Life in the Trenches: The Archeological Investigation of the Federal Picket Line near the Crater, Petersburg National Battlefield


Archeologists from the University of Maryland conducted an excavation of the Federal picket line within Petersburg National Battlefield as part of the Overview and Assessment of archeological resources within the battlefield's Main Unit. The goal of the Overview and Assessment is to provide basic background information on the archeological resources within the battlefield park. This includes, describing the area's environmental and culture history; list,

describe, and evaluate known archeological resources; describe the potential for as-yet- unidentified archeological resources; outline relevant research topics; and provide

recommendations for future research. As part of the Overview and Assessment project, National Park Service staff and University of Maryland archeologists agreed that part of the project should provide a public component. To help further both goals of evaluating archeological resources and public visibility, project directors decided to explore the archeological potential of the Federal picket line near the Crater. The Federal picket line, in this area of the battlefield, played a vital role in the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. The picket line also served as a key area because of its proximity, 100 yards, from the Confederate defenses. This was one of the closest points between the two armies. This report contains details from the excavation and public interpretation portions of the project. Excavation details focus on the data recovered from the four excavation units used to bisect the picket trench. Archeologists were able to excavate and record a seven foot section of the Federal picket trench, and features associated with the Battle of the Crater. Archeological features and data also provide details on the post-war filling and history of the picket trench area. Artifacts recovered from the trench, including pieces of preserved canvas, leather, tin cups, ink well fragments, food tins, and other militaria, provide clues to the daily lives of soldiers posted in the trench. Details on the public interpretation portion include information on the development, methodology, and success of the major components of the public program. These details, including descriptions of the project website, tour brochures, exhibits, and site tours, provide a template for future archeology interpretative programs.