Tag Archives: Philip Sheridan

The Trans-Mississippi Surrender

May 26, 1865 – Federal commanders accepted the surrender of the last major organized Confederate force still in the field.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith commanded the Trans-Mississippi District, in which the Army of the West was assigned to cover western Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Texas, and the territories of New Mexico and Arizona. The army had not been much of a fighting force since its failed Missouri incursion last fall, but Smith urged his men to continue resisting nonetheless:

“Show that you are worthy of your position in history. Prove to the world that your hearts have not failed in the hour of disaster, and that at the last moment you will sustain the holy cause which has been so gloriously battled for by your brethren east of the Mississippi… The great resources of this department, its vast extent, the numbers, the discipline, and the efficiency of the army, will secure to our country terms that a proud people can accept, and may, under the Providence of God, be the means of checking the triumph of our enemy and securing the final success of our cause.”

In early May, Smith rejected a proposal from Major General John Pope, commanding the Federal Department of the Missouri, to surrender under the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Robert E. Lee, William T. Sherman had given Joseph E. Johnston, and E.R.S. Canby had given Richard Taylor. Two days later, Smith reported that most of his 50,000 men had “dissolved all military organization and returned to their homes.”

Nevertheless, Smith continued holding out while other Confederate commanders gave in. Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, the “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy” who had harassed Federals in Missouri and Arkansas throughout the war, surrendered the remnants of his brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas. Major General Samuel Jones surrendered his small command in Florida at Tallahassee. And notorious raider William C. Quantrill was mortally wounded in Spencer County, Kentucky, thereby ending most of the guerrilla warfare in the border states.

Finally realizing that Federal numbers might be too overwhelming, Smith called a conference with the exiled governors of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas at Marshall, Texas, on the 13th. Smith told the attendees that it was his duty to hold out “at least until President Davis reaches this department, or I receive some definite orders from him.” Smith was still unaware that Jefferson Davis had been captured.

The governors disagreed, considering it “useless for the Trans-Mississippi Department to undertake to do what the Cis-Mississippi Department had failed to do.” However, Brigadier General Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby, one of Smith’s lieutenants, threatened to arrest his superior if he followed the governors’ advice and surrendered. The men ultimately decided to appoint Louisiana Governor Henry W. Allen to go to Washington to try negotiating a settlement.

Two days later, Smith refused a second overture from Pope to surrender. Pope’s messenger offered Smith a choice between unconditional surrender or “all the horrors of violent subjugation.” Smith told the man that he could not “purchase a certain degree of immunity from devastation at the expense of the honor of its (the Confederacy’s) army.” Smith instead opted to shift his headquarters from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas, where Major General John B. Magruder’s small Confederate army was stationed. Smith hoped to unite with Magruder and carry on the fight.

Meanwhile in Washington, Grant issued orders to Major General Philip Sheridan, who was preparing for the Grand Review:

“Under the orders relieving you from the command of the Middle Military Division and assigning you to command west of the Mississippi, you will proceed without delay to the West to arrange all preliminaries for your new field of duties… Your duty is to restore Texas, and that part of Louisiana held by the enemy, to the Union in the shortest practicable time, in a way most effectual for securing permanent peace… if Smith holds out, without even an ostensible government to receive orders from or to report to, he and his men are not entitled to the considerations due to an acknowledged belligerent. Theirs are the conditions of outlaws, making war against the only Government having an existence over the territory where war is now being waged.”

Sheridan was to take command of 50,000 troops to destroy what remained of Smith’s army. Sheridan asked to stay in Washington to participate in the Grand Review, but Grant insisted that he leave immediately. Grant explained that not only would Sheridan be forcing Smith’s surrender, but he would also be discouraging France from colonizing Mexico in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Sheridan’s fearsome reputation for pillage and destruction would surely precede his arrival.

Smith soon received word both that Sheridan was coming and Jefferson Davis had been captured. With his army rapidly disbanding, he decided to finally negotiate. He dispatched his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, to discuss peace, not with Pope at St. Louis but with Major General E.R.S. Canby at New Orleans. Smith was still reluctant to surrender and did not expect Buckner to make that decision without consulting him on what terms he could expect.

Buckner and Canby began conferring on the 25th, and the next day Buckner made that decision without consulting Smith. He surrendered the Confederate Army of the West to Canby’s chief of staff, Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, under the same terms Grant had given Lee. As fate would have it, Buckner had surrendered the first Confederate army at Fort Donelson in 1862, and now he surrendered the last.

Smith arrived in Houston on the 27th and learned that his army had been surrendered the day before. He refused to endorse the agreement, and on the 30th he issued a final order to his few remaining men in the form of an admonition: “Soldiers! I am left a Commander without an army– a General without troops. You have made your choice. It was unwise and unpatriotic, but it is final. I pray you may not live to regret it.”

Smith finally relented and signed the articles of surrender on June 2, aboard the steamer Fort Jackson at Galveston. Those who refused to give up were paid in gold and mustered out, including Jo Shelby and others hoping to continue the fight from Mexico. Smith himself would join them later.

The surrender of E.K. Smith’s Trans-Mississippi District meant that the last significant Confederate fighting force was no more. Some commanders who led small, less organized units continued holding out, including General Stand Watie. Others just went home, ultimately accepting that the war was over at last.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 224-25; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 488-89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23115, 23124; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 556; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 568-70, 572; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 502, 550, 626-27; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21464-503, 21502-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590-91, 593; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 572; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686-90; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 760; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 755

Lee Surrenders to Grant

April 9, 1865 – Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant received the surrender of Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee and the last of his Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee waited for Grant in the parlor of Wilmer McLean, in the village of Appomattox Court House. With Lee was his aide Colonel Charles Marshall and Grant’s aide Colonel Orville Babcock. Lee was impeccably dressed in a new full-dress uniform, scarlet sash, and sword with a jewel-studded hilt.

Grant rode into the village a half hour later with several officers, including Major Generals Philip Sheridan (cavalry commander) and E.O.C. Ord (Army of the James commander), and Brigadier General George A. Custer. Grant’s aide-de-camp, Colonel Eli Parker, rode with him as well. They all stopped outside the McLean house and waited outside while Grant went in.

Grant wore a basic, muddy uniform and no sword; his baggage had not caught up with him yet. Grant later wrote, “In my rough travelling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.” Lee rose to shake hands with the five-foot-eight Federal commander, and the men engaged in some small talk. Babcock soon appeared in the front doorway and called on the Federal officers waiting outside to come in. They quickly filled the McLean parlor to witness the event.

Grant told Lee, “I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from General Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.” Lee replied, “Yes, I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it, and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”

According to Grant:

“Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army.”

