Battle of Amelia Springs

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Battle of Amelia Springs
Part of the American Civil War
Date April 5, 1865 (1865-04-05)
Location Amelia County, Virginia
Result Inconclusive
Belligerents
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
George Crook[1] Fitzhugh Lee
Thomas L. Rosser [1]
Casualties and losses
158 about 100

The Battle of Amelia Springs, Virginia was a minor engagement that occurred on April 5, 1865 during the Appomattox Campaign of the American Civil War. It was followed by a second rear guard action near the same location on the night of April 5, 1865 and morning of April 6, 1865 during the Union Army pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia which was fleeing westward after the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1865. The actions took place just prior to the Battle of Sayler's Creek (sometimes shown as "Sailor's Creek") on April 6, 1865. That battle would be the last major engagement between the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and the overall direction of Union General-in-Chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee's before that Confederate army's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865.

On April 5, 1865, Confederate cavalry under the command of Brig. Gen. Martin Gary, reinforced by cavalry from the divisions of Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser and Brig. Gen Thomas T. Munford, which were under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, counterattacked a brigade of Union cavalry led by Brig. Gen. Henry E. Davies, Jr..[2][3] Davies's brigade was part of the division commanded by Maj. Gen. George Crook, which in turn was under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan.[2] Davies's force was returning from a scout during which they burned Confederate wagons in the vicinity of Paineville, Virginia (Paineville area of Amelia County, Virginia), about 7 miles (11 km) north of Jetersville, Virginia.[3] The wagons were carrying supplies and equipment for the Army of Northern Virginia. The running fight after the Painesville action started 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Amelia Springs and continued through Amelia Springs almost to Jetersville, Virginia on the South Side Railroad. Jetersville, which was 6 miles (9.7 km) southwest of Amelia Court House, Virginia where Lee's forces were concentrating, had been held by Sheridan's forces since the day before.[4] The battle was inconclusive in that the Confederate forces had to return to Amelia Springs when Davies's troops were able to join with other Union forces as they approached Jetersville. During the night of April 5, 1865, Union Army divisions under the command of Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles and Maj. Gen. Gershom Mott fought a minor and inconclusive action against the Army of Northern Virginia rear guard commanded by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon near Amelia Springs.[5]

Although casualties for both sides in both engagements have been stated to be light and about even at less than 250 combined, the Union commanders reported suffering 158 casualties. The Confederates presumably suffered fewer than 100.[6] In addition, Davies's men took over 300 Confederate prisoners in the Painesville action immediately preceding the counterattack which precipitated the running battle through and beyond Amelia Springs almost to Jetersville.[3][7]

Background[edit]

Overland campaign[edit]

In early May 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Union Army General-in-Chief, directed the Union Armies to make coordinated advances against Confederate forces on several fronts.[8] Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.[9] Grant accompanied Meade's army on the campaign which began on May 4, 1864.[10] At the same time, the Union Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler was directed to march on Richmond from south of the James River. Butler's plan was to move up the James River by boat, land at the lightly defended Bermuda Hundred Plantation near Richmond and cut the railroad lines between Petersburg and Richmond.[11][12]

Siege of Petersburg[edit]

After a series of bloody but inconclusive battles later known as the Overland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac had pushed the Army of Northern Virginia south from the Rapidan River and Rappahannock River line to the outskirts of Richmond.[9] After the failure of the disastrous Union attack on the entrenched Confederates at the Battle of Cold Harbor[13] on June 3, 1864, Grant directed the Army of the Potomac to break contact with the Confederate Army, cross the James River and attack the small Confederate force defending the important railroad center of Petersburg, Virginia, just to the south of Richmond.[9] Union forces nearly overwhelmed this small force but the Confederates were soon reinforced and were able to repulse the Union attack.[9] If Petersburg had fallen, the Confederates would have been unable to supply and hold Richmond, as later events showed.[14] At this time, however, the small force of Confederate defenders held Petersburg against the poorly directed attack of Meade's ineffective subordinates until those defenders could be reinforced by Lee's army.[9] Grant's brilliant tactical improvisation had been thwarted not only by a stout Confederate defense, but also mainly by the inability of subordinates to carry it out.[15] Nonetheless, in mid-June 1864, the Army of the Potomac had the Army of Northern Virginia in a position that required the Confederate army to defend Richmond and Petersburg or to see the Confederacy's capital and a key railroad center fall under Union control. The Army of the Potomac settled into a Siege of Petersburg which was to last until April 2, 1865.[15] Throughout the siege, the Union forces conducted attacks and maneuvers which required the Confederates to spread their weakening army over longer and thinner lines. Finally, the far right western end of the Confederate line broke at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865.[16]

Confederate lines collapse[edit]

