The Appomattox Campaign

United States - Scott #1182 (1965)
United States – Scott #1182 (1965)

On March 29, 1865, Federal forces under Major General Philip Sheridan moved to flank Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee as the Appomattox Campaign began. This was a series of United States Civil War battles fought from March 29 until April 9, 1865, in Virginia that concluded with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to forces of the Union Army (Army of the Potomac, Army of the James and Army of the Shenandoah) under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. In the following eleven weeks after Lee’s surrender, the American Civil War ended as other Confederate armies surrendered and Confederate government leaders were captured or fled the country.

As the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (also known as the Siege of Petersburg) ended, Lee’s army was outnumbered and exhausted from a winter of trench warfare over an approximately 40 mile (64 km) front of numerous battles, disease, hunger and desertion. Grant’s well-equipped and well-fed army was growing in strength. On March 29, the Union Army began an offensive that stretched and broke the Confederate defenses southwest of Petersburg and cut their supply lines to Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Union victories at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1 and the Third Battle of Petersburg, often called the Breakthrough at Petersburg, on April 2 opened Petersburg and Richmond to imminent capture. Lee ordered the evacuation of Confederate forces from both Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2–3 before Grant’s army could cut off any escape. Confederate government leaders also fled west from Richmond that night.

The Confederates marched west, heading toward Danville, Virginia or Lynchburg, Virginia as an alternative. Lee planned to resupply his army at one of those cities and march southwest into North Carolina where he could unite his army with the Confederate army commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. Grant’s Union Army pursued Lee’s fleeing Confederates relentlessly. During the next week, the Union troops fought a series of battles with Confederate units, cut off or destroyed Confederate supplies and blocked their paths to the south and ultimately to the west. On April 6, the Confederate Army suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, Virginia, where they lost about 7,700 men killed and captured and an unknown number wounded. Nonetheless, Lee continued to move the remainder of his battered army to the west. Soon cornered, short of food and supplies and outnumbered, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

In early March 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Army of the Confederate States of America in the southern state of Virginia decided that his army must break out of the Union Army lines at Richmond and Petersburg, obtain food and supplies at Danville or Lynchburg, and join General Joseph E. Johnston’s force opposing Major General William T. Sherman’s Union forces. After discussing the situation with Major General John B. Gordon on March 4, Lee approved Gordon’s proposal to attempt to capture or break a portion of the Union lines. The expected result of a successful attack would be to threaten or damage Grant’s base and supply lines, compel Grant to shorten his line from the western end and to delay his pursuit of any Confederate force’s withdrawal. Then, Lee could shorten his line and send part of his army to help Johnston in North Carolina. In the alternative, Lee could move his entire army to help take on Sherman first and, if successful, turn the combined Confederate force back against Grant.

On March 22, Gordon told Lee he had determined that the best place to attack would be at Fort Stedman, east of Petersburg and south of the Appomattox River where the armies’ lines were only about 200 yards apart. Lee approved the planned attack.

On March 24, Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant issued orders for an offensive to begin on March 29. Grant planned for Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry to cut the remaining open Confederate railroads, the Southside Railroad to Petersburg and the Richmond and Danville Railroad to Richmond, and for two infantry corps, to protect Sheridan’s move and to turn the Confederates out of the western end of their line. Grant’s top priority was to force an engagement in order to defeat the Confederate army with the railroad raid as a secondary objective. Grant also intended that his forces block a Confederate retreat to the west. Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps under Major General Gouverneur K. Warren and II Corps under Major General Andrew A. Humphreys to support Sheridan, mainly by outflanking the Confederates to prevent them from interfering with Sheridan’s mission. Grant also initially ordered Warren’s corps to seize Dinwiddie Court House, where they also could capture a segment of the Boydton Plank Road, a task later given to Sheridan.[42] Grant ordered Major General Edward Ord, to quietly move units from the Army of the James to fill in the portion of the Petersburg line that the II Corps then occupied.

1865 photograph at Fort Stedman by Timothy H. O'Sullivan.
1865 photograph at Fort Stedman by Timothy H. O’Sullivan.

The Battle of Fort Stedman, also known as the Battle of Hare’s Hill, was fought on March 25. The Union Army fortification in the siege lines around Petersburg was attacked in a pre-dawn Confederate assault by troops led by Major General Gordon. The attack was the last serious attempt by Confederate troops to break the Siege of Petersburg. After an initial success, Gordon’s men were driven back by Union troops of the IX Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke. The attack did not deter Grant from continuing with his plan for an offensive to begin March 29.

On March 26, Lee held a council of war at which Lee decided that Major General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division must recapture a crucial elevated portion of their old picket line called McIlwaine’s Hill. Also on that date, Lee wrote to Davis that he feared it would be impossible to prevent Sherman joining forces with Grant and that he did not think it prudent to maintain the Confederate army’s current positions as Sherman came near to them. After the Fort Stedman defeat, Lee realized that he could not detach only a portion of his army to send to Johnston in North Carolina and still maintain the Richmond and Petersburg defenses.

On the same date, Sheridan’s cavalry crossed the James River on a pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia, 11 miles (18 km) southeast of Richmond. Sheridan went ahead of his men to meet Grant at his headquarters at Appomattox Manor, the Richard Eppes plantation at City Point, Virginia. Grant told Sheridan that Sheridan would continue to report directly to him, not to Major General George G. Meade as part of the Army of the Potomac. He also assured Sheridan that his force would participate in closing the war in the movements at Petersburg and that Grant gave him discretionary authority to go to North Carolina in his March 24 orders only in the event he needed it.

Before dawn on March 27, 1865, about 400 sharpshooters from four of Wilcox’s brigades prepared to attack the new Union picket line on McIlwaine’s Hill to recapture the line and prevent artillery from threatening important sections of the Confederate defenses. The Confederates approached within 40 yards (37 meters) of the Union line when rifle firing started and the surprised Union pickets were scattered. Then, three Union regiments arrived to reinforce their new picket line but also were driven back by artillery fire from the Confederate line. In the brief but spirited skirmish, the Confederates retook McIlwaine’s Hill with few casualties, but this was of minor consequence since Grant’s plans for the March 29 offensive did not include an attack along the VI Corps picket line.

White House copy of the lost 1868 painting.
White House copy of the lost 1868 painting. “The Peacemarkers” depicting Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, and Porter aboard the River Queen on March 27 & March 28, 1865.

On March 27, 1865, Grant and Sherman began a two-day meeting with President Lincoln aboard the River Queen at City Point, Virginia. The meeting was mainly social with Lincoln also asking Sherman to tell him about his march through the Carolinas.

