Battle of Sailor's Creek
(also known as Sayler's Creek)
Location: Amelia County, VA
(near Deatonville, VA)
Dates: April 6, 1865
Phil Sheridan, Major General
Richard S. Ewell, Lieutenant General
In early April, 1865,
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was on
the move. After being pushed out of their works at Petersburg, and
Richmond, they were retreating along the Appomattox River, hopeful to find
supplies and unite with
Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina.
After engagements at Sutherland Station, Namozine Church and Amelia Springs,
Lee intends to head for Jetersville. His son,
W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee, on
April 5, advises Lee that Federal cavalry are entrenched across the road
there, Lee decided on a different route. Needing food, and needing to
move around the Union troops, Lee sets out on a night march, around the
Union left flank, that will take him to Farmville. With the South Side
Railroad running through Farmville, Lee is confident he will find food
waiting for his footsore army. This route would allow Lee to conceal
his movements, in the rolling hills of the Appomattox valley.
James Longstreet's combined command, of the 1st and 3rd Corps leading the way, Lee
set out. Longstreet was closely followed by Lieutenant General
Anderson's small corps and
Richard S. Ewell's Reserve Corps.
John B. Gordon's Corps was assigned to be the army's rear guard.
With the Army of Northern Virginia, stretched out over several miles, the
rear of Longstreet's Corps, under Lieutenant General
Richard Anderson, became
separated from the rest of the army. An ever observant, Brigadier
George Custer, watched this unfolding, and led his US Cavalry force
into the gap, blocking Anderson from rejoining with Longstreet.
Richard Ewell, realizing an engagement was imminent, sent
his wagon train, to the north, with the
John B. Gordon's troops protecting
it. Meanwhile, Ewell took his corps to the southwest side of Sailor's
Creek, forming a battle line looking northeast, toward the Hillsman Farm -
and the approaching column of US Major General
Horatio Wright's VI Corps.
With Wright established on the high ground, north of Sailor's Creek, he
commenced a strong artillery barrage on Ewell's line at 5:00 PM. After
a 1/2 hour of bombardment, his infantry started down into the creek valley,
crossed the over flowing creek and engaged Ewell's Corps at the top of the
hill. They were pushed back handily, after which time, the rebels
counterattacked, being pushed back with very heavy losses. After
regrouping, Wright's infantry made another attack on the rebel line, this
time breaking through and overwhelming it. Wright's infantry captured
more than 3,000 troops and six general officers - including Ewell.
this was going on at the Hillsman farm,
John B. Gordon's troops, guarding the
supply train, were forced to protect it, when the train became bogged down
at the confluence of the Little, and Big Sailor's Creeks. Gordon's
troops, making a stand at the Lockett Farm, at twilight, was hit hard by
U.S. Major General
Andrew A. Humphrey's II Corps. The battle was
lopsided from the beginning, with 16,000 plus Federal troops assaulting
7,000 Confederates. The Union troops pushed Gordon's rebels back to
the low ground near the creek Gordon, seeing more Union troops, about
to flank him, from the north, wisely decided to retreat up the opposite
slope of the creek. At the close of fighting, in this sector, the US.
II Corps, had captured two hundred, much needed, wagons and inflicted huge
losses on Gordon.
Meanwhile, further south, three divisions of U.S.
Cavalry, under Brigadier Generals
Thomas Devin and
Crook, hammered away at Lieutenant General
Richard Anderson's troops.
This action netted the Federals two more captured generals and pounded
Anderson's troops with more losses than the Confederates could afford.
R.E. Lee, watching the action from high ground overlooking Sailor's Creek
exclaimed, "My God! Has the army been dissolved?" Standing with
him, CS Major General
William Mahone stated, "No, General, here are troops
ready to do their duty."
After the battle, US Major General
Grant, "If the thing is pressed, I think that Lee will surrender."
Monitoring the telegraph traffic, at army headquarters at City Point,
Lincoln sent Grant a telegram on April 7, "General Sheridan says, 'If the
thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.' Let the thing be
Outcome: Union victory
Union: 1,148 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 7,700 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
The battle of Sailor's Creek was disastrous for the Army of Northern
Virginia. Losing eight general officers and thousands of troops,
Robert E. Lee's
army was a skeleton of what he left Petersburg with. His troops were
on the run to Farmville. Once there, they found a train with 80,000
rations. While distributing them, they heard musketry in their rear.
Phil Sheridan's cavalry was on their heels. Again, the rebels were
forced to run, ending up at Appomattox Court House, the site Lee would
surrender his army at, two days later.