The Confederate Army had to hold Five Forks in order to protect the Southside Railroad, their last supply line.[17] On April 1, 1865, at the end of the Siege of Petersburg, Union Army cavalry forces and V Corps infantry forces of the Army of the Potomac under the command of cavalry corps commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, defeated a large force of Confederates from the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia at the western end of the Confederate lines.[16] General Lee had sent this large force to the end of the line to prevent a suspected attempt by the Union forces to attack and turn this segment of the line in order to get behind the Confederate defenses in general. After sustaining about 800 casualties and losing over 5,000 men who were captured, the remaining Confederates retreated from the strategic Five Forks crossroads to Ford's Station or Ford's Meeting House on the Southside Railroad.[18][19]

On April 2, 1865, Grant ordered a general advance all along the Confederate lines, which broke in several places, leading to what is now known as the Fall of Petersburg or Breakthrough at Petersburg or occasionally the Third Battle of Petersburg.[16] Four Confederate brigades stood west of Hatcher's Run and due east of Five Forks along White Oak Road where it is met by Claiborne Road.[20] The attack against these brigades by II Corps of the Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys sent the Confederates into retreat to Sutherland's Station or Sutherland's Depot on the Southside Railroad.[21] Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, who succeeded to corps command upon the death in action of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill on April 1, organized a defense with these brigades but left them under the command of Brig. Gen. John R. Cooke as Heth returned to Petersburg.[22] In the ensuing Battle of Sutherland's Station advanced brigades of the Union infantry division commanded by Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles of Maj. Gen. Humphreys's corps attacked the hastily fortified positions of the Confederate brigades.[22] The Union attackers initially were repulsed with heavy losses.[22] After a second futile attempt to take the Confederate position by two Union brigades, Miles attacked again with his entire force in mid-afternoon and overwhelmed the Confederates.[22] The Union victory at Sutherland's Station started with the collapse of the brigade of Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan on the Confederate left flank.[22][23] As a result of the Confederate defeat, the Southside Railroad, the Confederates' last supply line, was cut and General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had to abandon Petersburg and Richmond and flee westward.[22]

Confederate army flight[edit]

Much of the Army of Northern Virginia as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, were able to escape from Petersburg and Richmond just in advance of the Union troops entering those cities on April 3 because Confederate rear guard forces, especially at Forts Gregg and Whitworth, and Fort Mahone and Sutherland's Station, fought desperate delaying actions on April 2 to give most of the Confederates a head start on Union Army pursuers.[24] General Lee's ultimate intention was to proceed through Danville and then to unite with General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate army, which was attempting to slow the advance of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army in North Carolina.[14][25] First, he planned to reunite the four columns of his army that left Petersburg and Richmond and to resupply at Amelia Court House, Virginia, 39 miles (63 km) southwest of Richmond.[26] Lee's men left their positions in Petersburg and Richmond with only one day's rations.[27] Lee expected to find a supply train of rations that he had ordered brought to Amelia Court House to meet the army at that location.[27][28][29]

Pursuit[edit]

While most of Lee's army had an effective one day head start on their flight, the advance cavalry and infantry corps of the Union Army under the command of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan were able to keep Lee's forces to their north by pursuing Lee on a parallel course to their south.[30][31] Union cavalry harassed and skirmished with Confederate units almost from the outset of Lee's army's march from Petersburg.[32] On April 3, 1865, advance units of the Union cavalry fought with rear guard Confederate cavalry at the Battle of Namozine Church.[30] On April 4, 1865, the opposing forces skirmished at Tabernacle Church or Beaver Pond Creek[33] and at Amelia Court House.[34] Meanwhile, Sheridan's forces occupied Jetersville and Burkeville.[34]

Lee had hoped to find a supply train at Amelia Court House, Virginia, 39 miles (63 km) southwest of Richmond, but when he and his forces arrived there on April 4, 1865, he found that the train contained only ordnance, ammunition, caissons and harnesses.[27][28][35] Lee sent out foraging parties, losing precious time in the process.[36] Some historians have written that the primary cause of the delay at Amelia Court House was a delay in bringing up a pontoon bridge needed to cross rain-swollen rivers.[28] In any event, this delay allowed even more Union troops to catch up to and to get ahead of his hungry, exhausted and declining force. Few supplies could be found in the depleted area near Amelia Court House.[28][37] Lee had to order his hungry men to resume their march in the hope that they could find rations at Farmville, Virginia.[28] By April 4, Sheridan's Union forces had taken advanced positions at Burkeville and at Jetersville, which blocked Lee's access to the Richmond and Danville Railroad and to the direct route southwestward.[28][34][36]