Sheridan went to Hancock Station on the morning of March 27 to organize his forces for the planned operation. Although delayed by a train derailment, Sheridan met with Grant and Sherman at City Point late on March 27 and on the morning of March 28 when he again opposed joining Sherman’s forces in North Carolina despite some effort by Sherman to persuade him to take that course of action.

Meade issued orders to the Army of the Potomac in line with Grant’s communication to him which would keep all but the mobile II Corps and V Corps in their lines despite Grant’s assurance to Sheridan that he would support Sheridan with the whole army if a battle resulted from his movements. Meade also noted that the mobile infantry was to push the Confederates into their lines and prevent them from opposing Sheridan, which was at odds with Grant’s priority to defeat the enemy in battle.

Lee learned that Sheridan’s cavalry had moved south of the James River and suspected that Sheridan would attack the South Side Railroad beyond his right (western) flank. He knew he would have to strengthen that end of the line while maintaining the rest of his lines and preparing to leave the Richmond-Petersburg defenses. Lee only had about 6,000 cavalrymen about 18 miles (29 km) south of Petersburg at Stony Creek Station and Major General George E. Pickett’s division of about 5,000 effective infantrymen available to extend his lines.

The River Queen at the wharf.
The River Queen at the wharf.

On March 28, Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln, joined by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, met again on the River Queen. The generals outlined their strategies and told Lincoln they anticipated the need for one more campaign, although Lincoln expressed his hope that much further bloodshed could be avoided. This was the only conference at which Lincoln conferred with his top military officers about post-war policies. Admiral Porter made notes that night in which he recorded that Lincoln wanted the Confederates to be let go and treated liberally. Porter quoted Lincoln as saying that his only desire was for “those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.” Lincoln also indicated that he did not want the generals making political settlements with the Confederates.

On the night of March 25, Major General Edward Ord quietly moved units from the Union Army of the James, including two divisions of Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps (Twenty-Fourth Corps), a division of Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XXV Corps (Twenty-Fifth Corps) and Brigadier General Ranald S. Mackenzie’s cavalry division from the Richmond lines to fill in the Petersburg lines when the II Corps moved out of them to support Sheridan. Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps defending the Richmond lines failed to detect the movement of Ord’s men, which held Lee back from moving some of Longstreet’s forces to defend against the movement of Grant’s forces. Ord’s men began their march on March 27–28 and arrived near Hatcher’s Run to take the positions occupied by the II Corps on the morning of March 29. Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie’s cavalry division from the Army of the James joined Sheridan on March 28.

On the night of March 28, 1865, Grant modified his order, telling Sheridan to lead his troopers around the Confederate right flank and to fight the Confederates, with infantry support, if the Confederates came out of their trenches. Otherwise, Sheridan was to wreck the railroads as much as possible and again was told, at his discretion, that he could return to the Petersburg lines or join Sherman in North Carolina. Sheridan was told to move first to the rear of the V Corps and around their left flank to Dinwiddie Court House in an effort to outflank the Confederates and cut the Boydton Plank Road.

Actions at Petersburg before and during the Battle of Five Forks.
Actions at Petersburg before and during the Battle of Five Forks.

Grant ordered Warren’s V Corps to outflank Lee’s line and to support Sheridan’s cavalry. Warren’s corps moved out at 3:00 a.m. over the Vaughan Road toward Dinwiddie Court House. Warren’s orders were subsequently modified to make a movement over the Quaker Road toward the Confederate defenses. Grant ordered Humphrey’s II Corps to march at 9:00 a.m. to positions from the Quaker Road-Vaughan Road intersection to Hatcher’s Run. Warren was to move along the Boydton Plank Road to cut that key Confederate communication line. Both corps were ordered to keep the Confederates in their trenches while the Union advance proceeded.

Anticipating the Union moves, Lee ordered Major Generals Fitzhugh Lee’s, W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee’s and Thomas L. Rosser’s cavalry divisions to defend the western end of the line, including the important road junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County. Fitzhugh Lee started that day, leaving Longstreet with only Brigadier General Martin Gary’s cavalry brigade for scouting duties. Lee also prepared for Major General George Pickett to move his men to join the cavalry and take command. Five Forks was along the shortest route to the South Side Railroad. Lee ordered the movement of the infantry the next morning when he learned that Union forces were headed toward Dinwiddie Court House. With his trenches ending at the Claiborne Road-White Oak intersection, Lee had to send Pickett 4 miles (6.4 km) past the end of the Confederate line of defenses in order to defend Five Forks.

Warren’s V Corps, followed by Humphrey’s II Corps, and further to the south, Sheridan’s cavalry corps, moved south and west early on March 29. Their mission was to occupy Dinwiddie Court House, cut the Boydton Plank Road, Southside Railroad and Richmond and Danville Railroad and to outflank the Confederates on their western (right) flank at the end of their White Oak Road line southwest of Petersburg. Under revised orders, Warren sent Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Charles Griffin’s First Division north on the Quaker Road toward the intersection with the Boydton Plank Road and the end of the White Oak Road Line. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain’s First Brigade led the advance.

North on Quaker Road, across Rowanty Creek at the Lewis Farm, Chamberlain’s men encountered the brigades of Brigadier Generals Henry A. Wise, William Henry Wallace and Young Marshall Moody which had been sent by Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and Major General Bushrod Johnson to turn back the Union advance. Chamberlain was wounded and almost captured during the ensuing back-and-forth battle. Chamberlain’s brigade, reinforced by a four-gun artillery battery and regiments from the brigades of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Edgar M. Gregory and Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Alfred L. Pearson, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor, drove the Confederates back to the White Oak Road Line. The Union force suffered 381 casualties; the Confederates suffered 371.

Cabin used by General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Petersburg at City Point, Virginia.
Cabin used by General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Petersburg at City Point, Virginia.

After the battle, Griffin’s division moved up to occupy the junction of the Quaker Road and Boydton Plank Road near the end of the White Oak Road Line. Late in the afternoon, Sheridan’s cavalry occupied Dinwiddie Court House on the Boydton Plank Road without opposition. Union forces had cut the Boydton Plank Road in two places, were close to the end of the Confederate line and had a large force in a strong position to attack the crucial road junction at Five Forks in Dinwiddie County to which Lee was just sending defenders. The two remaining Confederate railroad connections with Petersburg and Richmond would be within the Union Army’s grasp if they took Five Forks.

Encouraged by the Confederate failure to press their attack at Lewis’s Farm and their withdrawal to the White Oak Road Line, Grant expanded Sheridan’s mission to a major offensive rather than just a railroad raid and a forced extension of the Confederate line. He wrote in his letter to Sheridan: “I now feel like ending the matter….”

