The Appomattox Campaign was a series of battles fought March 29 – April 9, 1865, in Virginia that culminated in the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the effective end of the American Civil War.
At the conclusion of the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (also known as the Siege of Petersburg), Lee's army was outnumbered and exhausted from a winter of trench warfare over a 30 mi (48 km) front, numerous battles, disease, and desertion. At the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, Union forces under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut the final railroad line supplying Lee's army in Petersburg, and ordered a general assault along the Petersburg fortification line. On April 2, Grant's army achieved a breakthrough of the lines in the Third Battle of Petersburg, which prompted Lee to order the evacuation of both Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond on the night of April 2–3.
Lee hoped to withdraw to the southwest and unite his army with Confederate forces in North Carolina, but Grant's army pursued relentlessly. On April 6, Lee's army suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Sayler's Creek, but continued to move to the west in an attempt to elude the Union Army. Cornered, outnumbered, and short of supplies, Lee finally agreed to surrender his army on April 9 at Appomattox Court House.
- 1 Background
- 2 Opposing forces
- 3 Union offensive
- 4 Confederate retreat
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Classifying the campaigns
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Background[edit | edit source]
Union forces under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had besieged Lee's army around the city of Petersburg, Virginia, since June 1864. The two armies spent the winter in an elaborate series of trenches and fortifications, stretching over 30 mi (48 km) from the outskirts of Richmond to Hatcher's Run southwest of Petersburg, foreshadowing the tactics to be used in World War I. As Grant had inched to the west over the winter, the Confederates extended their lines to compensate, but they were stretched too thin, having only about 1,000 men per mile (625 men/km) of defensive line. Lee knew that his army could not survive a siege indefinitely and looked for ways to escape his predicament as spring arrived, the rains diminished, and the local road system became passable again.
The Appomattox Campaign was preceded by the Battle of Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865, the concluding battle in the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign. This failed attempt by Lee to break the siege resulted in heavy Confederate casualties. Lee knew that Grant would soon move against the only remaining Confederate supply line, the South Side Railroad, and that would doom his army.
Lee was by now the commander of all Confederate armies. (Despite his fame throughout the Confederacy, for almost three years Lee had commanded only the army in northern Virginia.) His plan was to extricate himself from the Federal grip at Petersburg, withdraw to the southwest, resupply his starving army at Lynchburg, Virginia, and head south. There, the Army of Northern Virginia might be able to link up with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's forces in North Carolina, defeat the Union army under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman that was pursuing Johnston, and then return to strike a combined blow at Grant. In preparation for his breakout, he moved forces to his right flank.
Grant, meanwhile, brought additional forces to bear. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan had returned with 5,700 cavalrymen from the Shenandoah Valley. Maj. Gen. Edward Ord's Army of the James came up to the Petersburg lines, which freed up two corps of Maj. Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac for offensive action against Lee:the II Corps under Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys and the V Corps under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren.
Opposing forces[edit | edit source]
Union offensive[edit | edit source]
Lewis's Farm (March 29, 1865)[edit | edit source]
Sheridan's cavalry and Warren's V Corps started the Federal offensive by swinging southwest past Dinwiddie Court House in hopes of enveloping Lee's right flank. The V Corps crossed Rowanty Creek, moved up the Quaker Road toward the Boydton Plank Road intersection, and encountered Maj. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson's Confederate brigades. A sharp firefight forced the Confederates back to their entrenchments on the White Oak Road.
White Oak Road (March 31)[edit | edit source]
On March 30, Lee shifted reinforcements to meet the Federal movement to turn his right flank, placing Maj. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's cavalry divisions at Five Forks and transferring Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division from the Bermuda Hundred front to the extreme right. Warren pushed the V Corps forward and entrenched a line to cover the Boydton Plank Road from its intersection with Dabney Mill Road south to Gravelly Run. Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres's division advanced northwest toward White Oak Road. On March 31, in combination with Sheridan's thrust via Dinwiddie Court House, Warren directed his corps against the Confederate entrenchments along White Oak Road, hoping to cut Lee's communications with Pickett at Five Forks. The Union advance was stalled by a crushing counterattack directed by Bushrod Johnson, but Warren's position stabilized and his soldiers closed on the road by day's end. This fighting set up the Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1.
Dinwiddie Court House (March 31)[edit | edit source]
On March 31, Rooney Lee's cavalry and Pickett's infantry division met the Union vanguard north and northwest of Dinwiddie Court House and drove it back, temporarily stalling Sheridan's movement. With Union infantry approaching from the east, Pickett withdrew before daybreak to entrench at the vital road junction at Five Forks. Lee ordered Pickett to hold this intersection at all hazards.
