Petersburg National Military Park, Virginia National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 13
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Stewart L. Udall, Secretary
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Conrad L. Wirth, Director
HISTORICAL HANDBOOK NUMBER THIRTEEN
This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing thehistorical and archeological areas in the National Park Systemadministered by the National Park Service of the United StatesDepartment of the Interior. It is printed by the GovernmentPrinting Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent ofDocuments, Washington 25, D. C.
Price 25 cents.
National Military Park, Virginia
by Richard Wayne Lykes
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES NO. 13
Washington, D. C., 1951
The National Park System, of which this area is a unit,is dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, andhistoric heritage of the United States for the benefit andinspiration of its people.
- The Union Strategy of 1864 2
- The Strategic Importance of Petersburg 4
- The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864 8
- First Union Attempt on the Weldon Railroad 11
- The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864 12
- The Fight for the Weldon Railroad 22
- Union Encirclement Continues 25
- The South Strikes Back—the Battle of Fort Stedman 34
- Union Encirclement Becomes a Reality 39
- The Fall of the City 43
- Guide to the Area 46
- How to Reach the Park 55
- Administration 56
- Related Areas 56
- Visitor Facilities 56
TABLE OF EVENTS
I. Events in 1864 Preceding the Campaign
- Mar. 9. U. S. Grant made commander in chief of the Union armies.
- May 4. Butler and the Army of the James capture City Point, Virginia.
- May 5-7. Battle of the Wilderness.
- May 8-19. Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.
- May 23. Battle of North Anna River.
- May 29. Battle of Totopotomoy Creek.
- June 3. Battle of Cold Harbor.
- June 9. Raid by Union cavalry on Petersburg lines.
II. Events in 1864 During the Campaign
- June 15-18. Opening Battle of Petersburg.
- June 22-23. Union attack on Weldon Railroad repulsed.
- July 30. Battle of the Crater.
- Aug. 18-21. Union forces capture the Weldon Railroad.
- Aug. 25. Battle of Reams Station.
- Sept. 14-17. Hampton’s cavalry raid on Union beef supply.
- Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Battle of Peebles’ Farm and Capture of Fort Harrison.
- Oct. 19. Battle of Cedar Creek.
- Oct. 27. Battle of Burgess’ Mill.
III. Events in 1865 During the Campaign
- Feb. 5-7. Battle of the Boydton Plank Road.
- Mar. 25. Battle of Fort Stedman.
- Apr. 1. Battle of Five Forks.
- Apr. 2. General Union attacks on Confederate lines outside Petersburg.
- Apr. 3. Union troops enter Richmond and Petersburg.
- Apr. 9. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Frontispiece: View of Petersburg in 1865 looking southacross the Appomattox River. Courtesy, National Archives.
In the final year of the Civil war in the East, the fighting centered upon Petersburg,an important supply depot for the Richmond area. After 10 months ofcombat, both from behind prepared positions and along the main routes of supply,the Confederates were forced to give up Petersburg and Richmond on April2, 1865. One week later Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia atAppomattox Court House.
By June of 1864, the Civil War lay heavily on both the North and theSouth. For more than 3 years the two antagonists—the Blue and theGray—had struggled to determine the fate of the Union.
The capitals of the embattled forces stood only 110 miles apart. Butthese miles of rolling Virginia countryside which separated Richmondfrom Washington had proven exceedingly difficult for the Union forcesto cross. Various Northern generals had been placed in command of theArmy of the Potomac and had faced Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.So far not one had been successful in destroying Lee’s army or incapturing Richmond.
Perhaps Gen. George B. McClellan had come the closest to successwhen in the late spring and early summer of 1862 the Northern troopshad threatened the Confederate capital, only to be repulsed on the outskirts.The other Northern commanders who followed McClellan, suchas Pope, Burnside, and Hooker, were less successful. Their drives hadbeen met and turned aside by Lee, the able Southern guardian ofRichmond.
After 36 months of bitter conflict the war in the East seemed, to manyobservers, to be far from a final settlement. The failure of Union forcesto deliver a decisive blow against the Army of Northern Virginia was asource of growing concern in Washington. The Confederacy, for its part,was no more successful in settling the issue. Attempted invasions of theNorthern States by Lee were turned back at Antietam in September 1862and at Gettysburg in July 1863.
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Union commanderat Petersburg. Courtesy, National Archives.
Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate commanderat Petersburg. Courtesy, National Archives.
Farther west the picture was brighter for Northern hopes. In the samemonth as the Battle of Gettysburg, the town of Vicksburg, Miss., fellinto Union hands. A few days later, July 9, 1863, Port Hudson, the lastremaining stronghold of the Confederacy on the banks of the MississippiRiver, surrendered. Later in 1863, the Union capture of Chattanooga,Tenn., threw open the gateway to Georgia and South Carolina.
Strategically, despite the stalemate in Virginia, the beginning of 1864found the Northern armies in a stronger position than the Confederatemilitary forces. Not only was there a distinct possibility that the Southcould be split into two parts, but the greater resources at the commandof the Lincoln administration were beginning to count more heavilywith each passing day. All that seemed to be needed to end the war wasan able Union commander who could marshal the mighty resources ofhis country for a last tremendous blow at the South. Such a man wasfound in Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the victor at Vicksburg and Chattanooga,who was made commander in chief of all the Union armies on March9, 1864.
The Union Strategy of 1864
To accomplish the conquest of the Confederacy the Northern plan calledfor a huge two-pronged attack. Gen. William T. Sherman was in commandof the southern prong which was assigned the task of capturingAtlanta, marching to the sea, and then turning north to effect a junctionwith Grant. Opposed to Sherman was the Army of Tennessee led byGen. Joseph E. Johnston.