From the late afternoon on March 29 through March 30, 1865, the Union’s mobile strike force continued to move into positions to turn the Confederate right flank and block the Confederates’ open supply, and retreat, routes. Lee perceived the threat from the Union moves and thinned his lines to strengthen the defenses on his far right. He also organized a Confederate mobile force to protect the key junction of Five Forks in order to keep open the Southside Railroad and important roads and to drive the Union force back from its advanced position. A steady, heavy rain started on the afternoon of March 29 and continued through March 30, slowing movements and limiting actions on March 30.

Following the Battle of Lewis’s Farm, in the heavy rain on the night of March 29, Lee sent McGowan’s brigade to bolster Anderson’s defense of the end of the Confederate line. MacRae’s brigade also was moved to the west of Burgess Mill. Wilcox’s three other brigades had to spread out to cover the vacated defenses. McGowan’s and MacRae’s brigades did not give Johnson enough men to extend his line to Five Forks.

With the gap between the end of the Confederate defensive line southwest of Petersburg and Pickett’s force at Five Forks in mind, on March 30, Lee made additional deployments to strengthen the Confederate right flank. Lee would have moved men from Longstreet’s force north of the James River but largely due to demonstrations and deceptions by the remaining divisions of Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XXV Corps (Twenty-Fifth Corps), Longstreet thought that he still confronted Ord’s entire Army of the James almost three days after Ord had gone with the XXIV Corps, a division of the XXV Corps and Mackenzie’s cavalry to the Union lines south of Petersburg.

Major General Philip Sheridan
Major General Philip Sheridan

About 5:00 p.m. on March 29, Major General Philip Sheridan led two of his three divisions of Union cavalry, totaling about 9,000 men counting the trailing division, unopposed into Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, about 4 miles (6.4 km) west of the end of the Confederate lines and about 6 miles (9.7 km) south of the important road junction at Five Forks. Sheridan planned to occupy Five Forks the next day. That night, under orders from General Robert E. Lee, Confederate Major General Fitzhugh Lee led his cavalry division from Sutherland Station to Five Forks to defend against an anticipated Union drive to the South Side Railroad in order to cut use of that important final Confederate railroad supply line to Petersburg. Fitzhugh Lee arrived at Five Forks with his division early on the morning of March 30 and headed toward Dinwiddie Court House.

On March 30, 1865, in driving rain, Sheridan sent Union cavalry patrols from Brigadier General Thomas Devin’s division to seize Five Forks, key junction for reaching the South Side Railroad. Devin’s force unexpectedly found and skirmished with units of Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry division. A patrol of the 6th United States Cavalry Regiment under Major Robert M. Morris lost 3 officers and 20 men in the encounter with Fitzhugh Lee’s troopers. Confederates casualties included Brigadier General William H. F. Payne who was wounded.

That night Confederate Major General George Pickett reached Five Forks with about 6,000 infantrymen in five brigades (under Brigadier Generals William R. Terry, Montgomery Dent Corse, George H. Steuart, Matt Whitaker Ransom and William Henry Wallace) and took overall command of the operation as ordered by General Robert E. Lee. General Lee was concerned that detected Union Army movements were aimed at Five Forks and the South Side Railroad. The cavalry divisions of Major Generals Thomas L. Rosser and W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee arrived at Five Forks late that night. Fitzhugh Lee took overall command of the cavalry and put Colonel Thomas T. Munford in command of his own division.

The rain continued on March 31. Under Sheridan’s direction, Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Wesley Merritt sent two of Devin’s brigades toward Five Forks and held one brigade in reserve at J. Boisseau’s farm. Brigades or detachments from Major General George Crook’s division were sent to guard two fords of a swampy stream just to the west, Chamberlain’s Bed, in order to protect the Union left flank from surprise attack and to guard the major roads.

Major General George Pickett
Major General George Pickett

While Colonel Munford’s division kept Devin’s men away from Five Forks, Pickett moved off to the west of Chamberlain’s Bed with his infantry and Rooney Lee’s and Rosser’s cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee to capture the fords and attack Sheridan from the left or rear and disperse his force. Not waiting for the infantry to begin their attack, Lee’s troopers attacked Fitzgerald’s Ford, the southern ford, and got some troops across. They were driven back by dismounted Union troopers of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Charles H. Smith’s brigade armed with Spencer repeating carbines. Coming up as Lee’s attack faltered, Pickett reorganized his forces. At about 2:00 p.m., Lee attacked again without success but Pickett’s force crossed the northern ford, Danse’s Ford. The attack was helped in part by the unnecessary move ordered by General Crook of most of the blocking force of Brigadier General Henry E. Davies’s brigade to south toward the sound of gunfire presumably to help Smith’s brigade, which in fact continued to hold the position.

Union units fought a series of delaying actions throughout the day. After the Confederate infantry and cavalry had crossed Danse’s ford and later the cavalry had crossed Fitzgerald’s Ford, Munford’s division drove back Colonel Charles L. Fitzhugh’s and Colonel Peter Stagg’s brigades of Devin’s division. Munford drove the two Union brigades who were trying to move to Five Forks back to J. Boisseau’s farm while Pickett drove Brigadier General Davies’s brigade off the main roads and back to that farm. The three brigades became separated from the rest of the Union force by a cross country move by Pickett to block the road to the south. As the three brigades were being pressed back to J. Boisseau’s farm, Devin’s third brigade under Brigadier General Alfred Gibbs moved quickly up from Dinwiddie Court House to hold the junction of Adams Road and Brooks Road. Sheridan ordered Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) John I. Gregg’s brigade which had also moved in support of Smith but had remained behind the combat at Fitzgerald’s Ford move cross country angling a little northeast to Adams Road to stop the Confederate advance. When Gregg’s brigade reached Adam’s Road, they joined with Gibb’s brigade in defense of the junction.

After pushing the three brigades to J. Boisseau’s farm, the Confederates turned south to attack Gibbs’s and Gregg’s brigades, later joined by Colonel Smith’s brigade. Smith’s brigade finally had to withdraw from Fitzgerald’s Ford when Confederate pressure was threatening to overrun them and Pickett’s advancing infantry threatened to cut them off from other Union units. Davies, Fitzhugh and Stagg brought their men back to Dinwiddie Court House about dark by a circuitous route cross country and by the Boydton Plank Road.

Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer
Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer

By the time Pickett pushed back Gibbs’s, Gregg’s and Smith’s brigades from the junction of Adams Road and Brooks Road, Sheridan had called up two of the brigades of Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer’s division under Colonels Alexander C. M. Pennington, Jr. and Henry Capehart. Custer set up another defensive line about 0.75 miles (1.21 km) north of Dinwiddie Court House. Custer’s brigades, joined by Smith’s and Gibbs’s brigades, held off the attack by Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee until darkness ended the battle. Both armies stayed in position and close to each other after dark. The Confederates intended to resume the attack in the morning.

The Confederates did not report their casualties and losses. Historian A. Wilson Greene has written that the best estimate of Confederate casualties in the Dinwiddie Court House engagement is 360 cavalry, 400 infantry, 760 total killed and wounded. Union officers’ reports showed that some Confederates also were taken prisoner. Sheridan suffered 40 killed, 254 wounded, 60 missing, total 354. Pickett lost Brigadier General William R. Terry to a disabling injury. Terry was replaced as brigade commander by Colonel Robert M. Mayo.

Early that night, Union V Corps commander Major General Gouverneur K. Warren recognized from the sound of battle that Sheridan was being pushed back and sent Brigadier General Joseph J. Bartlett’s brigade to reinforce Sheridan. When Pickett became aware that Union infantry were arriving near his flank, he withdrew to his modest earthworks at Five Forks. After a night of confused orders and weather-related delays, Warren’s three divisions joined Sheridan near Dinwiddie Court House between dawn and 9:00 a.m. Sheridan had been misinformed about the speed with which Warren could move his corps and later held the supposed delayed arrival against Warren. General Grant officially transferred Warren’s Corps to Sheridan’s command at 6:00 a.m. After Pickett’s withdrawal, Sheridan planned to attack the Confederates at Five Forks as soon as possible.

 Battle of Five Forks, chromolithograph print by Kurz & Allison published in 1886, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan on April 1, 1865.
Battle of Five Forks, chromolithograph print by Kurz & Allison published in 1886, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan on April 1, 1865.

Because of the approach of V Corp infantry on the night of March 31, Pickett retreated about 6 miles (9.7 km) to a modestly fortified line about 1.75 miles (2.82 km) in length approximately half on either side of the junction of White Oak Road, Scott Road and Dinwiddie Court House Road (Ford’s Road to the north) at Five Forks. Because of its strategic importance, General Robert E. Lee ordered Pickett to hold Five Forks at all hazards.

At Five Forks at the beginning of the Union attack about 1:00 p.m. on April 1, Sheridan’s cavalry hit the front and right flank of the Confederate line with small arms fire from mostly dismounted cavalry troopers of Brigadier General Thomas Devin’s and Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer’s divisions.[191] They attacked from mostly positions sheltered by woods just outside the Confederate breastworks. This fire pinned down the Confederates while the massed V Corps of infantry organized to attack the Confederate left flank.

With Sheridan fretting about the amount of remaining daylight and his cavalry possibly running out of ammunition, the Union infantry forces attacked about 4:15 p.m. Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were having a late shad bake lunch about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the main Confederate line along White Oak Road because they thought Sheridan was unlikely to be organized for an attack that late in the day and that General Lee would send reinforcements if Union Army infantry moved against them. The intervening thick, damp woods and an acoustic shadow prevented them from hearing the opening stage of the battle nearby. Pickett and Lee had not told any of the next ranking officers of their absence and that those subordinates were temporarily in charge. By the time Pickett got to the battlefield, his lines were collapsing beyond his ability to reorganize them.

Because of bad information and lack of reconnaissance, two of the Union divisions in the infantry attack did not hit the Confederate left flank, but their movement by chance helped them to roll up the Confederate line by coming at it from the end and rear. The first division in the attack under Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres alone overran the short right angled line on the left side of the Confederate main line. Sheridan’s personal leadership helped encourage the men and focus them on their objective. Brigadier General Charles Griffin’s division recovered from overshooting the Confederate left and helped roll up additional improvised Confederate defense lines. Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Samuel W. Crawford’s division swept across north of the main battle but then closed off Ford’s Church Road, swept down to Five Forks and helped disperse the last line of Confederate infantry resistance. The Union cavalry was somewhat less successful. Although they pushed the Confederate cavalry back, most escaped while most of the Confederate infantry became casualties or prisoners.

Due to more apparent than real lack of speed, enthusiasm and leadership, as well as some past grudges and a personality conflict, after Warren had just personally led a final heroic charge to end the battle, Sheridan unfairly relieved Warren of command of V Corps when the successful battle concluded. The Union Army held Five Forks and the road to the South Side Railroad at the end of the battle.

National Park Service markers for the Battle of Five Forks, looking south. Photo taken on August 6, 2016.
National Park Service markers for the Battle of Five Forks, looking south. Photo taken on August 6, 2016.

As soon as Grant learned of the victory, at about 8:00 p.m., he ordered Meade to have Humphreys and Parke ready to push ahead to keep Confederates from escaping from Petersburg and converging on Sheridan. Grant told the officers at his headquarters that he had ordered a general assault along the lines. Grant also directed that Wright, Parke and Ord begin an artillery barrage on the Confederate lines. Those division commanders and Ord reported to Grant that their men could not see well enough to attack at night, deferring the general assault until about 40 minutes after its originally planned start time of 4:00 a.m.

After the battle on the night of April 1, Fitzhugh Lee informed Robert E. Lee of the defeat and rout at Five Forks from Church’s Crossing near the Ford Church’s Road junction with the South Side Railroad where the remaining forces of Rooney Lee and Thomas Rosser joined him. The survivors of the Confederate infantry brigades moved north through the woods and fields to ford Hatcher’s Run and move over the W. Dabney road to a position near the South Side Railroad. Lee sent Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson with his infantry to help Pickett reorganize and hold the South Side Railroad.

As ordered by General Grant, at 10:00 p.m., Union artillery opened fire with 150 guns on the Confederate lines opposite the Union Army’s Petersburg lines until 2:00 a.m. on April 2. After careful planning, VI Corps commander Major General Horatio G. Wright had chosen to attack the Confederate line from the Jones house to the left end of his line opposite Union Forts Fisher and Welch. The land between the lines of the two armies was clear of trees and had few natural obstacles except for some marshes near the left end of Wright’s line. To the right of the point of attack were inundated areas and strong defenses. The Confederates had batteries sited every few hundred yards along their line. The capture of the Confederate picket line during the Battle of Jones’s Farm on March 25, 1865 put the VI Corps close enough to the main Confederate line, with a covered approach to within 2,500 yards (2,300 m) of the defenses, for the attack to succeed. Wright had about 14,000 troops to attack about 2,800 defenders over about 1 mile (1.6 km) of line.