Five Forks (April 1)[edit | edit source]
In the decisive battle of the campaign, Warren and Sheridan dislodged Pickett and Rooney Lee from a critical crossroads that protected their supply lines. Over 4,500 Confederate soldiers surrendered. Lee advised the Confederate government the next morning to abandon the cities of Petersburg and Richmond. His plan at this point was to move his forces from the two cities to cross the Appomattox River and meet up at Amelia Court House, where they could be resupplied at the Richmond and Danville Railroad from stocks evacuated from Richmond. They would then proceed to Danville, the destination of the fleeing Confederate government, and then south to meet Johnston.
Breakthrough at Petersburg (April 2)[edit | edit source]
Back at the entrenchments around Petersburg, Grant ordered a general assault against the Petersburg lines by the II, VI Corps, IX, and XXIV Corps on April 2. A heroic defense of Fort Gregg by a handful of Confederates prevented the Federals from entering the city that night. Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill was killed trying to reach his troops in the confusion. After dark, Lee ordered the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond.
Sutherland's Station (April 2)[edit | edit source]
The Union finally seized the Southside Railroad, cutting off Lee's supplies. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps crossed the James River to reinforce Petersburg. The city of Richmond was evacuated that night, and the Confederate government fled. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, in charge of the city's defenses, was ordered to destroy anything of military value. Civilians rioted and great conflagrations engulfed the city.
Confederate retreat[edit | edit source]
Namozine Church (April 3)[edit | edit source]
A minor cavalry skirmish occurred. Lee reached Amelia Court House on April 4 and found that the expected rations had not arrived; they had not been placed on the trains escaping Richmond, and those in supply wagon trains had been captured by Union cavalry. With 30,000 hungry men to feed, Lee chose to remain in the area for the rest of the day, sending out foraging parties, most of which came up with few provisions. This tactical error on Lee's part allowed Union cavalry time to erase Lee's head start in his retreat.
Amelia Springs (April 5)[edit | edit source]
Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee and Thomas L. Rosser assaulted Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Crook as they returned from burning Confederate wagons at Painesville. This running fight started north of Amelia Springs and pushed through and beyond Jetersville. Lee discovered that his route to Danville was blocked by fast-moving Union cavalry. His only remaining option was to move west on a long march, without food, to Lynchburg. But the Confederate Commissary General promised Lee that he would send 80,000 rations to Farmville, 25 mi (40 km) to the west.
Sayler's Creek (April 6)[edit | edit source]
Nearly a quarter of the Confederate army (about 8,000 men, the heart of two corps) was cut off and forced to surrender by Sheridan, Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys (II Corps), and Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin (V Corps, replacing Warren, who was relieved by Sheridan after Five Forks). Many of the Confederate supply trains were also captured. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who surrendered, was among eight Confederate general officer casualties. This action was considered the death knell of the Confederate army. Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed "My God, has the army dissolved?" 
Rice's Station (April 6)[edit | edit source]
Longstreet's command reached Rice's Station, its farthest point south, where it was blocked by the Union XXIV Corps. After some skirmishing, Longstreet withdrew over the High Bridge during the night toward Farmville.
Cumberland Church (April 7)[edit | edit source]
At about 2 p.m. on April 7, the advance of the Union II Corps encountered Confederate forces entrenched on high ground near Cumberland Church. The Union forces attacked twice but were repulsed, and darkness halted the conflict. Union Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smythe was mortally wounded nearby (the last Union general killed in the war), and Brig. Gen. John Irvin Gregg was captured north of Farmville.
High Bridge (April 6–7)[edit | edit source]
After the bulk of Lee's remaining army crossed the Appomattox River, Longstreet's rear guard burned the bridges behind them. The Union II Corps managed to extinguish the blazes on two of the bridges, and they crossed the river and caught up with the Confederates at Farmville. Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was able to hold off the Union infantry until nightfall, but Lee was forced to continue his march to the west under this pressure, depriving his men the opportunity to eat the Farmville rations they had waited so long to receive. Their next stop would be Appomattox Station, 25 mi (40 km) west, where a ration train was waiting. On the night of April 7, Lee received from Grant a letter proposing that the Army of Northern Virginia should surrender. Lee demurred, retaining one last hope that his army could get to Appomattox Station before he was trapped. He returned a noncommittal letter asking about the surrender terms Grant might propose.
Appomattox Station (April 8)[edit | edit source]
The cavalry division of Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer seized a supply train and 25 guns, effectively blocking Lee's path. This unique action pitted artillery without infantry support against cavalry. Custer captured and burned three trains loaded with provisions for Lee's army. Grant sent a letter to Lee offering generous surrender terms, as urged by President Abraham Lincoln, and proposing a meeting to discuss them.