On April 5, 1865, Sheridan ordered Crook to send cavalry patrols north of Jetersville to reconnoiter his left flank.[2][38] At Crook's order, Union Brig. Gen. Henry E. Davies, Jr. took his brigade through Amelia Springs, Virginia and then swung north to the Paineville, Virginia area of Amelia County.[38] About 4 miles (6.4 km) out of Jetersville, Davies attacked a Confederate army wagon train.[5] His men destroyed the wagons, captured equipment and animals and took more than 300 and perhaps as many as 1,000 prisoners.[39] According to some sources, some of these men were armed blacks in Confederate uniforms, the only known instance in Virginia of combat involving organized black Confederate soldiers.[5][40] Some historians specifically reject the claim that these black men were trained and organized combat soldiers and described them simply as teamsters.[41] In his brief account of this action in his biography of General Sheridan, General Davies made no mention of black troops.[42] One of the items burned in the wagons was the war diary for the Army of Northern Virginia.[43]

Upon hearing about Davies's actions, General Lee dispatched two divisions of Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, which joined with Brig. Gen. Martin Gary's cavalry brigade at Paineville, to pursue Davies.[5] Together they engaged Davies's rear guard in a running combat for 3 miles (4.8 km) to Amelia Springs.[5] The Confederates attacked Davies's forces in a mounted combat with drawn sabers, forcing his men to retreat.[5] The Confederates chased Davies's force almost to Jetersville but when Davies's men linked up with other Union Army cavalry of Maj. Gen. Crook's main force, Davies was able to retain his prisoners, mules and cannon and the Confederates returned to Amelia Springs for the night.[3][5] Confederate cavalry continued to skirmish with Union forces at Jetersville and Confederate infantry demonstrated during the afternoon of April 5, 1865.[42][44] The apparent purpose of these actions, after Lee discovered that the road and railroad to Burkeville was blocked by Sheridan's forces at Jetersville, was to cover for the continuing movement of the Confederate army west toward Farmville.[20][42] Lee ordered supplies sent to this location from Lynchburg.[20]

Second engagement, casualties[edit]

During the night of April 5, 1865 and morning of April 6, 1865, General Lee began to march his army from Amelia Court House, through Amelia Springs, toward Farmville.[5] Two Union Army divisions under the command of Brig. Gen, Nelson A. Miles and Maj. Gen. Gershom Mott of the corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys observed the movement on the night of April 5 and pursued the Confederates.[5] The Confederate rear guard under the command of Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon held off the Union Army attack and continued the march west while the Union forces stopped to rest for the night.[5] During the engagement, Maj. Gen. Mott was wounded and Brig. Gen. Regis de Trobriand took command of his division.[5]

Aftermath[edit]

The Union forces suffered between 116 and 158 casualties in the Amelia Springs engagements.[45] Confederate casualties are unknown but have been presumed to be fewer, perhaps less than 100.[5][46] In addition, the Confederates suffered the loss of those soldiers and teamsters captured in the attack on the wagon train at Paineville.

Maj. Gen. Meade thought that the Confederate army remained concentrated at Amelia Court House and, despite the suspicions of Grant and Sheridan that the Confederates had moved on,[47] sent the Army of the Potomac infantry in the direction of Amelia Court House in the morning of April 6, 1865.[42][48] The Union forces soon discovered that Lee had started moving west and changed their direction of march to continue their pursuit.[48] In the afternoon of April 6, 1865, approximately one-fifth[49] the remaining soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia (about 8,000 men, including Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and eight other generals), about one-sixth of the number who had left Richmond and Petersburg, were cut off from the main body of Confederate troops at the Battle of Sayler's Creek (or "Battle of Sailor's Creek") and most were captured.[50] After about five more small engagements over the next three days, with the Army of Northern Virginia melting away, and Union forces surrounding them, General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, about 90 miles (140 km) west of Richmond.[51][52]

Battlefield Today[edit]