Forming for mass attack just behind the Union picket line, Wright’s entire corps was placed in a wedge formation about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George W. Getty’s Second Division was in the middle front and in advance of the other two brigades for the assault while Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Frank Wheaton’s First Division was on the right rear and Brigadier General Truman Seymour’s Third Division was on the left rear. The Union attackers assembled in the dark only about 200 yards (180 m) from the Confederate picket line and 600 yards (550 m) from the Confederate main line and had to lie on their arms on the cold ground for nearly four hours. Some Confederate defenders were alerted by the activity and began to fire randomly into the Union assembly area. The Union force took some casualties, including Brigadier General Lewis Grant of the 1st Vermont Brigade who suffered a severe head wound and had to relinquish command to Lieutenant Colonel Amasa S. Tracy.

Grant's April 2, 1865, assault on the Petersburg line and the start of Lee's retreat.
Grant’s April 2, 1865, assault on the Petersburg line and the start of Lee’s retreat.

The 1st Vermont Brigade led the assault at 4:40 a.m. after the firing of a signal gun from Fort Fisher. The Confederate line in front of the attackers was defended by Brigadier General James H. Lane’s North Carolina brigade, with sharpshooters from Brigadier General Samuel McGowan’s South Carolina brigade manning the picket line. The Confederate picket line was overwhelmed quickly by the Union attackers. The first Union soldier over the Confederate defenses was Captain Charles G. Gould of the 5th Vermont Infantry Regiment of the Vermont Brigade of Getty’s division, who moved to the left of the main body through the ravine, down the Confederate picket path and over the plank bridge with three other men. Gould suffered three severe bayonet and sword wounds, including two to his head, but he survived his wounds.[notes 17][238] Soon thereafter Colonel Thomas W. Hyde’s brigade and Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) James M. Warner’s brigade overcame the defenders in their front, putting half of Lane’s brigade out of action.

Wheaton’s division, led by Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Oliver Edwards’s brigade, captured a sector of the line next to Warner’s brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Elisha Hunt Rhodes led his 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry Regiment on a flanking maneuver where he could the main Confederate line into a ditch for some protection. The Union soldiers quickly climbed up the exterior slope to the top of the earthworks before the Confederates could reload and fire, causing the Confederates to retreat. After, Colonel William Penrose’s New Jersey brigade initially was held back by more determined Confederate pickets and gathered in the moat in front of the Confederate earthworks and stormed over the barrier to subdue the North Carolina defenders in their front. Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Joseph Hamblin’s brigade had the longest distance to cross before reaching the Confederate line, held at that point by Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas’s Georgia brigade. The attack was covered by sharpshooters led by Captain James T. Stuart from the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, who were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Without having to engage in hand-to-hand combat, Hamblin’s brigade overcame the defenders, many of whom already were retreating from flank fire from adjacent Union soldiers. Wright left Hamblin’s brigade to guard the captured line at its north end as he reorganized most of the remaining men of the corps to move south.

On the left of the Sixth Corps’ formation, Major General Truman Seymour’s division, led by Lieutenant Colonel J. Warren Keifer’s brigade, dispersed MacRae’s North Carolina brigade. Keifer’s regiments quickly drove off the 28th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, captured 10 pieces of artillery, a large number of prisoners, three battle flags and Major General Henry Heth’s headquarters flag. Colonel William S. Truex led the rest of Seymour’s division against two North Carolina regiments and a six-gun artillery battery on the far left of the VI Corps assault. The Confederates held their fire when their own pickets began to flee toward the main line in front of the advancing Union soldiers, who overwhelmed the main Confederate line.

Confederate defenses of Fort Mahone aka Battery 29 at Petersburg, Virginia, 1865.
Confederate defenses of Fort Mahone aka Battery 29 at Petersburg, Virginia, 1865.

After about 30 minutes of heavy fighting, the Confederate lines had been broken and Humphrey’s VI Corps had made a decisive breakthrough. As the VI Corps surged forward, some soldiers ultimately crossed the Boydton Plank Road and reached the South Side Railroad about 1 mile (1.6 km) away.

Union Army Chief Engineer John G. Barnard estimated Union casualties in the VI Corps breakthrough at about 1,100 killed and wounded, “all of which occurred in the space of about fifteen minutes.” Confederate casualties are unknown but the majority of them were taken prisoner rather than killed or wounded.[257] General Grant estimated the VI Corps took about 3,000 prisoners, which historian A. Wilson Greene states is “probably not far wrong.”

A.P. Hill and Robert E. Lee both learned of the breakthrough soon after it occurred. At about 5:30 a.m. Hill rode to meet with Lee, then set out to organize the defense along the Boydton Plank Road Line. After the initial breakthrough, stragglers from Wright’s corps continued straight forward while most of the VI Corps troops turned to the left. West of the Boydton Plank Road, two stragglers from the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Corporal John W. Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford, stumbled upon Confederate Lieutenant General A. P. Hill and an aide, Sergeant George W. Tucker, as they rode through woods parallel to the Boydton Plank Road trying to reach Major General Henry Heth’s headquarters near the front line. Hill demanded their surrender, but the Union soldiers took aim, fired and killed him. Tucker escaped and rode back to Lee to report Hill’s death.

After the Union victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, in response to Grant’s 9:00 p.m. order for an immediate assault on the Confederate lines, Humphreys ordered Nelson A. Miles’s and Gershom Mott’s divisions to attack at once. They could not do more than drive in the Confederate pickets as Confederate artillery opened up on them. Then, as Grant had ordered, Miles’s division was sent to Sheridan just before midnight but Mott’s and Hays’s divisions continued probing the Confederate line.

At 6:00 a.m. on April 2, in view of the report of the VI Corps’ successful advance, Humphreys ordered Hays to assault the redoubts opposite the II Corps’ line, including the Crow House redoubt beside Hatcher’s Run. The attack captured the Confederate redoubts, their artillery and the majority of their garrisons. At about 7:30 a.m., Mott captured the Confederate picket line at Burgess’s Mill and at 8:30 a.m. Mott sharply attacked the Confederate trenches on their right flank, which then were rapidly evacuated. By 8:30 a.m., Humphreys’s divisions held the Confederate works from Burgess’s Mill to Claiborne Road. The retreating defenders withdrew to the northwest to Sutherland’s Station.

Then Humphreys’s corps received conflicting information and a variety of orders. Humphreys planned to attack fugitives from Major Generals Henry Heth’s and Bushrod Johnson’s divisions but ultimately only Nelson Miles’s division with about 8,000 troops in four brigades fought the Confederates at the Battle of Sutherland’s Station, while Mott’s and Hays’s divisions were engaged in futile marches and countermarches.