Grant explained that the terms would remain as they were in his letter from the previous day: Confederate officers and men in the Army of Northern Virginia would lay down their arms and be allowed to return to their homes, and they would be disqualified from taking up arms against the United States again until properly exchanged. Lee then suggested that the terms be put in writing, and Grant agreed. While Lee sat at his table, Parker brought up a second table for Grant to use. Grant opened his order book and wrote:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit:

“Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

Lee Surrenders to Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Grant exceeded his authority with the last sentence, which guaranteed that the Confederates would not be punished for rebelling against the Federal government. Nevertheless, the book was passed to Lee, who laid it on the table, polished his spectacles, put them on, and read it. Scanning the second page, Lee said, “After the words ‘until properly’ the word ‘exchanged’ seems to be omitted. You doubtless intended to use that word.”

Grant said, “Why, yes. I thought I had put in the word ‘exchanged.’” Lee replied, “I presumed it had been omitted inadvertently, and, with your permission, I will mark where it should be inserted.” Grant said, “Certainly.” Marshall gave Lee his pencil, and Lee twirled it in his fingers and tapped it on the table as he finished reading. He noted the section allowing officers to keep their horses and side arms and said, “This will have a very happy effect upon my army.”

Lee then said, “General, our cavalrymen furnish their own horses; they are not Government horses, some of them may be, but of course you will find them out–any property that is public property, you will ascertain that, but it is nearly all private property, and these men will want to plough ground and plant corn.” Grant told Lee that the terms did not allow for the rank and file to keep their horses, and Lee replied that this was clear.

Then Grant reconsidered. He said that he hoped this would be the final battle of the war, and presuming that most of the Confederates were small farmers, they would be allowed to keep their horses as well. Lee repeated that such an allowance would have a happy effect on the men. Lee wrote a reply to Grant’s written terms:

“I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.”

At around 3:45 p.m., this letter was placed in an envelope and sealed. Grant took the envelope and handed it to Parker without reading it; he said that Lee’s word was sufficient for the surrender to take effect. Parker wrote out copies of Grant’s surrender order, and Grant introduced Lee to all the Federal officers in the parlor. When Lee came to Parker (who was a Seneca Indian), he said, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

Grant asked Sheridan if his troopers had any rations they could share with the remaining Confederates, many of whom were nearly starved to death. Sheridan said that he had some from the Confederate trains his men had captured the previous day. Grant asked Lee if 25,000 rations would be enough, and Lee replied, “Plenty, plenty; an abundance.”

Lee left the McLean house, accompanied by Babcock and Marshall. The general stood on the porch steps and silently pounded his right fist into his left palm as he waited for his orderly to bring up his horse. As Lee mounted the horse, Grant emerged from the McLean house and raised his hat in salute. All Federal officers present did the same. Lee returned the salute and rode off slowly.

As Lee returned to his surrendered army, weeping troops swarmed him and urged him to carry on the fight. Lee told them, “I have done for you all that it was in my power to do. You have done all your duty. Leave the result to God. Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”

Grant left the house next, accompanied by Colonel Horace Porter. When Porter asked if Grant would notify Washington, Grant admitted that he had forgotten about that. He stopped at the roadside and scribbled a hasty message for the telegraph.

An officer present later recalled that after Grant and Lee left the McLean house, “Relic-hunters, charged down upon the manor house and began to bargain for the numerous pieces of furniture.” Some men tried to pay McLean, but he refused. The men took the furniture anyway.

Meanwhile, word quickly spread among the Federals that Lee had surrendered. The men shouted, cheered, and fired their weapons in celebration. When gunners started firing their cannon in salute, Grant ordered them to stop. He told them, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations.” He later wrote:

“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know… but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”

Grant’s order did not reach the troops outside Appomattox Court House, and they staged wild celebrations. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, rode down the lines waving his hat and shouting, “It’s all over, boys! Lee’s surrendered! It’s all over!” An officer wrote his wife: “Notwithstanding the privations and hardships I have endured, and the great suffering I have undergone, the glory of this day more than compensates me for all.” A soldier recalled:

“The air is black with hats and boots, coats, knapsacks, shirts and cartridge boxes, blankets and shelter tents, canteens and haversacks. They fall on each others’ necks and laugh and cry by turns. Huge, lumbering, bearded men embrace and kiss like school-girls, then dance and sing and shout, stand on their heads and play at leapfrog with each other… All the time, from the hills around, the deep-mouthed cannon give their harmless thunders, and at each hollow boom the vast concourse rings out its joy anew that murderous shot and shell no longer follow close the accustomed sound.”

The celebrations would increase as news of the surrender reached Washington and then the rest of the North.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 555-56; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 460-69; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 557; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 284-85; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 670-71; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 464; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 217-18, 220; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 848-49; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5645; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 735-36; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

Lee Agrees to Discuss Surrender

April 9, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee was compelled to ask Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant for a meeting to discuss surrendering the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

At 5 a.m. on Palm Sunday, Confederate infantry under Major General John B. Gordon and cavalry under Major General Fitzhugh Lee advanced as planned. They hoped to break through Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry blocking their escape route to the west while Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps held off the Federals closing in from the east.

The Confederates initially drove Sheridan’s troopers back, pushing forward to the crest of a hill near Appomattox Court House. But they did not know that Sheridan was only pulling his men back so the infantry could get into the fight, and beyond the crest lay XXIV Corps from the Army of the James and V Corps from the Army of the Potomac. The Federals surged forward, and Gordon told one of Lee’s aides, “My old corps is reduced to a frazzle, and, unless I am supported by Longstreet heavily, I do not think we can do anything more.”

But Longstreet was busy trying to fend off II and VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, three miles northeast. When the aide delivered Gordon’s message to Lee, he realized he now had no hope of continuing southwest to join with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates in North Carolina. His army was surrounded on three sides (with the fourth side useless to them) and outnumbered five-to-one. After four years of fighting, the Army of Northern Virginia now faced annihilation. Lee said, “Then there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee met with Longstreet and Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, army artillery chief. Alexander proposed disbanding the army and allowing the troops to continue the struggle as guerrilla fighters. Lee demurred, arguing that the hungry men “would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many sections they may never (otherwise) have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.”

Lee rode out about 8:30 a.m. to the place where he had proposed meeting with Grant to discuss peace terms. But he soon received a message from Grant telling him that the meeting would not take place:

“I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the meeting proposed for 10 a.m. to-day could lead to no good. I will state however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c. U.S. Grant, Lieutenant General.”

Annoyed by this rejection, Lee told his aide, “Well, write a letter to General Grant and ask him to meet me to deal with the question of the surrender of my army.” It read:

“I received your note of this morning on the picket line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.”

