HOPEWELL, Va. – Fifty-eight Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters toured General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters July 11, 2015, at City Point National Historic Park, Hopewell, Va. to gain insight into the logistical feats performed during the siege of Petersburg as part of the unit’s quarterly professional development program.
“I think conducting a quality professional development program is essential to keeping our leaders adaptable and creative,” said Maj. Jaycee Shaver, detachment commander for Joint Force Headquarters. “I really liked the idea of getting out and seeing something a little different than what a typical staff ride or field trip entails, and to get a Park Ranger to come out and take us through the different aspects of logistics and support during the Civil War was a huge benefit,”
Emmanuel Dabney, a U.S. National Park Service ranger for visitor services and interpretation at the Petersburg National Battlefield served as the tour guide and described how the small port town at the intersection of the James and Appomattox Rivers became one of the largest sustainment hubs in the United States during the Civil War.
“The leaders that attended today do all of their work behind the scenes, they are ones that keep the Guard going day in and day out and it’s really important for us to be able to recognize that some of the same challenges that plagued the Army during the Civil War, still are challenge us today,” said Shaver. “We have the different uniforms, different vehicles, different equipment and different causes, but troops need what they need to get their jobs done, and that hasn’t changed and it’s someone’s job to do that—our job.”
The tour allowed senior leaders from both the Virginia Army and Air National Guard to gain an understanding of the more than 100,000 Soldiers, equipment and supplies to pass through City Point during the siege of Petersburg.
“Petersburg was believed to be crucial to General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate capital of Richmond given its strategic location near the James River and its role as a major crossroads and junction for five railroads,” said Dabney. “Grant believed that an overwhelming attack would end the over in a day, but it lasted nearly nine and a half months, so Grant set his tent up on the east lawn of Dr. Richard Eppes’ plantation here in City Point.”
From June 1864 to April 1865, Grant’s nine-month siege of Petersburg involved constructing and manning a series of trenches that eventually extended over 30 miles from east Richmond to the southern fringes of Petersburg, Dabney explained.
“City Point became instrumental in the defeat of the Petersburg and Richmond because it afforded General Grant easy access to the frontlines, as well as excellent transportation and communications back to Fort Monroe, Virginia and Washington, D.C.,” Dabney said. “On an average day, City Point produced over 100,000 loafs of bread, stored and distributed 9,000,000 meals and 12,000 tons of hay and oats.”
Supplying the nearly 100,000 Soldiers entrenched across the frontlines was no easy feat.
Nearly 25 locomotives and over 275 railroad cars were brought from Washington, D.C. and over 1,200 teamsters, blacksmiths, doctors, cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, bakers and all manner of service providers descended on the abandoned town to support the army. On any given day, an estimated 40 steamboats, 75 sailboats and 100 barges arrived, unloaded and left the City Point port.
JFHQ Soldiers and Airmen visited the Eppes’ manor and Grant’s cabin.
“When I was tasked with coming up with this quarter’s professional development plan, I really wanted us to get out of the office,” said Maj. Jeffrey M. Jacoff, a judge advocate assigned to Joint Force Headquarters. “I think most staff rides and professional development focus on leadership or some strategic triumph on the battlefield, but we never get to hear or see anything about sustainment or about how we support the warfighter. This gave us the chance for the folks that work behind the scenes in today’s Army to see how they did it back in 1864”
According to the Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, sustainment is the provision of logistics and personnel services required to maintain and prolong operations until the mission is accomplished.
“As one of our primary missions, the headquarters is supposed to coordinate and provide logistics support to our troops in the field,” explained Jacoff. “This tour gave us a little insight into how the logistics from 150 years ago have impacted some of the processes and concepts that we execute today.”
In addition to the tour, Shaver and Jacoff facilitated a discussion about the attendees’ observations and impressions.
“Some of the kinds of things that I thought were really neat are that in the modern Army, we have a post exchange or can usually get sent mail or receive packages that provide a lot of our luxury items, like deodorant, soap, candy, chewing gum,” commented Shaver. “The military doesn’t necessarily provide it, but if we needed it, we can reach out and get it. Back in the Civil War, Soldiers had to rely on outside civilian service agencies or local charity groups for their luxury items.”
The siege of Petersburg is known as the longest military event of the Civil War, it lasted nine and a half months and over 70,000 Soldiers became casualties.
“I’m really grateful to all of the directorates that found time in their busy schedules to attend this event and contribute to the discussions,” Shaver said. “When these people go away from the office, they really sacrifice work and it was great to see the support.”
View and download high-resolution photos here.