Spotlight: “The Saddest Affair”— Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia
Visit the scene of this single most famous battle during the American Civil War's 292-day siege of Petersburg
"It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in war,"
General Ulysses S. Grant, transmitted in a telegraph to Army Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck about the Battle of the Crater
What You’ll Find
In an attempt to break the six-week standoff over General Lee’s critical supply capital at Petersburg, on July 30, 1864, Union forces exploded a mine beneath a Confederate battery, blowing a gap in their defenses of Petersburg. The fighting that followed, known as The Battle of the Crater, could have been General Grant’s best chance to capture the city. But it turned instead to eight more months of trench warfare, 70,000 casualties and the longest siege in North American history where both soldiers and civilians suffered.
Each year the park marks the anniversary of the single most famous battle during the 292-day siege of Petersburg, featuring special ranger-led walks and living history demonstrations. Check the Petersburg National Battlefield schedule of events or download “Reverberations" (pdf) a history and events brochure that includes affected communities around Petersburg and even as far as Maine and Wisconsin.
The battlefield is just east of the city of Petersburg, Virginia on Highway 36 and features four separate units along a 37-mile driving tour. The Battle of the Crater site is located at the Eastern Front Visitor Center, 5001 Siege Road, northeast of Petersburg. Visit the battlefield’s directions page for more details.
Visit the Petersburg Area Regional Tourism website to find lodging, camping, restaurants and other Civil War-related places of interest.
Make Sure You
Participate in a ranger guided walk! There is no substitute for walking the battlefield and hearing about what took place on the very ground where you stand. Stop at the visitor center or call (804) 732-3531 x200 on the day of your visit to ask about the schedule.
Tour the battlefield! Obtain a copy of the Official Map and Guide at any of the three staffed units: General Grant’s Headquarters at City Point in Hopewell, the Eastern Front Visitor Center in Petersburg or the Five Forks Battlefield Contact Station in Dinwiddie. You may also purchase a compact disk (CD) driving tour of the battlefield at these locations or download any of the virtual tour podcasts or read more about the Battle of the Crater or the sequence of battle stages.
The Eastern Front and the Five Forks Battlefield units both offer several miles of recreational trails. You can also download a map of each unit from the bottom of the Plan Your Visit web page. Experience the battlefield on foot or bike for a different perspective!
Much of the battlefield is open to the elements. Wear comfortable clothing, a hat and sturdy shoes. The weather is extremely variable so plan for anything. When visiting during the summer, plenty of water, sun block and good bug repellent are a must!
There is a fee of $5 per personal vehicle to enter the battlefield. Receipts are valid for seven days or use your America the Beautiful-the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Purchase one on Recreation.gov or at the Eastern Front or Five Forks Battlefield visitor center.
Earn your Junior Ranger patch or participate in geocaching! You can also collect the Civil War Trading Cards at any of the three battlefield units.
For additional planning information, history, and a schedule of events visit the Petersburg National Battlefield’s website.
Did You Know?
During the war, nearly 187,000 African-Americans served in the Union army with the greatest concentration of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) at Petersburg. The resting place for 331 of these men (and more than 6,000 other, mostly unidentified Union soldiers) is Poplar Grove National Cemetery near the Western Front Visitor Center. Visitors are welcome to walk the cemetery grounds which are also a stop on the driving tour.