At that time, Grant was riding with II and VI corps coming in from the east. After he left that sector to meet with Sheridan, a courier under a white flag (actually a towel) delivered Lee’s message, where it was received by Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Meade forwarded the message to Grant but refused to suspend hostilities: “I have no sort of authority to grant such suspension. General Lee has already refused the terms of General Grant.”

When told that the Federals would attack, Lee wrote a second note to Grant: “I ask a suspension of hostilities pending the adjustment of the terms of the surrender of this army, in the interview requested in my former communication today.” Meade was finally persuaded to halt his attack.

Brigadier General John Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff, received Lee’s message, read it, and handed it to the commander. Grant had been suffering from a migraine, or “a sick headache” as he described it, but “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.” Grant quickly replied:

“Your note of this date is but this moment (11:50 A.M.) received, in consequence of my having passed from the Richmond and Lynchburg roads to the Farmville and Lynchburg road. I am writing this about four miles west of Walker’s Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place will meet me.”

Grant then met with Sheridan and informed him that Lee wanted to surrender. Sheridan was “suspicious about the whole business, feared that there might be a plan to escape, that he had Lee at his feet and wanted to end the business by going in and forcing an absolute surrender by capture.” But Grant had “no doubt about the good faith of Lee,” and both sides ceased firing until Grant and Lee could talk.

Federals and Confederates dropped their guns and started mingling between the lines. A Pennsylvanian wrote that he went to the nearest Confederate regiment and “as soon as I got among these boys I felt and was treated as well as if I had been among our own boys, and a person would of thought we were of the same Army and had been Fighting under the Same Flag.” Another Federal soldier recalled:

“I remember how we sat there and pitied and sympathized with these courageous Southern men who had fought for four long and dreary years all so stubbornly, so bravely and so well, and now, whipped, beaten, completely used up, were fully at our mercy–it was pitiful, sad, hard, and seemed to us altogether too bad.”

Colonel Orville Babcock of Grant’s staff delivered the general’s message to Lee, who received it near 1 p.m. He dispatched Colonel Charles Marshall of his staff to find a meeting place for the two commanders. Marshall and Babcock rode into the village of Appomattox Court House and met with a resident named Wilmer McLean, who reluctantly allowed them to use the front parlor of his home. Ironically, McLean had moved away from Manassas to escape the war after his home had been damaged during the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. The McLean family settled in this peaceful village, “where the sound of battle would never reach them.”

According to Marshall: “Colonel Babcock told his orderly that he was to meet General Grant, who was coming on the road, and turn him in when he came along. So General Lee, Babcock and myself sat down in McLean’s parlour and talked in the most friendly and affable way.”

Federal officers waited for Grant on the road to Appomattox Court House, including Sheridan and Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding the Army of the James. Grant looked ahead to the village and asked Sheridan, “Is Lee up there?” Sheridan said yes. Grant replied, “Very well. Let’s go up.” A nearby Federal band played “Auld Lang Syne” as the officers rode by.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 541; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 566; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 375-80; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 460-69; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22451-78; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 557; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19697-707, 19727-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8768-81, 8825-47; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 284-85; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 670-71; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 464; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 217-18, 220; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 848-49; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5645; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 735-36; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Appomattox Campaign: Part 2

April 8, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia continued its grueling westward march while Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant continued pressing for its surrender.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee hoped to get his men to Appomattox Court House, where supplies were supposedly waiting. From there, Lee planned to continue west to Lynchburg and then turn south to join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. However, the army had dwindled to less than 20,000 men, with troops falling out by the hour from hunger and exhaustion. And over 80,000 Federals were in close pursuit, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry riding ahead to block Lee’s path.

Grant, the overall Federal commander, had written to Lee urging him to surrender. Grant received Lee’s reply on the morning of the 8th, in which Lee asked what terms Grant might offer. While awaiting Grant’s reply, Lee told aides, “I will strike that man a blow in the morning.” When an officer suggested surrender, Lee replied:

“I trust it has not come to that! We certainly have too many brave men to think of laying down our arms. They still fight with great spirit whereas the enemy does not. Besides, if I were to intimate to General Grant that I would listen to terms, he would at once regard it as such evidence of weakness that he would demand unconditional surrender–and sooner than that I am resolved to die. Indeed, we must all determine to die at our posts.”

Major General Henry Wise, the former Virginia governor, asked Lee what he planned to do. Lee replied, “I shall have to be governed by each day’s developments. A few more Sayler’s Creeks and it will all be over–ended–just as I have expected it would end from the first.”

Brig Gen G.A. Custer | Image Credit: claseshistoria.com

That afternoon, Brigadier General George A. Custer’s cavalry division captured four supply trains at Appomattox Station, about a mile from Appomattox Court House. Sheridan reported that his troopers had begun arriving at the courthouse town to block Lee, and, “If the 5th Corps can get up tonight we will perhaps finish the job in the morning. I do not think Lee means to surrender until compelled to do so.” Grant wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I feel very confident of receiving the surrender of Lee and what remains of his army tomorrow.”

The Confederates continued moving, unaware that Federals were now in their front. Lee relieved Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and Major Generals George Pickett and Bushrod R. Johnson from duty because they no longer had commands after the rout at Sayler’s Creek. As for the remaining Army of Northern Virginia, Major General John B. Gordon’s infantry corps and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry stopped near the town surrounding the Appomattox County courthouse. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps stopped behind Gordon.

Meanwhile, Lee received Grant’s latest message:

“Your note of last evening in reply to mine of the same date, asking the conditions on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon–namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.”

The surrender terms were generous; not only would the troops be allowed to return to their homes, but Lee would be spared the humiliation of surrendering in person. In fact, they were the same terms that Grant had offered Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg. But Lee was not ready to give up. He replied:

“I received at a late hour your note of today. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of N. Va., but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but, as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of N. Va.; but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 A.M. tomorrow on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.”

Grant received this message in a farmhouse near Farmville. He was suffering from a migraine, and Lee’s reply made it no better. Grant’s staffers were enraged upon reading Lee’s note because Lee tried shifting the topic from surrender to peace negotiation, which Grant had no authority to discuss. Grant did not share their anger; he simply shook his head and said, “It looks as if Lee means to fight. I will reply in the morning.” Grant proposed to meet with Lee nonetheless until his top staffer and trusted confidante General John Rawlins reminded him that President Abraham Lincoln had ordered Grant to only discuss surrender, not peace, with Lee.

As night fell, the situation for Lee was bleaker than ever:

  • Sheridan’s cavalry blocked the road to Lynchburg that Lee needed for his army to survive.
  • Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps was southwest of Lee, poised to join forces with Sheridan.
  • Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps was coming up behind Gibbon.
  • II and VI corps under Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright were closing in on the Confederates from the east.

Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, who had come out to inspect the Army of Northern Virginia, reported to President Jefferson Davis at Danville that Lee had been “forced across the Appomattox” River to find “temporary relief” from the Federals in his continuing effort to “move around (the Federals) toward North Carolina. The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable.”

Lee arrived about a mile northeast of Appomattox Court House at 9 p.m. Artillery could be heard in the distance, and Federal campfires were visible to the west. The Confederates were virtually surrounded and outnumbered five-to-one. Supply lines had been cut, denying them any hope for food or reinforcement.

Lee held a council of war with Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee. They resolved to attack Sheridan’s troopers at 5 a.m. on the 9th, before the infantry could come to their aid. The goal was to break through the Federal line and get to Lynchburg. Gordon and Fitz stated that they could handle the cavalry, but if the infantry came up, they would have to surrender. When one of Gordon’s aides asked Lee where Gordon should stop after the breakthrough, Lee replied, “Tell General Gordon that I should be glad for him to halt just beyond the Tennessee line.”

Both Federals and Confederates bivouacked within striking distance of each other that night. Men on both sides felt that the next day would decide the war.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 539-40; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 581; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 374-75; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 458-60; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22452, 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 556; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19590-609, 19355-75, 19657-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8721-45; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 282-84; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 669-70; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 216-17; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Appomattox Campaign

April 7, 1865 – After suffering his worst defeat, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee embarked on the final campaign of his military career.

The Confederates who survived yesterday’s Sayler’s Creek rout continued their agonizing march west to collect the rations waiting for them at Farmville. Many starving men had been living on dried corn intended for the horses. They crossed the Appomattox River and burned the bridges behind them, but Federals from II Corps seized a bridge downriver before it could be destroyed. This enabled the Federals to cross and continue their close pursuit.

As the Confederates stopped at Farmville to cook their rations, Lee learned that the Federals had gotten across the Appomattox. He would have to order another forced march to get away, this time to Appomattox Court House, 38 miles west. The exhausted troops were quickly put in motion once again; many had not even had time to eat when the ration train steamed off to safety. Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, the Confederate artillery chief, later wrote:

“It was very plain that the prospect of being surrendered had suddenly become a topic of general conversation. Indeed, no man who looked at our situation on a map, or who understood the geography of the country, could fail to see that General Grant now had us completely in a trap… We were now in a sort of jug shaped peninsula between the James River and the Appomattox, and there was but one outlet, the neck of the jug at Appomattox Court House, and to that Grant had the shortest road!”

Federals from II Corps and Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry clashed with a Confederate holding force at Cumberland Church on the afternoon of the 7th. The Confederates repelled two charges, capturing Brigadier General John Irvin Gregg and mortally wounding Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth in the process. Smyth would become the last general to die in the war. Darkness ended the fighting, and the Confederates soon began another grueling night march.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

That night, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, rode into Farmville with Sheridan. Grant rode ahead of his baggage and had no clothes other than the mud-stained uniform he was wearing. Sheridan had written that Lee might surrender if pressed, and Grant forwarded this message to President Abraham Lincoln, who was still monitoring developments from the Federal supply base at City Point. Lincoln replied, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”

Sheridan reported that his cavalry was riding hard for Appomattox Court House, where the Federals learned that supplies were being sent for Lee’s army. Sheridan also reported that Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, the Confederate corps commander who had been captured at Sayler’s Creek, had told his captors, “Our cause is lost. Lee should surrender before more lives are wasted.” Grant said, “I have a mind to summon Lee to surrender.” Grant went into the town hotel serving as his headquarters and wrote a letter to be sent to Lee under a flag of truce:

“The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Meanwhile, Lee’s troops continued heading west. Many dropped out due to hunger, sleep deprivation, or sheer hopelessness. Major General Henry Wise, the former Virginia governor, bluntly told Lee:

“This army is hopelessly whipped, and is fast becoming demoralized. These men have already endured more than I believed flesh and blood could stand, and I say to you, sir, emphatically, that to prolong the struggle is murder, and the blood of every man who is killed from this time forth is on your head, General Lee.”

Lee asked, “What would the country think of me, if I did what you suggest?” Wise snapped, “Country be damned! There is no country. There has been no country, General, for a year or more. You are the country to these men… You know the game is desperate beyond redemption, and that, if you so announce, no man, or government, or people, will gainsay your decision.”

A courier delivered Grant’s message to Lee around 10 p.m. Lee read the message and then handed it to Lieutenant General James Longstreet, his most trusted corps commander. Longstreet read it and said, “Not yet.” Lee responded to Grant:

“GENERAL:–I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N. Va. I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 538; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 372-73; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 455-56; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555-56; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18973-83, 19355-65, 19531-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 580; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8653-65; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 550-51; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 281; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 119-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 668-69; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Battle of Sayler’s Creek

April 6, 1865 – General 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.

On the night of the 5th, Lee’s forces began moving west out of Amelia Court House in heavy rain. The army had dwindled to about 25,000 hungry, exhausted, and desperate men. The troops headed toward Farmville, where Confederate Commissary General I.M. St. John arranged to have 80,000 rations waiting for them via the South Side Railroad. From there, Lee hoped to continue west to Lynchburg and then turn south to join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates in North Carolina.

The Confederates were under pursuit by some 80,000 Federals, led by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry corps was in the lead, followed by three corps from Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, and a corps of Major General E.O.C. Ord’s Army of the James. The Federals were highly motivated by the prospect of destroying Lee’s army and ending the war.

The Federals were mostly south and east of Lee’s Confederates. Early on the 6th, Grant discovered that Lee was moving west, around the Federal left flank. He therefore directed Sheridan’s cavalry to ride northwest and block the Confederate advance while Federal infantry closed in from behind. Meade had planned to advance on Amelia Court House, but when he learned that Lee was no longer there, he wheeled left and joined Sheridan in the pursuit.

The opposing forces moved along parallel roads, with the Confederates on the northern route and slightly ahead. Along the way, Federal troops came across abandoned guns, broken down wagons, starving animals, and Confederate stragglers ready to surrender.

On the morning of the 6th, elements of Sheridan’s cavalry rode into a gap that had formed between the Confederate corps of Lieutenant Generals James Longstreet and Richard H. Anderson. Longstreet was unaware that Anderson had been stopped and thus continued west to Rice’s Station. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, moving behind Anderson, sent his wagon train north with Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederates to prevent its capture.

