Siege of Petersburg

From Academic Kids

Template:Battlebox The Siege of Petersburg (June 15, 1864April 2,1865) was a ten-month long siege of Petersburg, Virginia, during the American Civil War. It foreshadowed the trench warfare that would be common in World War I, earning it a prominent position in military history.

Petersburg had been a supply center for Richmond given its strategic location just south of the capital. Not only was it oriented on the Appomattox River, but it was also a major crossroads and a junction for five railroads. The taking of Petersburg by Union forces would make the defense of Richmond much more of an issue for Lee.


Early stages

Initial Union attacks

Main article: Battle of Petersburg II

The battle for the city began shortly after the Union defeat at Cold Harbor. Grant decided to take Richmond though Petersburg, and began positioning the Union army on June 15 by slipping away from Lee and crossing the James River. This represented a change of strategy from that of the preceding Overland Campaign. There, confronting and defeating Lee's army in the open was the primary goal; now, Grant selected a geographic and political target and knew that his superior resources could besiege Lee there, pin him down, and either starve him into submission or lure him out for a decisive battle. Lee at first believed that Grant's main target was Richmond, and only devoted minimal troops under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard to the defense of Petersburg.

Appomattox Manor served as Union army headquarters during the siege.
Appomattox Manor served as Union army headquarters during the siege.

With his minimal troop strength of around 2200 men, Beauregard deployed his forces in a series of fortifications named the Dimmock Line along the south side of the city. On the 15th, Union troops of the XVIII Corps under the command of General William F. “Baldy” Smith attacked Beauregard's lines, and quickly opened up a hole in the defenses. Union commanders were apprehensive about continuing to attack, as Beauregard had engaged in a set of elaborate feints to fool the Union into believing he had more men and more guns than he actually did, including lighting many campfires and building fake cannons out of logs ("Quaker Guns"). Union forces failed to continue to press attacks on the Confederate lines, allowing Lee to reinforce Beauregard's forces in the next few days as the Confederate forces fell back to a new defensive line. With the Union's blunders during the first days of the battle, the stage was set for a drawn out siege.

Union General Ulysses S. Grant made his headquarters in a cabin on the lawn of Appomattox Manor, the home of Dr. Richard Eppes and the oldest home (built in 1763) in what was then City Point, but is now Hopewell, Virginia.

The Crater

Main article: Battle of the Crater

In an attempt to break the siege, Union troops of the IX Corps under the command of General Ambrose Burnside mined a tunnel under the Confederate lines at Elliot's Salient. On July 30, 1864, they detonated the explosives, creating a crater some 135 feet in diameter that remains visible to this day. Some 280 to 350 Confederate soldiers were instantly killed in the blast. Despite the ingenuity of the Union's plan (which had been devised by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, a former miner), the lengthy, bloody Battle of the Crater, as it came to be called, was a decisive Confederate victory. The battle was dramatized in the 2003 motion picture Cold Mountain.

Extending the flanks

Deep Bottom

Main article: Battle of Deep Bottom II

On August 13 Union II Corps and X Corps under the overall command of Winfield Scott Hancock crossed the James River at Deep Bottom to threaten Richmond. Initial assaults made by the X Corps were successful, but Confederate counterattacks under Charles Field retook the lost ground. The Federals withdrew to the south side of the river and were able to hold the bridgehead.

Globe Tavern

Main article: Battle of Globe Tavern

While Confederates were tied up at Deep Bottom, Grant sent another force to the west against the Weldon Railroad under the command of Gouverneur K. Warren. On August 18 Warren drove off Confederate pickets and began destroying the track near Globe Tavern. A Confederate counterattack on the 19th under William Mahone turned Warren's flank, but the Federals were able to retake all the lost ground and the Union army was able to sever the vital Weldon Railroad link.

Reams' Station

Main article: Battle of Reams' Station

Several days later the II Corps continued to destroy track of the Weldon Railroad. On the 25th near Reams' Station, General Henry Heth routed the II Corps salient, taking many prisoners. Disheartened by the declining effectiveness of the once great II Corps, Winfield Hancock withdrew from the Weldon Railroad.

Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights

Main articles: Battle of Chaffin's Farm

On September 28 General Benjamin Butler launched a successful series of assaults along the Confederate lines facing Richmond. General Edward Ord captured Fort Harrison on the 29th and David B. Birney seized the New Market Heights line. On the 30th General Lee launched an unsuccessful counterattack against Fort Harrison.

Peeble's Farm

Main article: Battle of Peeble's Farm

With the Confederates massing reinforcements against Fort Harrison, Grant promptly sent Warren and John G. Parke against the Confederate right flank west of Petersburg. On September 30 the Federals marched west from Poplar Springs Church past the Weldon Railroad. By October 2 the Federals had taken two Confederate forts and broken and overrun one line of Confederate trenches. The Union lines were then extended from the Weldon Railroad to Peeble's Farm.

Boydton Plank Road

Main article: Battle of Boydton Plank Road

A month later Winfield Scott Hancock marched with the II Corps west of Petersburg and assaulted the Boydton Plank Road. The initial attack took the Confederate line. A Confederate counterattack left the II Corps isolated. Hancock was able to fight off the Confederate assault, but his isolated position left him with little choice but to withdraw. The battle had somewhat restored the II Corps' reputation since Reams' Station, but it did mark the last battle for Hancock, who resigned from field command due to injuries sustained at Gettysburg.

1865 and the end of the siege

Hatcher's Run

Main article: Battle of Hatcher's Run

Taking advantage of good weather conditions in early February, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade launched an offensive against the Confederate flank in the vicinity of the previous year's Battle of Boydton Plank Road. Hancock's successor, Andrew A. Humphreys, and Gouverneur K. Warren began crossing Hatcher's Run while David McM. Gregg's cavalry raided Confederate supplies. Gregg's raid failed and the Federal advance was hit by a series of counterattacks, but Humphreys and Warren were able to repulse each of them and extend the Union siege lines west of Hatcher's Run.

Fort Stedman

Main article: Battle of Fort Stedman

As the siege continued, Grant attempted to break or encircle the Confederate forces in multiple attacks moving from east to west, and both armies' lines were stretched out until they surrounded the city. By March 1865, the siege had taken an enormous toll on both armies, and Lee decided to pull out of Petersburg. General John B. Gordon of the Second Corps then devised a plan to have the army attack Fort Stedman on the eastern end of the Union Lines, forcing the Union forces to shorten their lines. Although initially a success, the outnumbered Second Corps was forced back.

(Fort Stedman marked the end of what military historians call the "Richmond-Petersburg Campaign" of 18641865. The remaining actions in the Siege of Petersburg are classified under the Appomattox Campaign.)

Five Forks

Main article: Battle of Five Forks

March also marked the arrival of Union cavalry under the command of General Philip Sheridan to the Petersburg battlefield. Sheridan was tasked with flanking the Confederate army, which forced Lee to send forces under General George Pickett to defend the flank. Grant then deployed the V Corps to cut off Pickett's forces. Although the attack was initially was pushed back, it was saved by forces under General Joshua Chamberlain, and Pickett was forced to withdraw to Five Forks on March 31. In the following days, the V Corps continued to press the attack, flanking Pickett's forces, and destroying the Confederate left. Confederate cavalry under the command of General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee put up a stand against their Union counterparts under the command of Union General George Custer, allowing Pickett's forces to escape.

Fall of Petersburg

Main article: Battle of Petersburg III

After the victory at Five Forks, Ulysses S. Grant ordered an assault along the entire Confederate line. Horatio G. Wright's VI Corps, spearheaded by the Vermont Brigade, made a decisive breakthrough along the Boydton Plank Road line. John Gibbon's XXIV Corps overran Fort Gregg after a heroic Confederate defense. John G. Parke's IX Corps overran the eastern trenches but met with stiff resistance under John B. Gordon. General A.P. Hill was killed while trying to restore the broken Confederate line along the Boydton Plank Road. Hill had earlier vowed that he would never leave the Petersburg defenses. In the following days, Lee pulled his forces out from Petersburg and Richmond, and headed for the west in an attempt to meet up with forces under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina.

See also

External Links


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