As the weather turned colder and the prospects of further campaigning began to diminish for the year, life on the Petersburg front took on a different rhythm. "Dull, duller, dullest; nothing can exceed the monotony of camp-life," complained a New York Soldier. "We read, we look after the duties of our office; we walk, we ride, we gaze at the sky, the stars, the sun, the moon; yet we are compelled to return to the same surroundings, camps, arms, entrenchments, and lines of defense."
As the season changed from fall to winter, sniping along the front seemed to die down. A Rhode Island man observed that it was not unusual for the pickets on both sides to amuse themselves "conversing across the lines, singing songs of the war,.....and doing a little trading when unobserved by their superior officers.
"The winter of 1864-65 was one of unusual severity, making the picket duty in front of the entrenchments very severe," a Federal officer recollected. A soldier in a North Carolina regiment later summed up his unit's term at Petersburg this way; "It lived in the ground, walked in wet ditches, ate its cold rations in ditches, slept in dirt covered pits."
Helping alleviate conditions on the Union side was the U.S. Military Railroad that ran from City Point behind the trench lines just past Globe Tavern. Knowing that this railroad would not have to last a long time, Federal engineers simply laid the tracks on the ground with minimal grading. Watching one supply train undulate its way across the landscape, a staff officer likened it to a "fly crawling on a corrugated washboard."
The wheels of military justice took no respite, however, and there was no slacking in the punishment of those found guilty of desertion, rape, or murder. A veteran Confederate officer remembered during this winter that the "scarcity of supply's in the army and still more the suffering of the men's families at home produced a great deal of desertion... Executions were frequent." "It was a gruesome sound,"avowed a Union soldier, "but the chief diversion of the latter part of 1864 was the attending of hangings in this vicinity." An area near Fort Stevenson even became known as "Hangman's Ground" because, recalled one onlooker " there deserters were hanged or shot, usually on Fridays." Recalled another Federal , "We lose all human feelings toward such dastards and traitors."
There were ominous portents that the winter of 1864 would be a harsh one for Petersburg's residents. Heating fuel was in short supply, food prices were going up. By January merchants were selling flour at $200 per barrel, butter at $6 per pound, wheat at $25 per bushel, and beans at $30 per bushel. To add to the frustration the crime rate was increasing. "Never were robberies so frequent in this community and suburbs," declared the Petersburg Express.
Adding to the distress was the presence of refugee families, with no local ties. The city did what it could, but too often need surpassed resources. One visitor never forgot the sight of "poor women and children compelled to go among the soldiers and beg for bread to eat.........."