About Maximapedia

Petersburg Campaign

PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN (1864-65). The name of Petersburg is associated with operations in the American Civil War, which formed the sequel of the Wilderness Campaign (q.v.) and the last act in the struggle between the armies of Grant and Lee for supremacy. Petersburg (see above) and Richmond, Virginia, connected by rail and covered north, east and south by forty miles of entrenchments, formed the salients of a vast fortress, into which reinforcements and supplies could be poured from the rear by means of the James Canal, the Virginia Central, the Lynchburg, the Danville and the Weldon railroads the latter bringing up to Petersburg from Wilmington (225 m. distant) the cargoes of blockade runners. Petersburg became a strategic point as soon as Grant determined to carry the army of the Potomac defeated at Cold Harbor on the Chickahominy (see WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN) south of Richmond, and, being joined by Butler's Army of the James (momentarily checked in the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula by a small army under Beauregard), to operate from the east, depending on the James river, as his line of supply, while the policy of the Confederate president was to employ Robert E. Lee's army to protect his capital. Petersburg was nearer than Richmond to the navigable part of the James River City Point is only 10 m. distant and the capture of Petersburg would involve the fall of Richmond and the capitulation or flight of Lee's army.

As early as the pth of June 1864, while the main armies were still north of the James and Petersburg was garrisoned by a brigade under General Wise, a Federal expedition from the Army of the James approached the city. General Gillmore on the City Point road discovered strong earthworks, and General Kautz attacking on the Jerusalem Plank road experienced a repulse: the total force of the Federals was 4500, and Wise's brigade (2400) had been quickly reinforced from Beauregard's central position at Bermuda Hundred. A week later a more serious attempt was made to break through the defences, while General Lee's main army was detained north of Richmond. Grant detached the II. and XVIII. corps under Generals Smith and Hancock, who were to unite and operate along the City Point railroad and capture the outer line of works about 2 m. from Petersburg while a demonstration was made along the Norfolk railroad by cavalry under Kautz. On the 15th of June Smith attacked and captured five redans before Hancock came up, and when next day Burnside's corps (IX.) arrived and General Meade assumed control of the three corps, he attacked again at 6 p.m. On the 17th of June Warren's (V.) corps arrived, and Meade made a third assault with two corps (V., IX.). On the 18th of June the attack was renewed with three corps (II., V., IX.) late in the afternoon, and the results of the four days' fighting were so far satisfactory that ground was won which could be entrenched and held against any sortie of the Petersburg garrison. Probably on the 18th of June the town of Petersburg might have been captured by Meade, for at this crisis General Lee was in temporary eclipse. For four days Lee had refused to credit any report to the effect that Grant was crossing the James: his cavalry could not ascertain that the enemy in his front at Malvern Hill (VI. corps and Wilson's cavalry division), despite its menacing attitude towards Richmond, was only a flank guard for a movement to the south.

It was late on the 17th of June when General Beauregard, who had for three days valiantly held his main lines south of Richmond with some 14,000 infantry against three Federal corps, succeeded in convincing General Lee that the main army was again (as in 1862 on the Chickahominy) in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when at last the Confederate leader was aroused to a sense of his danger he soon filled every road with divisions marching to save Petersburg: they marched all night; they slept in the trenches on arrival, and on the 19th of June these reinforcements convincedGeneralMeade that his main attack between the Appomattox river and the Jerusalem Plank noad was delivered a day too late. At a cost of 10,000 casualties Meade had gained half a mile of ground, but the Confederates in falling back had concentrated, and now that the new plan of operations was exposed and the main bodies were again face to face the power of defensive tactics reasserted itself.

