Checking Parks Off My NPS Bucket List!

by: Mariah Walzer

In case you missed it, Independence Day was about two weeks ago. One of the perks of working for the federal government is getting federal holidays off. Between that and my regular work schedule, I ended up with a five-day weekend to do as I pleased. So I packed my bag and headed off to North Carolina to visit family.

Well, being a National Park nerd, I couldn’t resist visiting a few parks along my way. I joked that instead of trying to get out of the office for vacation, I just transfer locations! During this North Carolina trip, I stopped at Petersburg National Battlefield and Fredericksburg National Battlefield, both in Virginia.

Reenactors drilling before an artillery demonstration at Petersburg National Battlefield.

Petersburg National Battlefield preserves sites associated with the longest siege in American warfare. Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to the town of Petersburg from June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1865, just six days before Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.

A replica of the “Dictator” – the giant of all cannons that could fire a 225 lb. shell up to 2 miles. This humungous cannon was used during the seige of Petersburg, but it really wasn’t all that militarily effective.

It simply isn’t allowed to visit a battlefield without taking an abundance of cannon pictures.

The park is divided into three main areas. I only toured the Eastern Front, which includes several earthwork defenses, a recreation of a siege encampment, and the Crater. Aside from its fame as the longest siege, the Crater is perhaps Petersburg’s most defining feature. The Battle of the Crater occurred when Union troops dug a tunnel under the Confederate line and exploded it early in the morning. Despite the initial devastation, poor leadership and communication lead to a staggering loss for the Union as their troops were caught in the same crater they had created.

A reconstructed model of a seige encampment defenses at Petersburg.

Today, the Crater is somewhat filled in with dirt and grass, but it is still easy to see how much damage was done.

The entrance to the tunnel Union troops dug to plant the explosives underneath the Confederate line.

I made a very quick stop at Fredericksburg National Battlefield, which also consists of several sections – actually four separate battlefields and the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine. In my visit, I only explored the Sunken Road and the cemetery at the Fredericksburg Battlefield.

The Sunken Road – The Confederate Army chose this position to fight from due to the cover provided by the dip in the ground and the stone wall (reconstructed on the left). Despite multiple assaults, the Union Army never made it within 50 yards of the wall.

In addition to the battlefields I explored on this trip, I also visited Antietam National Battlefield, Gettysburg National Military Park, and Valley Forge National Historical Park during other weekends. I even spent some time at Manassas National Battlefield’s museum when I helped with shovel tests in the park a few weeks ago. Eight parks down; four hundred nine to go!

A line of cannons and the State of New York monument at Antietam National Battlefield.

The Dunkard Church was heavily contested during the Battle of Antietam. Ironically, the Dunkers were a Protestant sect well-known for their pacifism. The original church collapsed during a storm in 1921; the current building was reconstructed using as much original material as possible for the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1962.

The Cyclorama is a massive, circular oil painting by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux that artistically depicts the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The United States Flag in 1861 – The stars for the eleven states of the Confederacy were never removed because the Union never recognized the right of these states to secede.

The view from Little Round Top is one of the most iconic views at Gettysburg. Holding this high ground was a top priority for General Meade and his Union troops.

Visiting Valley Forge National Historic Park – my first Revolutionary War park of the summer!

Inside Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge.

Now, despite all the fun, I promise I did actually do some work these past two weeks. We continued our ASMIS surveys to check on the known sites in the park. I also focused on identifying the projectile points and other stone tools from a collection donated to the park. These lithic artifacts have no provenience (meaning we don’t know where exactly they came from), so they will be used as educational aides instead of going to the Museum Resource Center with the rest of Monocacy’s artifacts. I am just beginning work on creating that educational presentation.

So many projectile points to identify!

This particular tool is cool because each edge exhibits a different flaking technique. One edge is unifacial, meaning flaked only on one side; the longest edge is bifacial, meaning flaked on both sides; and the bottom edge has shallow surface flakes and a rough but relatively straight edge. The bottom edge may have been a tool itself or possibly where the tool was hafted on to a piece of wood.

One of the things that can make identifying projectile points difficult is that the blades are often resharpened over and over again, making them smaller and sometimes changing their shape altogether.

Time to get back to work for me!

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