Monday, April 10, 2017

Petersburg's Fort Davis

With it being spring break for many of the public schools in Virginia, and thus a rather slow field trip week at work, I decided to take some annual leave time to get some over delayed appointments taken care of and enjoy some R & R.

Seeing the dentist in the morning and the eye doctor in the afternoon may not sound like much fun (and they weren't particularly) but on my way to the optometrist's office, I stopped at Fort Davis and snapped the above shot.

After Gen. Grant's first attacks on Petersburg (June 15-18) failed to decisively crack the Confederate defenses east of the city, he moved south and then west toward the Weldon Railroad. That movement came June 21-23 and resulted in scores of captured Union soldiers. However, it also resulted in control of the Jerusalem Plank Road and the establishment of a square shaped earthen fortification, originally named Fort Warren; for Gen. Gouverneur Warren, head of the Union V Corps.

The massive fort covered about three acres of ground and contained a diagonal traverse. The east side faced the Jerusalem Plank Road and the Federals constructed a connecting line to the southwest as they continued to move toward the Weldon Railroad and ultimately the Battle of Globe Tavern in mid-August. Before those later movements though, Col. P. Stearns Davis of the 39th Massachusetts Infantry was killed on July 11, 1864, at the site by an exploding artillery shell and the fort was renamed in his honor. Davis's service records indicate that he was hit by a spherical case shell at about 5:30 pm that fateful day.

Today, as the top photograph shows, Fort Davis is rather well preserved. Its high walls and deep ditches remain. Owned by the City of Petersburg, Fort Davis is bounded by roadways on all four sides, which somewhat limits the foot traffic it has received over the years and thus has helped maintain its historical integrity.

Historic photograph of Fort Davis courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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