Lesson Plan

Beans Bullets and Blankets

Ranger Webster With Student

Leslie McClammy

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Grade Level:
Kindergarten-Twelfth Grade
Civil War, History
90 Minutes
Group Size:
Up to 60
in the park
National/State Standards:
English:  3.1, 3.7, 3.8, 4.1, 4.4, 5.1
History & Social Science:  3.12, 4.4, 4.7, 5.7, 5.9, 11.6, 11.17


Soldiers of both the Union and Confederate armies were “Prisoners of Petersburg” for the nine-and-half month long siege. Soldiers spent their days in the trenches where they fought, slept, ate, and passed the time. This program provides a hands-on approach to army life as it takes students through a day in the life of a soldier. Students dress in soldier uniforms, participate in marching drills, walk through trenches, unpack haversacks, and examine soldier shelters.


1) At the end of this program, students will identify two characteristics of siege warfare at Petersburg.

2) At the end of this program, students will explain two reasons that soldiers felt fear behind the trench lines.

3) At the end of this program, students will describe three pastimes of the soldiers who lived in the trenches.


The landscape and the length of the siege of Petersburg made it a uniquely horrible experience for the soldiers who fought here. For the first three years of the war most engagements were of one to three days duration and therefore the terrain of these battles remained largely intact. However, the siege transformed treeless rural fields into hundreds of miles of fortifications in which soldiers found themselves trapped by trench warfare.

The Union and Confederate armies found themselves in this situation as General Robert E. Lee (CSA) committed to defending a thirty-seven mile front from Richmond, the Confederate capital, to just beyond Petersburg, its supply center. Opposing him was General Ulysses S. Grant (USA) who, after the disaster at the Battle of the Crater, did not directly assault Petersburg again and instead committed his troops to severing all supply routes into the city. By doing this Grant knew he could drive Lee out of both Petersburg and Richmond. It would take eight separate Union offensives during nine-and-a-half months for Grant to achieve this objective.

In terms of soldier life in the trenches around Petersburg this meant a great deal of misery and stress punctuated by moments of pure horror. In a regimental history it is noted "the trenches were rife with garbage that attracted rats and insects, and nearby latrines drew swarms of flies that in turn infected food supplies. Men under fire had no choice but to urinate or defecate where they were standing. . . The sum of all these odors, from the rotting flesh of death to the stench of human waste, from the odious decomposing garbage, to the sulfurous tang of black powder, during the summer months when the heat of the sun made the stink increase." This misery was combined with the constant stress of living within point-blank range of the enemy. A soldier expresses this while relating life along the front, ". . . [their] sharpshooters had a clear range of our entire front, and we were quick on the trigger; my regiment suffered a daily loss. Captain Stevens, while sitting behind a tree and reading a newspaper inadvertently exposed his head and was shot through the neck. He bled to death in the arms of Sergeant-Major Stevens, his brother."

After the war’s conclusion in April 1865, few veterans of the siege returned to commemorate what had transpired here. That silence speaks to us today as testimony of the hardships faced by those who fought in the trenches of Petersburg.


1) Uniform Items - coats, hats, haversacks, trousers, belts & cartridge boxes

2) Enlistment copies

3) Tin Cups, pots, pans, food

4) Shelter Halves, poles, tent stakes

5) Flag and drum

All items needed for Life in the Trenches supplied by PNB



Provide the teachers and students report cards to evaluate their likes and dislikes of the activities. Suggestions?

Park Connections

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.

Additional Resources

For Teachers:

Trudeau, Noah A., The Siege of Petersburg Civil War Series, Eastern National, 1995.

Billings, John, Hardtack and Coffee, Gansevoort, NY, Corner House Historical Publications, 1996.

Griffith, Paddy, Battle in the Civil War: Generalship & Tactics in America, Field Books, 1986.

Robertson Jr., James, The Civil War's Common Soldier Civil War Series, Eastern National, 1994.

For Students:

Reeder, Carolyln, Across the Lines, New York, NY, Avon Books, Inc. 1997.

Herbert, Janis, The Civil War for Kids, Chicago, Chicago Review Press Inc. 1996.


For a complete listing of Park Programs see the Peterbsurg Battlefield Educators Guide