Poes honeymooned. But, if you can swing it, it is well worth the trip.

The Coffee House with Jeffrey Abugel

The Coffee House with Jeffrey Abugel

Author Jeffrey Abugel, who purchased and re-established the Coffee House which initially belonged to Hiram Haines (Poe’s newspaper friend), settled in Petersburg and was surprised that no one recognized Poe’s stint there. He thought this was a wrong which needed to be righted, so he bought house and began renovations. Though he had initially had only a cursory interest in Poe, he began studying Poe extensively, combing through records, etc. He would eventually write a book on Poe in this area, entitled Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg: The Untold Story of the Raven in the Cockade City, written in the same room where the Poe’s honeymooned. He now runs cafe on weekends, still raising the money needed to complete renovations to the second floor.

Grave of Nora Maury, founder of Memorial Day

Grave of Nora Maury, founder of Memorial Day

As an aspiring writer myself, it was an awesome experience to get to meet this author, enjoy wonderful food, fascinating surroundings and artifacts, and be at the place another great author spent time.

After lunch, we went to Blanford church. This is a beautiful building with original Tiffany stained glass windows. Unfortunately, there is no photography inside, and you can only go inside with a paid tour, which we opted not to do. The cemetery, though, has a Confederate section which is really cool. Another fun find was that wandering around the Cemetery, we found the grave of the woman who founded Memorial Day.

From this point, we drove around the Western Theatre. We saw some incredible earthworks including the longest siege works–2000 feet long. Another one of the stops along the way is the People’s Memorial Cemetery. Here, again, we went on the podcast through Civil War Traveler. The tour shares some incredible stories of those buried there. One of our favorite stories was a Confederate buried with a Union name.

The grave of disputed identity

The grave of disputed identity

Recent archaeological sleuthing suggests that the name etched on the grave stone is actually wrong, so they’re in the process of changing it, making there one Confederate in this otherwise Union cemetery. I’m including a picture of the gravestone here, since the next time you visit, it may be different. There are also a large number of graves of Colored troops, labeled as such–the only ones I’ve ever seen, but it makes sense, due to the large number who lost their lives at Petersburg.

Finally, we headed for home, rounding out another amazing vacation.

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