Prisoners of Petersburg: Post-Visit

At the end of the lesson, each student:

Will view photographs of the trenches where the soldiers ate, slept, and fought; and explain how a soldier's life in the trenches at Petersburg differed from normal camp life in the Civil War. Will describe how the trench warfare the soldiers experienced at Petersburg contributed to the lengthy nine-and-a-half-month siege.

Will provide two reasons why soldiers from both the Union and the Confederate armies might be prisoners of the city.

Will create a cartoon editorial about soldier life in the trenches, with the theme "Prisoners of Petersburg."

Pictures of the trenches where soldiers lived.

Political or editorial cartoon examples

Paper and pencil

Soldier life was certainly difficult during the Civil War. Often, soldiers dined on hardtack, coffee, and salt pork, slept on the ground, and entertained the constant noise of cannon shells and minnieballs around them. So what was different about the siege of Petersburg? Fighting in the open field and camp life as they knew it, would change drastically for the soldiers who found themselves in the trenches of Petersburg with no quick victory in sight.

Involvement of the Learners:
A soldier's feelings about the surrender

"It was not easy to adjust to the new order of things. All that we have suffered and fought for and almost died for, at last consumated. Three years of suspense and horror were broken down in less than three minutes. Had every man in this army been sentenced to death and now suddenly pardoned, I imagine the effect would be similar."

Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer
The Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah

Transition to Explanation:
After reading these words, do you think the soldiers who participated in the siege were "Prisoners of Petersburg"?

Provide the students with photos of the trenches and fortifications where the soldiers lived. Students will complete questions about how soldier life was different at Petersburg.

Many soldiers would use abatis (felled trees) to further protect them in the trenches? Why would soldiers cut down trees and place them in front of their trenches?

Soldiers also used chevaux-de-frise to protect their earthworks. These structures were made by sharpening the ends of trees and connecting them together to form a defense system. How would chevaux-de-frise protect the soldiers behind the trenches? Do you think they were an effective defense?

While soldiers would often sleep under the stars, canvas shelter halfs and tent flies were used to create a shelter from the weather. How have these soldiers used their shelters inside the trenches? Do you think this photograph represents a temporary or a more permanent camp? Explain.

Soldiers from both armies spent much of their time behind walls such as these. When a battle was not raging and shots were not being fired, what would the soldiers do behind these earthen walls to pass the time? Do you think that they could move freely behind these walls?

Soldiers took advantage of the landscape around them, when they constructed their fortifications. What did they use to build these trenches? After viewing these photographs, and the amount of wood it took to create these trenches, how do you imagine the landscape around them looked after nine-and-a-half months of the siege?

Students will use these photographs to discuss why the soldiers might have been called "Prisoners of Petersburg." The class can discuss how the soldiers lived, where they lived, and finally, why fighiting in the trenches may have drawn out the length of the siege.

Students will receive drawing paper. They will be asked to create a cartoon illustrating soldier life in the trenches of Petersburg. The theme for their drawing will be "Prisoners of Petersburg." Encourage students to be creative in their drawings, providing a strong viewpoint of trench life. Their cartoon can be serious or comical in nature.

Collect the cartoons from the students and pass them out randomly to each student. Have the students study another's cartoon, and figure out what type of message the cartoonist is trying to give the audience.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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Petersburg National Battlefield Administration Office
1539 Hickory Hill Road

Petersburg, VA 23803


804 732-3531 x200
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