Looters hit civil war battle site in Virginia, officials say

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By Frank McGurty

May 28 (Reuters) - Looters ripped up parts of Virginia's Petersburg National Battlefield in an apparent search for relics from a siege that led to the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the National Park Service said ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Thieves dug a series of small pits looking for artifacts from the Union Army's nine-month blockade of Richmond and the neighboring city of Petersburg, targeting a field where more than 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died, the agency said.

The looters were likely to have found uniform buttons, buckles, bullets and other small metal objects that are difficult to trace, Chris Bryce, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the battlefield, told Reuters on Saturday.

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Looters hit civil war battle site in Virginia, officials say
** ADVANCE FOR THE WEEKEND, JAN. 16-17 ** Battlefield historian and tour guide Jimmy Blankenship is photographed near the crater at the Petersburg National Battlefield, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004, in Petersburg, Va. Blankenship gave the producers of the movie "Cold Mountain" a tour of the crater two years ago. (AP Photo/Lisa Billings)
Civil War artifacts adorn the wall and leving area of a log cabin used by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the City Poing Park area of the Petersburg National Battlefield Park in Petersburg, Va., Thursday July 13, 2000. The wallboard is part of the 5 percent of the original cabin that remains. The graffiti on the walls dates to the 1930's when the cabin was in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Civil War artifacts are placed in the front room area of a log cabin used by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the City Poing Park area of the Petersburg National Battlefield Park in Petersburg, Va., Thursday July 13, 2000. The room was used as a planning room and receiving room for the General. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
At the Five Forks Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia, the National Park Service has set up information displays and placed a cannon to mark the site of a battle fought on April 1, 1865. Confederate troops lost the Battle of Five Forks, which hastened the end of the Civil War.
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The blockade, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, cut off supply lines to Richmond after the Union commander failed to capture the capital city of the breakaway Confederate states in 1864. The siege led to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, ending the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history.

"This kind of aberrant behavior is always disgusting but it is particularly egregious as Memorial Day weekend arrives, a time when we honor the memories of our friends and family," said Lewis Rogers, superintendent of Petersburg National Battlefield, in the statement posted on Friday.

Numerous excavations in parts of the 2,700-acre park were discovered by staff this week, and the area remained an active crime scene. Unaffected sections of the sprawling park remained open to visitors, it said.

Bryce said the theft of battlefield relics hampers the work of historians by destroying archeological clues.

"Even if we recover the artifacts, we lost context in which they were found," he said.

Looting of such sites is a federal crime carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine, the service said. (Reporting By Frank McGurty in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)


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