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

Ewell positioned his corps on a ridge facing northeast, overlooking the Hillsman farm and Little Sayler’s (or Sailor’s) Creek. Gordon was to his left (north), and Anderson was to his right rear (south). Major General Horatio G. Wright’s Federal VI Corps formed on the opposing ridge and gunners opened fire around 5 p.m. The infantry advanced soon after.

The Confederates waited for the Federals to cross the swollen creek and then unleashed a deadly volley. Ewell ordered a charge, but it was repulsed with heavy loss. The Federals countercharged, and the men engaged in vicious hand-to-hand combat. According to one of Ewell’s officers, “the battle degenerated into a butchery and confused melee of brutal personal conflicts. I saw numbers of men kill each other with bayonets and the butts of muskets, and even bite each other’s throats and ears and noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts.”

The Federals ultimately overwhelmed Ewell’s undersized command and forced Ewell to surrender; he lost 3,400 of his 3,600 men. Both his division commanders, Major Generals Joseph B. Kershaw and George Washington Custis Lee (oldest son of Robert E. Lee) also surrendered.

Ewell later reported:

“As shells and even bullets were crossing each other from front and rear over my troops, my right was completely enveloped. I surrendered myself and staff to a cavalry officer who came in by the same road General Anderson had gone out on.”

Ewell, the commander who had helped “Stonewall” Jackson mystify Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run, was shipped to the Federal prison at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The naval forces that had been formed into an infantry unit after abandoning Richmond were among the last to surrender. Federal Colonel J. Warren Keifer rode ahead to accept their surrender before they had actually done so, and some Confederates trained their guns on him. But their commander, John R. Tucker, stopped them from killing the colonel. Tucker surrendered his sword to Keifer, who returned it to Tucker after the war.

To Ewell’s right rear, three Federal cavalry divisions attacked and overwhelmed Anderson’s men at a crossroads near the Harper and Marshall farms. The Confederates broke and fled into the woods; those who did not escape were taken prisoner. Anderson lost 2,600 men but managed to escape.

To Ewell’s left, Gordon fended off Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps while fleeing west. However, the Confederates were forced to make a stand on the high ground at the Lockett farm when their vital wagon train got stalled in mud. Humphreys’s 16,500 Federals gradually pushed Gordon’s 7,000 men back until they had to use the wagons for protection.

When the Federals began swinging around the Confederate left flank, Gordon ordered a retreat. Some 2,000 Confederates were captured, along with over 200 wagons that they could ill afford to lose. Confederate survivors straggled west toward Longstreet’s waiting forces at Rice’s Station.

General Lee watched the action with Major General William Mahone’s division (under Longstreet). As the Confederates fled, Lee cried, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” Mahone replied, “No General, here are troops ready to do their duty.” Lee said, “Yes, there are still some true men left. Will you please keep those people back?” Mahone’s men helped cover the retreat across the Appomattox River.

The Confederates lost about 8,000 men, mostly captured, including six generals. This was roughly one-third of the remaining Army of Northern Virginia, and it was the largest number of Americans ever taken prisoner in battle up to that time (it was later surpassed by Bataan, 77 years later). This was Lee’s worst defeat of the war, and Confederates would remember it as “Black Thursday.”

But even though Lee had less than 20,000 men left in his army, the Federals had failed to block his escape path to the west. Lee therefore continued on toward Farmville as planned, now moving only with those who had either escaped from or avoided the Sayler’s Creek rout. After dark, the Confederates crossed the Appomattox and burned the bridges behind them.

Meanwhile, Sheridan reported to Grant:

“I attacked them with two divisions of the Sixth Army Corps and routed them handsomely, making a connection with the cavalry. I am still pressing on with both cavalry and infantry. Up to the present time we have captured Generals Ewell, Kershaw, Barton, Corse, DeBose and Custis Lee, several thousand prisoners, 14 pieces of artillery with caissons and a large number of wagons. If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.”

This message enraged Meade because it made no mention of VI Corps’ contribution to the victory. He fumed, “Oh, so General Wright wasn’t there?” Nevertheless, the Federal high command was now confident that Lee’s army was finally on the verge of collapse.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 531-32; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 369-71; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 452-54; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Floyd, Dale E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 248-49; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18963-83, 19305-15, 19335-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 579-80; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8642; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 278-81; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114-15, 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; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 667-68; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 659-60; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 376-77

The Amelia Campaign: Part 2

April 5, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reached Amelia Court House, but Federal forces closing in on them meant they had no time for rest.

By the 5th, Lee’s Confederates were concentrating at Amelia Court House. They had expected food there, but there was none, so Lee sent out foraging parties to scour the countryside. They returned with hardly any sustenance, despite Lee’s personal appeal for civilian aid. So the famished troops settled in under a cold rain.

Federals reached Jetersville, six miles southwest of Amelia Court House, thereby blocking Lee’s path along the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry and Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps arrived first, soon to be joined by II and VI corps under Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, arrived with Humphreys and Wright.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted foremost to destroy Lee’s army before it could join with General Joseph E. Johnston’s in North Carolina. Grant wrote to Major General William T. Sherman, whose Federals opposed Johnston: “Let us see if we cannot finish the job with Lee’s and Johnston’s armies. Rebel armies now are the only strategic points to strike at.”

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan agreed. He dispatched Brigadier General Henry E. Davies’s troopers to scout Confederate movements north of Amelia Court House. During this assignment, the Federals attacked a Confederate supply train near Paineville, a few miles north of Amelia Springs. They seized and burned nearly 200 wagons filled with food and other vital supplies; most of Lee’s official papers were also destroyed. The Federals captured 11 flags and over 300 prisoners. Sheridan reported:

“The whole of Lee’s army is at or near Amelia Court House, and on this side of it. General Davies, whom I sent out to Painesville on their right flank, has just captured six pieces of artillery and some wagons. We can capture the Army of Northern Virginia if force enough can be thrown to this point, and then advance upon it. My cavalry was at Burkesville yesterday, and six miles beyond, on the Danville Road, last night. General Lee is at Amelia Court House in person. They are out of rations, or nearly so.”

Lee believed that only cavalry blocked his path at Jetersville, and he therefore resolved to break through it and continue moving down the Richmond & Danville line. But when he and Lieutenant General James Longstreet reconnoitered the area, Lee realized there were too many Federals to contend with.

Having lost his one-day jump on Grant, Lee’s only chance was to force his tired, starving troops to conduct a night march west, around the Federal left flank, to Farmville, 23 miles away. Once there, the Confederates could be supplied from Lynchburg via the South Side Railroad. They could then turn south and continue for Danville and into North Carolina beyond. The Confederate commissary general assured Lee that 80,000 rations would be waiting for Lee at Farmville.

Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, which had been moving west from Richmond, arrived at Amelia Court House on the 5th. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was now united and ready to continue the grueling march. Confederate officers received Lee’s instructions near nightfall and then delivered what they considered to be “the most cruel marching order” they had ever given.

Longstreet’s corps and the remainder of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps led the march. Behind them was Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s small corps, Ewell’s reserve corps, and the wagon train. Major General John B. Gordon’s corps served as rear guard. Lee told Gordon, “I know that the men and animals are much exhausted. But it is necessary to tax their strength.” Many Confederates fell out due to exhaustion and were captured.

Sheridan wanted to continue pursuing, but Meade, the ranking commander on the field, wanted to wait until his entire army was up and attack on the 6th, moving by the right flank to get into Lee’s rear. Sheridan feared this would allow Lee to get past the Federal left and escape. He appealed to Grant, who was headquartered 16 miles away at Nottoway Court House: “I wish you were here yourself. I feel confident of capturing the Army of Northern Virginia if we exert ourselves. I see no escape for Lee.”

A scout disguised as a Confederate colonel was assigned to deliver the message. Sheridan wrote the note on tissue paper, which the scout folded into tinfoil, wrapped into tobacco, and stashed into his mouth. When Grant read the message, he quickly collected a cavalry escort and made a risky night ride through dark woods and enemy territory before reaching Sheridan around 10:30 p.m.

Sheridan explained the situation to Grant, who agreed with his assessment. Grant later wrote:

“We then together visited Meade, reaching his headquarters about midnight. I explained to Meade that we did not want to follow the enemy; we wanted to get ahead of him, and that his orders would allow the enemy to escape, and besides that, I had no doubt that Lee was moving right then. Meade changed his orders at once.”

Grant then sent orders to Major General E.O.C. Ord, whose Army of the James was following Meade in pursuit: “I am strongly of the opinion that Lee will leave Amelia tonight to go south. He will be pursued at 6 A.M. from here if he leaves. Otherwise an advance will be made upon him where he is.” Confederates captured the messenger delivering this order and sent it to Lee, who now learned that the armies of both Meade and Ord were pursuing him. His situation was becoming more desperate by the hour.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 530-31; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 368-69; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 451-52; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19119-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 578; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8548-71; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 278; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 659-60

The Amelia Campaign

April 4, 1865 – As Federals captured Petersburg and Richmond, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia escaped across the Appomattox River. The Confederate lines had finally broken after nearly 10 months of trench warfare, but Lee’s forces were not yet conquered.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

After abandoning Richmond and Petersburg, Lee hoped to link his shrinking army with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army in North Carolina. Lee’s forces would move west, cross the Appomattox River, and concentrate at Amelia Court House. From there, they would head southwest to Danville and then turn south to meet up with Johnston.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, ordered most elements of his Armies of the Potomac and the James to pursue Lee’s Confederates along a parallel route to the south. Grant’s goal was to get ahead of Lee and block his path at Burkeville, where the Richmond & Danville Railroad bisected the South Side Railroad. This would force Lee to either fight the numerically superior Federals or surrender.

Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry led the pursuit. On the 3rd, part of Sheridan’s force under Major General George A. Custer clashed with the Confederate rear guard west of Petersburg at Namozine Church, Namozine Creek, and Sweathouse Creek. The Federals took several hundred prisoners before halting their pursuit in the face of gathering Confederate infantry near nightfall. Custer’s brother, Captain Tom Custer, won the Medal of Honor for his role in this engagement.

Meanwhile, Lee’s Confederates continued moving along five different routes. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps took the lead while Major General John B. Gordon’s corps formed the rear guard. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, which had just evacuated Richmond, was expected to join the main army soon. Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry made up the southern flank, moving below the Appomattox.

There were about 30,000 officers and men left in the Army of Northern Virginia to face a Federal force of over 100,000. The Confederates were exhausted and hungry, but Lee had asked the Commissary Department to send food from the 350,000 reserve rations in Richmond to Amelia Court House via the Richmond & Danville Railroad. The Confederates were motivated to continue forward by the promise of food up ahead.

On the 4th, Federal cavalry skirmished with elements of Anderson’s infantry and Fitz Lee’s cavalry at Tabernacle Church and Beaver Pond Creek. Fighting continued until around 10 p.m., when the Federals received orders to fall back. That same day, the exhausted, hungry Confederates on the northern flank reached Amelia Court House, having marched 21 miles on the 3rd.

Lee followed his men into the town, but to his horror, there was no food waiting for them, just war equipment. The confusion of Richmond’s fall had apparently disrupted Lee’s communications with the Confederate government. One of Lee’s aides, John E. Cooke, later wrote that “the failure of the supply of rations completely paralyzed him.” Lee sent Confederate foragers to beg for food carrying a special appeal “To the Citizens of Amelia County,” signed by “R.E. Lee”:

“The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions. But to my surprise and regret, I find not a pound of subsistence for man or horse. I must therefore appeal to your generosity and charity to supply as far as each one is able the wants of the brave soldiers who have battled for your liberty for four years.”

Meanwhile, Sheridan’s Federals and elements of Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps reached Jetersville, just six miles southwest of Amelia Court House. This cut Lee off from the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Lee wired Confederate officials at Danville to send 200,000 rations to his army from there, but the Federals at Jetersville cut the telegraph line.

Lee needed to move fast if he wanted to get around the Federals at Jetersville, but his men needed food, and he had to wait for Ewell to come up from Richmond. So the Confederates waited for both Ewell and the foragers to arrive.

Lee had been one day ahead of Grant on the race out of Petersburg and Richmond, but Grant was now closing in quick. He wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “The army is pushing forward in the hope of overtaking or dispersing the remainder of Lee’s army… I shall continue the pursuit as long as there appears to be any use in it.” That night, Sheridan reported to Grant: “If we press on we will no doubt get the whole army.”

—–

References

Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 367-68; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 450-51; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19099-119; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 576-78; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8476-501, 8512; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 665-66; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 375

The Battle of Five Forks

April 1, 1865 – Federals routed an isolated Confederate force southwest of Petersburg. This began the campaign to end the war in Virginia.

Following the engagement north of Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry cut the Confederate supply line at Stony Creek. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, informed Confederate President Jefferson Davis that this–

“–seriously threatens our position and diminishes our ability to maintain our present lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg… I fear he can cut both the South Side and the Danville railroads, being far superior to us in cavalry. This in my opinion obliges us to prepare for the necessity of evacuating our position on James River at once, and also to consider the best means of accomplishing it, and our future course.”

