Civil War battlefield looted, described as ‘crime scene’

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A cannon is seen on July 1, 2011 during events at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee's second and most ambitious invasion of the North in 1863. Often referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion", it was the war's bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties and the setting for President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address". This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. AFP PHOTO/ Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The National Park Service is calling part of a Civil War battlefield “an active crime scene” following a series of excavations.

Authorities are investigating looting at the Petersburg National Battlefield, just south of Richmond, Virginia. The battlefield describes itself as the site of the war’s longest siege, lasting nine months between 1864-1865, and claiming 70,000 casualties.

“Earlier this week, one of the park employees was out doing landscape work and noticed some things were out of place,” NPS spokesman Chris Bryce said.

The looting happened in the eastern part of the park, the National Park Service said, citing a large number of excavated pits. Marked graves were not disturbed.

Park officials have not described what type of items or relics were stolen in the theft.

“They are probably doing their homework of the area, probably did research on Civil War …They were in the ground, they likely would have used a metal detector and a digging tool,” Bryce said.

Civil War relics, like uniform buttons, rifle parts and other metallic battlefield items regularly show up on internet auction sites.

The Park Service says looting a National Battlefield is a federal crime, carrying up to a $20,000 fine and two years in prison for a conviction.

The siege of Petersburg is known as the longest military event of the Civil War, pitting Union General Ulysses S. Grant against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Petersburg siege and battle over supply lines led to the eventual fall of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and the surrender of the Confederacy.

In one of its most infamous battles, called The Crater, Union troops detonated a mine underneath a Confederate fortification.

But poorly led Union troops were gunned down in the advance.

Grant called the Battle of the Crater “the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in war.”

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