Appomattox Campaign

Appomattox Campaign

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee,
Date March 29 – April 9, 1865
Location Virginia
Victor Union victory
Surrender of General Robert E. Lee
Contenders
United States (Union) Confederate States
Military Leaders
Ulysses S. Grant Robert E. Lee
Battles Involved
Battle of Lewis’s Farm (March 29, 1865)
Battle of White Oak Road (March 31)
Battle of Dinwiddie Court House (March 31)
Battle of Five Forks (April 1)
Breakthrough at Petersburg (April 2)
Battle of Sutherland’s Station (April 2)
Battle of Namozine Church (April 3)
Battle of Amelia Springs (April 5)
Battle of Sayler’s Creek (April 6)
Battle of Rice’s Station (April 6)
Battle of Cumberland Church (April 7)
Battle of High Bridge (April 6–7)
Battle of Appomattox Station (April 8)
Battle of Appomattox Court House (April 9)
Part of the American Civil War

The final battles of the American Civil war occurred between March 29 and April 9, 1865 and are referred to as the Appomattox Campaign. Three days later on April 12, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and by this time commander of all remaining Confederate forces, surrendered to the Federal army, whose general-in-chief was Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.

Background to the Campaign

The Appomattox Campaign followed on immediately from the ten month long Siege of Petersburg in Virginia. During the siege, both armies had built an extensive network of defensive trenches stretching almost 35 miles.

The Confederate forces were stretched to the limit trying to defend such a long line, and Lee knew he could not continue his defense indefinitely. On March 25, Lee ordered a surprise offensive in an attempt to break the siege and provide an escape route for his forces.

The Federal forces by that time had succeeded in cutting all but one of the railroads that the Confederates in the area relied on for supplies. Lee knew that if the Union forces managed to cut the one remaining supply line, the South Side Railroad, the Confederate army would be in a hopeless position.

His aim was to try to withdraw his forces to the south and try to link up with Confederate troops in North Carolina under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston.

Johnston’s forces were being pursued by Federal troops under the command of Major General William T. Sherman. Lee hoped that combining his forces with Johnston’s would give them an opportunity to defeat Sherman’s soldiers. The combined Confederate forces might then be able to mount an offensive against Grant’s Army of the Potomac.

On March 25, Lee began his breakout attempt by ordering a surprise attack on Fort Stedman, led by Major General John B. Gordon. In spite of the surprise element of the attack, Federal troops under the command of Major General john G. Parke managed to repel the rebels and the Battle of Fort Stedman resulted in a Federal victory.

Start of the Campaign

On March 29, Federal troops began an attack on Lee’s right flank. The advance was halted the following day by a Confederate counterattack at White Oak Road. Another Union advance near Dinwiddie Court House was halted by the Confederates, who then entrenched themselves at the critical Five Forks road junction.

Five Forks was vital in keeping the Confederates supplied. On April 1, the Battle of Five Forks resulted in a crushing defeat for the Confederates, and they lost control of the junction.

Following this defeat, General Lee told the Confederate government to fall from both the Confederate capital, Richmond, and Petersburg. He wanted the Confederate forces who were defending the two cities to move across the Appomattox River and join up with Lee’s own forces at Amelia Court House. The courthouse stood on the Richmond to Danville railroad. Evacuated supplies could be delivered here.

Supply Problems

Lee arrived at the courthouse on April 4 and discovered that the supplies which were supposed to come from Richmond had not arrived. No supplies had been put on the trains that fled from Richmond, and supplies being sent by road had been captured by Union troops.

Lee, whose army by this stage had been reduced to around 30,000 men, now found he had no provisions with which to feed them. Rather than have his troops march on empty stomachs, he chose to remain in the area and tried to get food by sending out groups of foragers.

The foragers had little success, and the delay resulted in Union cavalry being able to cancel out the advantage Lee’s head start in the retreat had given him. The Union cavalry was now blocking Lee’s route to Danville, and he was forced to turn west to continue his retreat.

The Confederate Commissary General assured Lee that if he could make it to Farmville, which was 25 miles to the west, he would be supplied with rations.

Battle of Sayler’s Creek

At the Battle of Sayler’s Creek on April 6, around 8,000 Confederate soldiers were cut off from the remainder of the Confederate forces and forced to surrender, meaning Lee had lost about a quarter of his remaining soldiers.

On April 7, the Battle of Cumberland Church took place when Federal forces twice tried to dislodge the Confederate men who were entrenched in the area. Because the Union attack resulted in a failure to take the enemy positions, the Battle of Cumberland Church is regarded by historians as the last victory over the Union army by the army of Northern Virginia.

On the same date, Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth was shot by a sniper, two days later he died from the wounds. He was the last Union general to lose his life in the Civil War.

Final Stages

After Lee’s troops had crossed the Appomattox River, in an effort to slow down the Union pursuit they attempted to destroy the bridges behind them by setting them alight. Union soldiers managed to put out the fires on two of the bridges before they were destroyed, and the Federal army was able to continue its relentless pursuit immediately. As a result, Lee was unable to reach Farmville and get the rations that were so vital at this point.

On the night of April 7, Grant sent Lee a letter asking him to surrender and avoid further loss of life. Lee would now have to march his troops an extra 25 miles west to Appomattox Station where supply trains with food and armaments were waiting. Lee still believed he had a chance of reaching Appomattox Station, and did not want to surrender at this point. However, in the hope of delaying further Union offensive action, he did not reject the surrender offer, but instead asked for clarification of the surrender terms.

The following day, any hope Lee had of supplying his beleaguered troops with food and weapons were dashed when Union cavalry under Major General George A. Custer (of Little Big Horn fame) seized and destroyed the supply trains at Appomattox Station. Grant sent another letter to Lee asking him to surrender.

On April 9, Lee made a final effort to escape by attacking Union forces at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. The effort failed and that afternoon, Lee finally surrendered.

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