Yet June was not to close without adding some 8000 men to the Federal casualties, for in addition to daily losses by sharpshooting along the front, over 5000 men fell or were captured in operations directed against the southern railroads. Grant had resolved to deprive his enemy of these lines of supply: his plan was to prolong his line of investment westward and construct redoubts (such as Fort Davis, Fort Steadman and Fort Sedgwick) as a continual menace to the Confederate garrison and a defence against sorties, while his cavalry and portions of five corps (II., V., VI., IX. and XVIII.) engaged in enterprises which it was hoped would tempt General Lee to fight outside his works. A decisive victory in the field, a successful assault on the defences between Richmond and Petersburg, or the complete destruction of the railroads, would precipitate disaster to the South, and of these three methods the last would be the surest in its effects. But such a method was necessarily slow. General Wilson's cavalry (5500) destroyed 30 m. of the Lynchburg or South Side railroad, and 30 m. of the Danville railroad, together with Burkesville Junction and Ream's Station on the Weldon railroad; but Wilson was caught by the Confederate cavalry 100 m. from Petersburg and escaped only by destroying his wagons and limbers and abandoning twelve guns. Even the Virginia Central railroad could not be held by the Federals after Sheridan with the main body of the cavalry had been called back to White House on the Pamunkey to escort a great convoy.

By the end of June the whole of the rival forces were concentrated about the Richmond-Petersburg defences, and General A. P. Hill had already sallied out on the 21st of June to drive the II. corps from the Weldon railroad. Federal policy and Federal strategy, surmounting the crisis of Cold Harbor, were, however, at last in unison. Grant had a free hand in respect both of, his dispositions and his resources in men and money, and had resolved to use unsparingly the resources placed at his disposal. Early in July Grant, however, found himself compelled to detach a corps (VI.) to strengthen the garrison at Washington, for General Early had frustrated Hunter's attempt against Lynchburg (see SHENANDOAH VALLEY), driving Hunter into West Virginia, and then, pushing down the Shenandoah and across the Potomac, had arrived within a day's march of the Federal capital. This operation checked Grant's enterprises about Petersburg and restricted the Federal front to the ground east of the Weldon railroad.

On the 25th of July Grant resolved to weaken the enemy on his front by a demonstration north of the James, and accordingly moved a corps (II.) and two cavalry divisions across the river to Malvern Hill under cover of Foster's corps (X.). But Lee possessed the inner line, and the Federal detachment found two cavalry divisions in its front, and the Richmond defences had been strengthened by three divisions of infantry. The expedition then returned to take part in a fresh enterprise, which ended disastrously to the Federals. A Confederate redan faced Burnside's IX. corps 100 yds. distant, and this strong work was to be destroyed by mining operations. The mine was fired and produced a crater 150 ft. long, 60 ft. wide and 25 ft. deep, into which the Federals poured (see FORTIFICATION and SIEGECRAFT). But the troops could be got no farther before the Confederate counter-attack was upon them, and Burnside's corps lost 4300 men.

In August Sheridan was detached to operate against General Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and in order to prevent Lee reinforcing Early another demonstration against Richmond was planned. But Lee again strengthened his left and the result of the fighting was a loss to the Federals of nearly 3000 men. Meanwhile another attack on the Weldon railroad by Warren's corps was met by General A. P. Hill on the 20th of August, and the possession of the railroad cost the Federals 3000 men. A further attempt on this railroad by Hancock's II. corps and Gregg's cavalry division at a point 3 m. south of Ream's Station was foiled by A. P. Hill, now aided by Hampton's two cavalry divisions, and the Federals here lost 2372 men and nine guns. The Confederates therefore still retained possession of the railroad to a point within one day's hauling by wagon to Petersburg. During September another Federal enterprise north of the James with two corps (X.and XVIII.) resulted in the capture of Fort Harrison near Chaffin's Bluff, and when General Lee reinforced his left and counter-attacked his troops were repulsed with heavy loss. The Federals lost over 2000 men and failed in the attempt to take Fort Gilmer, Confederate gunboats below Richmond aiding in the defence. While this operation was in progress on the Confederate left under General Grant's personal supervision General Lee was apprised of attacks on his extreme right at Peebles Farm by four divisions, which captured a Confederate redoubt covering the junction of t\vo routes to the south-west. General A. P. Hill prevented a further advance of the enehiy by a vigorous counter-attack which caused Warren and Parke (IX.) a loss of 2000 men, of whom nearly three fourths allowed themselves to be captured ; for the rants, since the losses of the May battles, had been swamped with drafted and substitute recruits of poor quality and almost insignificant training. The Federals had, however, by these operations pushed their entrenchments beyond the Weldon railroad westward and established new works within a mile of the Confederate right. A minor engagement north of the James on the 7th of October between the Confederates and troops of the Army of the James was without result. At the end of the month however, General Grant resolved to make a serious effort to bring the South Side railroad within his lines and deprive the enemy of this important line of supply. Parke (IX.), Warren (V.) and Hancock (II.) took each some 1 1 ,000 infantry with four days' rations on pack animals. Gregg's cavalry (3000) were attached for the operation, and both Grant and Meade accompanied the troops. General A. P. Hill encountered this force with three divisions (14,000) and Hampton's cavalry (5500), and he contrived to hold two corps with one division and attack Hancock (II.) with his main body. The Federals were stopped when 6 m. from the railway, and Hancock lost 1500 men at Hatcher's Run on the 27th of October.

