Grant’s Headquarters at City Point

On the eve of the Civil War, Dr. Richard Eppes looked with pride over the lands of his Appomattox plantation that his ancestors had called home for the last two hundred years. Working those lands were his slaves, who efforts kept a roof over his family, provided food on his table and maintained his place in the social hierarchy of the south. The tension and fragility of Eppes’ relationship with his slaves were exposed when the Union army arrived in the area in May 1862. The family packed their bags and headed to Petersburg for safety, while all but a few of his slaves disappeared.

Little did they know that two years later, their home would become the logistical hub of the Union army while they fought the Confederate soldiers at Petersburg during a nine-and-half-month siege. Eppes’ plantation home became the headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant, one of the busiest seaports in the world during the siege, and a major medical operation for Union soldiers wounded on the front lines. This tract of land was a critical part of the Union army’s success at Petersburg ultimately culminating in the meeting between President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant aboard the Riverboat Queen docked at the Point. It was here, that a two hundred year old relationship in the south ended, when Lincoln and Grant discussed their plans to reunite a torn nation.

 

Voices from …

Plantation life at City Point changed forever when the Union army passed through in May 1862. As Union forces attempted to take Richmond, plantation owner, Richard Eppes enlisted in the Confederate army, hid family fled to Petersburg for safety, and the majority of his slaves simply disappeared.

Two years later, his home became the Union headquarters as Grant’s army attacked and besieged the city of Petersburg. Ironically, City Point became a major supply depot where individuals like Cornelia Hancock and Rufus Ingalls served to support the Union forces in their attempts to reunite a nation and to end slavery. Use the following links to experience the war from the perspective of a plantation owner, a slave, a nurse, and a quartermaster general in the Union army.

Richard Slaughter

“Come in, son. Have a seat, who are you and how are you? My life? Oh! Certainly you don’t want to hear about that!” - Richard Slaughter (b. 1849), a slave on Eppes’ Plantation

Working the lands of the plantation that Richard Eppes called home were approximately 130 slaves who cared for his fields and his home. Slave accounts of life at City Point are scarce. Richard Slaughter briefly spent time at City Point. His accounts of life as a slave are found in a collection of interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves. Richard was interviewed by Claude W. Anderson, on December 27, 1936. Read on to find out about slave life from one who lived it.

Life at City Point
“I was born January 9, 1849 on the James at a place called Epps Island, City Point. I was born a slave. How old am I! Well there’s the date. Count it up for yourself. My owner’s name was Dr. Richard B. Epps. I stayed there until I was around thirteen or fourteen years old when I came to Hampton. “

I don’t know much about the meanness of slavery. There was so many degrees in slavery, and I belonged to a very nice man. He never sold but one man, fur’s I can remember, and that was cousin Ben. Sold him South. Yes. My master was a nice old man. He ain’t living now. Dr. Epps died and his son wrote me my age. I got it upstairs in a letter now.”

On Childhood
I tell you what I did once. My cousin and I went down to the shore once. The river shore, you know, up where I was born. While we were walking along catching tadpoles, minnows, and anything we could catch, I happened to see a big moccasin snake hanging in a sumac bush just a swinging his head back and forth. I swung at ‘im with a stick and he swelled his head all up big and rared back. Then I hit ‘im and knocked him on the ground flat. His belly was very big so we kept hittin’ ‘im on it until he opened his mouth and a catfish as long as my arm, jumped out jest a flopping. . .

Slavery
Did slaves ever run away! Lord yes. All the time. Where I was born, there is lots of water. Why there used to be as high as ten and twelve Dutch three masters in the harbor at a time. I used to catch little snakes and other things like terrapins and sell ‘em to the sailor for to eat roaches on the ships. In those days a good captain would hide a slave way up in the top sail and carry him out of Virginia to New York and Boston.

Abraham Lincoln
I left Hampton still working as a water boy and went to Quire Creek, Bell Plains, Va., a place near Harper’s Ferry. I left the creek aboard a steamer . . . and went to Alexandria, Va. Abraham Lincoln came aboard the steamer and we carried him to Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s old home. What did he look like? Why, he looked more like an old preacher than anything I know. Heh! Heh! Heh! Have you ever seen any pictures of him? Well, if you seen a picture of him, you seen him. He’s just like the picture.

Fighting
You say you think I speak very good English. Heh! Heh! Heh! Well, son I ought to. I been everywhere. No I never went to what you would call school except to school as a soldier. I went to Baltimore in 1864 and enlisted. I was about 17 years old then. . . I was assigned to the Nineteenth Regiment of Maryland Company B. While I was training, they fought at Petersburg. I went to the regiment in ’64 and stayed in until ’67. I was a cook. They taken Richmond on the fifth day of April 1865. On that day I walked up the road in Richmond.

Life after the War
When we left Richmond, my brigade was ordered to Brownsville, Texas. When we got to Brownsville, I was detailed to a hospital staff. We arrived in Brownsville in January 1867 . . . In September we left Brownsville and came back to Baltimore. . . I then returned to Hampton and lived as an oysterman and fisherman for over forty years. I have never been wounded. My clothes have been cut off me by bullets but the Lord kept them off my back, I guess.

While I was away my father died in Hampton. He waited on an officer. My mother lived in Hampton and saw me married in 1874. I bought a lot on Union Street for a hundred dollars cash. I reared a nephew, gave him the lot and the house I built on it and he threw it away. When I moved around here, I paid cash for this home.

Dr. Richard Eppes

"God grant that this war may not be of long duration or direful in its effects but to preserve our liberty we must be prepared to endure trials & afflictions and one of the greatest is our separation from our numerous friends and relatives in Philadelphia.” - Dr. Richard Eppes, April 15, 1861, Plantation owner at Appomattox Manor

On the eve of the Civil War, Dr. Richard Eppes and his family lived in Appomattox Manor along the confluence of the James and the Appomattox Rivers. Though he owned a 2300 acre plantation and nearly 130 slaves at this time, Eppes was not a strong secessionist. However, when Virginia eventually seceded from the Union, he cast his vote with the South. Eppes had written earlier in his diary of his fear of Civil War between the North and the South. While his fears were certainly well founded, he could not have anticipated that the war would come to the doorstep of his family home.

Read Eppes’ diary entries that record his experiences of the Civil War.

Slavery

Eppes’ diary entries reveal the tension of the relationship between plantation owner and slave. While he allowed slaves to wed in his house, had his children baptized with slave children, and avoided breaking up slave families, he also saw them only as human beings merely capable of knowing right from wrong. As a result, Eppes decided who could marry, punished slaves for their transgressions, and controlled their movements on and off the plantation. Eppes, himself references his “distaste” for the slavery system, though it was this system that sustained his 2300 acre plantation and his place in southern society.

Punishment
January 8th, 1852
. . .Informed by overseer that some one had broken a room where shad were kept & stolen 150. Ordered all the negro men to be called up, measured the tracks in the house, and found them with the shoes of William Lewis Davy & Jim that they corresponded. Gave each a severe whipping but could not get them to confess. . .The worse feature in the system of slavery is the punishments to be inflicted, which gives me a distaste for the whole institution.

