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Petersburg, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Dictator

 
 
The Dictator Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, April 23, 2007
1. The Dictator Marker
Inscription. Sept. 1864: “…the enemy frequently shoot very large shells into Petersburg & do some damage to buildings, but the people are getting used to it, so they don’t mind them….”
- A.I.P. Varin 2nd Mississippi

Famous but militarily ineffective, the “Dictator” fired on Petersburg from this spot during July, August, and September 1864.

The Dictator was a 13-inch seacoast mortar similar to the one in front of you. It was the largest gun used during the siege and could lob a 225-pound explosive shell more than two miles. During its service in the siege lines, the Dictator fired 218 rounds at Petersburg and its defenses.
 
Erected by Petersburg National Battlefield, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
 
Location. 37° 14.811′ N, 77° 21.392′ W. Marker is in Petersburg, Virginia. Marker can be reached from Petersburg Tour Road, on the left when traveling north. Click for map. The marker is in Petersburg National Battlefield, on the Battery 5 Trail. The trailhead is at the Visitor Center. Marker is in this post office area: Petersburg VA 23803, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Opportunity Lost (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct
Dictator mortar on the siege line image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, April 23, 2007
2. Dictator mortar on the siege line
The Union army used the Dictator to fire on the city of Petersburg during the siege of 1864-65.
line); Battery 5 of the Dimmock Line (about 700 feet away); Artillery at Petersburg (approx. 0.2 miles away); Uprooted by War (approx. 0.2 miles away); Siege of Petersburg — Grant's First Offensive (approx. 0.2 miles away); Battery 5 Trail (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Siege of Petersburg (approx. 0.2 miles away); Prelude to Petersburg (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Petersburg.
 
More about this marker. The marker is dominated by a photograph of the Union siege line and the Dictator. It has the caption This view, taken from your left, shows the Dictator and the entrance to its powder magazine.

The right of the marker contains a picture of soldiers loading mortars. It has the caption A battery of 10-inch mortars at work. Watching mortar shells arc through the night sky became a popular – and sometimes dangerous – spectator sport.
 
Also see . . .  Petersburg National Battlefield. National Park Service. (Submitted on April 4, 2008, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.)
Closeup of the Dictator image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, April 23, 2007
3. Closeup of the Dictator
The "Dictator" on display today is a reproduction made of cast concrete.
 
 
Categories. War, US Civil
 
Powder Magazine image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, April 23, 2007
4. Powder Magazine
The Union army kept mortars and other ammunition in the powder magazine for safety purposes. The powder magazine can be seen in the war-time photograph on the marker.
Close up of the Powder Magazine Sign image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, November 22, 2008
5. Close up of the Powder Magazine Sign
Dual Vents on the Dictator image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, November 22, 2008
6. Dual Vents on the Dictator
The accuracy of the reproduction is near complete. The design featured two vent holes, only one of which was drilled completely through. The right side vent was drilled one inch short. The intent was, should the original vent be obstructed, simple field maintenance could restore the mortar to working order. The "lugs" under the mortar engage into the elevation ratchets on the mortar's mounting sled.
Battery 5 Trail Map image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, April 23, 2007
7. Battery 5 Trail Map
This map of the Battery 5 Trail, which begins at the Visitor Center, indicates the location of the Dictator.
The Dictator Today? image. Click for more information.
By Bill Coughlin, August 13, 2009
8. The Dictator Today?
This 13-inch seacoast mortar, presently located at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY, could possibly be the actual "Dictator." It was moved here from Ft. McNair, Washington DC.

Click for more information.
<i> Rear view of the 13-inch Mortar "Dictator" in the works of Petersburg, Va. September 1, 1864</i> image. Click for full size.
September 1, 1864
9. Rear view of the 13-inch Mortar "Dictator" in the works of Petersburg, Va. September 1, 1864
This is the same photograph as the leftmost of the two on the marker, albeit less tightly cropped. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
<i>13 inch mortar "Dictator" in front of Petersburg, Va.</i> image. Click for full size.
By David Knox, October 1864
10. 13 inch mortar "Dictator" in front of Petersburg, Va.
Photograph shows Union officers and enlisted men standing around a large mortar on a platform on a flatbed railroad car near Petersburg, Virginia. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page has been viewed 2,544 times since then and 175 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.   5, 6. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.   7. submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.   8. submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.   9, 10. submitted on . • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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