General Lee meanwhile had been called to Chaffin's Bluff, where again Butler was demonstrating with the Army of the James (X. and XVIII.) on the approaches to Richmond. But General Lon^street signalized his return to duty with the Army of Northern Virginia by driving Butler off with a loss of over 1000 men (action of Fair Oaks, Oct. 27). General Warren in December contrived to evade A. P. Hill and destroy the Weldon railroad at a point on the Meherrin river 40 "m. from Petersburg.

There seemed now little to tie Lee to the lines he had so painfully constructed, for his army was without coffee, tea or sugar, and though of foreign meat they had 3J million rations and of bread 2 J million rations in reserve, the troops lived chiefly on corn-bread. A. P. Hill on the right held on from Hatcher's Run to Fort Gregg, whence Gordon and Anderson prolonged to the left as far as the Appomattox River, and Longstreet continued the line north wards along the Bermuda front across the James as far as White Oak Swamp (37 m. in all). The winter was very severe, and the continual trenchiwork and outpost duty overtaxed the patriotism of Lee s 50,000 infantry and stimulated desertion. Supplies were brought in by wagons, as the rolling stock on the railways was worn, and on the 5th of February 1865 General Gregg moved out to the Boydton Plank road to intercept the Confederate convoys. He was supported by Warren, while Humphreys's (II.) corps connected the detachment with the left of the Federal entrenchments. Gregg failed to locate the wagons, and General Lee, hearing of the expedition, sent out A. P. Hill and Gordon, who drove him back with a loss of 1500 men. Sheridan, after driving Early from the Valley in October, destroyed the railways about Staunton, Charlottesville, Gordonsvillt arid Lynchburg, and even rendered the James Canal useless as a line of supply.