Punishment
Wednesday, Dec: 29th 1858
Gave Bins a good whipping today & set him to bringing up wood from boat house to be put away in our cellar for chamber use. Reasons why Bins was punished 1st running away, 2nd stealing meat from Robert, 3rd leaving farm without leave, 4th threatening to strike Robert with a pitchfork, 5th insulting Dr Harrison last Saturday, 6th drunkenness. 7th staying half a day from his work no excuse or reason given, 8th bad attention to my mules 9th being one of the strongest and ablest boys on the estate he does less work & requires more watching than a boy of 12 years of age. 10th Gave him orders to report to me on Monday last & he went off & I did not see him for a day staying away at night.

Meals
Thursday, December 30th 1858
In a conversation with Dr Harrison about negroes he advised me to increase my provisions & allow each child over 3 years old 1 lb of meat per week and all boys over 14 years mens allowance. He though the attendance of boys on the 4 horse plough deleterious the work being too hard.
Negroes are hiring very high as much as $200 paid for hands on the Appomattox improvement . . . Wrote contracts for overseers last night and this morning.

Ceremonies
Sunday March 6th 1859
Booker asked permission to marry Jane Oldham this morning gave my consent and the usual $5 given when they marry on the estate.

Sunday, May 1st 1859
Attended church this morning and stood as a witness to the Baptism of our servant Madison who was baptized today after the second lesson before the congregation. Miss Ann Augusta Watkins was baptized at the same time.

Punishment
Thursday March 17th 1859
Mrs Eppes reported the loss of an excellent daguerreotype likeness of her intimate friend Mary Leland now Mrs Thorpe of N York & suspicion rested upon Jim he having been seen with a daguerreotype some weeks since, called him up but he told a tale of having found it on the shore: as I intend to trace this matter up I locked him up for the day keeping him until night without anything to eat.

Plantation Laws
Sunday April 24th 1859
Read laws of farm after giving out provisions today there having been several delinquents lately, among them Henry Corsen who left here Friday night for island without a pass and did not get back until this morning, reduced his allowance a pound of meat & gave him warning, also warned Robert about keeping a boat.

Life at City Point
While the diaries kept by Richard Eppes provide some ideas into the personal life of this plantation owner and his family, they are more often a recording of business at City Point. Operating a 2300 acre plantation with the help of almost 130 slaves was a tremendous job. Learn more about Eppes’ life at City Point by reading these diary excerpts about the business of running a large-scale plantation.

Wednesday, December 1st, 1858
“... Visited both plantations today . . . examined hogs found most of them in good order, gave orders to kill Monday if weather is favorable. Walked over farm found corn land this years gripped and waterfurrows opened, do not appear sufficiently deep to drain well, called overseers attention to them ... “

Inventory of Appomattox Plantation 1859
Horses 4 Plough gear sets 4
Mules 5 Horse cart “ “ 2
Cows 3 Log chains 2
Calves 2 Double bars 1
Reaping machine 1 Swingle trees 4
Straw cutters 3 Curry combs 2
Patent balance 1 Grubbing hoes 12
Half bushel 1 hand rakes 4
Peck Measure 1 Horse “ 1
Grain Shovels 11
Corn shellers 1
Weeding hoes good 11
“ old 5
Spades 5
Manure forks 4
Cultivators 1
Drags 1
Earth scoops 1
Wheelbarrows
Cradles 6
Grass blades 4
4 horse wagon 1

Friday, February 11th 1859
150 or 200 bushels makes nearly 600 bushels of wheat to deliver.
Cattle look well as well as mules and sheep, hogs look badly.
Not as much straw used as I could wish.
Fences generally in very bad condition
Cattle have been trampling on wheat
Still some to plough in triangle
Gave John and Dick their clothes
Told Conway to save all the timber trees not cutting them down also posts & hickories. . .

Wednesday, Feb: 23rd 1859
Accompanied by Mrs. Eppes went up to Petersburg to day. Before leaving Depot at City Point noticed they had pulled down the old depot & was informed . . that they were going to construct a new one for the New York Steamers and also was going to get his wharf lots repaired. . . purchased ½ barrel of coffee & ½ do of white sugar & 1 box of candles ... paid bill for straw cutter & plough points $37.50 / 100.

Business, Social and Political Matters
Dr. Richard Eppes was a man of high social standing. As a doctor by trade and a wealthy plantation owner, Eppes was at the center of social circles. He attended events such as the wedding of Robert E. Lee’s son and a was a member of clubs, such as the Hole and Corner, which met monthly to discuss agricultural topics. While such activities are almost expected with a man of Dr. Eppes stature, other events, like baptizing his children with slave children are not. Read the following entries to learn more about Eppes’ business, social and political affairs.

Wedding
Wednesday, March 23rd 1859
Accompanied by Mrs Eppes & Rev. . . attended the wedding of Lieut Wm. H.F. Lee and Miss Georgianne Wickham . . .married at Shirley. Started at 8 O.C. & got there at 8 ½ OCPM just in time to see the wedding. Marriage striking from all the groomsmen being in full uniform of the U.S. Army. Col. Lee so on Gen’l Harry Lee of revolutionary fame, & himself a distinguished officer of the U S engineering Corps was decidedly the most striking person in the room, {father of the groom}.

Tuesday, April 5th 1859
Meeting . . .of the Hole and Corner Club No 1 which I attended. All the members of the club present. Quite a discussion of the Question of the day viz the most economical and best concentrated manure to be applied to the tobacco corp . . .Question for the discussion at the next meeting of the Club . . . which is the most economical cheapest and most durable wood for timber fencing . . .

Monday April 25th 1859
Our second daughter was baptized Mary along with 13 little negro children belonging to the estate . . . in St. John’s church . . . After the baptism they all returned to the house & partook of a feast given by the negroes belonging to the estate all being present except 15 or 20 who did not attend . . .

Saturday May 7th 1859
Spent the day at Hopewell where hands were occupied early this morning throwing dirt on causeway so as to enable the mules to pass over which was completed by 10 O.C. when they commenced removing grubs from corn land & digging up the stumps of dead apple & pear trees. Stewart & Charles occupied mowing yard & turning over hay cut yesterday.

Sunday, May 29th 1859
Attended church this morning and heard a sermon on the Prodigal Son, very well written
Day clear & warm. Very good congregation this morning
Rode out to Hopewell this morning.
Harriet sick gave her a dose of [medicine] ...

Secession
Though Dr. Richard Eppes was moderate in his views, and originally did not at all favor secession for his state of Virginia, he eventually concluded that there was little chance of compromises keeping the nation together. He realized that secession of the southern states would certainly mean civil war. Read his diary entries on secession to follow his thoughts of this political crisis.

Wednesday, December 12th 1860
... I see from the Northern papers that the North at last begins to realize the danger of Disunion but they will not have time to take steps to prevent it, having postponed it too long.

Friday, January 18th 1861
Rain all day, have not been able to go out, but spent day reading newspapers which present no brighter prospect for Peace and we can but conclude that if the Country is not plunged into civil war it will not be the fault of the politician.

Monday, February 4th 1861
Election for delegates to the Convention to be held in Richmond to decide upon the future position of Virginia in the new or old Confederacy took place today. Two candidates were presented by the primary meetings for the post of Delegate ... Edmund Ruffin who advocates immediate secession and prefers a Confederacy of Southern states to the old Union ... and the other Timothy Rives a regular politician and most extreme advocate for the Union with the Northern States ... Being myself a moderate man in my views ... I could not vote conscientiously for either candidate and cast my vote simply to have the acts of the Convention referred back to the people.