The former resort of Amelia Springs has disappeared.[5] The battlefield property is heavily wooded, difficult to interpret, privately owned and apparently in little danger of development.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, Commonwealth of Virginia
  2. ^ a b c Davis, 1981, p. 231
  3. ^ a b c d Longacre, 2000, p. 329
  4. ^ Davis, 1981, pp. 202–203
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Salmon, 2001, p. 476
  6. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 815 says Davies lost 20 men killed and 96 wounded.
  7. ^ Davis, 1981, p. 232 states that Davies took about 1,000 prisoners, five cannons and several hundred thin mules while destroying 180 wagons. This accords with Davies's own brief account of the battle in Davies, 1895, pp. 239–240. Eicher, 2001, p. 815 says that Davies took 700 prisoners and destroyed 200 wagons, including many of Gen. Lee's headquarters papers.
  8. ^ McPherson, 1988, p. 722
  9. ^ a b c d e Woodworth, 2004, p. 216
  10. ^ Woodworth, 2004, p. 236
  11. ^ Woodworth, 2004, p. 242
  12. ^ Grant also directed Union armies under the overall command of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to attack and destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston and to take the important manufacturing city and railroad hub of Atlanta, Georgia. Woodworth, 2004, p. 216. Secondary actions were to include operations by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; by Brig. Gens. George Crook and William W. Averell against railroad supply lines in southwest Virginia and West Virginia; and by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. McPherson, 1988, p. 722. In the event, Butler moved too slowly and was bottled up on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. McPherson, 1988, pp. 723–724. Sigel was defeated at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 and pulled back. McPherson, 1988, p. 724. Banks was delayed by the disastrous Red River Campaign. Woodworth, 2004, pp. 222–223. Nonetheless, the Union Navy under Rear Admiral David Farragut took Mobile Bay and the forts in lower Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. Woodworth, 2004, p. 264. Maj. Gen. Richard Canby, the Union department commander, could spare only enough soldiers to take Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, but not to attack and hold the city of Mobile. Woodworth, 2004, p. 264.
  13. ^ Woodworth, 2004, p. 250
  14. ^ a b Woodworth, 2004, p. 326
  15. ^ a b Woodworth, 2004, pp. 254–255
  16. ^ a b c Woodworth, 2004, p. 302
  17. ^ Kagan, 2008, p. 231
  18. ^ Livermore, 1907, pp. 489, 503
  19. ^ Woodworth, 2004, p. 325
  20. ^ a b c Livermore, 1907, p. 487
  21. ^ Humphreys, 1883, pp. 354–355.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Salmon, 2001, p. 471
  23. ^ Kennedy, 1998, p. 423
  24. ^ Woodworth, 2004, p. 322
  25. ^ Lee also might have had the option of heading west to the Appalachian Mountains where his army might regroup or even begin guerrilla warfare.
  26. ^ Winik, 2006, p. 124
  27. ^ a b c Winik, 2006, p. 127
  28. ^ a b c d e f Kinzer, "Amelia Court House/Jetersville (3–5 April 1865)," 2000, pp. 36-37
  29. ^ Davis, 1981, p. 190
  30. ^ a b Long, 1971, p. 665
  31. ^ Kennedy, 1998, p. 424
  32. ^ Winik, 2006, p. 129
  33. ^ This should not be confused with the 1862 Battle of Beaver Dam Creek or Battle of Mechanicsville.
  34. ^ a b c Long, 1971, p. 666
  35. ^ Davis, 1959, p. 190
  36. ^ a b Salmon, 2001, p. 474
  37. ^ Davis, 1981, p. 192
  38. ^ a b Salmon, 2001, p. 475
  39. ^ Salmon, 2001, p. 476 says that Davies took 600 prisoners. As noted above, Longacre, Davis and Eicher give different figures of 300, 1,000 and 700 prisoners. Davis's figure is based on Davies's own number found at Davies, 1895, p. 240.
  40. ^ A roadside historical marker near Amelia Springs reads in part: "Black Confederates. When Davies attacked Custis Lee's wagon train near Paineville, he encountered gray-uniformed African-American troops who defended the train before surrendering. Described by a Southern officer as "the only company of colored troops in the Confederate service," the soldiers had been recruited in Richmond after February 1865 and promised their freedom. The Paineville clash is one of the few documented engagements in Virginia involving organized black Confederate troops. They symbolized the desperate straits of the Confederacy, which had officially opposed arming blacks. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?MarkerID=28834. Charles Carleton Coffin states in his book Freedom Triumphant, Vol. 7, 1890, that as a reporter he was in Richmond when President Lincoln visited that city on April 3, 1865. He says that he asked a black man whether any black men had enlisted in the Confederate army. The man answered that he reckoned about 50 had done so. Coffin, 1890, p. 440.
  41. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 815; Marvel, 2002, pp. 56, 253
  42. ^ a b c d Davies, 1895, pp. 240–241
  43. ^ "Ehistory Battle Summary". Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  44. ^ Kiefer, 1900, p. 202
  45. ^ Salmon, 2001, p. 476; Eicher, 2001, p. 815
  46. ^ National Park Service estimates give casualty figures of about 250
  47. ^ Livermore, 1907, pp. 496–497
  48. ^ a b Kiefer, 1900, p. 204
  49. ^ Urwin, 2000, p. 1709. Some writers have said the number captured may have been nearly one-third of Lee's remaining effective soldiers but this number appears to be inflated.
  50. ^ Salmon, 2001, pp. 477–478
  51. ^ Salmon, 2001, pp. 487–492
  52. ^ Laskin, 2000, pp. 67–72

References[edit]

The geographical co-ordinates of the location of the Amelia Springs roadside historical marker are 37° 20.023′ N, 78° 6.504′ W. Coordinates: 37°20′04″N 78°04′44″W / 37.3344°N 78.079°W / 37.3344; -78.079