Grant recalled Sheridan to the main army in March, and at the end of the month prepared for a turning movement westward with the object of drawing Lee out of his lines. General Lee had anticipated such an attempt, and had resolved to abandon his lines and unite with Johnston in North Carolina, but the roads were not PETERSBURG 1864-5 Scale, 1:300,000 English Miles 10 ap 30 40 yet in a state for the movement of artillery and wagons, and it was to gain time that he now ventured upon a bold offensive stroke a night attack upon a strong point in the Federal right called Fort Stedman the success of which might cause Grant to call in the detachments on his left and so facilitate the proposed movement of the Confederates towards Danville. General Gordon was selected to conduct the operation and his corps was strongly reinforced for the occasion. The opposing lines east of Petersburg were only 150 yds., and the sentries of each side 50 yds. apart. Gordon's men dashed across the intervening space at 4.30 a. m. on the 25th March, surprised the garrison and occupied Fort Stedman, but when daylight broke and the Federal guns could be brought to bear the fort was found to be untenable. Parke's corps (IX.) recaptured the work at a cost of 1000 men, and Gordon fell back, leaving nearly 2000 men in the hands of the Federals. The encounter would have proved a more desperate one if reinforcements on both sides had arrived in time, but Gordon had cut the telegraph which connected Fort Stedman with Grant's headquarters at City Point, and the Confederate train service broke down and delayed the arrival from Richmond of reinforcements for Gordon. Meanwhile, 6 m. westward, Humphreys' corps (II.) attacked A. P. Hill's defences and gained some local success, seizing the Confederate picket line between the Weldon railroad and the Boydton Plank road, which was at once occupied and strengthened by the Federals. The Federals had resolved to attempt. Grant meanwhile had ordered Warren to support Sheridan in an attack on Pickett at daybreak. Sheridan advanced on the 1st of April and at 3 p.m. issued his orders for attack, explaining verbally a diagram he had prepared for the use of divisional commanders. Pickett held a front of 2 m. with a division of cavalry on either flank and Rosser's cavalry guarding the baggage behind Hatcher's Run, and when attacked at 4 p.m. he was with Rosser i J m. in rear. Before Pickett was made aware of a battle being in progress his left was destroyed. General Lee seems to have made no arrangements to support Pickett in this direction. Pickett's right was defended by w7 H. F. Lee against the attack of Custer's cavalry division. The position was finally carried by Sheridan's cavalry under Devin dismounting and storming the entrenchments frontally, taking three guns and loo prisoners. Warren's corps claimed to have captured a battery and 3244 prisoners. Yet Sheridan was dissatisfied with Warren's conduct of the battle and deprived him of his command. Pickett's routed brigades were rallied at the South Side railroad and incorporated with General Anderson's command. But the Confederates had lost White Oak road, and unless General Lee was capable of a vigorous counterstroke on his extreme right it was evident he must also lose the South Side railroad. Grant, fearing such an enterprise, at once reinforced Sheridan and ordered Humphreys' corps (II.) to attack in his front if necessary to prevent Lee moving troops LEE'S RETREAT Scale, nyta.

lost 2000 men and the Confederates perhaps twice as many on the 25th of March.

At this time Sherman visited Grant at City Point and proposed to move at the end of ten days on Burkesville Junction and so cut off Lee from Danville and Lynchburg; it was while Sherman was preparing for this operation that Grant finished the campaign. Secure behind his formidable entrenchments, Grant had no fear for his base on the James river, and transferred large bodies of troops to his left without Lee's knowledge. Sheridan was instructed on the 29th of March to gain the enemy's right and rear, moving by Dinwiddie Court-House and across Hatcher's Run. But the Confederates were on the alert ; A. P. Hill extended his right, and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was brought to Sutherland Station. Sheridan had already encountered the cavalry divisions of W. H.F. Lee and Rpsseron the south side of Stony Creek. Warren's corps, moving up the Quaker road, met a force under R. H. Anderson and drove it back to its works on White Oak road. Sheridan got into a flat country of dense forest, tangled undergrowth, streams and swamps, and the soil of clay and sand was impassable for wagons and guns until he had corduroyed the route. On the 29th of March General Lee perceived that the object of Grant was to seize the routes south of the Appomattox river, by which a movement south-west could be made to unite with Johnston's army, and he endeavoured to cover these roads, including the South Side railway, without losing his hold upon his works about Richmond and Petersburg, but in such a contest it was evident that numbers must prevail.

Sheridan's cavalry had reached Five Forks on the White Oak road on the 31st of March, and on his right Humphreys and Warren (II. and V.) held the Confederates to their works along Hatcher's Run astride the Boydton Plank road; yet General Lee was able to concentrate his three cavalry divisions, and supported them by Pickett's five infantry brigades. Sheridan was attacked and driven south as far as Dinwiddie Court-House; but Humphreys and Warren held their ground (action of White Oak Ridge) at a cost of 2000 men. Pickett and the cavalry fell back-to Five Forks during the night and hastily entrenched, for he had been ordered by General Lee to defend this position; since the Boydton Plank road could no longer be held, the possession of White Oak road and the South Side railway became necessary for the flank movement which Lee westward, but Lee made no effort, and so Sheridan was free to, operate farther in the direction of the enemy's right and rear, while Humphreys held the enemy in his front. Sheridan remained inactive for a few days, and Lee hoped still to gain time for the roads to dry before evacuating his lines and removing his stores and ammunition by wagons towards Lynchburg.

