The Battle of Namozine Church, Virginia was a minor engagement that occurred on April 3, 1865 during the Appomattox Campaign of the American Civil War. The battle was the first engagement between units of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee after that army's evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1865 and units of the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and the overall direction of Union General-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The pursuit of Lee's army was led by the Union Army Cavalry Corps and associated infantry corps under Cavalry Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan. The forces immediately engaged in the battle were brigades of the cavalry division of Union Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, especially the brigade of Colonel William Wells, and the Confederate rear guard cavalry brigades of Brig. Gen. William P. Roberts and Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer.
The engagement signaled the beginning of the Union Army's relentless pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia after the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, which led to the near disintegration of Lee's forces within 6 days and the Confederate army's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865. Captain Tom Custer, the general's brother, was cited at this battle for the first of two Medals of Honor that he received for actions within four days.
In early May 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Union Army general-in-chief, directed the Union Armies to make coordinated advances against Confederate forces on several fronts. Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Grant accompanied Meade's army on the campaign which began on May 4, 1864. At the same time, the Union Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler was directed to march on Richmond from south of the James River. Butler's plan was to move up the James River by boat, land at the lightly defended Bermuda Hundred Plantation near Richmond and cut the railroad lines between Petersburg and Richmond.
Siege of Petersburg
After a series of bloody but inconclusive battles later known as the Overland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac had pushed the Army of Northern Virginia south from the Rapidan River and Rappahannock River line to the outskirts of Richmond. After the failure of the disastrous Union attack on the entrenched Confederates at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, Grant directed the Army of the Potomac to break contact with the Confederate Army, cross the James River and attack the small Confederate force defending the important railroad center of Petersburg, Virginia, just to the south of Richmond. Union forces nearly overwhelmed this small force but the Confederates were soon reinforced and were able to repulse the Union attack. If Petersburg had fallen, the Confederates would have been unable to supply and hold Richmond, as later events showed. At this time, however, the small force of Confederate defenders held Petersburg against the poorly directed attack of Meade's ineffective subordinates until those defenders could be reinforced by Lee's army. Grant's brilliant tactical improvisation had been thwarted not only by a stout Confederate defense, but also mainly by the inability of subordinates to carry it out. Nonetheless, in mid-June 1864, the Army of the Potomac had the Army of Northern Virginia in a position that required the Confederate army to defend Richmond and Petersburg or to see the Confederacy's capital and a key railroad center fall under Union control. The Army of the Potomac settled into a Siege of Petersburg which was to last until April 2, 1865. Throughout the siege, the Union forces conducted attacks and maneuvers which required the Confederates to spread their weakening army over longer and thinner lines. Finally, the far right western end of the Confederate line broke at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865.
Confederate lines collapse
The Confederate Army had to hold Five Forks in order to protect the South Side Railroad, their last supply line. On April 1, 1865, at the end of the Siege of Petersburg, Union Army cavalry forces and V Corps infantry forces of the Army of the Potomac under the command of cavalry corps commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, defeated a large force of Confederates from the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia at the western end of the Confederate lines. General Lee had sent this large force to the end of the line to prevent a suspected attempt by the Union forces to attack and turn this segment of the line in order to get behind the Confederate defenses in general. After sustaining about 800 casualties and losing over 5,000 men who were captured, the remaining Confederates retreated from the strategic Five Forks crossroads to Ford's Station or Ford's Meeting House on the South Side Railroad.
On April 2, 1865, Grant ordered a general advance all along the Confederate lines, which broke in several places, leading to what is now known as the Fall of Petersburg or Breakthrough at Petersburg or occasionally the Third Battle of Petersburg. Four Confederate brigades stood west of Hatcher's Run and due east of Five Forks along White Oak Road where it is met by Claiborne Road. The attack against these brigades by II Corps of the Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys sent the Confederates into retreat to Sutherland's Station or Sutherland's Depot on the South Side Railroad. Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, who succeeded to corps command upon the death in action of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill on April 1, organized a defense with these brigades but left them under the command of Brig. Gen. John R. Cooke as Heth returned to Petersburg. In the ensuing Battle of Sutherland's Station advanced brigades of the Union infantry division commanded by Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles of Maj. Gen. Humphreys's corps attacked the hastily fortified positions of the Confederate brigades. The Union attackers initially were repulsed with heavy losses. After a second futile attempt to take the Confederate position by two Union brigades, Miles attacked again with his entire force in mid-afternoon and overwhelmed the Confederates. The Union victory at Sutherland's Station started with the collapse of the brigade of Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan on the Confederate left flank. As a result of the Confederate defeat, the South Side Railroad, the Confederates' last supply line, was cut and General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had to abandon Petersburg and Richmond and flee westward.
