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The Petersburg Campaign

By Edited May 24, 2015 0 1

The Campaign

 

Cold Harbor to Petersburg

On June 3rd 1864, General Grant launched a frontal assualt on Robert E. Lee's forces at Cold Harbor, just miles away from Richmond.  The attack was devastating, and Grant was labeled a 'butcher' in the northern newspapers.  The failure to take Richmond and defeat Lee was another Northern 'inconclusive-defeat' suffered during the 6-week Overlord Campaign. 

However, unlike other Northern Generals in the Civil War who either did not pursue Lee or retreated after a setback, Grant pushed on and crossed the James River, below Cold Harbor.  This forced Lee into a cruncible.  He had to defeat the Confederate Capitol, which consequently meant defending the lifeblood to his army and Richmond.. Petersburg. 

Petersburg was of great importance to the Confederate Government at Richmond because it was a major railway, that connected the Souther Confederacy, to it's capitol along the James River at Richmond Virginia.  Grant knew that if Petersburg collapsed, then Richmond would also fall.  Grant was a master of seige warfare and had already proven himself at Vicksburg, when he took the heavily fortified city and caputred an entire Western Confederate army.  However, the seige at Petersburg would last much longer. 

The Seige

If Gettysburg was the beginning of the end, then the seige at Petersburg was the end of the Civil War.   Grant would lay seige to the city and rail network for nearly nine months.  At Hopewell, a massive dockyard would be constructed so ammunition, fresh troops, and rations could be poured into the Federal lines.   Troops would be sent in to replenish dead and wounded Federal soldiers.  The Confederates on the other hand were out of soldiers by this point.  Years of mandatory conscription policies had left a South, lacking of able bodied young men.  During this phase of the conflict, increasingly older men and young boys were poured into the seige lines.  However, many would desert in the cold winter months and return to their families who were under threat from every corner of the Confederacy.  General Sherman was ravanging the south and Sheridan was marching through Northern Virginia unopposed.  The men of the Confederacy began to desert to return home and protect their families. 

While General Grant could not force a breakthrough, he could force General Lee to defeat Richmond and thus rendering the rest of Virginia open for invasions from other Union forces.  Finally in March of 1865, General Lee ordered an attack on Fort Stedman, a Union position in the center of the line, with the hope of breaking out and reaching Hopewell.  If they could take the Union port at Hopewell and cut the Union army in half, then they might stand a chance and be able to defeat Grant. 

While the attack had some initial success, it failed because by this point the Army of Northern Virginia had dwindled to barely 30,000 men.  Lee simply did not have enough troops to take the Union position.  A few days later Grant would order an attack against the Confederate position, which finally broke through at "five forks".  This attack forced Lee to retreat. 

Aftermath

The aftermath saw the collapse of the Confederate lines at Petersburg, and the abandonment of Richmond.  The Confederate government was forced to flee the city, as Lee marched to the west with the hope of linking up with Joe Johnston's army in North Carolina.  Ultimately, Lee would be surronded at Appamatox and surrendered to Grant.  After Lee surrendered, Confederate holdouts across the south surrendered, ending the Civil War.

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Comments

Jul 24, 2011 10:41pm
Tessor
It amazes me that the Confederates were able to hold out as long as they did before being vanquished. I don't necessarily agree with their cause, but their military expertise was impressive. The Petersburg campaign almost seems like a prelude to WWI's trench warfare.
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