The Appomattox Campaign was a series of battles fought March 29 – April 9, 1865, 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.
At the conclusion of the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (also known as the Siege of Petersburg), Lee's army was outnumbered and exhausted from a winter of trench warfare over a 30 mi (48 km) front, numerous battles, disease, and desertion. At the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, Union forces under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut the final railroad line supplying Lee's army in Petersburg, and ordered a general assault along the Petersburg fortification line. On April 2, Grant's army achieved a breakthrough of the lines in the Third Battle of Petersburg, which prompted Lee to order the evacuation of both Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond on the night of April 2–3.
Lee hoped to withdraw to the southwest and unite his army with Confederate forces in North Carolina, but Grant's army pursued relentlessly. On April 6, Lee's army suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Sayler's Creek, but continued to move to the west in an attempt to elude the Union Army. Cornered, outnumbered, and short of supplies, Lee finally agreed to surrender his army on April 9 at Appomattox Court House.
- 1 Background
- 2 Opposing forces
- 3 Union offensive
- 4 Confederate retreat
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Classifying the campaigns
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Siege of Petersburg
The Siege of Petersburg began after the Overland Campaign and at the end of Grant's first offensive at Petersburg, known as the Second Battle of Petersburg, on June 18, 1864. The Union Army was strong enough to pin down most of the Army of Northern Virginia to trenches and fortifcations from northeast of Richmond to southwest of Petersburg but not large enough or strong enough to cut all routes of supply to Petersburg and Richmond or to turn the Confederate Army out of its defenses. The Confederate Army was strong enough to detach some units for independent operations early in the Siege but not large enough to send a field army out to fight a major battle with the Union force that might compel it to retreat.
Grant launched five more offensives at Petersburg during the remaining months of 1864, another in February 1865, and two more at the end of March and beginning of April 1865, with the objectives of cutting off Confederate supplies and forcing the Army of Northern Virginia to extend and eventually to give up their overstretched lines. He wanted to wear down the Confederate Army, cut their sources and routes of supply both near Petersburg and in more distant locations and to extend the Confederate lines to the breaking point.
As Grant slowly moved his forces to the west over the winter, the Confederates extended their lines to compensate, but they were stretched increasingly thin. Lee knew that his army could not survive the siege indefinitely and looked for ways to escape from the Petersburg trap as spring arrived, the winter and early spring rains diminished, the local road system became passable again and Union reinforcements had not yet arrived. Sherman's operations in the Carolinas were already cutting Lee's supply lines and making his position at Petersburg increasingly untenable.
Lee determined to break out of the Richmond and Petersburg lines, resupply his increasingly hungry and ill-supplied troops at Lynchburg, Virginia or if necessary at Danville, Virginia and join his army with that of General Joseph E. Johnston in opposition first to Sherman's army, then possibly in opposition to Grant's. Lee's opening move was to attack the Union's Fort Stedman in an effort to break through the Union lines or, more likely, to compel Grant to shorten his lines and give Lee more of an opening and head start in a movement to the west.
Battle of Fort Stedman
Before Grant could make his move against the Confederates in an eighth offensive at the end of March 1865, Lee's forces, led by Major General John B. Gordon, attempted to break the siege along a narrow front near Fort Stedman, south of Petersburg. After some initial success under the leadership of Major General John B. Gordon, the Confederates were defeated at the Battle of Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 and forced to return to their lines and give up their advance picket line while suffering about 4,000 casualties which they could ill afford. The United States National Park Service and some historians consider the Battle of Fort Stedman to have been the concluding battle of the Siege of Petersburg. After the defeat at Fort Stedman, Lee knew that Grant would soon move against the only remaining Confederate supply lines to Petersburg, the Southside Railroad and the Boydton Plank Road.
Grant's initial orders for March 29 movements
Grant already had issued orders on March 24, 1865 for an offensive to begin on March 29. Sheridan's cavalry would move to cut the two remaining open railroads the Southside and the Richmond and Danville Railroads while infantry would be moved to the Union Army left, to the southwest of Petersburg, in order to turn the Confederates out of their positions. On March 28, Grant clarified to Sheridan that Sheridan should lead his troops around the far right flank of the Confederate Army and fight the Confederates with Union infantry support if the Confederates came out of their trenches. Otherwise, Sheridan should wreck the two open Confederate railroads and either return to the Army of the Potomac or join Sherman in North Carolina at his discretion.
