Battle of Petersburg (siege)
Location: Petersburg, VA
Dates: June 1864 - March 1865
Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant General
Robert E. Lee, General
In June, 1864, Lieutenant General,
Ulysses S. Grant's, Army of the
Potomac, was slugging it out with
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
Starting on May 5, at the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant and Lee's armies
met in vicious, continuous battles. Grant continued to try to move
around Lee's right flank, in May, with battles at Spotsylvania Court House
(May 8 - 21), the North Anna River (May 23 - 26) and Cold Harbor (May 31 -
June 12). Lee, moving on a shorter line, was able to continually get
ahead of Grant, entrenching his army, and repulsing Grant's larger Army of
Realizing a breakthrough of Lee's lines was impractical,
Grant determined, in mid June, to get behind
Lee, and Richmond, and cut
their supply lines to the south - the Confederate "Bread Basket."
the morning of June 13,
Lee awoke at Cold Harbor to find the Army of the
Grant was on his way south of Richmond, to the rail center at Petersburg,
VA. Constructing pontoon bridges the Army of the Potomac crossed first the Chickahominy River and then the James River, on a 2,100 foot pontoon
bridge - the longest portable bridge ever to be constructed. This
bridge was constructed in an area of the river that was 80-90 feet deep,
experiencing tidal changes of three to four feet. This was truly an
Grant's Army would start across the James River, early
in the morning of June 15. Lee, unsure of the destination of Grant's
army had not reinforced Petersburg. While the Army of the Potomac,
under command of Major General
George Gordon Meade (Gouvernnour K. Warren's
Horatio Wright's VI Corps,
Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps) was crossing
the James River, at Wilcox's Landing, Major General
William F. Smith, was
attacking the small garrison at Petersburg. Smith's XVIII Corps pushed
back seven Confederate batteries to Harrison Creek, capturing more than a
mile of ground. Smith, concerned that Lee was reinforcing Petersburg,
inexplicably did not continue pushing the small garrison under CS General
Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Beauregard, writing after the war, stated,
"Petersburg at that hour was clearly at the mercy of the Federal Commander,
who had all but captured it."
Late in the day, June 15,
Hancock's II Corps arrived, and fighting the next day, took more of the
Burnside's IX Corps would arrive on June 17, causing
Beauregard to pull more of his troops from the Bermuda Hundred to the
defenses of Petersburg. Lee, now understanding that Petersburg was
Grant's target, starting sending reinforcements to Petersburg, from the Army
of Northern Virginia.
On June 18, the Confederates pulled back their line,
to just outside the city limits of Petersburg. With Lieutenant General
A.P. Hill's 3rd Corps and Lieutenant General
Richard Anderson's 1st Corps
now at Petersburg, with 19,000 troops, Union losses were staggering.
Grant determined to lay siege to Petersburg and Richmond.
told Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, that the south could not
sustain a siege, at Petersburg, or Richmond, was forced to settle in for
Over the next nine months,
Grant laid siege to Petersburg, and
Richmond. Desertions were high on both sides, but the north could
afford them - while the south could no longer replace troops that were
leaving the trenches.
Several significant battles were waged around the
defenses of Petersburg - the two most significant being the Battle of the
Crater (July 30, 1864) and Fort Stedman (March 25, 1865).
In July, 1864,
coal miners, from Pennsylvania (48th PA Infantry) suggested to their corps
Ambrose Burnside (IX Corps) that they could tunnel under the
rebel fortifications, and explode a large bomb - thus creating an opening in
the Confederate works that could be exploited.
skeptical (Grant had tried this unsuccessfully at Vicksburg) but approved
the plan. During the month of July, the miners dug a 510 foot tunnel
and filled a chamber, under Elliott's Salient, with 8,000 pounds of black
powder. At 4:45 AM on July 30, Burnside's men exploded the bomb,
killing and wounding 300+ unsuspecting rebel soldiers. The bomb
created a "crater" and a gap in the Confederate line some 170 feet wide.
With the crater opened, and a huge Federal artillery bombardment taking
place, Brigadier General
James Ledlie's division charged the rebel works.
Unfortunately, instead of moving around the crater, they went directly into
it. Seeing the plan failing,
Burnside sent two more divisions into the
crater. With reinforcements from CS General
William Mahone, the rebels poured
a steady fire of artillery, and musketry into the Union troops in the
crater. By 1:00 PM the isolated Federals surrendered to the
During the last days of March, 1865, Confederate prospects
were dimming. Due to Major General
Phil Sheridan's successful raids in
the Shenandoah Valley, the Army of Northern Virginia was facing a
significant shortage of food. Desertions were daily increasing and
Grant was preparing for a major attack. With this in mind, Lee
massed his troops, under Major General
John B. Gordon, on March 25, to
attack the Union works at Fort Stedman. Lee believed he could open a
crack in the Union defenses, threatening the Union supply line at City
Point, and escape with his army, to join forces with
Joseph Johnston's army,
in North Carolina. Around 4:00 AM, 50 rebel axe men cut through the
Union abatis, opening the way for Gordon's troops. Initially
successful, Gordon's men captured a garrison of 1,000 Federal troops and
Batteries X, XI and XII. However, reinforcements from US Brigadier
John Hartranft's division counterattacked, containing the rebel
breakthrough. Trying to pull back, the Confederates were caught in a
strong crossfire. Some escaped but as many as 1,900 troops were
captured - an amount Lee could ill afford to lose.
With Lincoln, visiting
Grant at City Point, the administration knew the "end was in sight."
Lincoln met with
William T. Sherman and David Dixon Porter to discuss terms and
conditions for the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Lincoln, believed that the country could not be reunited if there was
"additional bloody work." This is believed to have referred to
executions, and imprisonments, of the Confederate traitors, etc. At this meeting, Grant
presented his plan, for a grand flanking move, around
right flank, south of Petersburg, cutting his last railroad supply route -
the South Side Railroad.
U.S. Grant made his first major moves on March 31,
with the battles of Lewis's Farm, Dinwiddie Court House and White Oak Road.
On April 1, cavalry under the command of US Major General
Phil Sheridan and
infantry under Major General
Gouverneur K. Warren, engaged Confederate
troops under Major General
George Pickett, near Dinwiddie Court House.
This battle, named Five Forks, was a disastrous defeat for
causing some 3,000 rebel casualties and paving the way for the Appomattox
Campaign - and Lee's Retreat.
Outcome: Union victory
Union: 19,500+ (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 14,000+ (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
After the lines collapsed, at Petersburg, Petersburg and Richmond
fell to Union hands. The flag was hoisted back on the Virginia
statehouse. The Confederate government boarded trains, to Danville, VA
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated southwest, along the
Appomattox River, hoping to join forces with
Joseph E. Johnston's army, for
one last major campaign. The Confederate dream of independence would
be shattered on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee would surrender to
U.S. Grant at
Appomattox Court House, VA.