But a crisis was approaching. Sheridan's success at Five Forks induced Grant to deliver a general assault on the 2nd of April. The Confederate lines were bombarded all night, and on the 2nd of April with Wright's corps (VI.), Grant attacked the weakest part of Lee's line and broke through, losing noo men in fifteen minutes. A. P. Hill was killed and his corps broke and was cut off from Petersburg. At the same time Parke's corps (IX.), on the right of the VI., attacked the eastern front near Fort Stedman but was repulsed by General Gordon; then Humphreys' corps (II.) on the left attacked a Confederate division under General Cook and forced it to retreat to the South Side railroad, where at Sutherland Station a final attack dispersed it. Wright, supported by General Ord ( commanding the army of the James), afterwards won the strong redoubts called Fort Whitworth and Fort Gregg, and thus in a day the Confederate right had been destroyed from Five Forks to a point some two or three miles west of the Weldon railroad; 10 m. of works had been abandoned, and if Grant had been able to press his advantage at once the campaign must have ended. But Grant was not aware of the enemy s plight, and so resolved to wait until the morrow before completing his victory.

Meanwhile Lee perceived that the hour had come at last when Richmond must fall, and at 3 p.m. he had issued orders for the march of the remains of his army to Lynchburg via Amelia Court-House, a march which evidently must partake of the character of a forlorn hope, hastily planned, ill prepared and undertaken by troops whom the disasters and hardships of the past six months had weakened physically and morally. Yet if General Lee had negotiated a peace on the 2nd of April military history would have lost one of the finest examples of the strategic pursuit. Lee's proposed movement involved the transfer of the army and its baggage 100 m. on bad roads across the front of an enemy, and nothing but mischance could prevent the Federals intercepting Lee's columns by a shorter route and seizing the South Side railroad, on which supplies PETERSFIELD PETER'S PENCE were to be forwarded from Lynchburg to meet the retreating army at Appomattox Station, Pamplin's Station or Farmville Station. The Appomattox River must be crossed two or three times at its bends. Various creeks and swamps must be bridged, and the bridges destroyed after crossing. The wagons must move on separate roads so as to be covered by the columns during marches and combats and the infantry were to follow the artillery on the roads. Longstreet, Gordon and Mahone's division from Richmond all crossed the Appomattox at Goode's Bridge. Ewell from Richmond crossed the Appomattox by the Danville railroad bridge north of Goode's Bridge. Anderson commanded the flank guard which moved south of the Appomattox with Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry. Lee gained a day's start by moving at 8 p.m., for Grant was making preparations to attack the entrenchments next day (April 3), but the start was lost in waiting for President Davis and the government to escape from Richmond. Sheridan's cavalry'got in touch with Lee's flank-guard early on the 3rd of April near Namozine Creek, and at nightfall the Federal advance-guard was at Deep Creek. On the 4th of April Sheridan reached the Danville railroad at Jetersville, and on the 5th of April, when Lee had halted at Amelia Court-House on the railroad to get supplies, the Federals had three corps (II., V., VI.) in support of Sheridan 8 m. nearer than Lee to Sailor's Creek, the point where he must again cross the Appomattox.