Grant ordered two corps of the Army of the Potomac, the V Corps under Major General Gouverneur K. Warren and the II Corps under Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, to support Sheridan and to outflank the Confederates at the western end of their line. Grant instructed Warren to move toward Dinwiddie Court House via the Vaughan Road at 3:00 a.m. on March 29 while Humphreys would move at 9:00 a.m. to form a line on the right of Warren's corps from the Quaker-Vaughan roads intersection to Hatcher's Run. Grant told Warren that after making that move his corps should move to the Boydton Plank Road, with Humphreys's corps to the right, and advance northeast. Four divisions of Major General John Gibbon's Twenty-Fourth Corps of the Army of the James, then under the overall command of Major General Edward Ord, would move from the Richmond lines to fill in the Petersburg lines being vacated by the Second Corps.
Lewis's Farm (March 29, 1865)
Warren's Fifth Corps, followed by Humphrey's Second Corps, and further to the south, Sheridan's cavalry corps, began to move to the south and west early on March 29, 1865. Their mission was to cut the Confederate supply lines of the Boydton Plank Road, Southside Railroad and Richmond and Danville Railroad and to outflank the Confederates on their western (right) flank south of Petersburg. Under revised orders, Warren sent Brigadier General and Brevet Major General Charles Griffin's First Division north on the Quaker Road toward the intersection with the Boydton Plank Road and the Confederate-held White Oak Road Line near the end of their line. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain's First Brigade led the advance.
Across Rowanty Creek at the Lewis Farm, Chamberlain's men encountered brigades of Brigadier Generals Henry A. Wise, William Henry Wallace and Young Marshall Moody which had been sent by Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and division commander Major General Bushrod Johnson to turn back the Union advance. A back-and-forth battle ensued during which Chamberlain was wounded and was almost captured. Chamberlain's brigade, reinforced by a four-gun artillery battery and regiments from the brigades of Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Edgar M. Gregory and Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Alfred L. Pearson, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor, drove the Confederates back to their White Oak Road Line. Casualties for both sides were nearly even at 381 for the Union and 371 for the Confederates.
After the battle, Griffin's division moved up to occupy the junction of the Quaker Road and Boydton Plank Road near the end of the Confederate White Oak Road Line. Late in the afternoon, Sheridan's cavalry occupied Dinwiddie Court House on the Boydton Plank Road without opposition. The Union forces had cut the Boydton Plank Road in two places and were close to the Confederate line and in a strong position to attack the two remaining Confederate railroad connections with Petersburg and Richmond. They were also in position to move a large force against the Confederate flank and the crucial road junction at Five Forks in Dinwiddie County to which Lee was just sending defenders.
White Oak Road (March 31)
On March 30, Lee shifted reinforcements to meet the Federal movement to turn his right flank, placing Maj. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's cavalry divisions at Five Forks and transferring Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division from the Bermuda Hundred front to the extreme right. Warren pushed the V Corps forward and entrenched a line to cover the Boydton Plank Road from its intersection with Dabney Mill Road south to Gravelly Run. Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres's division advanced northwest toward White Oak Road. On March 31, in combination with Sheridan's thrust via Dinwiddie Court House, Warren directed his corps against the Confederate entrenchments along White Oak Road, hoping to cut Lee's communications with Pickett at Five Forks. The Union advance was stalled by a crushing counterattack directed by Bushrod Johnson, but Warren's position stabilized and his soldiers closed on the road by day's end. This fighting set up the Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1.
Dinwiddie Court House (March 31)
On March 31, Rooney Lee's cavalry and Pickett's infantry division met the Union vanguard north and northwest of Dinwiddie Court House and drove it back, temporarily stalling Sheridan's movement. With Union infantry approaching from the east, Pickett withdrew before daybreak to entrench at the vital road junction at Five Forks. Lee ordered Pickett to hold this intersection at all hazards.
Five Forks (April 1)
In the decisive battle of the 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. 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.
Breakthrough at Petersburg (April 2)
Back at the entrenchments around Petersburg, Grant ordered a general assault against the Petersburg lines by the II, VI Corps, IX, and XXIV Corps on April 2. A heroic defense of Fort Gregg by a handful of Confederates prevented the Federals from entering the city that night. Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill was killed trying to reach his troops in the confusion. After dark, Lee ordered the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond.
