(Petersburg, Va.) – This morning, representatives of the Civil War Trust, the nation’s largest battlefield preservation organization, the City of Petersburg and the Commonwealth of Virginia came together to announce a unique public-private partnership to protect and restore critical sites associated with the 1864–1865 Petersburg Campaign. During the ceremony, held in Old Towne Petersburg, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton announced nearly $850,000 in transportation enhancement matching grants, funding that will be used to purchase battlefield properties and aid in the restoration of the historic South Side Depot.
“The ongoing commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial provides us with an ideal opportunity to work with the Trust to preserve, promote and protect our historic sites,” said Connaughton. “This partnership is creating a legacy that will last for generations to come.”
The grant announcement could not come at a better time. Earlier this month, the Trust announced an ambitious $1.1 million campaign to protect 120 acres of historic land associated with the fighting in and around Petersburg. During the 10-month siege, the opposing armies clashed in major combat 16 times — including several times over the exact same ground — with more than 80,000 men killed, wounded, captured or missing. The Trust’s fundraising campaign will benefit land that witnessed five unique engagements on three distinct battlefields. The successful completion of the campaign will require federal and state matching grants, as well as private donations.
“If I were to tally the battlefield land in this nation most worthy of meaningful, permanent protection, the sites in and around Petersburg would have to be at the top of the list,” said Trust president James Lighthizer. “Considering the duration, intensity and significance of the fighting that happened here, this must be counted as some of the most hallowed ground in America.”
Connaughton announced a $448,000 matching grant that will benefit one element of the Trust campaign: the purchase of an 81-acre tract — one of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels appropriate for historic preservation — known as “Cemetery Hill.” The area is associated with the initial June 18, 1864, federal assault on Petersburg, as well as the July 30, 1864, Battle of the Crater and the Confederate attack on Fort Stedman, March 25, 1865. The site, previously owned by the City of Petersburg, is located between historic Blandford Cemetery and Petersburg National Battlefield. The Trust will raise the remainder of funding for the $750,000 transaction from a combination of public and private sources.
Additionally, as part of the public-private partnership announced today, the City of Petersburg will receive $500,000 to aid in the stabilization and restoration of downtown’s historic South Side Depot. The Commonwealth’s $400,000 investment, announced during the press conference, will be augmented by a $100,000 contribution from the Civil War Trust. The inclusion of private funding equal to 20 percent of a project’s total cost is a requirement of eligibility for Transportation Enhancement grants.
“The grant for the revitalization of the South Side Depot will assist Petersburg's efforts to join with Petersburg National Battlefield to interpret the remarkable history of our community,” said Mayor Brian Moore. “Once restored for public education and enjoyment, the South Side Depot is expected to bring thousands of tourists into Old Towne every year, which will contribute to Petersburg's economic base.”
All participants stressed the long-term commitment to the Petersburg region that both projects represent. The Depot’s restoration will provide a tourism boost to Old Towne for years to come. After completing the acquisition of the Cemetery Hill site, the Trust will place a perpetual conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on the land. The Trust will then act as steward for the property until such a time as it can be transferred to the Petersburg National Battlefield and become the property of the American people.
“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources remains committed to protecting and safeguarding the Old Dominion’s irreplaceable treasures,” said Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick, who also spoke at the event. “Partnerships like those we celebrate today are a key part of our efforts to ensure that future generations are able to visit these sites in person and absorb the educational, environmental and economic benefits provided to communities through their preservation.”
Petersburg National Battlefield superintendent Lewis Rogers echoed the importance of partnerships to preserve and promote the region’s history, saying: “By joining together on these projects, the city, the Commonwealth, the park and the Civil War Trust are taking great strides to make Petersburg an even more dynamic destination for those seeking to learn about our nation’s heritage and the Civil War’s lasting impact.”
In addition to its Petersburg campaign, the Trust is currently engaged in active fundraising efforts to save significant battlefield properties at Bentonville, N.C., Cedar Mountain, Va., Chancellorsville, Va., Fredericksburg, Va., Gaines’ Mill, Va., Mill Springs, Ky., and Perryville, Ky. To learn more about current fundraising projects and the Trust’s ambitious sesquicentennial preservation effort, Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy, please visit www.civilwar.org.
Cemetery Hill in the Petersburg Campaign
Blandford Hill, commonly known as Cemetery Hill during the Siege of Petersburg, was a Confederate stronghold from the time of the first Federal assault on June 18, 1864, when artillery positioned there played a major role in the successful defense. Following that action, the Confederates strongly fortified the position, which next came under attack on July 30, 1864 during the Battle of the Crater. Federal troops set off 8,000 pounds of black powder under the Confederate lines, causing an explosion that rained debris down on the armies for 10 minutes. The terrific explosion caused chaos in the Southern lines, but the Confederates were able to regroup and repulse the Union assault. Grant did not attack Cemetery Hill again until the final days of the siege. Cemetery Hill, however, was never taken by military assault; it was abandoned during evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2-3, 1865.
History of the South Side Depot
The South Side Depot, built as a railroad station in 1854, was an integral part of the Confederate logistical efforts during the siege of Petersburg. The Depot, the South Side Railroad line, and three other rail lines in the vicinity were considered vitally important to the survival of the nearby Confederate capital in Richmond. As a result, Petersburg became the target of Union forces who sought to cut off supplies and communication to Lee’s army and the Confederate capital. The South Side Railroad was the last rail line controlled by the Confederate army. When it fell to Union troops in early April 1865, the fall of Richmond and Petersburg became inevitable.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 32,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including nearly 2,000 at sites associated with the Petersburg Campaign. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.