“That’s not the dress code!”: General Lee surrenders at Appomattox (Public domain/Wikimedia)
When two sides go to battle, the clean up afterwards can be a prolonged operation. Just like when the old guy who used to live opposite my parents’ house threw a bag of dog poop over his neighbours’ car. That took him ages to clean that up. Though in fairness, he’d been warned not to let his builders spill dolomite over his driveway, so you could say he kinda deserved it.
But I digress. Because it’s not poop that we’re here to talk about now. At least, not this time. Instead, what concerns us here is the far more important Siege of Petersburg, one of the final engagements of the American Civil War.
Fought over nearly ten months from the summer of 1864 to the spring of 1865, the Siege of Petersburg wasn’t a true siege in the usual military sense but rather a prolonged example of trench warfare—in which Ulysses S Grant’s Union soldiers steadily piled the pressure on Confederate General Robert E Lee’s troops, who were holding their ground in the city of Petersburg, Virginia.
Petersburgh was an important Confederate stronghold, and acted as a link in a supply chain that supported the Confederate line in the nearby capital, Richmond. Taking Petersburg, and thereby disrupting General Lee’s supplies, would be an obvious boon to the Union side—and on 3 April 1865, Lee finally surrendered the city and retreated back to Appomattox. The rest, as they say, is history.
But in the clean up after the battle of Petersburg, one peculiar object was pulled from the mud of the battlefield: against seemingly infinitesimal odds, two bullets—one Confederate, one Union—had struck one another head on in midair, and become fused together in one single melded lump of lead.
There have been reports of bullets smashing into one another in wartime firefights before, of course, but usually—including a number retrieved from the Gallipoli landings—are examples of bullets fired at an enemy, that happen to strike their (unfired) ammunition belts. When you’re firing a gun at someone draped in strings of bullets, it’s not all that surprising that at some point you’re going to hit their ammunition rather than them.
But the two bullets found in the aftermath of the Siege of Petersburg are different: two bullets, both fired, that happened to strike one another in the air. What are the chances?