Sutherland's Station (April 2)
The Union finally seized the Southside Railroad, cutting off Lee's supplies. 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.
Namozine Church (April 3)
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 tactical error on Lee's part allowed Union cavalry time to erase Lee's head start in his retreat.
Amelia Springs (April 5)
Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee and Thomas L. Rosser assaulted Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Crook as they returned from burning Confederate wagons at Painesville. This running fight started north of Amelia Springs and pushed through and beyond Jetersville. 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 mi (40 km) to the west.
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, Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys (II Corps), and Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright (VI Corps). Many of the Confederate supply trains were also captured. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who surrendered, was among eight Confederate general officer casualties. This action was considered the death knell of the Confederate army. Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed "My God, has the army dissolved?" 
Rice's Station (April 6)
Longstreet's command reached Rice's Station, its farthest point south, where it was blocked by the Union XXIV Corps. After some skirmishing, Longstreet withdrew over the High Bridge during the night toward Farmville.
Cumberland Church (April 7)
At about 2 p.m. on April 7, the advance of the Union II Corps encountered Confederate forces entrenched on high ground near Cumberland Church. The Union forces attacked twice but were repulsed, and darkness halted the conflict. Union Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smythe was mortally wounded nearby (the last Union general killed in the war), and Brig. Gen. John Irvin Gregg was captured north of Farmville.
High Bridge (April 6–7)
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. Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry 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 mi (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.
Appomattox Station (April 8)
The cavalry division of Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer seized a supply train and 25 guns, effectively blocking Lee's path. This unique action pitted artillery without infantry support against cavalry. Custer captured and burned three trains loaded with provisions for Lee's army. Grant sent a letter to Lee offering generous surrender terms, as urged by President Abraham Lincoln, and proposing a meeting to discuss them.
Appomattox Court House (April 9)
In Lee's final stand, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's depleted corps and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry formed line of battle at Appomattox Court House. Robert E. Lee determined to make one last attempt to escape the closing Union pincers and reach his supplies at Lynchburg. At dawn the Confederates advanced, initially driving back Sheridan's cavalry. However, the arrival of Grant's infantry—the Union V Corps—stopped the advance in its tracks. Lee's outnumbered army was now surrounded on three sides. Lee surrendered his army at 3 p.m., accepting the terms Grant had proposed by letter the previous day.
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. With no chance remaining for eventual victory, all of the remaining armies capitulated by June 1865.
Confederate casualties in the campaign are difficult to estimate because many of their records are lost and reports were not always submitted. National Park Service historian Chris M. Calkins estimates 6,266 killed and wounded, 19,132 captured; surrendering at Appomattox Court House were 22,349 infantry, 1,559 cavalry, and 2,576 artillery troops. William Marvel has written that many of the Confederate veterans bemoaned that there were only "8,000 muskets" available at the end against the enormous Union Army, but this figure deliberately ignores cavalry and artillery strength and is much lower than the total number of men who received certificates of parole. Many men who had slipped away from the army during the retreat later returned to receive the official Federal paperwork allowing them to return to their homes unmolested. Union casualties for the campaign were about 9,700 killed, wounded, and missing or captured.
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's American Battlefield Protection Program.
An alternative classification is maintained by West Point; in their Atlas of American Wars (Esposito, 1959), the Siege of Petersburg ends with the Union assault and breakthrough of April 2. The remainder of the war in Virginia is classified as "Grant's Pursuit of Lee to Appomattox Court House (3–9 April 1865)".
- Hess, Earl J. In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8078-3282-0. pp. 18–37.
- Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-252-00918-1. p. 593.
- Stoker, Donald. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-537-305-9. pp. 367, 372–373, 384.
- Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861–1865. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-253-33738-0. p. 336.
- Hess, 2009, pp. 18–37.
- Sommers, Richard J. Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981. ISBN 978-0-385-15626-4. p. 2.
- Beringer, Richard E., Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still, Jr. Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8203-0815-3. pp. 331–332.
- Trudeau, Noah Andre. The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864–April 1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8071-1861-3. p. 18.
- Weigley, 2000, p. 432.
- Trudeau, 1991, pp. 324–325.
- Greene, A. Wilson. The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-57233-610-0. p. 111
- Hattaway, 1983, pp. 669–671.
