Siege of Petersburg

Lee was forced to withdraw to Petersburg. It was realistically his last stand, and his only chance to block Grants advance on Richmond. It was however, doomed to failure from the start. Grant enjoyed unlimited supplies, unlimited manpower. His engineers built rail lines almost to the front line trenches to keep his troops supplies, while the Confederates had little and no chance of resupply. The inevitiable occurred on April 2nd 1865 when the Union breached confederate lines and the confederates were forced to withdraw from Petersburg and Richmond, thus effectively ending the war



 

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Once Lee's troops had arrived at Petersburg, both armies dug in for a long-term siege. This was a battle that Lee knew he could not win. Nonetheless, this was a battle he had no choice, but in which to participate. If Petersburg fell, Richmond was doomed. The Union forces had all the advantages in the siege. Its forces were well supplied both in armaments, food and clothing. The Union Engineers ran a railroad right behind the Union trenches. Regular passenger and freight trains supplied the Union troops regularly. At the same time Confederate troops were going hungry and were suffering a shortage in ammunition. Lee wrote, at one point: “If some change is not made and the commissary department reorganized I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives must fail under this treatment.”

Union and Confederate forces shelled each other daily. Each side suffered casualties. However, the Union casualties were replaceable, while the Confederates had reached the absolute bottom of the manpower pool.

There were a number of attempts to break the stalemate between the two sides. The most well known was an attempt to break through the lines by building a tunnel under the Confederate fortifications, and setting off a very large explosive charge. A division of Black troops had been trained to exploit the explosion. Though at the last moment, they were replaced by a White division, who were not prepared for the task. The explosion created a great hole in the Confederate lines. The uncoordinated attack that followed achieved nothing but 4,000 Union casualties. As Grant to wrote Halleck: “It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war. Such opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.”

While the siege was taking place the Confederates suffered a severe reversal of fortune in the Shenandoah Valley. At the end of July, Jubal Early led Confederate troops out, down the Valley. Early had crossed the Potomac. On July 11th, he reached the outskirts of Washington. This area was defended initially by clerks and other non-combatants. Elements of the Sixth Army Corps arrived in Washington, just in a nick of time. Early decided to retreat. That was the high point. Then Grant appointed Phil Sheridan to command Union forces in the Valley. Sheridan went ahead and recaptured the valley. He decisively defeated Early's forces in three battles, including the third Battle of Winchester. Early's forces ceased being an effective unit. As Sheridan pulled out of the valley, he stripped it clean of all food, farm animals and anything else that might be helpful to the Confederacy.

Lee's army was steadily dwindling. Every day more and more Confederate soldiers deserted. By the end of March, the end of this battle was in sight. Sherman was advancing through South Carolina and would soon reach Virginia. Sherman’s troops were coming up on Lee's south. Thus, Lee knew he would have to give up Petersburg, or get annihilated. To accomplish this, Lee attempted an attack on Fort Stedman. Lees' troops seized the fort. However, in the ensuing counterattack, Union forces recaptured it, as well as some of the Confederate fortifications. Lee lost 5,000 men and his lines were now so thin they could not hold for long.

Grant ordered Sheridan to turn the Confederate flank south of Petersburg. In the ensuing battle, called: “Five Folks”, Union troops won a decisive victory, when half the Confederate forces surrendered. Grant then ordered an assault all along the lines for the next morning, the 2nd of April. The assault succeeded and the Confederates were forced to pull out of Petersburg, as well as Richmond

The Mine

Sheridan Taking Command

Sheridan Takes on Early

Battle of Five Folks

 

 

 

 

[Petersburg, Va. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox and staff, 3d Division, 9th Corps]. Created-Published: 1864. Photograph of the main eastern theater of the war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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[Petersburg, Va. Two youthful military telegraph operators at headquarters]. O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882 photographer. Created-Published: August 1864. Photograph of the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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Petersburg, Virginia. Earthworks in front of Petersburg. Created-Published: 1865.

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[Petersburg, Va. Company A, U.S. Engineer Battalion]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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[Petersburg, Va. Company B, U.S. Engineer Battalion]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1864

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[Petersburg, Va. Group of Company B, U.S. Engineer Battalion; wagons in background]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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The execution of William Johnson, Jordan's farm]. O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882 photographer. Created-Published: June 20, 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865

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Fortifications in front of Petersburg? Petersburg, Virginia. Fortifications in front of Petersburg. Created-Published: 1865.

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Petersburg, Virginia (vicinity). Confederate fortifications at Gracie's Salient on the Petersburg line. Created-Published: 1865.

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[Petersburg, Va., vicinity. Maj. Thomas T. Eckert (seated, left) and others of U.S. Military Telegraph Corps]. Created-Published: 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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Scenes Around Petersburg ?This illustration from Harpers Weekly August 6, 1864

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This illustration from Harpers Weekly August 13, 1864 captioned:General Grant's Campaign - View of Petersburg from Captain Davis's Battery, First Connecticut Artillery. - Sketched by William Waud

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This illustration from Harpers Weekly August 19, 1864 captioned:General Grant's Campaign - The Explosion of the Mine and Assault On Cemetery Hill Before Petersburg, July 30, 1864

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Petersburg, Va. Surgeons of 3d Division before hospital tent]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photographs from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865

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Petersburg, Va. Surgeons of 3d Division before hospital tent]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photographs from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865

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[Petersburg, Va. U.S. Military Telegraph battery wagon, Army of the Potomac headquarters]. Knox, David photographer. Created-Published: June 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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Petersburg, Virginia (vicinity). South Side Railroad trestle (west of Petersburg) across Indian Town creek. Created-Published: April 1865.

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[Petersburg, Va. Officers of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry at Army of the Potomac headquarters]. Created-Published: August 1864. Unknown; Capt. Edward A. Flint, Capt. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Lt. George H. Teague. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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This illustration from Harpers Weekly August 19, 1864 captioned:General Grant's Campaign—Capture Of Four Twenty-pound Parrots Guns By Miles's Brigade, Barlow's Division, July 27, 1864.—sketched By William Waud.

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[Petersburg, Va. Officers of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry playing cards in front of tents]. Created-Published: August 1864. Photographs of the main eastern theater of the war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865

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Petersburg, Virginia. Confederate breastworks in front of Petersburg. Created-Published: April 3, 1865.

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Petersburg, Virginia. Confederate breastworks in front of Petersburg. (The small mounds with chimneys are soldier's quarters under ground). Created-Published: Apr. 3, 1865

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. Captured Confederate encampment]. O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882 photographer. Created-Published: June 1864. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865.

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Petersburg, Virginia. Dead Confederate soldier in trenches before Petersburg. Roche, Thomas C., d. 1895 photographer. Created-Published: April 3, 1865

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Dead Confederate soldier in the trenches. Roche, Thomas C. 1895 photographer. Created-Published: Hartford, Conn. : The War Photograph & Exhibition Company, 1865, [printed later].