History : Apr-May 2015
82 APRIL/MAY 2015 defeat Sherman, then march back to Virginia and deal with Grant. The Northern will to win would be broken at last, and the South would be free. It was sheer fantasy, but so long as Lee’s army remained in the field, people who needed to could believe in it. After all, if Lee’s army could prevent Grant from taking Richmond for months, despite being massively outnumbered and outgunned, anything might be possible. But when the end came, it came quickly. In just nine days, Lee’s army tried to flee, but in- stead it found itself trapped by overwhelming numbers. Surrounded on all sides, desperately hungry, depleted, and demoralized, they were comprehensively and suddenly defeated. Over the winter, desertion and disease had steadily drained the last strength from Lee’s army. By March 1865 he had a long defensive line and barely a thou- sand men per mile to hold it. The on- ly question was whether Lee’s men could escape to fight another day, before they were finally over- whelmed. On March 25 Lee or- dered a surprise attack on the Union-held Fort Stedman, east of Petersburg, in the hope that he would draw Union forces east, giving the rest of the Confederate Army half a chance to escape to the west. Union forces rolled back the Confed- erate assault with ease. On March 31 there were fleeting, faint echoes of past Confederate suc- cess, as the first waves of Union attackers were given hard fights. But on April 1, at the battle of Five Forks, Grant made the vital breakthrough, tak- ing control of the railroad that connected Petersburg to Richmond. Despite disarray among the attackers, the Confederate lines were finally broken. The Confederate Collapse Confederate President Jefferson Davis was in church on the morn- ing of Sunday, April 2, when news reached him that the government had only a few hours to evacuate the city. THE BATTLE OF FIVE FORKS The capture of Five Forks crossroads by Union troops deprived Lee of any way to supply his defensive lines, and he was forced to abandon them. This left Richmond utterly exposed to a Union attack. LEE’S RETREAT FROM PETERSBURG TO APPOMATTOX The Confederates’ last hope was for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to retreat and join up with Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Army of North Carolina. Lee’s hungry and exhausted army of around 30,000 men was vigorously pursued by over 100,000 Union troops in a desperate race to reach a railhead that could carry them to safety. Union Army Confederate Army Battle Town Railroad Union troops enter Richmond in the morning and take control of the still smoldering former Confederate capital. At Namozine Church, Union and Confederate cavalry clash inconclusively. Sheridan’s cavalry beats Lee’s army to Appomattox Station, seizing its supplies and cutting the Confederates’ last practical line of retreat. Lee now sees no option but to seek surrender terms from Grant. April 8 Longstreet tries to burn the bridges across the Appomattox River but is beaten at High Bridge. Lee continues toward Appomattox Station, fighting rearguard actions at Farmville and Cumberland Church. April 7 At Sayler’s Creek Sheridan’s cavalry cuts off Ewell and Anderson. With Union infantry pressing their rear, nearly 8,000 Confederates surrender. Longstreet’s move south is blocked at Rice’s Station. April 6 April 5 At dawn the Union Army attacks Petersburg in force. Lee’s depleted army makes a spirited defense, which buys time for Lee to retreat west. Richmond is evacuated and the city torched overnight. April 2 April 3 BRIDGEMAN/INDEX While Union cavalry harass Confederate forces around Amelia Courthouse. Sheridan’s cavalry takes the crucial railhead at Jetersville. This blocks Lee’s route south and forces Lee to retreat even farther west.