- Greene, 2008, p. 154.
- Calkins, 1997, pp. 14, 16.
- Hess, 2009, p. 253.
- Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Appomattox: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations During the Civil War's Climactic Campaign, March 27 – April 9, 1865. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8117-0051-1. p. 39.
- Greene, 2008, p. 108.
- Davis, William C. An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2001. ISBN 978-0-15-100564-2. p. 49.
- Trudeau, 1991, pp. 337–352.
- Historian Earl J. Hess describes the Union Army offensive at the end of March and beginning of April 1865, which brought success with the crushing of the extended Confederate right flank at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865 as the eighth offensive. Hess, 2009, pp. 260–263. Hess characterizes the Third Battle of Petersburg or Breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865 as Grant's ninth offensive at Petersburg. Hess, 2009, p. 264.
- Greene, 2008, pp. 114–115.
- National Park Service Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign (Eastern Theater).
- Calkins, 1997, p. 12, states that Grant's orders of March 24, 1865 to Meade, Sheridan and Ord to begin operations on March 29 that would start the Appomattox Campaign.
- Greene, 2008, p. 154.
- Calkins, 1997, p. 16.
- Greene, 2008, p. 152.
- Hess, 2009, pp. 254–255.
- Greene, 2009, pp. 155–158.
- Trulock, Alice Rains. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8078-2020-2. p. 230.
- Greene, 2009, p. 158.
- Hess, 2009, pp. 255–260.
- Calkins, 1997, pp. 20–21.
- Trulock, 1992, pp. 231–238.
- Salmon, John S., The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide, Stackpole Books, 2001, ISBN 0-8117-2868-4. p. 459.
- Greene, 2009, p. 162.
- Calkins, 1997, p. 21.
- Hess, 2009, pp. 255–260.
- NPS White Oak Road
- NPS Dinwiddie Court House
- NPS Five Forks
- NPS Petersburg III
- NPS Sutherland's Station
- NPS Namozine Church
- NPS Amelia Springs
- NPS Sayler's Creek
- NPS Rice's Station
- NPS Cumberland Church
- NPS High Bridge
- NPS Appomattox Station
- NPS Appomattox Court House
- Calkins, p. 200.
- Marvel, p. xi.
- Calkins, pp. 201-02.
- NPS campaigns. The references by Kennedy and Salmon also use this classification. The Calkins reference uses it for the Appomattox Campaign. Other references typically do not explicitly establish precise dates.
- Esposito, maps 138-44.
- Beringer, Richard E., Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still, Jr. Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8203-0815-3.
- Calkins, Chris. The Appomattox Campaign, March 29 – April 9, 1865. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-938289-54-8.
- Davis, Burke. To Appomattox: Nine April Days, 1865. New York: Eastern Acorn Press reprint, 1981. ISBN 0-915992-17-5. First published New York: Rinehart, 1959.
- Davis, William C. An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2001. ISBN 978-0-15-100564-2.
- Esposito, Vincent J. West Point Atlas of American Wars. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959. OCLC 5890637. The collection of maps (without explanatory text) is available online at the West Point website.
- Greene, A. Wilson. The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-57233-610-0.
- Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-252-00918-1.
- Hess, Earl J. In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8078-3282-0.
- Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
- Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Appomattox: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations During the Civil War's Climactic Campaign, March 27 – April 9, 1865. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8117-0051-1.
- Marvel, William. Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-8078-5703-8.
- McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-19-503863-0.
- National Park Service Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign (Eastern Theater)
- Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8117-2868-4.
- Sommers, Richard J. Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981. ISBN 978-0-385-15626-4.
- Stoker, Donald. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-537-305-9.
- Trudeau, Noah Andre. The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864–April 1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8071-1861-3.
- Trulock, Alice Rains. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8078-2020-2.
- Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861–1865. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-253-33738-0.
- Winik, Jay. April 1865: The Month That Saved America. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 978-0-06-089968-4. First published 2001.
- Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1953. ISBN 0-385-04451-8.
- Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Vol. 3, Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1974. ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
- The Battle of Sailor's Creek: Battle maps, history articles, photos, and preservation news (Civil War Trust)
- National Park Service: Appomattox Court House
- Appomattox Campaign in Encyclopedia Virginia
- Civil War Traveler site on the Appomattox Campaign