Confederate army flight
Much of the Army of Northern Virginia as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, were able to escape from Petersburg and Richmond just in advance of the Union troops entering those cities on April 3 because Confederate rear guard forces, especially at Forts Gregg and Whitworth, and Fort Mahone and Sutherland's Station, fought desperate delaying actions on April 2 to give most of the Confederates a head start on Union Army pursuers. General Lee's ultimate intention was to proceed through Danville and then to unite with General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate army, which was attempting to slow the advance of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army in North Carolina. First, he planned to reunite the four columns of his army that left Petersburg and Richmond and to resupply at Amelia Court House, Virginia, 39 miles (63 km) southwest of Richmond. Lee's men left their positions in Petersburg and Richmond with only one day's rations. Lee expected to find a supply train of rations that he had ordered brought to Amelia Court House to meet the army at that location.
Most of Lee's army marched west on routes north of the Appomattox River but the remnants of the divisions of Maj. Gen. George Pickett and of Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson, the latter of which included Moody's Brigade, Wallace's Brigade and Wise's Brigade, along with the cavalry divisions of Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, who was cavalry corps commander, and Maj. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee following as a rear guard moved on the Namozine Road, south of the river. While most of Lee's army had an effective one day head start on their flight from Richmond and Petersburg, the advance Union Army cavalry and infantry corps under the command of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan were able to keep Lee's forces to their north by pursuing them on a parallel course to their south. Union cavalry harassed and skirmished with Confederate units almost from the outset of the Confederate army's march from Petersburg. Confederate rear guard dismounted cavalry units often paused to block the roads from pursuing Union cavalry. As early as the evening of April 2, Confederate cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee detected units of the Union cavalry division of Brig. Gen. Thomas Devin in pursuit and had Bushrod Johnson's infantry throw up a series of breastworks along the Namozine Road in order to repulse the Union riders.
On April 3, 1865, advance units of the Union cavalry fought with rear guard Confederate cavalry at Willicomack Creek and the Battle of Namozine Church. In the early morning of April 3, at a ford on Namozine Creek, regiments from the 2d brigade, under the command of Colonel William Wells, of Custer's 3rd cavalry division, which had taken over the advance pursuit, threatened the rear guard of Rooney Lee's column. That rear guard was the cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. William P. Roberts and a few infantry units. Roberts had dismounted the 4th North Carolina Cavalry Regiment and the 16th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion and had them entrench on the west side of the creek. Custer brought up artillery to blast the North Carolina cavalrymen with canister and had the 1st Vermont Volunteer Cavalry Regiment ford the creek out of sight of the Confederates in order to outflank them. When the Confederates discovered this maneuver, they fled their position in order to try to regroup further down the road. Custer's division then crossed the creek and headed for Namozine Church, about 5 miles (8.0 km) away. The leading Union cavalry brigade of Custer's 3rd Division, the 2d Brigade under Col. William Wells, who had attacked the Confederate cavalrymen of Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer along the creek, fought a running battle along the road until they reached Namozine Church. Barringer's Confederates, the 1st and 2d North Carolina Volunteer Cavalry Regiments with a single artillery piece, with the 5th North Carolina Volunteer Cavalry Regiment in reserve, counterattacked the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment of Wells's brigade, commanded by Maj. James Bliss, as they reached the Namozine Church After sharp fighting, the Confederate cavalry were turned away by the 8th New York Cavalry and reinforcements from the 15th New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Col. John J. Coppinger' and the 1st Vermont Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Josiah Hall. About 9 a.m., as Wells's brigade began their attack, Brig. Gen. Custer's younger brother, Captain Tom Custer, spurred his horse over a hastily thrown up barricade of the still deploying Confederate cavalry and captured 3 Confederate officers and 11 enlisted men, as well as the battle flag of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry. For his actions, the younger Custer would eventually be awarded a Medal of Honor, one of two he would earn within four days. Barringer's Confederate cavalry had bought enough time for Bushrod Johnson's infantry division to pass nearby Namozine Church around 8 a.m. Unfortunately for Johnson, his forces took a wrong turn at a fork in the road and had to halt when his command reached a bridge over Deep Creek that was underwater from recent flooding. Although the Union cavalry drove off the Confederate cavalry, the North Carolina cavalry regiments had secured the Namozine Church road intersection long enough for Johnson to return and take the correct fork. When General Johnson approached with his infantry division, Custer's forces were forced to retire, allowing the Confederate forces to proceed across Deep Creek, an Appomattox River tributary. Then, Fitzhugh Lee and his cousin, "Rooney" Lee, second son of Gen. Robert E. Lee, separated their cavalry commands and continued their retreat. Custer later chased the fleeing Confederates but near dark he ran into substantial infantry opposition from Johnson's division at Sweathouse Creek and halted for the night. After dark, however, Wells's brigade continued to attack Fitzhugh Lee's force along Deep Creek. Brig. Gen. Barringer and many of his men were captured by Sheridan's scouts who were wearing gray uniforms and who led Barringer and his remaining men into a trap. Rooney Lee's adjutant general, Maj. J. D. Ferguson, also was captured. Sheridan's forces camped for the night along the road from Namozine Church to Deep Creek while the Confederate infantry and remaining cavalry continued to march to their designated consolidation point of Amelia Court House, where they expected to receive much needed supplies and rations.