Sunday, March 17th 1861
Walked down on the shore this morning to learn the cause of the firing of cannon in Petersburg yesterday evening and learnt that it was the triumph of the Secession party in Petersburg on a vote to instruct their representative in the Convention now being held in Richmond to lay Secession resolutions before the Convention. Petersburg gave on this last vote over 100 for secession ...

Sometime between March 28th and April 16th, 1861
... My neighbor ... called and spent the evening. He brought with him a paper to obtain signatures to instruct our delegate . . to vote for an ordinance of Secession for the State of Virginia which I have signed having lost all hopes of our Union with the Northern States. . . could our rights have been fully guaranteed in the old Union of the States North & South, I should have much preferred it to new combinations attended as it may be with civil war & general confusion for months perhaps years ...

Monday, May 20th 1861
Rode down to ... where the Prince George Cavalry were ordered to vote on the ordinance of Secession, voted for the Ordinance of Secession ... took the oath and was mustered into the service of the State of Virginia. All troops in Va voted today, an attack being expected on election day.

Joining the Army
In 1862, Union gunboats plied the James River, passing City Point, on their way to attack Richmond, Virginia. At this time, Eppes’ family packed their belongings and traveled to Petersburg, where they felt that they would be safer. Eppes made the decision to enlist in the Confederate cavalry. Read the following diary entries where Eppes writes about his decision to fight.

Tuesday, April 16, 1861
The Governor has issued his proclamation for all volunteers to hold themselves in readiness to move at his order. I suppose I shall have to fit myself out and become an active, having been heretofore a silent member. Anything but agreeable for a man with a wife and three little children . . . I shall have to break up my household as she is unwilling to remain at City Point if I go off to the war. I indeed hardly know how to act. All my feelings say go, my duty to my family say stay, how I shall act I do not know.

Thursday, May 2nd 1861
My Birthday 37 years old . . .We celebrated it by a fish fry. . .where we spent quite a pleasant day. . . We all returned about sunset agreeing that the day had passed pleasantly. For myself who can scarcely hope to add another year to my life as I expect to be swept away by the storm now raging in our poor country. I could not repress feelings of sadness which tendered to lessen to some degree the hilarity of the party.

Visited Petersburg today and ordered my uniform for the Prince George Troupe. . . told them they must get me a pair of . . .blankets if possible.

Saturday, May 4th 1861
. . . Having returned to dinner & spent some two hours at home I received a communication from my neighbor. . . that the Prince George troops had been ordered out. . . making my preparations as speedily as possible. . .[my neighbor] & myself left. . .Our troop numbered 59 on duty out of 76 which truly shows that, considering the distance to travel & many of the absent ones not even having heard the call, the true spirit of patriotism imbues its members.

July 2nd 1862
. . . In reviewing my short career of 15 months in the Army of the Confederate States I cannot but express my approbation of the bravery displayed by both combatants in this cruel and unnecessary civil war, which I feel certain both sides will never cease to regret.

“. . .Had passion been laid aside and the nation been governed by common sense I feel this miserable war could never have occurred. Linked as I was by ties of affection and love to my many friends at the North especially in Philadelphia I never could in my cool moments approve of it and feel that however it may terminate I must be the loser, but as I am a Citizen of Virginia. . . .I feel it my duty to side with my State.”

Eppes served the Confederate army for a brief time, though he still felt that war could have been avoided. Following the Battle of Seven Pines in Richmond, Va, in 1862, Eppes received his discharge and left the army due to failing health. He later became a surgeon for the Confederate army in Petersburg for the duration of the war. There are no recordings in his journal during the time that he served as a surgeon or during the siege of Petersburg.

When Petersburg fell, he decided to stay behind with the wounded as General Robert E. Lee evacuated the city.

Life After the War
While Eppes did not make entries in his diary during the war and the siege of Petersburg, he did resume writing after the war. When Petersburg fell in April 1865, Eppes decided to say behind with the wounded as General Robert E. Lee evacuated the city. When he did return to his home at City Point, he found that it had been transformed by the Union army. Later, he learned that he would actually have to purchase from the Federal government the buildings constructed on his property by the Union army. Read the following entries to find out what happened to Eppes and his family home after the war.

Friday, September 1st 1865
The war having closed April 1st 1865 I remained in the Fair Grounds Hospital Petersburg Va. in attendance on the sick and wounded, being at that time employed in the capacity of Contract Surgeon, until the 7th May, when I visited my estate on James River for the first time since I was taken prisoner at City Point ... on May 3rd 1864 [actually occurred on May 5th] ....

Friday, September 1st 1865
On the Hopewell farm adjoining City Point I can better describe it by saying it was Desolation personified, a perfect waste, not a house, fence, timber tree or scarcely any tree of any kind was standing, everything destroyed, more than 500 acres of woodland cut down & totally destroyed.... At City Point I found a good many temporary buildings & wharves erected on my property, all my old buildings standing and my own dwelling house repaired which had been nearly destroyed ... The grounds around my own dwelling house were filled with many little huts, having been the Head Quarters of Gen’l Grant during the campaign around Petersburg ...”

Thursday December 14 1865
Called this morning, [the] head of Freedman’s Bureau in Petersburg to enquire when sale of U.S. Gov: wharves and balance of Gov: property at City Point would take place ... I did so in order to make my arrangements to become a purchaser of some of the property now on my land.

Tuesday, December 26th 1865
On my arrival from Philadelphia via Petersburg at City Point on Saturday last, I found that my house at City Point, family residence, having been vacated by the military; had been turned over ... [by] the Freedman’s Bureau to my agent ...

Upon inspecting the Grounds this morning I find some 42 cabins erected by the military ... among them a telegraph office in front within a few feet of my south porch ... It is impossible to form an estimate of the damage done to the grounds until all the small cabins are cleared away, they belonging at present to the Government. I have no power to remove them, but shall shortly enter into negotiations to purchase them.

Monday, January 22nd 1866
At my post with the carpenters all day, hands still occupied with houses and lumber ...

Saturday, March 24th 1866
Today, March 24th 1866, will be a day ever memorable in the Calendar of our family: it has been marked by the return of the family to their old home at City Point after an absence of three years ten and a half months, having been driven from home on May 8th 1862 by the approach of the enemy’s gunboats up the James River. . .My wife with George Bolling our former house servant, superintended the move from Petersburg to City Point.

After returning to his home in September 1865, Eppes spent the six months prior to the return of his family to City Point cleaning up the damage that had been done to his plantation by the Union army’s occupation of this site. His reference to George Bolling as former house servant indicates that former slaves are now being paid for their services. There is a note of distinction in his entries following the war, where he no longer refers to those who were once his slaves as negroes, but instead as “hands,” since they are now in his employment.

Rufus Ingalls

“... The principal depot was established at City Point, on the James, at the mouth of the Appomattox, and was made one of the most convenient, commodious, economical, and perfect ever provided for the supply of armies.”

Rufus Ingalls was no stranger to war before serving as Quartermaster for the Army of the Potomac, serving in the Mexican War and on the western frontier. He became a quartermaster in 1848 and served in that role the rest of his military career.

In June 1864 Grant placed him in charge of supply with responsibility for all armies operating against Petersburg and Richmond. In this capacity he oversaw the building of the major supply depot at City Point Virginia. Once a small port town at the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers, City Point had been connected to Petersburg by railroad prior to the war. Its strategic position next to the railroad bed and rivers offered Rufus Ingalls an ideal opportunity to establish a supply and logistical operation that made victory a simple question of time for the Union army.

