Battle of Petersburg (siege)
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Location: Petersburg, VA
Dates: June 1864 - March 1865
Union Commander:  Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant General
Confederate Commander:  Robert E. Lee, General

Battle Summary:
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 the Potomac.

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." 

On the morning of June 13, Lee awoke at Cold Harbor to find the Army of the Potomac gone.  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 engineering feat.

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 V Corps, 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, Winfield Scott Hancock's II Corps arrived, and fighting the next day, took more of the Confederate line.  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.  Lee, having told Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, that the south could not sustain a siege, at Petersburg, or Richmond, was forced to settle in for just that.

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 commander, 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.  Meade and Grant were 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 Confederates.

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 Lee knew 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 General 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 Grant, 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 Lee's 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 Lee's army, causing some 3,000 rebel casualties and paving the way for the Appomattox Campaign - and Lee's Retreat.

Campaign: Petersburg

Outcome: Union victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 110,000
Confederate: 58,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 19,500+ (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 14,000+ (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
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 and 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.   
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