Sheridan’s cavalry and the V Corps did little more than occupy the vacated works along White Oak Road after both the Confederates and the II Corps left the area.

Dead soldier at Petersburg, Virginia, April 1, 1865.
Dead soldier at Petersburg, Virginia, April 1, 1865.

The Union forces lost 3,936 men on April 2, 1865. Confederate casualties were at least 5,000, most of whom were taken prisoner.

After the VI Corps’ morning breakthrough, Lee advised the Confederate government 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, Virginia, where they could be resupplied at the Richmond and Danville Railroad from stocks evacuated from Richmond. They would then proceed to Danville, Virginia, the destination of the fleeing Confederate government, and then south to join with the Confederate force in North Carolina under the command of General Joseph Johnston. After dark, Lee began the evacuation of his troops from Petersburg and Richmond. The city of Richmond was evacuated that night, and the Confederate government fled. Lieutenant General 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.

Union columns converged on Petersburg on April 2, pushing through a large section of the Confederate defensive entrenchments. As Robert E. Lee desperately sought to buy time to allow his army to withdraw, Ulysses S. Grant launched several other attacks. Stubborn Confederate resistance at Fort Gregg delayed Grant’s progress. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles’s Union division battered Henry Heth’s Confederates near Sutherland’s Station and drove them off the field. The Confederate defenders were scattered and driven northwestward. With this victory, the Federals possessed the South Side Railroad, Lee’s last supply line into Petersburg. However, the lengthy defense of Fort Gregg and Grant’s hesitation in aggressively following up on his success at Sutherland’s Station permitted Lee to evacuate his army that night.

Union troops of the XXV Corps of the Army of the James under Major General Godfrey Weitzel occupied Richmond and began to put out fires and restore order. Union troops also occupied Petersburg. Lieutenant General Grant and President Lincoln met at a private home. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and most of his Cabinet reached Danville, Virginia by the middle of the day on April 3.

On April 4, President Lincoln visited Richmond escorted by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, three officers and 10 sailors. Jubilant African-Americans surrounded him on his walk. Lincoln conferred with Major General Weitzel, talked with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Confederate Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell and sat at Jefferson Davis’s desk at his former home, the Confederate White House. Thomas Morris Chester, African-American correspondent for The Philadelphia Press, was among those who reported on the events.

Lee's retreat and Grant's pursuit in the Appomattox Campaign, April 2–9, 1865.
Lee’s retreat and Grant’s pursuit in the Appomattox Campaign, April 2–9, 1865.

Confederate forces headed for a rendezvous point at Amelia Court House with Union forces pursuing, mostly on parallel routes. On April 3, 1865, advance units under Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) William Wells of the Union cavalry division commanded by Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer fought with rear guard Confederate cavalry commanded by Brigadier General William Paul Roberts and Brigadier General Rufus Barringer at Willicomack Creek and Namozine Church. Unlike most of the Confederate forces that started their movements to the west north of the Appomattox River, these units were moving on roads south of that river.

Custer’s younger brother, Captain Tom Custer, spurred his horse over a hastily thrown up barricade of the still deploying Confederate cavalry and captured three Confederate officers and 11 enlisted men, as well as the battle flag of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry, for which he received the Medal of Honor. Barringer’s Confederate cavalry had bought enough time for Major General Bushrod Johnson’s infantry division to pass nearby Namozine Church. Although they initially took the wrong fork in the road at Namozine Church, Johnson’s forces were able to turn around, hold off the Union cavalry and head up the correct road toward Amelia Court House. Custer later chased the fleeing Confederates but near dark he ran into substantial infantry opposition from Johnson’s division at Sweathouse Creek.

After dark, Wells’s brigade continued to attack Fitzhugh Lee’s force along Deep Creek. Brigadier General Barringer and many of his men were captured by Sheridan’s scouts who were wearing gray uniforms and led Barringer and his remaining men into a trap. Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Wells lost 95 Federal cavalrymen killed and wounded in the engagements at Namozine Creek, Namozine Church and Sweathouse Creek. Total Confederate losses are not known, but Custer’s men were able to capture many Confederates. The Union cavalrymen 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.

Most of the Confederate Army had marched about 21 miles (34 km) west on April 3. Most of the Union Army continued to pursue the Confederates on a parallel route to the south of the Confederate line of march. In order to meet at the rendezvous point of Amelia Court House that had been designated by General Lee, all of the Confederate commands except those of Richard Anderson and Fitzhugh Lee would have to cross the Appomattox River, which turns sharply to the north not far west of the Confederate camps on the night of April 3. Along the Union Army routes, hundreds of exhausted and demoralized Confederates surrendered to the passing Union troops.

By the evening of April 3, most of Longstreet’s troops had crossed to the west side of the Appomattox River over Goode’s Bridge while Gordon’s men were east of the bridge. Amelia Court House was 8.5 miles (13.7 km) to the west. Ewell’s force could not cross the river at the Genito Bridge as expected because an expected pontoon bridge had not arrived. After marching south, Ewell’s men crossed the river on a Richmond and Danville Railroad bridge over which they had placed planks. They camped on April 4 about 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the bridge. Gordon’s corps was at Scott’s Shop, 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Amelia Court House, waiting for Ewell’s column to catch up. Mahone’s men marched to Goode’s Bridge but did not go into Amelia Court House until he was told that the force from Richmond had arrived.

Dead Confederate soldier with gun in Virginia, April 1865.
Dead Confederate soldier with gun in Virginia, April 1865.

On the line of march west toward the Confederate Army’s rendezvous point of Amelia Court House on Bevill’s Bridge Road, Lieutenant General Anderson had the remaining men of George Pickett’s and Bushrod Johnson’s divisions build earthworks and form a line of battle at Tabernacle Church Road to protect the forces in retreat from attack from the pursuing Union forces to their south. Nearby, Union cavalry were working to clear a sabotaged ford on Deep Creek Road in an effort to catch up with Lee’s army. The ford proved too deep for the cavalry to cross when they finished dragging away obstructions and the Union horsemen had to take a long alternate route back to the road. George Custer’s cavalry division rode west toward Jetersville, Virginia on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, 8 miles (13 km) southwest of Amelia Court House and 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Burkeville Junction, Virginia.

Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Wesley Merritt with Thomas Devin’s cavalry division crossed Deep Creek at Brown’s Bridge and headed straight past Tabernacle Church to Beaver Pond Creek where late in the day, a Michigan regiment from the division sent Anderson’s skirmishers back to their field works. Coming up toward the works, Devin’s entire division, mostly dismounted, skirmished with portions of Heth’s, Johnson’s and Pickett’s infantry. About 10:00 p.m., Devin was ordered to pull back to Jetersville and he led his men to that point after burning a nearby mill.