Read the following excerpts on Rufus Ingall’s Annual Report as written in the Official Records:

Setting Up the Supply Base
September 28, 1865
To: Headquarters Armies of the United States, Washington D.C.

“... it will be observed that on the 1st of July 1864, I was on duty at City Point, Va., at the headquarters of the chief quartermaster Armies operating against Richmond.
Bvt. Maj. Gen

These armies were composed of the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James, and our lines extended from the north side of the James River, near Richmond, to the southeast of Petersburg, a distance of over twenty-five miles, along the whole length of which was almost constant skirmishing night and day.

It became manifest that the defense of Richmond and Petersburg would be as protracted and stubborn as the resources and ability of the rebel commander could render it. I proceeded, therefore, under the written orders of the lieutenant-general to create suitable depots for receiving, storing, and issuing necessary supplies for the armies.

Operation of the Base:

A daily line of boats was established between City Point and Washington for mail and passenger service. Besides this, our transport fleet was constantly engaged in bringing cavalry and artillery horses, mules, clothing, ammunition, subsistence, &, and in carrying back to Washington broken-down animals and other unserviceable property.

... There was an average of some 40 steam-boats of all sorts, including tugs, 75 sail vessels, and 100 barges daily in the James River engaged in the transportation of supplies and plying between that river and the Northern ports. With such facilities an army of 500,000 men could have been fully supplied within any reasonable distance of our base. I do not know the whole number of vessels employed in our supply.

Chief Quartermaster’s Charge

The chief quartermaster at the principal depot always kept direct charge of the water transportation in James River. The other branches of the department, however, such as employees, forage, clothing, and railroad transportation, were in charge of subordinate quartermasters . . .

The chief quartermaster of each army was required to render, on or before the 25th of every month, a detailed consolidated estimate, revised and approved by the army commander, of the supplies required for issue to the army the month following. Upon this data I prepared and submitted my estimate for the combined forces on or before the 1st of each month. This method had very many good results. It compelled all interested to ascertain the real wants of the troops and to secure their regular and prompt supply.

Animals and Transportation:

An extensive repair depot was established near City Point. . . [we] received all serviceable animals and means of transportation from the Washington depot, and made the issues to the armies, and who received from the armies, unserviceable stock, wagons, ambulances, & all shipped back all that could not be repaired in his shops. [We] employed a force of about 1,800 carpenters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, saddlers, corral hands, teamsters, laborers, and guards.

During the year ending June 30, 1865, [we] had repaired 3, 653 army wagons and 2, 414 ambulances. . . had shod 19,618 horses and 31,628 mules. [We] received 27,116 serviceable horses and 10,893 mules, 436 wagons and 36 ambulances. [We] received from the troops 16,344 unserviceable horses, 9,684 mules, 1,392 wagons, and 400 ambulances. . . . [We] issued to the troops 31,386 horses, 18,891 mules, 1,536 wagons, and 370 ambulances. . . I mention these items simply to convey an idea of the duties to be performed at depots. This was only one branch.

Military Railroad:

As soon as we occupied City Point ... the able officer in charge of U.S. Military Railroads, had a strong construction corps on the spot prepared to rebuild the railroad up to our lines near Petersburg; and afterward, as fast as the army gained ground to the southeast, a temporary extension was laid close to our forces, until it finally extended ... a distance of about nineteen miles. Along this road were stations ... where sidings and platforms were made for the prompt distribution of supplies to the different commands.

This road saved much wear and tear of the wagon trains, and enabled the lieutenant-general to concentrate troops rapidly at any desirable point.

Medical Facilities:

The great field hospital at City Point has been described in other reports. It was a very perfect one for the purpose. The medical officers in charge exercised great taste and judgment in its management. ...The medical department of each army had its own wharves, store-houses, transports, and hospitals, under the control of its medical officers.

Ingall’s Assessment of the Depot:

On the first of the fiscal year the organization of the quartermaster’s department in the “Armies operating against Richmond” was complete, and never for a moment has it failed during the year to meet the orders and expectations of the lieutenant-general and the principal commanders in the field, so far as I have had the opportunity of being informed.

It is undeniable that the officers of the Quartermaster’s Department, both in the field and at our depots, have been charged with most important and responsible duties during the rebellion. Had they failed at any time we had no general who could have moved an army. I submit that more consideration is due to a department upon which so much is devolved, and higher grades should be created in order that the chief officers may have a rank that corresponds more nearly with that held by those who fight the troops.

Cornelia Hancock

There are no words in the English language to express the sufferings I witnessed today. The men lie on the ground; their clothes have been cut off them to dress their wounds; they are half naked, have nothing but hard tack to eat. . . four surgeons, none of whom were idle fifteen minutes at a time, were busy all day amputating legs and arms. I gave to every man that had a leg or arm off a gill of wine. . .

Cornelia Hancock served as a nurse for the Union army during the Civil War. Hancock soon received the opportunity she wanted to be of service to her nation. In the aftermath of the fighting at Gettysburg, her brother-in-law asked her to come to town as a volunteer nurse to help with all the wounded. Not swayed after Dorothea Dix turned down her services, due to her “youth” and “rosy cheeks,” Hancock took the train for Gettysburg. Following her work at Gettysburg, Hancock provided nursing service of one form or another throughout the rest of the war, working for a time at the Field Depot Hospital at City Point, Virginia.

Read Cornelia Hancock’s letters home to learn about life as a nurse, particularly at City Point, during the war.

Nursing Career Begins
General Hospital Gettysburg, PA
August 6th, 1863

We have all our men moved now to General Hospital. I am there too, but the order in regard to women nurses has not yet been issued, and I do not know what my fate will be; I only know that the boys want me to stay very much, and I have been assigned to ward E. It is a great deal nicer here except that I have but fourteen of my old boys which is very trying – it is just like parting with part of one’s family. I go to see the boys and some of them cry that I cannot stay.

The Ambulance Trains
General Hospital / Gettysburg, PA
August 8th, 1863

... There are many sights here but the most melancholy one is to see the wounded come in in a long train of ambulances after night fall. I must be hardhearted though, for I do not feel these things as strangers do. What is the war news? I do not know the news at all. I never read the papers now, which is a slight change for me. I look at it in this way that I am doing all a woman can do to help the war along, and therefore, I feel no responsibility. If people take an interest in me because I am a heroine, it is a great mistake for I feel like anything but a heroine.

Moving with the Army
Hancock served in various locations as a Union nurse during the next year. She moved as the army moved. In the spring of 1864, Hancock worked in a hospital in Fredericksburg, VA at the Battle of the Wilderness. Here, Grant’s primary target was the defeat the Confederate armies in the field. Grant’s army moved south towards Richmond following this battle. Hancock went with the army, soon settling at the new hospital location at City Point.

Fredericksburg, VA
May 1864

I was the first and only Union woman in the city ... We calculate there are 14,000 wounded in the town ... so you may know there is suffering equal to any thing anyone ever saw, almost as bad as Gettysburg, only we have houses and churches for the men. I am well, have worked harder that I ever did in my life; there was no food but hard tack to give the men so I turned in and dressed their wounds. It was all that could be done. I hear from my friends at the front one by one. Almost every one I knew was shot dead except the Doctor.

Travel and Arrival to City Point
June 26th, 1864
City Point

I am thankful to say I am at City Point tonight and all safe. I will write soon and give an account of our trip, but for fear you might have had some concern for me, I write this night. Our Cavalry were badly whipped and I was in the retreat and had a pretty hard time, but am well, thanks to Providence. Gen. Grant’s Head Qtrs. are in sight.

