Lesson Plan

Cannoneers to Your Post

Students Perform Duties as Part of the Cannon Crew

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Eighth Grade
Civil War, History
1 Hour
Group Size:
Up to 60
in the park
National/State Standards:
VS.7, USI.1, USI.9


This program examines the Battle of Fort Stedman and the role that artillery played in the outcome of the battle.  Also known as Lee's Last Offensive, this battle was a pivotal point for the Union army in their defeat of the Confederate army at Petersburg.  Students will learn about how fortifications and artillery made it difficult for infantry soldiers to charge the men in the trenches.  They will explore how artillery contributed to the Union victory at Fort Stedman. 


1. Students will describe two attributes of the trenches of Petersburg

2. Students will give two reasons that the Confederate army made an assault on Fort Stedman.

3. Students will explain why artillery was so important in trench warfare.

4. Students will identify two roles in the firing of a cannon.


Artillery of the Civil War had come a long way since the days of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. By the 1860s, artillery in the Civil War was more dependable, more accurate, and caused greater destruction than in previous conflicts. Though some of the artillery had ranges of up to several miles, a Civil War gunner knew that his piece was most effective at less than five hundred yards. Reasons for this included having to see the target, faulty fuses, and battlefield conditions.

It is ironic that Civil War artillery, which was employed to keep the enemy at bay at a distance, was most effective at close range. Civil War artillery was more effective as a defensive weapon than as an offensive one. On no other battlefield is this irony more poignantly demonstrated than here at Petersburg.

The experience here on the Eastern Front of this siege was one of constant bombardment at close quarters. Unlike other Civil War engagements where large barrages were significant events, the exchange of shells along the front were merely part of the daily routine -- a routine repeated two hundred and ninety-two days.

For those soldiers living at point-blank range, survival meant living underground in bombproofs, dealing with the stress of bombardments, and learning which shell was coming their way. As the defensive walls got thicker and the trenches deeper, mortars became the dominant type of artillery at the siege because they were able to send shells in a high arch over and into the enemy’s works. The following entry is not an unusual description of life amid the shells:

"Friday, 2d. The [artillery] batteries have a combat about every day. To-Day ours attempted to compel a party of rebels to cease working on a certain fort. A Confederate battery tried to silence ours. The mortars on each side joined in. Some of our bombproofs have fared hard, but no one was injured. Battery 20 reopened with her mortars early in the evening, and tossed a shell over to our adversary every fifteen minutes during the night. Sometimes two or three would be sent over together."

At 7:00 PM on June 15th, 1864 the Union soldiers launched an artillery bombardment on Petersburg, beginning the nearly ten month siege. After capturing a mile of the Confederate trench lines, including ten artillery batteries, Union soldiers were unable to exploit their success and take the city. As the roar of the cannons resounded along the trench lines and in the city, little did soldiers from both armies know that this sound signaled days, weeks, and months of fighting.


1) Cannoneers Uniforms

2) Cannon Accessories

Provided 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.

Trudeau, Noah A., The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia June 1864 - April 1865, Baton Rouge, LA, Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Horn, John, The Petersburg Campaign, Conshohocken, PA, Combined Publishing, 1993.

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

Coggins, Jack, Arms & Equipment of the Civil War, Wilmington, NC, Bradfoot Publishing Company, 1990.

For Students

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

Flato, Charles, Golden Book of the Civil War, New York, NY, Golden Books Publishing Company, Inc., 1961.

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

Last updated: February 26, 2015