American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
A Sober Sojourn to Virginia's Battlefields, Part 3
Last week, I started a three-part series about Virginia's national battlefields, national military parks, and national historical parks. In the first and second parts of the series, I briefly described four of these engaging places, from Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Here, then, are two more of these inspiring, yet sobering locales:
Petersburg National Battlefield
5001 Siege Road, Petersburg, Virginia 23803, 804/732-3531
Roughly 30 miles south of Richmond, Virginia's state capital, lies the heart of Petersburg National Battlefield – which, as with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, is essentially a collection of four main historic sites. Together, these sites commemorate the Siege of Petersburg, the longest siege in the American Civil War. From mid-June of 1864 to early April of 1865, Union General Ulysses S. Grant methodically permeated the Confederacy's defenses at Petersburg, which was a critical supply center for Richmond, the Confederate capital. It was the final defeat at Five Forks Battlefield, which is now part of the park, that led to Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House.
Today, visitors can begin their exploration of the engrossing Petersburg National Battlefield at the Eastern Front Visitor Center (5001 Siege Road, Petersburg, 804/732-3531, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), near which you'll find hiking and biking trails, plus an outdoor exhibit about the siege encampment. From here, head northeast to Grant's Headquarters at City Point (1001 Pecan Ave., Hopewell, 804/458-9504, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), which features the Appomattox Plantation and Grant's Cabin. In addition, you can walk in the footsteps of General Grant and President Abraham Lincoln, who strolled here together in the spring of 1865, and when the weather's pleasant enough, fishing in the nearby James River is also a popular activity.
Southwest of the Eastern Front Visitor Center lies the Poplar Grove National Cemetery (8005 Vaughan Rd., Petersburg), also part of the park. Although the cemetery is open year-round, from 8 a.m. to sunset daily, the Western Front Visitor Contact Station is only open seasonally, from mid-June to mid-August. Farther west, you'll encounter the Five Forks Battlefield Visitor Contact Station (9840 Courthouse Rd., Dinwiddie, 804/469-4093, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), set amid the famous battlefield that ultimately ended the Civil War.
Note that, save for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, the park grounds are open year-round, from 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Although there's no charge for visiting Grant's Headquarters, Poplar Grove, or Five Forks, you will have to pay a seven-day entrance fee at the Eastern Front Visitor Center ($5 vehicles, $3 motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians). While you can purchase an annual pass ($15 pp) for Petersburg National Battlefield, the America the Beautiful-National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ($80 annual pass, $10 lifetime pass for seniors, free access pass for disabled individuals) is also honored here. Be advised, too, that the Petersburg area is filled with several historic cemeteries, forts, and war-related museums that aren't part of the national park system.
Richmond National Battlefield Park
3215 East Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia 23223, 804/226-1981
As the name indicates, Richmond National Battlefield Park is situated in and around Virginia's state capital. During the American Civil War, there were two major Union campaigns to take the capital of the Confederacy: the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the 1864 Overland Campaign. This park commemorates both of these significant series of battles.
Given that this park is composed of several sites, which would admittedly require a few days to experience, it's probably best to begin your tour at the Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works (470 Tredegar St., Richmond, 804/771-2145, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), where you can watch an orientation film, peruse three stories of informative exhibits and artifact displays, consult knowledgeable park rangers, and pick up maps for exploring the battlefields. Here, you can also get the CD/cassette that accompanies the official four-hour driving tour. From the visitor center, you should head to the nearby Chimborazo Medical Museum (3215 E. Broad St., Richmond, 804/226-1981, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), which also serves as the park's headquarters. Not far from the Richmond National Cemetery, this enlightening museum houses exhibits pertaining to Confederate medicine, specifically medical equipment and hospital life during the war. To the northeast, the Cold Harbor Battlefield Visitor Center (5515 Anderson-Wright Dr., Richmond, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), which is fairly close to the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, offers exhibits, artifacts, and electric map programs that help to unravel the 1862 Battle of Gaines' Mill and the 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor. All three of these facilities are typically closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
During the summer months, visitors can join daily ranger-led programs of these battlefields. At that time, you can also visit the two seasonal visitor centers: the Fort Harrison Visitor Center (8621 Battlefield Park Rd., Richmond, daily June-July, Sat.-Sun. Aug.-Sept.), which offers a short film and a historical walking trail pertaining to the 1864 Battle of Fort Harrison, and the Glendale/Malvern Hill Battlefields Visitor Center (8301 Willis Church Rd., Richmond, daily June-Aug.), which is located inside the Glendale National Cemetery and sheds some light on the last two battles of the 1862 Seven Days Campaign. Be advised that there are no entrance fees to any of the sites in Richmond National Battlefield Park.
As I mentioned in the first and second parts of this series, Virginia boasts a wide array of historical sites, recreational opportunities, and other attractions. So, before making your next trip to the Old Dominion, be sure to consult Katie Githens' indispensable Moon Virginia guidebook. In the meantime, I wish you luck in planning your 2012 vacations – whether here in the United States or elsewhere around the world.
Additionally, I'm curious if you've ever been to one (or more) of America's national battlefields, military parks, or historical parks. If so, which have you visited, and what was the experience like?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Malvern Hill courtesy of Carl & Peggy Backes / Text © 2012 Laura Martone