As the morning marched I, I could see that I was going to waste the day moping. I decided that I was in Petersburg and surely there had to be a Civil War battlefield or monument or something where I could go spend a few hours. I went on Trip Advisor to look up the area attractions and the first thing that came up made me giddy. In less than 20 minutes, I was on my way to the Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, site of the last big battle of the American Civil War, The Breakthrough.
This major battle of April 2nd, 1865, isn’t well known, but it was the death knell for the Confederate Army. The war ended just a week later with the surrender of Confederate soldiers, including General Lee.
The words to describe this incredible facility almost escape me. There is the museum, but also a plantation, a second museum about the Breakthrough battle, and finally there is a walk through the battlefield. I arrived at noon and the park closes at 5:00. I was the last guest off the property and got back so close to 5:00 that they were literally about to send a search party for me. And after five whole hours there, I didn’t see and do everything!
Regular admission to the facility is $12. This includes an audio tour of the entire facility. This gadget is what made the visit so memorable and ensured I spent as much time there as I did. Photography is only allowed outside, not in the two museums.
The first thing to do is tour The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. You are asked to pick a soldier out of a group and the tour will be personalized with his perspective. I was amused that my randomly selected ‘comrade’, Sergeant Peter Welsh, was originally from Canada! His letters were read by an interpreter, adding a personal touch to the exhibits.
This museum was really, really well done, with lots of artifacts and the audio track being a combination of narration and reading of period documents. One exhibit had three men playing poker and the audio track was of their conversation, a clever way to show the drudgery of daily life in camp.
My favourite exhibit in this museum was one that is optional because it is so intense. You are sent into a battlefield. I shut my eyes for most of it and was completely transported. The ground shakes and bursts of air brush by you, simulating a volley of bullets. By the end of it, I actually ducked and cowered when a shell went off right beside me!
After this museum, I headed outside to tour the Tudor Plantation, a fairly typical tobacco plantation that was occupied by the army. You can tour the house itself, restored to period looks, the kitchen, the tobacco barn, the kitchen garden, and the slave quarters. The slave quarters have a really good movie showing the perspective of six (fictional) people from the 1850s who share their ideas about slavery.
By the time I was doing with the plantation, I had already been on site for three hours! I ate my picnic lunch (bring food!) then continued to the Battlefield Center. On the way there, you can see a reproduction of the trenches used to fight in the area, the sight of which will remind you of World War One.
There are just a couple of exhibits at the Battlefield Center as well as a few movies. It was 3:30 by the time I was done with the exhibits and I had to make the choice between watching a movie or walking through the battlefield. I decided that I wanted to spend some time outdoors.
Before getting to the battlefield, you have to cross a military winter camp. I was disappointed that I’d missed the period reinactors, but they finish for the day around 3:00.
I decided to do the big loop through the battlefield, including the detour to see the Hart farm and the site of a modern camp where people can go recreate the days of the Civil War. But I was too short on time to do the Heartland Trail.
It was amazing to see the Civil War-era ‘works’, the dirt berms built as fortifications. I found it very difficult to believe that at that time, there was nothing in the area but barren ground and mud. While the area is filled with trees today, there was no place to hide except behind the berms during the Civil War.
I had an amazing day at Pamplin Historical Park and am almost grateful that the circumstances have been such lately to have brought me to this memorable facility. I would have really missed out on something special had I been on schedule today.
The pictures below have more information.