June 27th
...The weather is intensely hot, the suffering intensely great, and that I am well and happy is a great satisfaction. . . We have had scarcely one drop of rain for two weeks, the dust shoe top deep, and the flies are almost ready to blow one while they are still alive ... I would like this cruel war to get over, then I could come home.

Hospital Plan
City Point, VA
July 4, 1864

The weather I as hot as it can be, but there is a slight air from the James. My tent is so situated that it looks right down the James; both banks are beautiful. The cannons boom all the while but little seems accomplished. We have only a moderate number in hospital now, mostly sick. . .

This is the plan of the hospital. The different states have stores and agents in the first row, a broad street where they drive in, rows of hospt tents and mine in the centre of the 1st Div.

The wounded suffer for nothing save from heat.

Noise from the front
City Point
July 7, 1864

. . . The cannonading is incessant here, but very few are wounded by it. We have plenty of water forced up by the engine from James River. . . Grant walks round the hospt quite frequently. We have everything in the hospital heart can wish for; had splendid light cake for breakfast. I am note all over our Div. for making good biscuit. . . I have more patients in now and have considerable to attend to.

Hospital Care at City Point
City Point
July 18, 1864

... The most intense suffering of the wounded at the assault on Petersburg was passed by the time I arrived at City Point, and the hospital now bears the appearance of a General Post hospital. . . . the tents stretch in long rows about one half mile. . . Our sick are magnificently supplied in hospt now. Twice have I given ice cream to my patients. . . Everything is plenty and if our soldiers could only commence to see the end of this war they would be happy and even jubilant. We have only sick now here and they are very different from wounded as many of them have been sick and exposed for a long time.

The Siege of Petersburg
City Point
August 17th, 1864

...The cannons are belching forth with double venom tonight, I hope to some effect. . . Our hospital is again filled with wounded. The ground is literally covered with sick and wounded. I have been the whole length of the line and the cook house is full, on the table, under the table – everywhere. . .

October 29, 1864
Another battle has been fought on the left with no particular results further than filling our hospital with poor, mangled human beings. . . I have charge of the cookhouse and am just as busy as I can be anyway. I am well and very glad to be here in an active campaign. I do not feel much like writing; everything is suffering here now.

Christmas Celebration
City Point
Dec. 29, 1864

Christmas is over. We had it to perfection here, a splendid dinner for 1400 men; just to think of it, cooking a sumptuous dinner of turkeys, pies, etc. for that number. . . . It was handy to where the dinner was set in the government kitchen where 400 can be seated at once. The hall was decorated tastefully with evergreens and was really pretty as a picture.

Richmond and Petersburg Fall
City Point
April 3, 1865

This morning we could see the flames from Petersburg lighting the skies. About 5 miles of our line have opened fire and no one can sleep. We can see flashes from firing and there is a deafening roar. The question in all our minds is: “Will the Rebels take breakfast with us or we with them?”
. . .A telegram was received here that [we] entered Richmond this morning at 8 a.m. There is great rejoicing here, of course. The wounded are constantly coming in.

The War’s End
City Point
April 11, 1865

Richmond is taken. I visited the city April 9th and saw for myself ... Lee has now surrendered. We were wholly unconscious of it until we returned to City Point, when the great rejoicing at General Grant’s headquarters proclaimed the fact. ... A bloodless surrender keeps our hospital empty and we have time to give special attention to a few who are dying just when they want most to live. ... President Lincoln visited our hospital a few days since ... the men who were able stood in line and he shook hands with them – and the others, he went to their bedsides and spoke to them. He assured us that the war would be over in six weeks.

Leaving City Point
Near Alexandria
May 13, 1865

... We left the Point May 10th, arrived in Alexandria May 12th, and came out into a beautiful field to establish a resting place for the tired and sick of the Corps when it arrives. The situation is splendid, the air so fresh and altogether it seems like getting out of prison to get away from City Point, we were there so long.

Cornelia Hancock’s letters home reveal the hardship of war and the role of women in field hospitals. Like most other women from the North and South who worked as nurses during the war, Hancock’s duties were limited to reading to the soldiers, writing letters for them, helping them to eat, and providing general comfort. However, Hancock’s duties did change as the needs and numbers of the patients increased. Her words provide a woman’s perspective of life behind the lines and the gradual acceptance of her work in a medical field mainly dominated by men. After the war, Hancock returned to Philadelphia and continued to work in areas of reform including the education of children and African Americans.

Profiles of Duty

Grant's success in the initial assaults on Petersburg in June 1864 and in the siege that ensued over the next nine-and-half months were dependent on the Union army's ability to move troops and to move supplies quickly and efficiently. Union engineers were critical to the Union army's movement south of the James River for a surprise attack on Petersburg. The Military Railroad Construction Corps' work was equally critical in supplying Union forces who fought along a front that stretched for over 30 miles.

Use the following links to learn more about the Engineers who helped thousands of Union soldiers move south by building a 2100 foot pontoon bridge and explore the work of the U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps in their effort to get supplies to Union soldiers in the field.

Supplying the Army by Rail

“The railroad is in running order over four miles from this point {City Point}. The construction party is now changing the gauge of the old road to suit our cars. . . The railroad track runs the entire length of the wharves. Work will commence on sheds and storehouses at once; meantime supplies are abundant.” --Rufus Ingalls words in a letter to a member of Grant’s Staff, June 28th

The United States Military Railroad Construction Corps (USMRR) was instrumental in the success of the Union army during the siege of Petersburg. From the waterfront at City Point more than 100,000 Union troops and more than 65,000 horses and mules were supplied with food and equipment transported by rail lines to the front.

Use the links below to learn about how the Military Railroad Construction Corps worked to provide supplies to the troops in the field.

Setting Up the Supply Depot
“... immediately cause to be repaired and put in proper condition the wharves at City Point ... and build such new ones ... as necessary; and provide and construct store houses ... for the storage of all supplies that may be collected there for the army ...repair and put in proper condition for immediate use the Petersburg and City Point Railroad.” --Grant’s orders to Rufus Ingalls, Chief Quartermaster for the Armies, June 17th

After reaching City Point, the USMRR Construction Corps worked quickly and precisely to set up the supply depot. They rebuilt the line west to Petersburg, and extended it southwest behind Union lines. Twenty-six locomotives and at least 275 railroad cars were brought to City Point by barge from Washington, D.C. to provide rolling stock for the line. In just 22 days the army had completed the first stage of the railroad and had trains operating on a full schedule.

Follow the timeline of events to learn about the daily job of the rail road construction corps.

June 18th
The construction corps arrives at City Point at 1 AM and begins to unload barges and repair wharves.

Charles L. McApline, Engineer of Repairs and in charge of the U.S. Military Rail Road Construction Corps for Grant’s army, receives orders to repair the City Point Railroad.

June 19th
The Engineer of Repairs, McApline, travels with a military escort along the City Point Railroad to within one mile of Petersburg to examine its condition.

McAlpine reports: “It was in better order than was expected. Only 3 to 4 miles is destroyed, the rest being good T Rail. Iron enough for about a half a mile, was found piled up. . . The ties are bad. No large bridges on the route.”

Transports were ordered to send 12,000 cross ties from Norfolk to City Point and to send no less than 3,000 each day, until the construction corps received them all. Two tugs left City Point at 4:30 P.M..

June 20th
The Construction Corps continues working on the railroad wharf, the quartermaster wharves, and the commissary wharf.

