150 years ago, a siege begins
The Petersburg area takes center stage today to the nation's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
The June 9, 1864, Battle of Old Men and Young Boys was the opening salvo of a nearly 10-month siege of Petersburg that marks the beginning of the end of the Civil War. In the coming months, communities across the region will be holding a series of commemorative events to mark the large-scale warfare that engulfed the area, including re-enactments, living historians, battlefield tours, programs and a variety of Civil War museums and attractions.
"The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys has traditionally been one of only two events that occurred during the Campaign of Petersburg in 1864 that local people have been inclined to celebrate and commemorate," A. Wilson Greene, executive director at Pamplin Historical Park, said. "The other event is the Battle of the Crater. The reason why is that these two engagements were both victories for the Confederates and they involved a large number of local citizens and soldiers in winning the battle."
These citizen-soldiers included 125 Petersburg citizens who were mostly, according to the Encyclopedia Virginia website, "grey-haired men and beardless boys" who joined a meager Confederate defensive force to thwart a Union cavalry attack seeking to capture the strategic city.
"Petersburg was a transportation hub for the Confederate Army and as [Union Gen. Ulysses] Grant closed in, he wanted to cut the supply lines and railroads," Martha Atkinson, site manager at Blandford Church, said. "He was determined to capture the city of Petersburg and move on to capture Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy. So from a strategic and logistics standpoint, it was a very important area to the commonwealth."
Thanks in part to the old men and boys, the Union attack failed and set the stage for the largest military campaign of the Civil War.
"There were 70,000 Union and Confederate soldiers that died during the 292-day timeframe of what happened here," Atkinson said. "That is an incredible loss of life. It is important to remember that these men fought for what they thought was correct and what was right. It's important to remember the sacrifices of their families as well."
Greene said the June 9, 1864, battle was important to citizens because they were the ones who protected their city.
"The battle itself was not particularly large, but it had the potential [of] wreaking destruction on a large part of the city. Therefore, the people who lived in the city saw the battle as something that saved their town from terrible damage," he said.
Greene said many of the men and boys were ancestors of modern-day residents of the city.
"It's a personal matter to lots of people in our region. That alone makes it worth remembering," he said.
It is for this reason that for the next 10 months, the city will be paying homage to the battles and soldiers who lost their lives during the Petersburg Campaign. The first of these events will begin this week.
The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys will be commemorated by the Ladies Memorial Association at 5 p.m. today at Blandford Church. A program about how slaves were bought, sold and rented takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday at the corner of Bank and Sycamore streets.