Appomattox Campaign


Appomattox Campaign

The Appomattox Campaign (March 29, 1865 – April 9, 1865) was a series of battles fought 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.

Background

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, stretching almost 35 miles (56 km), 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 unsuccessful Battle of Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865, the concluding battle in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. This final attempt 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. (For almost three years he had commanded only the northern Virginia forces, despite his fame throughout the Confederacy.) 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 from the Shenandoah Valley. Maj. Gen. Edward Ord's Army of the James came up to the Petersburg lines, which freed up the corps of Maj. Gens. Gouverneur K. Warren and Andrew A. Humphreys for offensive action against Lee.

Battles

The Appomattox Campaign comprised the following battles:

Union offensive

; Battle of Lewis's Farm (March 29 1865): 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.

; Battle of White Oak Road (March 31): Lee shifted his forces to counter the Union move around his flank. Warren assaulted Confederate trenches along White Oak Road but was repulsed temporarily by a counterattack from Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson.

; Battle of Dinwiddie Court House (March 31): Sheridan's cavalry movement to the court house and around Lee's flank was blocked by cavalry under Maj. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee and infantry under Maj. Gen. George Pickett.

; Battle of Five Forks (April 1): In the decisive battle of this 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, Virginia. 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.

; Third Battle of Petersburg (April 2): Back at the entrenchments around Petersburg, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac launched a four-corps assault on the remaining Confederate lines, which managed to hang on by a thread. Confederate corps commander Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill was killed in this battle.

; Battle of Sutherland's Station (April 2): The Union finally seized the Southside Railroad, cutting off Lee's supplies. On this date, 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

; Battle of Namozine Church (April 3 1865): 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 was a tactical error on Lee's part (although an understandable one) because it allowed Union cavalry time to erase Lee's head start in his retreat.

; Battle of Amelia Springs (April 5): Another minor cavalry skirmish. Also on April 5, 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 miles (40 km) to the west.

; Battle of Sayler's Creek (April 6): 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, Humphreys, and Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin (replacing Warren, who was relieved by Sheridan after Five Forks). Many of the Confederate supply trains were also captured.

; Battle of Rice's Station (April 6): A skirmish that occurred as Longstreet's corps arrived from Petersburg. His corps crossed the High Bridge across the Appomattox River.

; Battle of Cumberland Church (April 7): The Union II Corps (Humphreys) struck at the Confederate rear but was held at bay.

; Battle of High Bridge (April 6–April 7): 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. The cavalry of Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee 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 miles (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.

; Battle of Appomattox Station (April 8): The cavalry division of George A. Custer seized a supply train and 25 guns, effectively blocking Lee's path. Grant sent a letter to Lee offering generous surrender terms, as urged by President Abraham Lincoln, and proposing a meeting to discuss them.

; Battle of Appomattox Court House (April 9): In Lee's final stand, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's depleted corps attempted to break the Union lines and reach the supplies in Lynchburg. They pushed back Sheridan's cavalry briefly but found themselves faced with the full Union V Corps. They were surrounded on three sides, and Lee surrendered his army. (The article on this battle includes details on the surrender negotiations and ceremony.)

Aftermath

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. All of the remaining armies capitulated by June 1865.

Classifying the campaigns

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.

An alternative classification is maintained by West Point; in their "Atlas of American Wars" (Esposito, 1959), the period of March 29 to March 31, including Five Forks, is considered to be in the end of "The Siege of Petersburg, II" (which started in October, 1864). The remainder of the war in Virginia is classified as "Pursuit to Appomattox Court House — The Defeat of Lee (3–9 April, 1865)".

References

* [http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/bycampgn.htm#East65 National Park Service battle descriptions]
* Esposito, Vincent J., [http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/american_civil_war/index.htm "West Point Atlas of American Wars"] , Frederick A. Praeger, 1959.


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