Prisoners of Petersburg: Pre-Visit

At the end of the lesson, each student:

Will identify whether a soldier was in camp, on the march, or in the trenches according to his words.

Will describe two differences and two similarities in a soldier's lifestyle when he is on the march, in camp, and in the trenches.

Will explain two hardships of being a soldier in the Civil War.

Excerpts of letters and diaries of actual soldiers who participated in the siege of Petersburg.

Paper and Pencil

Civil War soldiers endured many hardships during the Civil War. While soldiers saw a fair amount of fighting during the four years of the war, the majority of their time was spent marching from one place to another or in camp. How did soldiers live? What did they do on a daily basis, when battles were not being fought? How did they keep a positive spirit in the face of a war that would not end?

Involvement of the Learners:
Read the following excerpt from a soldier's diary:
"Camp life here is very hard, the weather being very hot, and we drill a great deal. In the morning at 5 o'clock we are awakened by the reveille; get up and answer roll call; then form for squad drill; then breakfast, after which is company drill; come in and rest for awhile, and then the whole regiment goes out for a batallion drill; next dinner; next brigade drill; next division drill, and we all think if the fields were only large enough, we would have a corps and army drill."
Daniel G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Transition to Explanation:
After reading this excerpt, do you think it would be easier to be in camp or on the march? Why?

Students will read the six brief excerpts of soldier life. Students will then identify whether the soldier was on the march, in camp, or in the trenches according to the passage.

Students will write and discuss two major differences and two similarities in a soldier's life when he is on the march, in camp, or in the trenches.

Students will write editorials for a local paper about soldier life. They will select a position (camp life, marching, or the trenches) and write an editorial about the merits of one of these position. They will need to support their position by using the information they have just read.

Excerpts for lesson:

"We travelled very slowly, with constant stops and then a few yards gained. Everyone was very sleepy, the heat of the previous day seeming to have taken all the vigour out of man and beast. My own men kept up, for unless with their battery they have no chance for any breakfast; but after every little halt more or less of the infantry were left asleep on the roadside. The provost guard which was immediately in my front could do but very little towards getting the stragglers along. Take it altogether, I do not remember ever to have seen such an amount of sleepiness on the part of both officers and men."
Colonel Charles S. Wainwright

"After dinner we marched until 10 o'clock at night, when we formed in line connecting with the 5th Corps, which is planted squarely across the Danville Railroad. After fooling around a couple of hours, we lay down for the rest of night. This was a moment of supreme enjoyment for the writer -- and one of wretchedness as well. Was ever a mortal permitted to endure such tortures as I have suffered today? Quite early in the day my heels were galled to the bone. The blood dried into my stockings and boots, and when I removed them, the flesh was actually torn from my heel. I thought I had known suffereing from this cause before, but all previous experiences have been simply skirmishes compared with the agony of the moment."
Maine Volunteer

"...All is quiet now except the usual canonadeing and sharpshooting. For two days we have had no skirmishing on our line here. The Yanks agreed to quit if our boys were willing and they readily consented and again are at liberty to walk near the line. The most of them are busily engaged preparing for the winter, which is fast approaching here. Instead of building huts as formerly, they dig a hole in the ground about 6 feet deep and 10 feet square, put over the top a layer of large logs. On that a layer of boughs and leaves, and cover the whole with dirt which they pile on till it is shaped like a potatoe hill."
Marion Hill Fitzpatrick, Army of Northen Virginia

We have an old tent stretched in camp, but it leaks badly; still it is some protection and we should be thankful. We are getting on very well in the way of rations, both for man and horse and if we could be only be quiet here for a month, the horses would improve much. General H., I understand, says this campaign has been the most active by far of any previous one in this state and I think he might have added that the victories of the Confederates have been more decisive."
General William Stokes, 4th South Carolina Cavalry

"Well this is the 22nd day of our operations before Petersburg. It's 3 days in the trenches and two out, with us, and the out is not much better than the in for we do not move so far to the rear but that the rebs can shell us. I am just as thin as a rail (just the condition for this country) yet in good health and strong as I ever was. I will not be so liable to fevers, or to fatal results severely wounded as if I was fleshy, so that I am very well satisfied with my physical condition. You would be certainly diverted to see me now. I occupy a hold in the ground just long enough for one to lie down in and high enough to set up in, covered with poles and two or three feet of earth to form a protection from pieces of shell. I cannot see that we are gaining much advantage but I suppose Mr. Grant knows what he is about."

J.J. Scroggs, 5th U.S.C.T.

"...I have before stated that my camp was back of old Blanford church, dug into the slope of the hill. From the camp to the church was an open, closely grazed field called the "common," sloping down towards the camp...My fly was pitched in a dugout about ten feet wide dug back into the hill to a perpendicular wall about eight feet high...One night a working party was to be sent out to start a mine in an exposed place and the officers who were to go with it, four or five in number, were sitting around a table in my tent, examining a plan of the work I had made and was explaining to them. We were all intently engaged on this when we hear approaching through the still night air what sounded like a railroad express train. We all knew what it was. It was the long-expected three-hundred-pounder; but no one spoke, all pretending unawareness, and I went on with my explanation... Presently the sound came from right over our heads, apparently, and increased to a terrific roar, becoming louder and louder every second and I was sure it was going to fall right on my table. In spite of all I could do I felt my hand on the plan in which I held my pencil begin to shake..."
W.W. Blackford. C.S.A.

It was not always easy to be a soldier whether you were on the march, in camp, or in the trenches. Many soldiers simply wanted to be home as the siege dragged into months.

Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Petersburg National Battlefield Administration Office
1539 Hickory Hill Road

Petersburg, VA 23803


(804) 732-3531 x0

Contact Us