On the morning of April 4, Union Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie’s command crossed Deep Creek and reached the Five Forks of Amelia County, only about 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Amelia Court House, where his 1st Maryland Cavalry (U.S.) skirmished with the 14th Virginia Cavalry.

An advance party of Major General George Crook’s division reached the important railroad intersection of Burkeville Junction, Virginia by 3:00 p.m., blocking the Richmond and Danville Railroad route to the southwest. The main body of Crook’s cavalry division and Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain’s infantry brigade from the V Corps also headed toward Jetersville, arriving before dark. A few hours later, the rest of the V Corps arrived at Jetersville and started to entrench, even extending the trenches across the railroad tracks. The arrival of the entire V Corps at Jetersville ended Lee’s last chance to move south along the railroad, although if he had chosen to send Longstreet’s corps which had arrived first at Amelia Court House south against the gathering Union force, his trailing divisions probably could not have caught up.[349][350] Ewell was still trying to cross the Appomattox River at 10:00 p.m.; Anderson was still skirmishing with Devin at Beaver Pond Creek; Gordon was several miles behind at Scott’s Shop; and Mahone was not far from Goode’s Bridge, waiting to protect the bridge in case Ewell could find no other river crossing. When Devin’s cavalry broke off the engagement at Beaver Pond Creek, no Union force threatened the rear of Lee’s army and Anderson’s and Mahone’s forces did not need to lag behind as rear guards. They did not arrive at Amelia Court House until well into the next day.

Lee had expected to find rations for the army at Amelia Court House but found only an inadequate stockpile of rations and a trainload of ordnance. Lee waited for the rest of the army to catch up and sent foraging parties into the county which yielded few provisions despite Lee’s personal appeal in a proclamation that day. Yet Union Army foragers, perhaps being less sensitive to the reluctance or needs of local residents, seemed to have been able to find abundant provisions on the march as their wagons began to fall far behind on the muddy roads. Lee also ordered 200,000 rations to be sent from Danville via the railroad. Sheridan intercepted this message at Jetersville later that day. Lee also ordered that the number of wagons and artillery pieces with the army be reduced and precede the infantry on the march with the best horses. The extra equipment was to be sent by a circuitous route to the north with the weaker animals, sent by rail or destroyed. The 200 guns and 1,000 wagons that Lee’s army had taken on their flight would be reduced by almost one-third.

A week later, Lee said the delay at Amelia Court House assured the Confederate defeat and surrender. Some modern historians have emphasized the failure to have an expected pontoon bridge at the Genito Road crossing was the key factor in keeping Lee’s trailing divisions from reaching Amelia Court House on April 4. A pontoon bridge had been placed at Goode’s Bridge but traffic there became heavily congested because the approaches to Bevill’s Bridge also were blocked by high water. Lee did not mention the missing pontoon bridge in his remarks a week later but instead blamed the delay entirely on the lack of supplies at Amelia Court House, but as some historians have pointed out, many of his men and wagons had not arrived at Amelia Court House on April 4 and were not in a position to advance until some time on April 5 even if he had not stopped the others to rest and forage. Historian William Marvel wrote that “as badly as Lee needed to keep moving that night, he needed even more to concentrate his forces.”

Union cavalry captures Confederate guns and burns a wagon train near Paineville, Virginia, on April 5, 1865.
Union cavalry captures Confederate guns and burns a wagon train near Paineville, Virginia, on April 5, 1865.

On the morning of April 5, Sheridan sent Brigadier General Henry E. Davies’s brigade of Major General George Crook’s division to scout for Confederate movements beyond Amelia Court House near Paineville, or Paine’s Cross Roads, about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Amelia Springs. About 4 miles (6.4 km) east of Paineville, Davies found and attacked a wagon train that had left Richmond with provisions for Lee’s army, including food, ammunition and headquarters baggage, which was guarded by Brigadier General Martin Gary’s cavalry brigade and another wagon train with excess artillery from Amelia Court House approaching from the south.

Davies began to return to Jetersville after burning many of Confederate wagons including headquarters wagons, capturing horses, mules and some artillery pieces, and taking 630 prisoners, at Paineville. Major General Fitzhugh Lee with the Confederate cavalry divisions of Major General Thomas L. Rosser and Colonel Thomas T. Munford assaulted the Union cavalry on their return, starting a running fight from north of Amelia Springs to within 1 mile (1.6 km) of Jetersville. Reaching as far as Amelia Springs, the other brigades of Crook’s division under Brigadier General J. Irvin Gregg and Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Charles H. Smith provided reinforcements, allowing Davies’s force to reach Jetersville with their prisoners, guns and teams.

Crook’s cavalry division had casualties of 13 killed, 81 wounded and 72 missing and probably taken prisoner in three encounters during the day. Fitzhugh Lee said he counted 30 dead Union soldiers along the way. Davies captured 320 Confederate soldiers and 310 African-Americans whom he described as teamsters. He also captured 400 animals and 11 flags while destroying about 200 wagons. Confederate casualties were unreported but two Confederate captains are known to have been mortally wounded.

Starting to move his army toward Jetersville at 1:00 p.m. with Longstreet’s corps in the lead, Lee discovered that his route to Danville was blocked by fast-moving Union cavalry. He did not think that he could bring up his army fast enough to fight their way through before large numbers of Union infantry would arrive. His only remaining option was to move west on a long march, without food, to Lynchburg. The Confederate Commissary General promised Lee that he would send 80,000 rations to Farmville, 23 mi (37 km) to the west on the South Side Railroad.

A skirmish took place at Flat Creek, near Amelia Springs, on April 6 as the armies began to engage in fighting leading up to the Battle of Sailor’s Creek.

When General Robert E. Lee discovered that his route to Danville was blocked at Jetersville, he knew his army had to make another night march to Farmville. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General Philip Sheridan were convinced that Lee’s army would not remain at Amelia Court House another night, but Army of the Potomac commander Major General George Meade thought that they would. Meade ordered the II Corps, V Corps and VI Corps to move toward Amelia Court House at 6:00 a.m. and Grant did not order him to do otherwise, only to move swiftly. Sheridan did not move with the infantry but sent his cavalry to follow a road parallel and to the south of Lee’s line of march to try to intercept the Confederates.

Hillsman Farm House. Photo taken on September 13, 2012.
Hillsman Farm House. Photo taken on September 13, 2012.