At 9 A.M., the tug arrived from Norfolk with the engine. . . four flat cars, four truck cars, 460 bars of railroad iron, and 1600 ties.

June 24th
The men worked on the wharves, laid 2,700 feet of track and unloaded railroad material.

The construction corps had 20 teams of animals at work hauling ties on this day and the next.

June 25th
City Point looked like a busy seaport. A correspondent for the Philadelphia Press described the activity at City Point in an article written on this date, and published a few days later:

“Vessels are arriving and departing daily, loaded with commissary and quartermaster stores; laborers are busily engaged repairing and extending the wharves at the landing; workmen have commenced the reconstruction of the City Point and Petersburg Railroad; clerks, employees and teamsters are busy night and day receiving cargoes and loading the interminable train of six-mule teams that draw supplies to the front, and the bustle, hurrying and confusion of a week ago are fast merging into the regular routine of business habits. . . The railroad is advanced five miles from City Point towards Petersburg.”

June 28th
“The railroad is in running order over four miles from this point [City Point]. The construction party is now changing the gauge of the old road to suit our cars. . . The railroad track runs the entire length of the wharves. Work will commence on sheds and store-houses at once; meantime supplies are abundant. A depot for forage and subsistence is established on the railroad about five miles out, where issues will be made after tomorrow.” --Letter written by Quartermaster, Rufus Ingalls to one of Grant’s Staff, June 28th

By June 29, 1864 the first train loaded with supplies left City Point at 7:30 A.M. The supply on this load was forage for animals with a destination at another Union Station, about five miles out from City Point. Eventually, the railroad would travel a distance greater than 20 miles, as the construction corps expanded the track behind Union lines around Petersburg during the siege.

Moving South

“... the men fell in without arms and proceeded a short distance down the bank of the river for the purpose of building a pontoon bridge. . . Detachments from the [engineer] battalion, at the word of the command to build the bridge, sprang into the water which was almost up to the neck, and succeeded in building in one hour, an abutment of trestle work some 200 feet long, reaching to the deep water proper. . . As fast as the material was unloaded from the vessels it was made into sections and towed into position in the bridge.” --excerpt from the history of the Engineer Battalion

After the disaster at Cold Harbor, Grant commenced moving his army to the south side of the James River, with the new target of capturing Petersburg. His army moved quickly, decisively, and without the full knowledge of the enemy because of the work of the engineer’s in Grant’s army. The Engineers allowed a smooth transition for thousands of Union soldiers to travel across the river to City Point, by constructing a pontoon bridge from Wyanoke Neck to the base of Windmill Point.

Follow the timeline below to learn how quickly the army moved with the assistance of the Union engineers’ ingenuity.

June 12
After Grant instructed the Union army to begin their movement south of the James, General Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade for the Army of the Potomac orders the pontoons for the building of the bridge. The supply consisted of 155 heavy wooden French pontoons.

Engineers examine the river in the area where the bridge was to be constructed.

June 13
Operating under the orders of General Weitzel, Chief Engineer of the Army of the James, Lieutenant Michie of the U.S. Engineers works with a detail of 150 axmen to cut and prepare timber necessary to build corduroy approaches across the marsh that will lead to the bridge.

Under orders that troops are arriving to cross the next morning, Michie and Weitzel begin work with a heavy detail of men to construct the bridge.

Approaches on both sides of the river, with a pier of 150 feet long over a marsh on the east bank are complete by 9:45 A.M..

Pontoon materials to construct the bridge do not arrive, so work on the bridge is stalled.

June 15th (4:00 – 11:00 P.M.)
In Seven hours time the Engineer brigade:

Constructs a 2200 foot pontoon bridge using 104 of the pontoons ordered.

Builds the bridge over a stretch of river, where the water was 85 feet deep in some places, with a strong current and a daily tidal fluctuation of about 4 feet.

Held the bridge in place the by securing the pontoons at intervals by cables to three schooners anchored above it and three below.

Allow over 15,000 soldiers along with all their wagons, artillery, and animals crossed this bridge.

June 18th (7:00 P.M. – 3:00 A.M. the next morning)
In eight hours time the same Engineer Brigade:

Removed the pontoons from the water where the army had crossed.

The work of the engineers in constructing bridges and corduroy roads allowed Grant’s army to move over 50 miles, crossing wooded country by narrow roads and crossing over 2,000 feet of deep water.

Surgeon

“... The character of the surgery performed in the field hospitals during the campaign has been unprecedently good. The majority of cases have been properly dressed, and operated on, before being sent to the rear, and, for this reason, the number of primary operations has been very great. The great majority of wounds have been caused by the conoidal ball, but a few wounds from grape or canister have been observed. The treatment of flesh wounds has been simple and uniform, consisting of a small piece of wet lint placed on the wound, or wounds, and retained in position by a turn of bandage, or a slip of plaster ...” - Billings, J.S., Asst. Surg., USA, Army of the Potomac, near Petersburg, VA.

Read the surgeon’s journal to learn about medical care in the field and at the hospital at City Point.

Setting Up A Hospital
Page #1
June 17, 1864
I do not believe that my work at hospitals will ever end. I almost feel the same about this war. I arrived at City Point on an afternoon in mid-June, as the steamers were being unloaded with medical supplies. The General had moved our army yet again, crossing the James River to target Petersburg. Of course, we moved when the army did, and now we worked to get another hospital ready for the soldiers already fighting near the city.

Page #2
Two days later, the first 500 wounded soldiers arrived at the hospital before we were even ready for them. Before that day was over, more than 3,500 patients were seen by the staff. I think I saw a couple hundred myself. So many faces, I can’t recall. The following days were much the same, so there was little time for us to rest.

Page #3
Hardly a day passed, when we did not hear the roar of the cannons from the Petersburg front. Even when there was no report of battle, soldiers arrived at the hospital by the train load. I tried to help the men who poured into the hospital day after day, many suffering terrible wounds. Under the knife, I operated on so many misshapen bodies, knowing that these men would never be the same again. Afterwards, I rested, while watching the nurses wash the blood-stained floors of the operating room. Even after three years of war, I still found it difficult to deal with the horror of it all.

Page #4
I always felt rewarded when I saw a wounded soldier slowly healing from his surgery and gaining their strength. They were fortunate to be in a hospital that was so well supplied. I was pleased to be finally working in a hospital where the patients had a clean bed to lay their head, good food, and experienced doctors and nurses to care for them. This was not the only change I noticed in hospital care by this time in the war. The Medical Department had made some changes to hospital care, and one was the addition of women nurses, who seemed to take great care with the patients, even so far as hanging colored papers over the walls, the windows, and doors to make this depressing place a bit more cheerful for its occupants. Our patients really appreciated these small gestures of kindness.

Field Station
Page #1
The army was planning a big battle near the end of July, so I was one of the surgeons who volunteered to go to the front line for a few days. I had some experience working in the field dressing stations, so I traveled down to the front line with some assistant surgeons. I had no idea what a disastrous day it would be for our men.

Page #2
How many wounded men passed through my shelter that day, I could not possibly recall. The battle had started before daybreak with the sound of a big explosion followed by artillery fire across our lines. Thankfully, I was safely behind the lines, waiting for the confusion to begin. I prepared my station for all of the wounded that would be arriving once the battle began. The image of the wounded still stands out in my mind.

