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Where to Go, What to Know

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Writer John Thompson retraced some of his great-grandfather's footsteps in the Civil War. Here's his reporter's notebook.

DRIVE TIME

About 2 hours to Petersburg and about 90 minutes more to Appomattox

COST

Admission: $8

GETTING THERE

From the Beltway, travel south on Interstate 95 to Exit 52, then east two miles on Route 36 (Oaklawn Street) to the Petersburg National Battlefield visitor center. Here you can pick up a free "Lee's Retreat" map, which outlines the route to Appomattox.

WHERE TO STAY

Several chain hotels and motels cluster along I-95. In addition, the Folly Castle Inn (323 W. Washington St., Petersburg, 804-861-3558; http://www.follycastle.com) is a 1763 Georgian-style house with six tastefully decorated rooms and suites for $105-$125. An architectural treasure that was once home to actor Joseph Cotten, the Ragland Mansion (205 S. Sycamore St., Petersburg, 800-861-8898, http://www.ragland-mansion.com), an 1850s Italianate villa, offers 10 rooms for $95-$140, including a full breakfast.

In Appomattox, the Babcock House (250 Oakleigh Ave., 434-352-7532, http://www.babcockhouse.com) has six rooms in a gracious 1880s mansion for $105-$140, breakfast included.

WHERE TO EAT

On a cobblestone lane in Olde Towne Petersburg, the Brickhouse Run (407-409 Cockade Alley, 804-862-1815, open Tuesday-Saturday) serves hearty English pub fare for $12-$25. Also in Olde Towne, Wabi-Sabi (29 Bolingbrook St., 804-862-1365) combines Japanese with regional cuisine; crab cakes, seared seafood, stir-fries and sushi go for $6 to $20. Just south of town, Nanny's Family Restaurant (11900 S. Crater Rd., 804-733-6619, http://www.nannysbbq.com) presents a buffet of such Southern favorites as pork barbecue, fried chicken, collard greens, corn bread and fruit cobblers for $4-$10.

In Appomattox, the Babcock House (see above) prepares lunches (except Monday and Saturday) and dinners (except Monday) for $5-$19.

WHAT TO DO

Petersburg National Battlefield's Eastern Front Visitor Center (Oaklawn Street, 804-732-3531, http://www.nps.gov/pete) has battlefield artifacts, exhibits and a bookstore. Maps and brochures detail several driving tours. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., except holidays; $5 per vehicle.

General Grant's Headquarters at City Point (eight miles northeast in Hopewell, at Cedar Lane and Pecan Avenue, 804-458-9504), situated at the scenic confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers, was the busy staging area for the siege of Petersburg. The visitor center is in a 1763 plantation house, which served as headquarters for Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., except holidays; free.

Sailor's Creek Battlefield State Park (Route 617 north of Route 307, east of Farmville) features trails and information boards. Fierce action swirled around Overton-Hillsman House; nearly 8,000 Southern troops were lost.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (three miles northeast of Appomattox on Route 24, 434-352-8987, http://www.nps.gov/apco) is open daily 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., except holidays; $4 Memorial Day weekend-Labor Day, $3 rest of the year.

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