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Civil War battlefield of the Siege of Petersburg looted

Every great historical site is at risk of looting by unscrupulous individuals who believe they can make good money off of what they discover. Looting is considered a serious crime and these people are at risk being fined or even jailed for stealing from protected sites.

One particular site that is being investigated is Virginia’s Petersburg National Battlefield. Virginia’s National Park Service said that some of the field has now been officially declared as a crime scene after several areas were looted.

The chief of interpretation, Chris Bryce, said that park officials were looking into how much damage was done to the field. He added that there were a number of areas around the ground that had been dug up.

The national battlefield stretches over 2,000 acres. It is about 26 miles south of Richmond, and it marks the place where more than 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died during the Siege of Petersburg nearly 151 years ago.

Bryce said what is most interesting is that there are several locations where someone had dug up soil several inches at a time, making it rather obvious that the holes hadn’t been created by wildlife in the area.

National Park Service marker for Fort Gregg. source
National Park Service marker for Fort Gregg. source 

He added that this isn’t the first time there’s been looting in the area. People tend to go to national parks or battlefields in the hope of digging up buttons from uniforms, loose bullets, artillery shells, or anything else that could bring in good money. Bryce stated that people most likely sell these finds online, where there is a big market for Civil War pieces.

Bryce had said that when these things happen, it is a loss for Petersburg National Battlefield as well as for the American people. However, this particular case happened at one of the worst times – just before Memorial Day, one of the most important days for commemorating those who died in battle.

According to the law for digging up any type of national park or battlefield, a person could serve up to two years in prison as well as face a $20,000 fine. Digging up any kind of historic memorabilia is a violation under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Although a portion of the battlefield is still under investigation, other areas of the park are still open to visitors.

Here is a little history about the Siege of Petersburg:

Due to General Ulysses S. Grant’s failed attempt to capture Richmond or to destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, he was forced to capture Petersburg instead. Grant would isolate the capital, causing Robert E. Lee to evacuate Richmond or attempt to fight Grant and his army on the wide, open ground.

Grant had used his stealthy tricks of deception in order to slip away from the lines in Cold Army, shifting his army just south of the James River. Because of this tactic, he and his men were ready to fight on the morning of June fifteenth.

Men from Meade’s Army of the Potomac had marched from Cold Harbor. The men had crossed the James River on river transports and a 2,200-foot pontoon at Windmill Point.

Butler’s leading men had crossed the Appomattox River to attack the Petersburg defenses on June fifteenth. There were over 5,000 defenders of Petersburg who were all under the command of General Beauregard. They had been driven from the first line of trenches back to Harrison Creek.

On June 16, the Corps had caught another section of the Confederate line. On June 17, the IX Corps gained more ground on their opponents. Beauregard had ended up stripping the Howlett Line in order to defend the city where Lee rushed up with reinforcements to Petersburg from the Army of Northern Virginia.

The II, XI, and V Corps had attacked from the right on June 18, but they were met with heavy casualties. At this time, the Confederate army had been heavily manned, making this the best time to capture Petersburg once and for all. However, they ended up losing the siege.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News