by George Fickett
Civil War Historian
In May 1864, Union and Confederate soldiers across the country changed the way fighting a war in the field would be fought. Instead of fighting in nice rows and shooting each other down, they began digging earthen fortifications to fight behind. They had learned the hard lesson and began to learn to save themselves from further danger.
A new type of warfare was beginning. At the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor “digging in” became the new way to fight. As each battle raged new and improved designs of defense and offensive trenches evolved. This new way of fighting also came to Chesterfield County. Recently, the Civil War Fortification Study Group came to Chesterfield County to study the unique fortifications built during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and until the end of the war in 1865.
The Civil War Fortification Study Group is made up from members from all over the United States. They are National Park Rangers, Civil War authors and others interested in the study of Civil War fortification construction. Every battlefield has its own set of unique construction features. By going from battlefield to battlefield they see how each soldier built his own change to the standard field manual for what was needed to stay alive.
This is the group’s second visit to Chesterfield County. The first was in 2006 and there were 10 members attending. During this visit, there were 28 including their guides, Scott Williams with the Military History Committee, Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia and myself. They have been impressed with the fact that there are so many unique features of construction of Civil War fortifications in the county and the fact so many of them have been saved or going to be.
The group is happy to see there has been so much cooperation between the county, developers and the historical society to save and preserve our nation’s past. Some of the sites they visited were Fort Drake, where President Lincoln visited on June 23, 1864, Historic Point of Rocks the county’s newest Civil War park, Fort McConihie, the future 39th Illinois Park, Howlett Line Park and Battery Dantzler, just to name a few.
The group came for the visit just to see “our” Civil War resources. There are several more groups are scheduled to come this spring to visit our almost unknown, but available, Civil War tourist attractions. The Bermuda Hundred Campaign is an almost unknown campaign. In the last thirty years there has been a major effort to change that. Saving the historic Civil War sites was the first part. Developing these sites and placing markers that tell the story is the second part and that is being done right now. This spring the plan is to have ”our” Civil War sites ready for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. There are new parking lots being built and trails being constructed. In 1937 there were plans to make almost all the land between I-95 and I-295 a national battlefield park. The Military History Committee has been saving the pieces that are left.
Forty-two new markers will be put in place in the next two months to get ready for the 150th season. These markers were paid for by the Blue & Gray Education Society and raised $20,000 for this project. Each marker had a sponsor who donated $500 or $250 per marker to pay for them and their names and where they are from is placed on the marker as sponsor. This call went out and all the markers were sponsored in less than three weeks. There was support from people from seventeen states to sponsor this project. As far away as California people contributed. Yes, people from all over the country are willing to donate funds to promote our Civil War history. The Military History Committee receives donations from all over the United States for our efforts. People who had family members who fought and died here during 1864-65 send donations in remembrance of their relatives.
Tourist dollars in Virginia is big business. Why not bring some of it to Chesterfield County? People travel to Richmond and Petersburg to tour Civil War battlefields and they have to travel right thru Chesterfield County to see both. Until a couple of years ago the sites here were mainly unknown. That has changed with the internet. Google Bermuda Hundred Campaign and see what you get. Link after link of information, guided tours, boat tours and more information than you ever need.
Back to the Civil War Fortification Group and tourist dollars, twenty-eight people not counting plane fare, four nights in a county hotel, $80 a night per person ($8,960 plus taxes), food and gas, tour bus rental; this is only part of the dollars coming into the county and the region. As the word gets out in the Civil War world that there is a “new gem” of unseen Civil War history to tour, in the words of one of my favorite movies: “Build it and they will come.”