Page #3
The wounded never stopped coming through my tent, located just a few hundred yards behind the Union lines. Equipped with a pile of bandages and some bottles of medicine, the first aid tent was barely more than shelter with blankets scattered on the ground. Men continually carried the soldiers off the battlefield behind our lines to the dressing station. There it was my job to give these men quick care before they were taken on to the Field Depot Hospital near Grant's Headquarters. There were others there to help me, but there were so many wounded that we could not take care of them all.

Page #4
I gave the men who had been shot in the leg, the arm, or the stomach, opium to numb their pain. I tried to clean and wrap as many wounds as I could, before many of the soldiers took their trip to the hospital. There was little I could do to comfort them. Most of the fighting was up the hill on the other side of our trench. We were behind the dirt walls, where we had pretty good protection, though an occasional bullet sometimes whizzed past. As the hours passed, my hands grew tired from the care I gave to hundreds of wounded that day. Fortunately, most of them would make the trip to City Point, where they would get much better care in our hospital. Still, a few breathed their last under my tent that day.

Ambulance
Page #1
From Battlefield to Hospital
A few days after the terrible battle, I received orders to head back to the main hospital at City Point. I made the trip with the latest group of soldiers wounded on the front lines. There was a lot of confusion, as I watched ambulance workers load the wounded onto the horse and carriages that would carry us the short distance to our railroad.

Page #2
Once the ambulance delivered us to the railroad depot, I boarded the railroad train with the wounded, to try to assist them in some way. We were packed very tightly on these railroad cars, so that the bed of hay offered no comfort. Men screamed in pain as their mangled bodies constantly knocked against one another from the jolting of the railroad car. Blood was everywhere, as I sit among the men and the smells were almost unbearable. Thankfully, the trip to the hospital was a short one. I was quite relieved when the train finally pulled up to the center of the hospital tents, and I worked quickly to help the severely wounded to the operation area.

Surgery
Page #1
I worked late into the night performing surgery after surgery on the wounded who streamed into the hospital. There was no end to the trainloads of wounded who continued to arrive at the hospital throughout this long day. I really just wanted a few minutes to sit down and rest, to get away from the depressing scene of thousands of young, wounded soldiers whose lives would never be the same again.

Page #2
My tired hands were getting stiff from the chill in the air as the evening slowly passed. I could hardly look at the faces of these men whose bones were splintered by bullets and whose bandages were soaked with blood. I had to block out the shrieks and moans of those who still lay in the field waiting for their turn to come to the surgeon's table. It was how I got through the horror of it all. ‘

Page #3
I ignored the pile of arms and legs that sat in the corner of the operating room. When I became a doctor, I had never imagined performing so many surgeries at once. The truth be told, before the war, I had only operated on one person who was injured from a gunshot wound. I had to learn quickly how to amputate an arm or leg. On nights such as this, I moved from patient to patient hardly washing my hands and instruments I used to perform the amputations.

Page #4
Finally, the last wounded soldier of the day was brought to my table. He had already been given medicine to put him to sleep for his surgery, and he lay on the table white and still. When I looked down at his young face, I hesitated a moment. He looked so much like my own brother who was somewhere else fighting. As I was about to remove his leg, it made me sad to think this young boy would live his life a shattered wreck. I trembled for a moment to think that he could easily have been my brother, and somewhere a family had no idea what was about to happen to him. I picked up my saw and got to work.

Grant versus Lee

By early spring of 1864, the Union army’s objective of taking Richmond, the Confederate capital remained, though General Ulysses S. Grant had another objective as well. In what became known as the Overland Campaign, Grant’s primary objective was to defeat the Confederate armies in the field. From the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, Grant’s army pursued Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. During the battle of Cold Harbor, just outside of Richmond, Grant’s army took crushing losses. After the failure at Cold Harbor, Grant had his men pack up and move south of the James River, with Petersburg as the new target.

Explore the military movements and decision-making skills of two great generals, as Grant’s army made their move south, and Lee’s army adjusted to this change in strategy. Read their correspondence referencing this military action.

Cold Harbor Va.
June 11th / 64

Maj. Gen. B.F. Butler (Union Commander)
The movement to transfer this Army to the South side of the James River will commence after dark to-morrow night.
. . . Expecting the arrival of the [more troops] by Monday night if you deem it practicable from the force you now have to seize and hold Petersburg you may prepare to start on the arrival of troops to hold your present lines. I do not want Petersburg visited however unless it is held nor an attempt to take it unless you feel a reasonable degree of confidence of success. . .

U.S. Grant

Crossing the James

General Grant
June 14th 1864.
1 30 p m

Maj Gen. H.W. Halleck (Chief of Staff located in Washington D.C.)

Our forces will commence crossing the James River to day. The Enemy show no signs of yet having brought troops to south side of Richmond.
I will have Petersburg secured if possible before they get there in much force. Our movement from Cold Harbor to the James River has been made with great celerity, and so far, without loss or accident.

U.S. Grant

General Lee
June 14, 1864
12:10 P.M.

President Jefferson Davis

“... I think the enemy must be preparing to move South of the James River. Our scouts and pickets yesterday stated that Gen Grant’s whole army was in motion ... Presuming that [the small force seen] was either the advance of his Army, or the cover behind which it would move to the James River, I prepared to attack it again this morning, but it disappeared from before us during the night ...

Still I apprehend that he may be sending troops up the James River with the view of getting possession of Petersburg before we can reinforce it. We ought therefore to be extremely watchful and guarded ...

R. E. Lee

General Grant
June 14th 1864
8. p.m.

Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler (Union Commander)

The Cavalry Commander . . .reports that [forces] have taken up the line ... This looks favorable for the success of your attack on Petersburg to-night.
[A force], numbering about 28,000 men, will be all over to the South side of the James River . . . before daylight, and will march in the morning directly for Petersburg, with directions however to halt at the point on that road nearest City Point unless [they receive] further orders. If the forces going into Petersburg find reinforcements necessary [they] will push forward.

U.S. Grant

General Lee
June 14th 1864
4 P.M.

Gen Braxton Bragg (Confederate General)

I have directed [a force] to proceed this afternoon to the vicinity of the first pontoon bridge . . . I have deemed it prudent that [they] should be within reach of Petersburg. For as far as I am able to judge of the movements of the Army of Gen Grant I think it probable that he will cross the James River. . .

R. E. Lee

General Grant
June 15th 1864

To Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler (Union Commander)

Have just arrived. Will make Hd Qrs. At City Point. Have any news from Petersburg? No rations yet for [the troops]. I started [them] however this morning on the road to Petersburg with directions to stop at Harrisons Creek unless [they] should receive other orders. Rations must now be sent . . by wagons as soon as possible to H. Creek. 30.000 will do but double that will be better. I await answer.

U.S. Grant

General Lee
June 15, 1864

Gen Braxton Bragg (Confederate General)

I directed [forces] this morning, unless [they] should receive contrary orders from you, to cross the James River and report to Gen. Beauregard (commanding troops in Petersburg). . . The General was of the opinion that if he had his original force, he would be able to hold his present lines . . . at Petersburg. . .

I had determined to move this army back near the exterior line of defences near Richmond, but from the movements of the enemy’s cavalry this morning, and reports that have reached me, I do not wish to draw too far back.

R. E. Lee

Despite Lee’s suspicions that the Union army was moving south, Grant still caught the Confederate forces off guard. For one of the first times during the war, Lee was unsure of the location of Grant’s army. Literally overnight, the Union army pulled many of its ranks out of the Richmond area and traveled south, crossing the James River via water transports and a 2100 foot pontoon bridge. They wasted little time in coordinating an assault on the city before the Confederate forces had time to properly reinforce their troops in Petersburg.