As it developed, the Battle of Sailor’s Creek was actually three engagements fought in close proximity at about the same time. Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps battled Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s corps at the Hillsman House. Union cavalry led by Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Wesley Merritt fought Lieutenant General Richard Anderson’s corps at Marshall’s Crossroads. After a running battle over several miles, Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps engaged Major General John B. Gordon’s corps at Lockett’s Farm.

At Sailor’s Creek, between one-fifth and one-fourth of the remaining retreating Confederate army was taken prisoner or became casualties (about 8,000 men, with about 7,700 men taken prisoner, including most of Richard S. Ewell’s corps and about half of Richard H. Anderson’s corps). Many Confederate officers were captured, including eight generals — Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, Major General George Washington Custis Lee, Major General Joseph B. Kershaw, and Brigadier Generals Seth M. Barton, James P. Simms, Dudley M. Du Bose, Eppa Hunton, and Montgomery D. Corse. Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, who had participated in the defenses of Richmond, was killed leading a detachment of artillery personnel during a counterattack by Ewell’s men. General Humphreys later stated that the disorder of the Confederates after their defeats at Five Forks, Sutherland’s Station and the Breakthrough at Petersburg “doubtless scattered them to such an extent that many being without rations did not rejoin their commands.” He went on to say that: “In the movement to Amelia Court House, and from that point to Sailor’s Creek, Farmville and Appomattox Court House, having but scanty supplies and being exhausted by want of sleep and food and overcome with fatigue, many men fell out or wandered in search of food.”

Upon returning to the scene near the end of the battle with Major General William Mahone’s division, and from a bluff across Sailor’s Creek seeing the disorganization on the field and survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed “My God, has the army dissolved?” General Mahone replied, “No, General, here are troops ready to do their duty.” Lee then said to Mahone, “Yes, there are still some true men left … Will you please keep those people back?” Mahone’s division remained on the opposite bank covering the escape of the fugitives but was not engaged in more combat.

At the first Battle of High Bridge on April 6, Confederates stopped a large Union raiding party from burning High Bridge before Confederates south of the Appomattox River could pass over it to the north side. The Confederates took at least 800 Union survivors as prisoners. Union Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Theodore Read was killed, possibly in a pistol shootout with Confederate Colonel James Dearing (often identified as a brigadier general but his appointment was never confirmed), who was also mortally wounded in the encounter.

High Bridge across Appomattox River, South Side Railroad at Farmville, Virginia, photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan in April 1865. Forms part of Civil War glass negative collection of the Library of Congress.
High Bridge across Appomattox River, South Side Railroad at Farmville, Virginia, photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan in April 1865. Forms part of Civil War glass negative collection of the Library of Congress.

On April 7, at the second Battle of High Bridge, 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. However, this train would be mostly destroyed by Union troops before their arrival.

Longstreet’s Confederate forces held off the Union Army advance near Farmville, crossed the Appomattox River and continued their retreat on the north side of the river. On the night of April 7, Lee received from Grant then headquartered at Farmville 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.

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 Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth was mortally wounded nearby (the last Union general killed in the war), and Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) John Irvin Gregg was captured north of Farmville.

The cavalry division of Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer seized a supply train and 25 guns, effectively blocking Lee’s path because Appomattox Station is to the west of Appomattox Court House. 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.

Photograph of the exterior, main facade, of Appomattox Court House, Appomattox, Virginia with Union soldiers posing in front of the building in April 1865.
Photograph of the exterior, main facade, of Appomattox Court House, Appomattox, Virginia with Union soldiers posing in front of the building in April 1865.

With rations and supplies destroyed, Lee’s last hope was to outmarch the Union pursuers to Lynchburg where there were more rations and supplies. Some food was still available in the remaining wagons and it was distributed to the units as they arrived in the vicinity of Appomattox Court House, Walker’s artillery first, then Gordon’s infantry, and the rest of army.

At dawn on April 9, 1865, the Confederate Second Corps under Major General John B. Gordon attacked units of Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry. Ahead of Gordon’s corps was Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, which quickly forced back the first line under Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Charles H. Smith. The next line, held by Major General George Crook’s division of the Army of the Potomac and Brigadier General Ranald S. Mackenzie’s smaller division from the Army of the James, slowed the Confederate advance. Gordon’s troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge, but as they reached the crest they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the Union V Corps to their right. Lee’s outnumbered army was now surrounded on three sides. Lee’s cavalry saw these Union forces and immediately withdrew by the left flank to the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road and rode off unhindered towards Lynchburg.

Ord’s troops began advancing against Gordon’s corps while the Union II Corps began moving against Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to the northeast. The 11th Maine Infantry Regiment was cut off from the rest of Brigadier General Robert S. Foster’s division and suffered significant casualties in this final fight. Colonel Charles Venable of Lee’s staff rode in at this time and asked Gordon for an assessment. Gordon gave him a reply he knew Lee did not want to hear: “Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet’s corps.” Upon hearing it and considering the position of the armies, Lee finally stated the inevitable: “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee surrendered his army at 3 p.m., accepting the terms Grant had proposed by letter the previous day. He was accompanied to the McLean House where the surrender occurred only by his aide Colonel Charles Marshall and their orderly, Private Joshua O. Johns.

Grant offered the same terms he had offered the day before:

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's surrender 1865. 'Peace in Union.' The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 9 April 1865. Reproduction of a painting by Thomas Nast.
Lee’s surrender 1865. ‘Peace in Union.’ The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. Reproduction of a painting by Thomas Nast.

The terms were as generous as Lee could hope for; his men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason. Officers were allowed to keep their sidearms. In addition to his terms, Grant also allowed the defeated men to take home their horses and mules to carry out the spring planting and provided Lee with a supply of food rations for his starving army; Lee said it would have a very happy effect among the men and do much toward reconciling the country. The terms of the surrender were recorded in a document hand written by Grant’s adjutant Ely S. Parker, a Native American of the Seneca tribe, and completed around 4 p.m., April 9, 1865.

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.

Scott #1182 was the fifth and final in the United States Post Office Department’s series marking the Civil War Centennial. It was placed on sale through the Appomattox, Virginia, post office on April 9, 1965. Designed by Leonard Fellman, the 5-cent Prussian blue and black stamp features a silhouette of a soldier and stacked rifles against a blue and gray background. Above the image is the wording Civil War Centennial / Appomattox / ‘With Malice Toward None…’ The stamp was printed on the Giori press by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and issued in panes of fifty stamps each, perforated 11, with 112,845,000 stamps issued.

Flag of the United States of America, 1863-1865 (35 stars)Grand Army of the Republic medalFlag of the Army of Northern Virginia (Robert E. Lee's headquarters flag)Seal of the Confederate States of America

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