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Local officials turn tourists to learn
Spotsylvania supervisors tour Civil War site in Petersburg area

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Date published: 9/27/2004


DINWIDDIE--Spotsylva- nia's leaders have seen the future of Civil War tourism, and it comes with a gift shop.

There's also a Hardtack & Coffee Cafe serving affordable barbecue sandwiches and yes, even hardtack.

It's a battlefield with original trenches but faux ones, too, so the visitor can see them at full scale.

It's Union and Confederate camps populated by uniformed soldiers willing to speak with passers-by about wartime food, music, disease and battle.

And it's a museum that still has artifacts behind glass, but skillfully uses technology to humanize its contents. There's even a dark chamber that lets visitors experience the feeling of running toward the enemy as cannons shake the ground and bullets whiz past their heads.

County supervisors spent Saturday touring the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. It's at at Pamplin Historical Park, 30 minutes south of Richmond near Petersburg.

The privately funded park opened in 1994, followed by the museum in 1999. Both are located on a joint site where one of the last battles of the Civil War took place in April 1865.

What supervisors saw there impressed them and opened their eyes to the direction of historic tourism.

"The era of being able to attract people by having an empty field is over," said board chairman Robert Hagan.

Walking through Pamplin's grounds and buildings, supervisors took mental notes on its approach to the Civil War.

Pamplin has preserved its authentic history, while re-creating other elements to fill in blanks where people's imaginations need a nudge.

For instance, the original walls and trenches dug by Confederate soldiers at Pamplin have eroded to the point that they are now small moguls instead of formidable barriers.

Walls and trenches are also eroding on Spotsylvania's battlefields, Hagan said.

He liked that Pamplin kept its original earthworks but also re-dug examples of period trenches so "the look and feel is the same as it was then."

The group started its visit by watching an introductory movie on "The Breakthrough" battle at Petersburg on April 2, 1865, when Union soldiers finally broke through a thinning line of Confederate defenses outside Petersburg and kicked off a chain of events that led to the end of the war.

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