Editor’s Note: This review has been cross-posted at The Siege of Petersburg Online.
The vast majority of history web sites and blogs out there (including my own) are composed mainly of words and still images. So imagine how interesting a site is when using different teaching methods while still delivering sound history. CivilWarAnimated.com is just such a site, offering animated frame by frame history of Civil War battles and campaigns. A nice additional set of pages are included for famous Civil War generals with links to all of the battles they fought in. This review will focus on the Petersburg and Appomattox page at Civil War Animated, giving readers an idea of the site as a whole.
Links to all of the major Eastern and Western Theater battles featured at Civil War Animated are listed along the left hand side of the home page. A quick perusal shows the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign grouped together on the “Petersburg Appomattox” page. Each battle/campaign page contains a short paragraph introducing it to readers. A link to the actual animation is below along with some recommended books for further reading.
The meat of Civil War Animated, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, is the animation pages. Rendered in Flash, the animation loads very quickly on a standard cable or DSL internet connection. It took less than five seconds, for instance, to load for the purposes of this review. The first thing you see is the initial animated slide in the background with a more in depth summary of the events you are about to see animated. The summary is sourced with several popular Petersburg books as well as West Point maps on the battle. A nice instructions box is in the lower right hand corner with information on how to navigate through the animated slides. At the very bottom of the screen are the aforementioned navigation buttons as well as the chapters for the campaign.
After hitting play, the slideshow takes you to a screen covering the Overland Campaign battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor, with Lee and Grant’s columns represented as arrows moving to each new battlefield. A running tally of campaign casualties suffered by each side is paired with the casualty figures for each particular battle as it’s discussed. A calendar runs across the screen from left to right containing the dates for the campaign. A highlighted section indicates where the slideshow is in relation to the start and end of the campaign.
Once Grant crosses the James River in mid-June and reaches the area east of Petersburg, the map zooms in to the Petersburg area only, and the Siege of Petersburg slides begin in earnest. A nice illustration shows a cross-section of a trench including a head log to protect heads of the men from sharpshooters, skids for the head log to roll over the trench safely if dislodged by artillery fire, and abatis out front to slow down any would be assailants. A nice quote from Army of the Potomac Chief of Staff Theodore Lyman demonstrates how effective the Confederates were at digging a formidable trench line in as few as twenty-four hours. Another text box on the introductory page goes over why the armies were at Petersburg and why it was so vital to Lee to hold.
The slideshow then moves onto the battles of the Siege. One slide sets the stage with an introduction of what was supposed to happen, followed by what actually did happen. No mention is made of Grant’s nine offensives against Petersburg. Instead, the battles are discussed in order chronologically. The Fifth Offensive and the Battle of Peebles Farm was skipped altogether, along with the Eighth Offensive and the February Battle of Hatcher’s Run. Warren’s December Stony Creek expedition and several Union and Confederate cavalry raids were also not represented. With that said, the battles which are represented are accurately depicted quite nicely, including another cross-section illustration, this time showing the mine the 48th Pennsylvania dug under Confederate lines which resulted in the Battle of the Crater. All in all this is a surprisingly detailed depiction of the Siege of Petersburg and really well done. The Appomattox Campaign zooms out again to show the entire stretch of ground from Petersburg and Richmond in the east to Appomattox Court House in the west, zooming in once briefly to cover the Battle of Sayler’s Creek. A nice Mort Kunstler image of Lee on horseback surrounded by his tattered veterans accompanies the Sayler’s Creek animation. Once the armies reach Appomattox, a famous 1867 painting of the surrender accompanies text discussing the surrender. Appomattox is not covered in the same level of detail as Petersburg, but this is to be expected given the great disparity in time between the two campaigns (9 months versus 1 week).
Although I had noticed links to Civil War Animated several times in searches for Siege of Petersburg sites, I had not clicked through until recently. The site is really professionally done and will appeal to anyone who is new to a particular battle or campaign. The moving animation provides a teaching tool which is more difficult with only text and still maps. I think high school teachers especially will find this page to be very useful in teaching newcomers to the Civil War exactly what happened in these campaigns. The site even offers a CD of the animations with a Teacher’s Edition for interested educators. The links to books for further reading is a nice touch. If you’re interested in learning about the Civil War visually through animated slideshows, go check out Civil War Animated. You’ll be glad you did.
As an added bonus, there is also a slideshow for the Mexican-American War featuring the battles of Buena Vista and Cerro Gordo.