The Confederates had not yet been defeated on any part of the Petersburg siege line, but Lee knew that the superior Federal numbers and armament would soon prove too overwhelming to bear. He therefore started arranging to evacuate to the west. It would require a nearly unprecedented feat of logistics to move some 50,000 men out of a 37-mile long network of trenches while holding the enemy at bay and keeping the escape route unclogged. To ensure that his army remained fed, Lee worked with the Commissary Department to have 350,000 rations shipped from Richmond to Amelia Court House, a stop along the westward retreat.

Meanwhile, on the southwestern-most point of Lee’s line, Major General George Pickett’s isolated Confederate force fell back northward to Five Forks after the Dinwiddie engagement. Five Forks was a key position because it facilitated the flow of supplies from the South Side Railroad to Lee’s army. It would also be Lee’s key escape route when needed. Pickett’s men positioned themselves behind hastily built fortifications and trenches.

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan sought to destroy Pickett’s force and seize both Five Forks and the South Side Railroad beyond. He later wrote, “I felt certain the enemy would fight at Five Forks–he had to, so, while we were getting up to his intrenchments, I decided on my plan of battle.” Sheridan planned a three-pronged attack designed to isolate Pickett’s force from the rest of the Confederate army and clear a path to the railroad:

  • Major General Wesley Merritt’s two cavalry divisions would launch a diversionary attack on Pickett’s front.
  • Brigadier General Ranald S. Mackenzie’s cavalry division would feign an attack on the Confederates’ far left, exploiting the gap between Pickett and the main Confederate line to the east.
  • Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps would come up to attack Pickett’s left and rear.

On the Confederate side, Pickett and the other ranking Confederate commander, Major General Fitzhugh Lee, inexplicably left their troops for a shad bake, two miles in the rear. This left Brigadier General Rooney Lee in charge of the cavalry and Brigadier General George H. Steuart in charge of the infantry. Neither Rooney nor Steuart knew that their superiors had left, or that they were now the ranking commanders.

Federal cavalry under Merritt and Mackenzie advanced as scheduled, but Warren’s infantry did not. As Sheridan waited impatiently, a courier handed him a dispatch from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander: “General Grant directs me to say to you, that if in your judgment the Fifth Corps would do better under one of the division commanders, you are authorized to relieve General Warren, and order him to report to General Grant, at headquarters.”

Warren’s 12,000 men finally advanced, but due to a faulty map supplied by Sheridan, the leading two divisions marched past the Confederate left flank instead of directly into it. Warren reported:

“After the forward movement began, a few minutes brought us to the White Oak road, distant about 1,000 yards. There we found the advance of General Mackenzie’s cavalry, which, coming up the White Oak road, had arrived there just before us. This showed us for the first time that we were too far to our right of the enemy’s left flank.”

This caused more delays and isolated Warren’s remaining division in an enemy crossfire. Enraged, Sheridan redirected the leading two divisions and the assault resumed. Noting that Warren was not at the front to handle these matters himself, Sheridan told his chief of staff, “By God, sir, tell General Warren he wasn’t in that fight!” When the officer asked if he could put this message in writing, Sheridan fumed, “Take it down, sir! Tell him by God he was not at the front!”

Sheridan ordered Major General Charles Griffin, Warren’s ranking division commander, to replace Warren. Sheridan later explained that this was “necessary to protect myself in this critical situation, and General Warren having sorely disappointed me, both in the moving of his corps and in its management during the battle, I felt that he was not the man to rely upon under such circumstances, and deeming that it was to the best interest of the service as well as but just to myself, I relieved him, ordering him to report to General Grant.”

Such an order meant professional ruin, so when Warren received it, he rode to Sheridan and asked him to reconsider. Sheridan snapped, “Reconsider, hell! I don’t reconsider any decisions! Obey the order!” This marked the first time that a commander in the Army of the Potomac had ever been relieved of duty for lacking aggression in combat. Grant upheld Sheridan’s decision, later writing:

“He (Warren) was a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, that was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us. He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.”

However, the delays had not been Warren’s fault, and they ultimately did not affect the battle’s outcome. A court of inquiry later cleared Warren’s name, but the court’s findings were not published until after he died.

The Federals made progress all along the line once Griffin took over, but Sheridan would accept nothing but total victory. When an officer proudly announced that his troops had penetrated the enemy rear and captured five guns, Sheridan shouted, “I don’t care a damn for their guns, or you either, sir! What I want is that Southside Railway!”

Ultimately, Griffin’s Federals overwhelmed the enemy left, while dismounted cavalry pushed the enemy right. The Confederates could only offer a token resistance; many fled or were taken prisoner, and they were virtually wiped out by 7 p.m. A northern correspondent reported: “They had no commanders, at least no orders, and looked in vain for some guiding hand. A few more volleys, a new and irresistible charge… and with a sullen and tearful impulse, 5,000 muskets are flung upon the ground.”

When Pickett finally returned from the shad bake, some 5,200 of his men had already been either shot or taken prisoner, roughly half his force. Federals also captured 13 battle flags and six cannon while suffering about 1,000 casualties. Moreover, Mackenzie’s Federal troopers blocked the main line of Confederate retreat, thus ensuring that Pickett would remain isolated from the rest of Lee’s army.

This was the most overwhelming Federal victory of the war. It was also Lee’s first decisive defeat since this campaign began in northern Virginia nearly a year ago. This battle and the fighting at Fort Stedman on March 25 cost Lee nearly a quarter of his whole army.

The remnants of Pickett’s force, numbering no more than 800 men, retreated to the Appomattox River. The Federals now surrounded Petersburg south of the Appomattox River and moved even closer to the vital South Side Railroad. Lee could now do nothing except retreat before his army was destroyed.

Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff witnessed the battle and rode back to headquarters that night to report the resounding victory. Grant listened to Porter’s account and then disappeared into his tent. He came out a few minutes later and announced, “I have ordered an immediate assault all along the lines.”

Grant informed Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that his two corps under Major Generals John G. Parke and Horatio G. Wright were to launch a general assault on the eastern sector of the Petersburg line: “Wright and Parke should be directed to feel for a chance to get through the enemy’s line at once, and if they can get through should push on tonight. All our batteries might be opened at once, without waiting for preparing assaulting columns. Let the corps commanders know the result of the left, and that it is being pushed.”

President Abraham Lincoln, monitoring the action from Grant’s former headquarters at City Point, received a wire from Grant that night hailing Sheridan’s victory: “He has carried everything before him,” including capturing “several batteries” and “several thousand prisoners.” Federals brought Lincoln several trophies from the fight, including captured battle flags. Lincoln held up one of them and said, “Here is something material, something I can see, feel, and understand. This means victory. This is victory.”

