Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Running to the Crater

Ft. Lee and the Petersburg National Battlefield


As part of my other career, I got a chance to go to the Army Logistics University at Ft. Lee, VA. As is my MO for these trips I did a recon on Google Earth. I was thrilled to see a national park right adjacent to Ft. Lee. As I learned from a trip to PA, historic sites often have great trails.
Ft. Lee is to the east

My next step was to research where we were staying. I looked up the location of Ft. Lee’s lodging and downloaded the map from the NationalParks.

When my fellow soldier and I got to Ft. Lee, I pulled  up where we were staying and made the very pleasant discovery that I appeared to be right next to the battlefield.

While it was later in the afternoon, I none-the-less went out on a recon jog and found that the parking lot / trailhead on the map was indeed less than a quarter mile from post lodging and could be access on foot. I carried along my military ID as I would be going on and off post. But no car was required. Nice

A 5.5 mile random wander through the Petersburg Battlefield

General Overview of the Trails

Trailhead from the Ft. Lee Parking
You can make most any loop here from one to twenty miles (although you would start to repeat yourself a bit after 10 miles). The yellow and red coded trails are dirt trails. Most of them are old dirt roads. A few of them are single track for short distances and a few are mowed grass.

Typical Dirt Road Section

Typical Trail Section
The only trail that was not that fun was the Mortar Loop Trail in the north part of the battlefield park. This overgrown road was rutted but overgrown with grass. This feature made it rather easy to twist your ankle .

The trails system has multiple orientation points that also show up on the park map. Were you in charge of a morning’s PT here you could make it a fun running / orienteering challenge.  Even short of this game, it makes for a good way to remember your route.

Orientation Marker
 For those looking for a bit of winding single track the Buell Trail near the Crater was just the ticket. The stretch between points P and Q was also fun.

The green trails on the park service maps are basically paved waking paths. These are still worth taking though since they often lead you past some of the neatest historical features.

One of the paved Green trails
Here is a complete Google Earth file of the trails, orientation makers and trail names.

Some good routes

 There are enough trails that you can make a loop (or semi-loop) of almost any distance. For those looking for a short foray, you can stay fairly close to home for a 5k Loop.

5k Loop
If you want to do the perimeter of the main park area this will get you around 10k. If you want to get closer to 8 miles, you can tack on a loop around the crater and run the winding Buell Trail.

10k Loop


Beautiful trails can be found where you go in the world, but not all of them are steeped in history - hence I did many stops on my runs. Petersburg was a multi-month siege (or sorts) that happened just before the end of the civil war. Among its prominent moments was an infamous moment in engineering history – “the crater” when Union sappers bored under confederate lines and on June 30th 1864 they blew a hole in the confederate lines. Sadly (for the Union) "rehearsals" were poor and the follow through did not match the execution of the breach. The hole and the main location of the charges can still be seen today.

For those from Maine it is also the site of another I-will-never-be-that-much-of-a-man Joshua Chamberlain story. While leading a charge against the confederates, Chamberlain was shot through both hips. Refusing to fall in front of his men he propped himself on his sword until his brigade had passed. Then he collapsed from lack of blood. Grant, believing he would die (a view shared by most who were on-scene), promoted him to brigadier general – the only such battlefield promotion of the war. He gave the finger to death and went on to accept the confederate surrender as the 5th Corps Commander.

Sunrise over the crater

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