Sunday, February 5, 2017

Then and Now: Petersburg Artillery Building

I keep coming across amazing photographs in the Library of Congress online collections which show various buildings in Petersburg. I had not previously seen the above image, which shows the Petersburg Artillery building located on West Tabb Street. The brick building has five bays on the ground floor and five windows above on the south facade. If I am not mistaken, the building to the left served as a fire engine house for the city. The alarm bell on its roof serves as a possible clue. In the historic photograph, probably taken in 1865, a number of Union soldiers stand in front of the building surrounding a fire engine.

The Petersburg Artillery was an antebellum militia unit that was founded by city citizen Hugh Garland in 1843. Garland, an attorney, served in a number of political positions during his career including the Virginia legislature and clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. After receiving an education at Hampden-Sydney College, Garland married into the Burwell family of Dinwiddie County. The Burwells owned Lizzie Hobbs, later known as Elizabeth Keckly, who would eventually become a free free woman of color seamstress to both Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln. The enslaved Keckly lived with the Garlands in Petersburg, before moving with them to St. Louis, Missouri. While living in the the Mississippi River city Garland also brushed with history when he served as initial legal adviser for Dred Scott's owner. Garland died at the young age of 49 in 1854, before Dred Scott's case finally made its way to the Supreme Court three years later

The Petersburg Artillery was a well-respected pre-war militia unit that was known for its precision in drilling. The unit was one of several Virginia militias ordered to Charles Town in the wake of John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid to serve as protection while Brown was held in the jail there, and at his hanging on December 2, 1859.

During the Civil War the Petersburg Artillery came under the command of Captain Edward Graham and often served in Gen. James Dearing's brigade as horse artillery in eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. It was Graham's men, then stationed in Chesterfield County, who responded to the dire situation when Petersburg was threatened on June 9, 1864. Rushing to the scene of action near the town's reservoir and above Lieutenant Run, the Petersburg Artillery helped hold off the Union forces in what became known as the "Battle of Old Men and Young Boys." The Petersburg Artillery had much other work during the campaign for the "Cockade City." Garham's men were engaged in many different actions primarily along the city's southern and southwestern fronts. They surrendered with Lee at Appomatttox.

Today the building is somewhat altered from its antebellum and wartime appearance, but it is still quite recognizable. The original five bay openings are visible, although they are now closed up, and the five second story windows still look much as they did in 1865, minus their shutters. Two modern windows have been created in the eastern facade, and outside duct work now shows on that side of the building as well. The brick building is currently peeling in gray paint, however the grandeur of the old building somehow remains.

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