- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) — During the Civil War, Petersburg had the largest concentration of free blacks in the South. Some led escaped slaves through stops on the Underground Railroad. Some fought in the many battles that unfolded around the city.

But visit the Petersburg National Battlefield and many of these stories are missing.

Instead, the park tells the strategy behind the Battle of the Crater, a centerpiece of the novel “Cold Mountain” and the film based the popular book, and it shows where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters at City Point in present-day Hopewell.

Under the battlefield’s general management plan, however, that could well change.

The plan will guide park programming, land acquisition and resource protection for at least the next 15 years. A key element of several versions of the plan includes expansion of the park’s social history component, particularly the experiences of those on the home front, of women and of black Americans.

“We think Petersburg is to the Civil War as Williamsburg is to Colonial American history,” park Superintendent Bob Kirby told the Petersburg City Council at a recent meeting.

Their city was fired upon so frequently that residents would estimate the trajectory of a cannon’s shot and, if the estimate was in their favor, carry on with their business.

But, Mr. Kirby said, it is time to begin telling stories “that have never been told” — the role of black men and women in the war.

“It’s time now to re-energize that discussion and bring in a new segment of the population,” Mr. Kirby said. “It also brings in a new audience.”

In a partnership between the battlefield and the city, a visitors center would be established on city property.

Petersburg Mayor Rosalyn R. Dance said she was pleased with the plans to bring a battlefield visitors center to her city.

“I think it’s great,” said Miss Dance, noting that the center would highlight Petersburg’s history and help increase tourism and foot traffic in the city’s Old Towne Historic District.

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