It was the upper arm of the movement which was directly concernedwith Richmond and Petersburg. This was composed of two armies: theArmy of the Potomac and the Army of the James. It was the task ofthese armies to capture Richmond, crush the Army of Northern Virginia,and march south toward Sherman.
The story of the Army of the James in the early phase of the offensivemay be briefly told. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was ordered to advanceupon Richmond from the south and threaten communications betweenthe Confederate capital and the Southern States. With some 40,000Union troops the advance was begun. City Point, located at the junctionof the James and Appomattox Rivers and soon to be the supply centerfor the attack on Petersburg, was captured on May 4, 1864. Within 2weeks, however, a numerically inferior Confederate force shut up theArmy of the James, “as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked,” inBermuda Hundred, a loop formed by the winding James and AppomattoxRivers. Here Butler waited, while north of him the Army of the Potomacand the Army of Northern Virginia engaged in a series of bloody battles.
THE VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN
- MAY 5-7, 1864
- MAY 8-19, 1864
- COLD HARBOR
- JUNE 3, 1864
- PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN
- JUNE 1864-April 1865
- Five Forks
- April 1, 1865
- AMELIA COURT HOUSE
- SAYLOR’S CREEK
- APRIL 6, 1865
- APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE
- APRIL 9, 1865
The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864, began what proved tobe the start of the final campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia.Here the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Gen. George G. Meadeand numbering approximately 118,000 troops, fought the Confederatedefenders of Richmond. Lee had about 62,000 men with him, while anadditional 30,000 under Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard held the Richmond-Petersburgarea. The battle resulted in a fearful loss of men on bothsides, although the armies remained intact. This was followed by anequally heavy series of engagements around Spotsylvania Court Housefrom May 8 to 19.
Failing to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia in these battles,Grant moved the Army of the Potomac to the east of Richmond. It washis hope that he would outflank the Confederate defenders by persistentnight marches. Lee was not to be so easily outguessed, however, and afterminor battles at the North Anna River (May 23) and Totopotomoy Creek(May 29), Grant arrived at Cold Harbor, about 8 miles east of Richmond.Between him and that city stood Lee’s army. On June 3, 2 daysafter he arrived at Cold Harbor, Grant ordered a direct frontal assault.He was repulsed with heavy losses.
This was the situation at the end of the first month of Grant’scampaign:
1. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties. The approximate percentageof casualties to total strength, including reinforcements, was 31percent for the North and 32 percent for the South.
2. The ability of the Union to refill the depleted ranks was greaterthan that of the Confederacy.
3. The offensive strength of Lee had been sapped. From the time ofthe Battle of Spotsylvania Court House until the end of the war, exceptfor local, small-scale actions, the Army of Northern Virginia was adefensive weapon only. This Army, although hurt, had not been crushed,and the Confederate flag still waved over Richmond.
In June, after Cold Harbor, Grant decided to turn quickly to the southof Richmond and isolate the city and the defending troops by cuttingthe railroads which supplied it. To do this he would need to attackPetersburg.
The Strategic Importance of Petersburg
According to the United States census of 1860, Petersburg was a cityof 18,266 people. It was situated on the southern bank of the AppomattoxRiver less than 8 miles from City Point, the place where the Appomattoxjoins the James; 23 miles north was Richmond. As the war progressedand the territory to the north and east was shut off, Richmond becameincreasingly dependent on Petersburg for supplies. Through it passed aconstant stream of war materials and necessities of life from the Southto sustain the straining war effort. In short, Petersburg was a road andrail center of considerable importance to the Confederacy.
Map showing the network of railroadsand the strategic location of Petersburg toRichmond. The shaded area is the approximateline of Union control in early 1864. The threearrows indicate the major drives planned by theUnion Army for 1864. (Railroads serving Richmondand Petersburg are in heavy lines.)
Railroads and important roads serving Petersburg in1864. The dashed line indicates the originalConfederate defense line built in 1862-63.January 1951, NMP-PET-7006
- Richmond and Petersburg R. R.
- City Point R. R.
- Southside R. R.
- Norfolk and Petersburg R. R.
- Petersburg and Weldon R. R.
- Richmond Turnpike
- CITY POINT ROAD
- JORDAN POINT ROAD
- PRINCE GEORGE C. H. ROAD
- BAXTER ROAD
- JERUSALEM PLANK ROAD
- BOYDTON PLANK ROAD
- ORIGINAL CONFEDERATE LINE
- COX ROAD
- SQUIRREL LEVEL ROAD
- HALIFAX ROAD
- VAUGHAN ROAD
- Confederate defenses
- BATTERY 5
- ORIGINAL CONFEDERATE LINE (THE “DIMMOCK LINE”)
The transportation vehicles of that day did not require the wide,straight highways of the present. However, several good roads came intothe city from the east, south, and west where they effected a junctionwith the Richmond Turnpike. Along these roads passed supply wagons,couriers, and, on occasion, troops on their way to repel the foe. Severalwere built of logs laid across the road to form a hard surface. Because ofthis they were called “plank roads.” Thus two of the most importantarteries of traffic into Petersburg were the Jerusalem Plank Road, connectingPetersburg with Jerusalem (now Courtland), Va., and theBoydton Plank Road which led south through Dinwiddie Court House.Among others of importance were the City Point, Prince George CourtHouse, Baxter, Halifax, Squirrel Level, and Cox Roads.
It was the railroads, more than the highways, however, which imparteda significance to Petersburg out of all proportion to its size. Confederateleaders were painfully aware that