Appomattox Court House (April 9)[edit | edit source]
In Lee's final stand, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's depleted corps and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry formed line of battle at Appomattox Court House. Robert E. Lee determined to make one last attempt to escape the closing Union pincers and reach his supplies at Lynchburg. At dawn the Confederates advanced, initially driving back Sheridan's cavalry. However, the arrival of Grant's infantry—the Union V Corps—stopped the advance in its tracks. Lee's outnumbered army was now surrounded on three sides. Lee surrendered his army at 3 p.m., accepting the terms Grant had proposed by letter the previous day.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The Appomattox Campaign was an example of masterful, relentless pursuit and maneuver by Grant and Sheridan, skills that had been in short supply by previous generals, such as Meade after Gettysburg and McClellan after Antietam. Lee did the best he could under the circumstances, but his supplies, soldiers, and luck finally ran out. The surrender of Lee represented the loss of only one of the Confederate field armies, but it was a psychological blow from which the South did not recover. With no chance remaining for eventual victory, all of the remaining armies capitulated by June 1865.
Confederate casualties in the campaign are difficult to estimate because many of their records are lost and reports were not always submitted. National Park Service historian Chris M. Calkins estimates 6,266 killed and wounded, 19,132 captured; surrendering at Appomattox Court House were 22,349 infantry, 1,559 cavalry, and 2,576 artillery troops. William Marvel has written that many of the Confederate veterans bemoaned that there were only "8,000 muskets" available at the end against the enormous Union Army, but this figure deliberately ignores cavalry and artillery strength and is much lower than the total number of men who received certificates of parole. Many men who had slipped away from the army during the retreat later returned to receive the official Federal paperwork allowing them to return to their homes unmolested. Union casualties for the campaign were about 9,700 killed, wounded, and missing or captured.
Classifying the campaigns[edit | edit source]
Military historians do not agree on precise boundaries between the campaigns of this era. This article uses the classification maintained by the U.S. National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program.
An alternative classification is maintained by West Point; in their Atlas of American Wars (Esposito, 1959), the Siege of Petersburg ends with the Union assault and breakthrough of April 2. The remainder of the war in Virginia is classified as "Grant's Pursuit of Lee to Appomattox Court House (3–9 April 1865)".
See also[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
- NPS Lewis Farm
- NPS White Oak Road
- NPS Dinwiddie Court House
- NPS Five Forks
- NPS Petersburg III
- NPS Sutherland's Station
- NPS Namozine Church
- NPS Amelia Springs
- NPS Sayler's Creek
- NPS Rice's Station
- NPS Cumberland Church
- NPS High Bridge
- NPS Appomattox Station
- NPS Appomattox Court House
- Calkins, p. 200.
- Marvel, p. xi.
- Calkins, pp. 201-02.
- NPS campaigns. The references by Kennedy and Salmon also use this classification. The Calkins reference uses it for the Appomattox Campaign. Other references typically do not explicitly establish precise dates.
- Esposito, maps 138-44.
References[edit | edit source]
- This article incorporates public domain material from the National Park Service document "Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign (Eastern Theater)".
- Calkins, Chris. The Appomattox Campaign, March 29 – April 9, 1865. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-938289-54-8.
- Esposito, Vincent J. West Point Atlas of American Wars. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959. OCLC 5890637. The collection of maps (without explanatory text) is available online at the West Point website.
- Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
- Korn, Jerry, and the Editors of Time-Life Books. Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1987. ISBN 0-8094-4788-6.
- Marvel, William. Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-8078-5703-8.
- Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8117-2868-4.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1953. ISBN 0-385-04451-8.
- Davis, Burke. To Appomattox: Nine April Days, 1865. New York: Eastern Acorn Press reprint, 1981. ISBN 0-915992-17-5. First published New York: Rinehart, 1959.
- Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Vol. 3, Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1974. ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
- Greene, A. Wilson. The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-57233-610-0.
- Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Appomattox: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations During the Civil War's Climactic Campaign, March 27 – April 9, 1865. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8117-0051-1.
- Winik, Jay. April 1865: The Month That Saved America. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 978-0-06-089968-4. First published 2001.
[edit | edit source]
- The Battle of Sailor's Creek: Battle maps, history articles, photos, and preservation news (Civil War Trust)
- National Park Service: Appomattox Court House
- Appomattox Campaign in Encyclopedia Virginia
- Civil War Traveler site on the Appomattox Campaign
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