Battlefield Markers & Monuments: Gettysburg vs. Petersburg

A veteran Union general reflected on battlefield landscapes, markers, and monuments several decades after the war during a visit to Petersburg, Virginia.

There is a peculiar impressiveness about the forsaken. Some deep places in us are moved by a forlorn field like this [Petersburg] than by a glorified one like Gettysburg. At any rate, the contrast is wide and striking. There, action concentrated, intense, decisive; here, struggle long-drawn, persistent, indecisive; there, the mighty stake, the destinies of nations determined by the issue of an hour; here, stubborn patience, tireless fortitude, unflinching gaze at overwhelming death days and nights and months together, to test the merits of a tactical plan.

Monuments everywhere at Gettysburg! (Foreground: Vincent Memorial on Little Round Top)

Then as to material, visible elements; at Gettysburg, the constructive work of man uppermost; at Petersburg, the covering work of nature. That, made a magnificent mausoleum, a splendid spectacle; this, the bald fact, held fast, as cased in amber; there, highest art in head-stone, monument and statue; here, grim trees, wild grasses, clinging mosses; there, luxurious avenues laid out for artistic effect, or convenience of visitors, even though confusing the old battle-lines; here only the very lines themselves, laid out by daring courage or desperate need, and behind them the foot-worn paths carpeted now by fallen leaf and ripened cone; there, the remaining gathered in a noble cemetery consecrated with immortal eloquence, cherished in eternal honor; here, sleeping in their blood, canopied by swaying branches growing out of it, the last resting-place marked by the chance staying of some wild rose, named only by the birds singing love notes above them. There, all remembers; here, all but forgotten!

Which is the grandest, most magnificent, I am not asking. Which is most impressive, I claim not to decide. That depends on the man, or the mood. I have memories of both, but hold largely of the forgotten.


Except the trees and shrubbery that had grown up on the battle-lines, the face of things on our side seemed but little changed. In very few places field had replaced forest, or forest field. In some favored spots, then fallow, new fields had been laid out, chiefly where the ground had been furrowed and fertilized by the harrowings of nine months’ siege and sortie. Going over some of these, the earth having been loosened or beaten down by recent heavy rains, I saw now and then a bullet or fragment of a shell washed to the surface…

The principle crops on the old battle slopes are sweet potatoes, corn and peanuts – there’s monumental glory for you!

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

An excerpt from Reminiscences of Petersburg and Appomattox


Chamberlain, J.L, “Bayonet! Forward” My Civil War Reminiscences, Stan Clark Military Books, 1994.