Monday, April 25, 2016

My Neighborhood History: Edge Hill

When doing battlefield tours at the park I often get asked where Gen. Lee's headquarters was located? Well, I have to explain that the answer to that question depends on what point in the Petersburg Campaign one is inquiring about. 

Lee's first headquarters was located at Violet Bank, on the north side of the Appomattox River and across from Petersburg. Lee kept tabs on the Army of Northern Virginia at Violet Bank from June to early November 1864. Then, for about three weeks, Lee kept post at or around the Beasley House on High Street in Petersburg.

At the end of November 1864, Lee accepted the offer to move his headquarters to the William Turnbull estate, which was known as Edge Hill, just west of Petersburg on Cox Road. Grant's continued threats to Lee's right flank prompted the move that fall. 

William Turnbull is listed in the 1860 census as a thirty-four year old farmer. Bettie J., which I assume was his much younger wife, is listed as nineteen years old. In addition, three Lewises lived in the household: Alpha J., forty-three, Mary P., fifteen, and Frank H., twelve. I suppose these could be Bettie's mother and sister and brother. Turnbull's occupation is listed as "farmer" and he is credited as owning $12,000 in real estate and $15,000 in personal property. He was the owner of five slaves. During the war, Turnbull worked as a Confederate government agent in Petersburg.

When the Union Sixth Corps broke through Lee's lines on the morning of April 2, 1865, the force turned away from Petersburg to clear any possible Confederate attempt at their flank and in the mid-day turned back and moved on Edge Hill. Guarding Lee's command post was artillery under the command of William T. Poague. Five of the Sixth Corps' eight brigades attacked the Turnbull House and were initially turned back by Poague's gunners. A second coordinated Union attack drove off the majority of the cannoneers. Lee and his staff made a quick getaway to the inner Petersburg defenses.

The destruction of the Turnbull House is somewhat of a historical enigma. Some Union and Confederate accounts claim that soon after Lee and his staff evacuated the premises, the house caught fire by some method. Other evidence indicates that Edge Hill survived at least until April 3rd. Regardless, not long after its capture, the Turnbull House was little more than ruins, as Alfred Waud's sketch (above) shows.

Today, little if anything exists of Edge Hill. There is part of a chimney at the location, but I am not sure that it is a nineteenth century relic. I often shop at the Walgreen's drugstore adjacent to the location, and my insurance agent and local bank branch are just a stone's throw away, too. Most people would not even know of the location's historical significance were it not for the highway marker shown at top.

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