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Fort Davis, Petersburg

Posted 4/29/2023

The long siege at Petersburg, Virginia began in June 1864. From June 15-18, 1864, the Union army began their siege of the city after a failed attempt to cut the Confederate supply lines at Petersburg, and Weldon Railroad. From June 21-23, the Union army was not able to complete the task of cutting the supply lines, however, they were able to get a foothold across the Jerusalem Plank road thus being able to extend their trench lines. General Grant ordered the commander of the Fifth Corp, General Gouverneur K. Warren to have a fort built to protect the new trench lines. The fort was initially named, Fort Warren, after the General.  

One Union soldier described the fort as it was being built, "Covering about three acres of ground, it is capable of holding a brigade. In building our fort, we dug a trench twenty feet wide and ten feet deep, and threw up the rampart on the inside. The fort was made square with a diagonal through it. We had a magazine in it, and two wells were dug for a water supply, it took eight men  to get one shovelful of dirt from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the work, the men standing in little nitches cut in the side of the bank and passing the earth from one to another." The completed fort held 550 men and eight artillery pieces. On July 11, 1864, Colonel P. Stearns Davis of the 39th Massachusetts, received a wound causing his death by an artillery shell. The fort was renamed Fort Davis in his honor.

During the siege of Petersburg at Fort Davis, Charles Wellington Reed, who was stationed in the fort as soldier in the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery, and visual artist, drew several images of Fort Davis and camp life there. These images are now in the Library of Congress. The images Reed made during the war number in the hundreds. Reed also won a Congressional Medal of Honor for rescuing his wounded Captain from behind the lines on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. Reed didn't receive his medal until 1896. 

Seen here is one of the drawings made by Charles Wellington Reed while at Fort Davis. The image is found in the Library of Congress, and is also posted on a website called the "Petersburg Project."


The spade style flag staff finial seen here was ground recovered several years ago by a detectorist in the vicinity of Fort Davis on private property. The piece is obviously brass,  5.16 inches long, and 3.93 inches wide at the widest part of the wing portion of the finial. There is a slight bend inward on one of the wings of the spade. Also notice that the threads that would affix the piece to the upper ferrule have been broken off, which is probably the reason for the loss of the finial. This piece is in the authors collection. This is one of the larger sized spade style finials that is seen, and was possibly on a staff holding a larger flag.  One other thing that should be noticed as on most, if not all Civil War period spade style finials, is the beveled edge all way round the piece. 


The image below which is also found in the Library of Congress, was originally unattributed and was captioned "Fortification-Petersburg?" The identity of the  image was eventually confirmed by Chris Calkins. The image is of Fort Davis at "a bridge that spans the ditch at the sally port."



1. Kenny Hamilton, Conway, South Carolina

2. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

3. The Historical Marker Database, Fort Davis, Union Stronghold.

4. Bill Coughlin, Photographer

5. Congressional Medal of Honor information, U.S. Army
6. The "Petersburg Project."

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