Our Visit to Pamplin Historical Park

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Battlefield Visits

Last Friday, my wife and I visited Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg, Virginia. The part was established by the Pamplin family on the site of the Boisseau family, direct ancestors of the Pamplins.

The park originally opened in 1994. At the time the site encompassed 103 acres. Today, Pamplin Historical Park has grown to 424 acres. Within the site there are two museums, a number of reconstructed period buildings and the site of the Breakthrough by the Vermont Brigade on April 2, 1865. The Breakthrough led to the withdrawal of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from their fortifications around Petersburg and Richmond west where Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.

The Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located in the beautiful main building. Perhaps 750,000 soldiers died from wounds or disease in the four years of war. More than one million were wounded. If the United states were to sustain the same proportion of casualties today the numbers would be around 17,500,00. Almost all soldiers were volunteers. I am the proud great great grandson of two such men: Michael Patrick Murphy of the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry and Asa H. Dykeman of the 46th New York State Militia.

The museum uses a unique way of educating its visitors. You pick a soldier and are given a compact CD player that has the descriptions of what you are viewing. I certain points personal stories of your soldier are given in the first-person. The museum gives the visitor a thorough view of how the Civil War soldier experienced their military life.

I don’t think that modern Americans can understand what these men went through while serving their country whether it was the North or the South.This museum gives you a flavor.

The park has a recreation of the Boisseaus’ Tudor Hall Plantation. It includes their home which during the siege was the headquarters of Brigadier General Samuel McGowan‘s 1,400-man brigade. He commanded a brigade in A.P. Hill‘s famous “Light Division” and was wounded several times. Ezra Warner‘s book, Generals in Gray, claims that “McGowan’s career and reputation were not excelled by any other brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Prior to the Civil War, McGowan practiced law and served in state politics. He also served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Rifles. He was commended for his gallantry near Mexico City and rose to the rank of staff captain.

The various rooms of the house reflect the occupancy of General McGowan and his staff. The Boisseaus moved into Petersburg during the siege. When they returned their land had been devastated. Fences and outbuildings had been torn down. The wood was used for fires and winter quarters. Fortifications had been constructed by both sides complete with moats, pointed wood stakes and cheval de frise. During the Civil War, the Confederates used this type barrier more often than the Union forces. A reconstruction of the fortifications is on the grounds.

The present-day plantation consists of the main house, detached kitchen building and a variety of barns and other outbuildings. Live goats and chickens are raised on the plantation. There are well-maintained walking trails with audio stops along the way. The second museum is the Battlefield Center that primarily focuses on the events that led to the April 2, 1865 Breakthrough. There is a military encampment with several reenactors. Finally, there are extensive walking trails for the athletic. They wend their way through the original Confederate earthworks.

Pamplin Historical Park represents the very finest Civil War experience for the visitor. It is well worth a visit if you’re in the Richmond-Petersburg area.

Here are some images of various sites within the park.


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