Interception was now a. fait accompli, though neither side suspected it. Lee was unaware of the enemy's proximity, and Grant believed that Lee would remain at Amelia Court-House, but Lee moved west, crossing Flat Creek at sunset on the 5th of April, to the Lynchburg railroad (Longstreet, marching all night, reached Rice's Station at sunrise on the 6th of April), while the Federals moved northwards on the same day to attack Lee at Amelia Court-House, and on discovering Lee's evasion the three Federal corps effected a wheel to the left and advanced on Deatonsville after bridging Flat Creek. Meanwhile the Federal cavalry under H. E. Davies had located a convoy at Painesville, dispersed its escort (Gary's cavalry) and burned the wagons, but had in turn been attacked by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry at Amelia Springs and driven back on the main body at Flat Creek. Fitzhugh Lee had then marched to join Longstreet at Rice's Station. The rearguard of Lee's army was Gordon's command, which was at Amelia Springs after Ewell's command had passed through at 8 a.m. on the 6th of April. Lee's army stretched put for 15 m., and when its advance-guard was at Rice's Station its rearguard was still at Amelia Court-House. Rice's Station is 62 m. from Lynchburg. Here Longstreet waited all day for Anderson, Ewell and Gordon to close up, and then at night he moved 8 m. to Farmville Station (68 m. south-west of Richmond), where 80,000 rations had been railed from Lynchburg ; then Longstreet crossed the Appomattox, and on the 7th of April moved forward towards Lynchburg, covered by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry. Meanwhile the remainder of Lee s army had been practically destroyed within a few miles of the point where Longstreet had halted. Sheridan's cavalry and two corps (II., VI.) had caught the commands of Anderson, Ewell and Gordon, entangled with the trains of the army attempting the passage of Sailor s Creek; and General Ord would even have attacked Longstreet (whom he had located late at night) had his march been delayed.

Complete disorganization and demoralization seem to have taken hold of the Confederates on this fatal day, and General Lee was once more in eclipse. The Federal cavalry headed the column, the infantry attacked it, and Ewell became the victim of tactical envelopment after Anderson had been defeated and Gordon had failed to save the trains of the army. Surrender or massacre being the alternatives, Ewell surrendered, and here in fact the career of the army of Northern Virginia ended, as Grant plainly saw, for at 5.30 p.m. he addressed a demand to Lee for his capitulation. But Lee clung to his diminished forces for another 48 hours. Longstreet in crossing at Farmville had burnt the bridges and thus delayed Ord in pursuit; but Gordon and Mahone, who had crossed at High Bridge (the railroad bridge), failed to check Humphreys' corps (II.), and so were compelled to take up a position of defence on the north bank until darkness enabled them to slip away. General Lee was with this remnant of the army. Meanwhile Sheridan with the cavalry and two corps (V., XX IV.) had hastened along the South Side railroad, seizing the supplies waiting for Lee at Pamplin's Station, and then moving on another 12 m. to Appomattox Station. At nightfall he found that he was astride the enemy s line of operation, which was also his line of supply, and so General Lee would be compelled to give battle or capitulate on the morrow.

General Lee, quitting Farmville heights on the night of the 7th of April changed the order of march during the next day, so that Gordon (8000) was in the van and Longstreet (15,000) furnished the rearguard. Ewell's corps was now represented by 300 effectives. The cavalry still numbered some 1600 sabres. Lee s column was pursued along the Lynchburg Road by two Federal Corps (II., VI.), which marched 26 m. in 18} hours, and at midnight halted within 3 m. of Longstreet, who had entrenched near Appomattox CourtHouse, facing east and covering the road on which Gordon's corns and the cavalry was to press forward to Lynchburg at daylight. But Gordon on the morning of the 9th of April found Sheridan's cavalry in his front, and in accordance with plans made overnight he commenced an attack, driving the Federals back until he encountered at 10 a.m. two corps of infantry (V., XXIV.) under General Ord, who had marched 29 m. in order to support Sheridan at the crisis; and when at the same moment Longstreet was threatened by Humphreys and Wright (II., VI.) the situation had arisen which General Lee considered would justify surrender, an event which had been anticipated on both sides as the result of the fighting about Farmville on the 6th and 7th of April.

The closing operations from the 29th of March to the 9th of April were all in favour of the Federals, but, nevertheless, the historian counts their losses during this period as nearly 10,000 in the five corps and cavalry which constituted General Grant's field army. On the gth of April, at the Appomattox Court-House, the two leaders exchanged formal documents by which 2862 officers and 25,494 enlisted men were paroled, all that remained in the field of some 55,000 Confederates who were drawing rations on the 20th of February as the army of Northern Virginia. (G. W. R.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | GDPR