Colonel Wells lost 95 Federal cavalrymen killed and wounded in the engagement. Total Confederate losses are not known, but Custer's men were able to capture many of the Confederates. They took 350 prisoners, 100 horses and an artillery piece while initially clearing the road as far as the Namozine Church. Johnson reported 15 wounded from his division. After the battle, Namozine Church served as a field hospital and later as Maj. Gen. Sheridan's temporary headquarters.
On April 4, 1865, the opposing forces skirmished at Tabernacle Church or Beaver Pond Creek and at Amelia Court House. Meanwhile, Sheridan's forces occupied Jetersville, Virginia and Burkeville, Virginia which blocked Lee's access to the Richmond and Danville Railroad and to the direct route southwestward. Lee had hoped to find a supply train at Amelia Court House, Virginia, 39 miles (63 km) southwest of Richmond, but when he and his forces arrived there on April 4, 1865, he found that the train contained only ordnance, ammunition, caissons and harnesses. After a delay for unsuccessful foraging efforts, or as some historians have argued, primarily because of the delay in bringing up a pontoon bridge needed to cross rain-swollen rivers, Lee had to order his hungry men to resume their march in the hope that they could find rations at Farmville, Virginia. On April 5, 1865, Sheridan ordered Crook to send cavalry patrols north of Jetersville to reconnoiter his left flank. Between 4 miles (6.4 km) and 7 miles (11 km) out of Jetersville, Union Brig. Gen. Henry E. Davies, Jr. attacked and destroyed about 200 wagons of a Confederate army wagon train and took at least 300 prisoners. Confederate cavalry engaged Davies's rear guard in a running combat through Amelia Springs but Davies's force linked up with reinforcements near Jetersville which permitted Davies to limit his losses and keep his prisoners.
On the morning of April 6, Meade thought that the Confederate army remained concentrated at Amelia Court House and, despite the suspicions of Grant and Sheridan that the Confederates had moved on, Meade sent the Army of the Potomac infantry in the direction of Amelia Court House on that morning. The Union forces soon discovered that Lee had started moving west and changed their direction of march to continue their pursuit. In the afternoon of April 6, 1865, approximately one-fifth of the remaining soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia were cut off from the main body of Confederate troops at the Battle of Sailor's Creek (or Battle of Sayler's Creek) and killed or (mainly) captured. The killed and captured were about 8,000 men, including Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and eight other generals. This in turn was about one-sixth of the number of men who had left Richmond and Petersburg with Lee's forces.
After about five more small engagements over the next three days, with the Army of Northern Virginia melting away and Union forces surrounding them, Lee surrendered his army to Grant on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, about 90 miles (140 km) west of Richmond.
- CWSAC Report Update
- McPherson, 1988, p. 722
- Woodworth, 2004, p. 216
- Woodworth, 2004, p. 236
- Woodworth, 2004, p. 242
- Grant also directed Union armies under the overall command of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to attack and destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston and to take the important manufacturing city and railroad hub of Atlanta, Georgia. Woodworth, 2004, p. 216. Secondary actions were to include operations by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; by Brig. Gens. George Crook and William W. Averell against railroad supply lines in southwest Virginia and West Virginia; and by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. McPherson, 1988, p. 722. In the event, Butler moved too slowly and was bottled up on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. McPherson, 1988, pp. 723–724. Sigel was defeated at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 and pulled back. McPherson, 1988, p. 724. Banks was delayed by the disastrous Red River Campaign. Woodworth, 2004, pp. 222–223. Nonetheless, the Union Navy under Rear Admiral David Farragut took Mobile Bay and the forts in lower Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. Woodworth, 2004, p. 264. Maj. Gen. Richard Canby, the Union department commander, could spare only enough soldiers to take Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, but not to attack and hold the city of Mobile. Woodworth, 2004, p. 264.
- Woodworth, 2004, p. 250
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- Lee also might have had the option of heading west to the Appalachian Mountains where his army might regroup or even begin guerrilla warfare.
- Winik, 2006, p. 124
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- Kinzer, "Amelia Court House/Jetersville (3–5 April 1865)," 2000, pp. 36-37
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- Barringer's brigade also included the 3rd North Carolina Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.
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- Colonel William Wells was appointed a full rank brigadier general of volunteers on May 19, 1865. Warner, 1964, p. 550.
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- Kinzer, "Sayler's Creek/Harper's Farm, Battle of," 2000, p. 1709. Some writers have said the number of Confederates killed and captured by Union forces at Sailor's Creek may have been nearly one-third of Lee's remaining effective soldiers although one-fifth to one-quarter of the remaining force is the range usually stated.
- Salmon, 2001, pp. 477–478
- Salmon, 2001, pp. 487–492
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- National Park Service battle description
- CWSAC Report Update
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