Federal artillery opened all along the Petersburg siege line, from the Appomattox River to Hatcher’s Run, at 10 p.m. and continued through the night. This was meant to soften the Confederate defenses for the next morning’s assault. It was the heaviest Federal bombardment of the war, heavier than even the barrage at Gettysburg. A gunner later wrote of the “constant stream of living fire” blazing forth.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 520-21; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 566, 574; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 349-61; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 443-45; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22419; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18111-21, 18233-62, 18341-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 573-74; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8336; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 803; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 275-76; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-91; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 102, 203-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 661-63; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 803; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5612; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 365-68; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 261-62; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 73-75, 79-80, 99

The Dinwiddie Court House Engagement

March 31, 1865 – Confederates repelled a Federal advance in the southwestern sector of the Petersburg siege lines, but the Federals would not be denied for long.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The heavy rains had finally stopped by the morning of the 31st. Confederate infantry and cavalry from the Army of Northern Virginia held Five Forks, a key intersection protecting the South Side Railroad west of Petersburg. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, ordered this force to move south and drive Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry corps out of Dinwiddie Court House. This would secure Five Forks and isolate Sheridan from infantry support to the east.

As Lee inspected the lines, he saw a gap between Sheridan and Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps. He therefore ordered Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s Fourth Corps, which by now consisted of just a single division, to attack and turn Warren’s left (west) flank away from Sheridan. In all, about 19,000 Confederates opposed some 50,000 Federals in the southwestern sector of the Petersburg lines.

Warren’s Federals held the Boydton Plank Road. To their right (east) was Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps. Warren informed Humphreys:

“I cannot take up any regular line of battle on account of the woods and swamps, but have assembled each division at a point so they can fight in any direction with the line refused… I don’t think your left could be turned, even if I moved away, without you having full information.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, notified Warren, “Owing to the weather, no change will today be made in the present position of the troops. Three days’ rations of subsistence and forage will be brought up and issued to the troops and the artillery, and every one authorized to accompany them.” The Federals were unaware that a Confederate attack was imminent.

Maj Gen Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Meanwhile, Sheridan planned an attack of his own, as Brigadier General Thomas C. Devin, known as “Sheridan’s hard hitter,” advanced his division north toward Five Forks. The Federals were unexpectedly met by a Confederate assault from their left, led by Major General George Pickett. Devin’s men gradually fell back across the rain-soaked ground, as Devin notified Sheridan that both his flanks were under threat and Dinwiddie might have to be abandoned.

Sheridan brought up his other two divisions and secured a defense line about a mile north of Dinwiddie. The Confederates charged around dusk, but the Federals held firm as Sheridan instructed all regimental bands to come up to the front and play joyful music as loud as possible to jar enemy morale.

Sheridan then ordered Brigadier General George A. Custer to lead his division in a counterattack, telling Custer, “You understand? I want you to give it to them!” However, this effort came to nothing as the men and horses became tangled in the mud. Both sides fell back out of firing range as the sun set.

Three miles east, Warren ordered his lead division under Major General Romeyn B. Ayres to seize the White Oak Road because this was “essentially necessary to the safety of our position.” The Federals were suddenly met by Anderson’s charging Confederates. Ayres reported: “As the troops arrived within about fifty yards of the White Oak road, the enemy’s lines of battle rose up in the woods and moved forward across the road into the open. I saw at once that they had four or five to my one.”

Ayres tried holding his ground, but some Confederates moved around and attacked his left flank, thus forcing him to fall back into Major General Samuel W. Crawford’s division. Crawford’s men broke as well, and the Federals retreated to a branch of Gravelly Run. Warren ordered them to hold there while he brought up his last division, under Major General Charles Griffin.

Griffin’s men, led by Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain’s brigade, advanced and slowly regained all lost ground. The Federals ultimately seized the White Oak Road, which cut Anderson’s men off from Pickett’s to the west. Also, Warren dispatched a brigade westward to threaten Pickett’s left flank as he confronted Sheridan. Meade reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, that Warren had stopped the Confederate advance, and Humphreys was sending a division to Warren’s support. Grant asked:

“If the enemy has been checked in Warren’s front, what is to prevent him from pitching in with his whole corps and attacking before giving him time to entrench or return in good order to his old entrenchments? I do not understand why Warren permitted his corps to be fought in detail. When Ayres was pushed forward he should have sent other troops to their support.”

By nightfall, Pickett had won a tactical victory, but the Confederates had failed to drive Sheridan out of Dinwiddie or prevent the Federal cavalry and infantry from joining forces. Recognizing the danger of his position, Pickett fell back to protect Five Forks. His infantry held the line to the left while Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry held the right. There was still a three-mile gap between this force and Anderson’s to the east.

The Petersburg Front, 29-31 Mar 1865 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Sheridan planned a frontal assault on Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee the next day. In conjunction, he wanted infantry to march through the gap and come up on Pickett’s left and rear. The nearest infantry was Warren’s V Corps, but Sheridan wanted Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps, which had served under him in the Shenandoah Valley, to join him. Sheridan wrote Grant on the night of the 31st: “If the ground would permit I could, with the Sixth Corps, turn the enemy’s right, or break through his lines; but I would not like the Fifth Corps to make such an attempt.” Grant later wrote:

“I replied to him that it was impossible to send Wright’s corps because that corps was already in line close up to the enemy, where we should want him to assault when the proper time came, and was besides a long distance from him; but the 2d and 5th corps were on our extreme left and a little to the rear of it in a position to threaten the left flank of the enemy at Five Forks, and that I would send Warren… and put himself in communication with Sheridan as soon as possible, and report to him.”

Just as the men of V Corps settled down from the all-day fight, Warren received orders to march them westward all night to link with Sheridan by dawn. This proved extremely difficult, not only because the troops were exhausted, but because they would have to move in darkness across swollen creeks, swamps, and mud. They also had to stop and build a 40-foot bridge to span Gravelly Run. Warren informed Meade of the delay, but this was not forwarded to Sheridan, who wrote Warren at 3 a.m. on the 1st:

“I am holding in front of Dinwiddie Court-House, on the road leading to Five Forks, for three-fourths of a mile, with General Custer’s division… I understand you have a division at J. Boisseau’s; if so, you are in rear of the enemy’s line and almost on his flank. I will hold on here. Possibly they may attack Custer at daylight; if so, have this division attack instantly and in full force.”

Sheridan did not receive any specific details as to where Warren was or when he might arrive. He also knew nothing about the difficulties Warren’s men faced in trying to reach Sheridan’s line. Moreover, Sheridan did not trust Warren, so if there was to be any delay in arriving in time for the next day’s fight, Warren would get the blame.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 574; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 346-49; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 441-43; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22419; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 552; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17855-95, 18091-101; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 572-73; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8312-36; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 533; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 273-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 658-61; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 487-88; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 219-20, 261-62, 821