The Battle of Sayler’s Creek

April 6, 1865 – General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia sustained its worst defeat of the war while trying to elude Federal pursuers west of Richmond.

Lee’s forces moved west from Amelia Court House through the night of the 5th in heavy rain. They marched toward Farmville, some eight miles beyond Burkeville on the upper Appomattox River. By this time, the army had dwindled to about 25,000 hungry and exhausted men. Over 125,000 Federals from the Armies of the Potomac and the James pursued them, highly motivated by the prospect of destroying Lee’s army and ending the war.[1]

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate troops under Generals James Longstreet and William Mahone became separated from the troops under Generals Richard Anderson and Richard Ewell at Sayler’s Creek. The Federals exploited the gap by advancing on Anderson and Ewell’s isolated forces. As Federal cavalry halted Anderson’s attempt to continue west, Federal VI Corps bombarded Ewell with artillery and then attacked.[2]

Ewell repulsed the initial Federal attacks, but the Federals eventually surrounded his lines and routed him. Worn out and outnumbered, Ewell surrendered. Meanwhile, Federal cavalry broke Anderson’s defenses, prompting hundreds of Confederate surrenders near the Marshall farm. Only General John B. Gordon’s Confederates escaped after heavy fighting.[3]

The Confederates lost about 8,000 men, mostly through capture, which was roughly one-third of the remaining Army of Northern Virginia. Ewell and five other Confederate generals were among those captured, including Major General George Washington Custis Lee, the eldest son of Robert E. Lee. Federals also captured a sizeable supply train. This severely depleted Lee’s army.[4]

Near sundown, Major General Philip Sheridan, commanding the Federal vanguard involved at Sayler’s Creek, reported to General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant that his men had captured one lieutenant general, two major generals, three brigadier generals, thousands of others, 14 cannons, and many wagons. Sheridan concluded: “I am still pressing on with both cavalry and infantry. If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.”[5]

Although Lee had sustained his worst defeat of the war, his path of escape to the west remained open. He continued to Farmville as planned, now only moving with James Longstreet’s troops and those who had escaped from the Sayler’s Creek rout. Bacon and cornmeal awaited the men at Farmville, and from there Lee still planned to turn southwest and join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina.[6]

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[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 18963-18983; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114-15; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 667-68; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 376-77

[2] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 119-33; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 667-68

[3] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 120-28; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 667-68

[4] Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 120-28; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 223-24; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 376-77

[5] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19305-19315

[6] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19335-19345; Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 128

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4 thoughts on “The Battle of Sayler’s Creek

  1. […] 7, 1865 – After suffering his worst defeat at Sayler’s Creek, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee embarked on the final campaign of his military […]

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  2. […] Battle of Sayler’s Creek occurred, in which Federals routed Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee’s Army of […]

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  3. […] Battle of Sayler’s Creek occurred, in which Federals routed Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern […]

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