Portrait of a Soldier
OverviewTaking a tour of the Crater Battlefield and learning about the horror of the this battle, students are given an opportunity to examine and understand a soldier's motivation and willingness to fight. The struggles of the Union soldiers, the Confederate soldiers, and the United States Colored Troops (USCTs) who participated in this battle are brought to life when students are given a letter, a flag, or other props.
1) At the end of this program, students will identify two aspects of the home life of a Union, Confederate, and a United States Colored Troop.
2) At the end of this program, students will name two reasons they wanted to fight.
3) At the end of this program, students will describe two ways the siege of Petersburg altered the lives of these individuals
As the winter of 1864 settled in, a regiment received their shipment of great coats. The men of this unit had sent them off for storage during the spring and summer campaign. Packed away when the unit was nearly a thousand strong, the coats were now reminders of the nearly seven hundred men lost in those five months between the Wilderness and the trenches of Petersburg. This was the price being paid by both armies and the cost had a fundamental impact. The commitment of these soldiers to finishing the war now equaled their commitment to their causes and in this, the strength of their beliefs was revealed. On the fields of Petersburg nowhere was this more poignantly shown than at the Battle of the Crater.
What was to be a surprise pre-dawn mine explosion underneath Confederate lines followed by a quick hitting Union attack to break through and seize Petersburg, degenerated into an emotional ten-hour long struggle which climaxed at the end with savage hand-to-hand combat. Among the stories on that hot afternoon are the actions of the United States Colored Troops and the dedication displayed by those Union soldiers who braved enemy fire to bring water and ammunition to those trapped in the Crater. To have asked Sergeant Decatur Dorsey of the 39th USCT, Private John Haley of the 17th Maine, and Private William Pilcher of the Richmond Artillery Otey Battery, what the cost was that day they might have pointed out the five thousand casualties that changed nothing. Ask them why they fought that day and words like "freedom," "equality," "democracy," and "home" may have been spoken. Knowing that all three fought until the war’s end, you would not have to ask about the depth of their commitment.
3) props - lanterns, chain, tobacco peg, hoe or rake, replica money, etc.
Provided by PNB
Petersburg National Battlefield captures a significant time and place of the Civil War. Petersburg's numerous railroad lines and its strategic location to Richmond, made Petersburg a distinct target for Grant and the Army of the Potomac. Petersburg is also known for the participation of U.S.C.T.s in this nine and a half month siege. The Union soldier was fighting to save the Union from being torn apart by states' rights issues. The Confederate soldier was at this time fighting not only for his rights to live as he so desired, but also for his homeland. The United States Colored Troop (USCT) was fighting for the ultimate goal of his freedom. The individual struggles of these men is evident in the story of the Battle of the Crater. While their reasons for fighting varied, they were all fighting for a way of life which they felt was just. Students explore three stations of the props and colors of each soldier which provide clues to the lifestyle of these soldiers prior to and during the Civil War. Students will discuss the meaning of these items and how they portray the moral obligations of these individuals to fight.
b) Body of the Program:
1) Begin with a tour of the Crater, and the story behind this battle. Background information about the way this area looked and felt, the possible mindset of the men who were here, and the story of the construction of the mine, the plan, the strategy.
2) Discuss the horror of this battle, hand to hand combat, feelings and emotions here in the Crater, personal struggles with war. Read passages from the explosion, quotes, responses.
3) Station Nearby: Blankets spread out for students to sit. Three stations set up including two or three hands-on items representing the symbolic background of these individuals. If possible, three flags representing the Confederate, Union, and United States Colored Troops. Discussion of what these items mean and how they personify the moral obligations of these individuals to fight.
UNION SOLDIER: Bible, interchangeable part, money copy of the Constitution, props of industrial innovation: canned foods, machine made clocks
CONFEDERATE SOLDIER: Bible, tobacco leaf, hoe or rake spool of thread spun in a mill, boll of raw cotton
USCT: chains, clamps, tobacco pegs, lantern, spiritual, cotton
4) Use personal letters and accounts of these men describing their reasons for fighting and their beliefs, hopes. Compare the similarities and differences between these men.
c) Conclusion and Dismissal:
1) Reflect again on the Battle of the Crater, and the three main participants. Discuss the feelings each man must have had awaiting the explosion of the powder.
2) Songs from camp.
Provide the teachers and students report cards to evaluate their likes and dislikes of the activities. Suggestions?
Nine and a half months, 70,000 casualties, the suffering of civilians, thousands of U. S. Colored Troops fighting for the freedom of their race, and the decline of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of No. Virginia all describe the Siege of Petersburg. It was here Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off all of Petersburg's supply lines ensuring the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Six days later, Lee surrendered.
Kinard, Jeff, The Battle of the Crater, Abilene, TX, McWhiney Foundation Press, 1998.
Gladstone, William, Men of Color, Gettysburg, PA, Thomas Publications, 1993.
Silliker, Ruth, The Rebel Yell & The Yankee Hurrah, Camden, Maine, Down East Books, 1985.
Carmichael, Peter, Lee’s Young Artillerist, Charlottesville, VA, The University of Virginia Press, 1995.
Mettger, Zak, Till Victory is Won, Black Soldiers in the Civil War, New York, NY, Penguin Books, 1997.
Price, William, Civil War Handbook, Springfield, VA, L.B. Prince Co., Inc., 1961.
For a complete listing of Park Programs see the Peterbsurg Battlefield Educators Guide.