Follow their correspondence to learn what happened next by linking to the Grant vs. Lee section under the Eastern Front.

Park Rangers

Located along the waterfront, Grant’s Headquarters at City Point was the supply and logistics location for all Union forces during the siege of Petersburg. Park rangers have the challenge of caring for this cultural landscape that was established in 1635, served as the home of a large plantation owner before the Civil War, and then became Union headquarters during the siege. This site provides visitors a closer look at the historic structures of a plantation, a reconstruction of Grant’s cabin, and areas along the waterfront that mark the site of what was once a major seaport. Explore this image to find out how park rangers deal with resource issues at this particular site.

Historic Structures

Historic structures at City Point are part of this unit’s cultural landscape. Historic structures at this site include an original plantation building, kitchen building, and smokehouses that date from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as a reproduction of Grant’s cabin, which is almost ten percent original. The maintenance of these buildings is critical because of their historic significance and their use as staff offices and visitor centers. Park rangers work to preserve these historic buildings for future generations to enjoy.

Use the links below to explore how different divisions of the National Park Service protect and preserve the historic structures at City Point.

Maintenance Ranger

I am a maintenance ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. I take care of the historic structures at City Point, including Grant’s Cabin, the plantation house, and outbuildings, which include the kitchen, smokehouses, and dairy. Keeping these buildings in good condition for visitors requires such tasks as painting, cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming the buildings. Since the plantation house is operated as a visitor center, I must also see that utilities are working properly. While many projects on these structures are done by my division, some of these projects are contracted to specialists outside of the Park Service. Therefore, I also write the specifications that contractors must follow when they work on these buildings, as there are many guidelines to follow when caring for historic structures.

Interpreter

I am an interpretive ranger at Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. It is my job to help visitors understand why we take care of this site and what the historic buildings mean to us today. On a daily basis, I answer visitor questions and provide tours of the plantation house, the kitchen house where slaves worked, and Grant’s cabin. Tours of these structures provide visitors an insight into life on a southern plantation before, during and after the Civil War. I also assist in planning how these structures can be better maintained for future visitor experiences. Finally, I create brochures and educational materials that help people from a distant location learn about this historic site.

Protection Ranger

I am a Protection Ranger at City Point. My job is to patrol the park, including Grant’s Headquarters at City Point to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit while also taking proper care of the park’s resources. The historic structures at City Point are centuries old, as are some of the furnishings, therefore all of the buildings have security systems. It is my duty to answer any alarm calls to ensure that the historic structures are protected from any possible damage.

Cultural Landscapes

City Point was established in 1635 when European settlers landed here, though archeological digs have produced artifacts spanning thousands of years. Because of the complex landscape of this site, a cultural landscape report is written to determine how to most effectively manage this site. As a result, the decision was made to manage this landscape from pre-Civil War as a plantation, through the Civil War as the Union Headquarters. Therefore, the buildings and grounds closely resemble what this landscape looked like before the war, with the exception of Grant’s Cabin on the east lawn. How do park rangers take care of this site and manage the grounds?

Use the links below to explore how different divisions of the National Park Service protect and preserve the cultural landscapes at City Point.

Maintenance Ranger

As a maintenance ranger at City Point, I work daily to care for the cultural landscape of this site. I cut grass, trim hedges, and keep the grounds clean and well-groomed. I also perform daily maintenance of the buildings, keeping these areas clean and safe for visitors. I also do preventative maintenance by reporting to park management any major problems with both the grounds and the buildings. While many projects to maintain this landscape are done by my division, some may be contracted to specialists outside of the Park Service. Therefore, I also write the specifications that contractors must follow when they work on the grounds.

Interpreter

I am an interpretive ranger at Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. It is my job to help visitors understand and connect to the park’s resources, including this complex cultural landscape. Tours of this site can include the grounds around the plantation house, the outhouses, Grant’s cabin and the waterfront, where the Union supply depot was located. I also make decisions for future projects for this site, by deciding what stories should be told and how to most effectively tell these stories using the grounds and buildings. This is one factor park management considers when they write plans on how to manage City Point.

Protection Ranger

I am a Protection Ranger at City Point. My job is to patrol the park, including the areas along the waterfront to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit while also taking proper care of the park’s resources. In maintaining the cultural landscapes at City Point, park rules and regulations do not allow visitors to use the grounds around the plantation house for flying kites, playing football, etc. It is my duty to make sure that people enjoy touring the grounds, without harming the landscape and building. Likewise, it is my job to see that park resources are being protected by the many visitors who come to the riverfront to fish or picnic. Routine patrols of this area ensure that the site is managed properly.

Resource Manager

I am a Resource Manager at Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. My main job is to assist with the planning and development of reports that direct how we should take care of the park’s landscape. With the assistance of the maintenance division, I monitor this site to see that buildings and grounds are in good condition. Using information such as past management decisions, current issues and problems at the site, and future public programs that the park wants to develop, I provide direction for how we should take care of the cultural landscape, including both buildings and natural resources like trees and shrubs.

Erosion

Located along the James River, Grant’s Headquarters at City Point has been used as a seaport since the seventeenth century. During the Civil War, the river was critical to the success of the Union army, because of the supply and logistics operation here. Over the years, erosion has become a tremendous problem at this site. Currently, the James River is undercutting the shoreline because of tidal waters, boat traffic wakes, and frequent major storms. The bluff is also breaking away because precipitation penetrates the soil, and hits a layer of clay that it cannot penetrate. Over time this causes the bank to slough away. Park Rangers work to stop some of these natural processes, so that park resources are protected and visitor access to the site by land and water is improved.

Use the links below to explore how different divisions of the National Park Service deal with issues of erosion at City Point.

Maintenance Ranger

I am a maintenance ranger at City Point. As part of my job in managing the grounds and waterfront areas of this site, I daily monitor the condition of the bluff and shoreline. My basic duties are to keep the site safe, clean, and groomed for visitors who use the waterfront for a variety of recreation purposes. However, I report to park management any major damage that I see to the shoreline due to storms and daily water traffic.

Interpreter

I am an interpretive ranger at Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. It is my job to help visitors understand and connect to the park’s resources, including the waterfront area. I provide programs to the public that teach them about the importance of this seaport during the Civil War. I also design wayside exhibits and brochures that provide visitors images of the waterfront during that time period. Teaching people how we care for the park as well as why we care for it, helps visitors better understand the need to preserve this site along the bluff. Finally, I decide what stories I would like to share with people about this site, which directs the future management of this waterfront landscape.

Resource Manager

I am a Resource Manager at City Point. My main duty at City Point is to review the erosion problems at this site and decide how to best protect the park’s resources. I research why we are losing the shoreline and bluff, how visitors are using this site, and how we would like to manage it in the future to determine the best plan of action in dealing with the erosion problems. I then work with local, state, and federal agencies to implement plans that will stabilize the waterfront area. In the past, the Army Corps of Engineers placed rip rap to protect the low bank from the breaking wave action. Today, we continue to design plans that will help protect and preserve this area for the future.

 

Links

Petersburg Index

Introduction

Grant's Headquarters at City Point (current section)

The Eastern Front

The Western Front

The Battle of Five Forks

Poplar Grove National Cemetery

Challenge Your Understanding

 

Open multimedia version of The Siege of Petersburg

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