The Appomattox Campaign
March 25 - April 9, 1865
The final campaign of the Army of Northern Virginia began March 25,1865, when Gen. Robert E. Lee sought to break Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's ever-tightening stranglehold at Petersburg, Va., by attacking the Federal position at Fort Stedman. The assault failed, and when Grant counterattacked a week later at Five Forks, 1-2 April, the thin Confederate line snapped, and Lees skeleton forces abandoned Richmond and Petersburg. The Confederate retreat began southwestward as Lee sought to use the still-operational Richmond & Danville Railroad. At its western terminus at Danville he would unite with Gen. Joseph F. Johnston's army, which was retiring up through North Carolina. Taking maximum advantage of Danville's hilly terrain, the 2 Southern forces would make a determined stand against the converging armies of Grant and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. But Grant moved too fast for the plan to materialize, and Lee waited 24 hours in vain at Amelia Court House for trains to arrive with badly needed supplies. Federal cavalry, meanwhile, sped forward and cut the Richmond & Danville at Jetersville. Lee had to abandon the railroad, and his army stumbled across rolling country in an effort to reach Lynchburg, another supply base that could be defended. Union horsemen seized the vital rail junction at Burkeville as Federal infantry continued to dog the Confederates.
On 6 Apr. almost one-fourth of Lees army was trapped and captured at Sayler's Creek. Lee, at Farmville when he received news of the disaster, led his remaining 30,000 men in a north-by-west arc across the Appomattox River and toward Lynchburg. In the meantime, Grant, with 4 times as many men, sent Maj. Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan's cavalry and most of 2 infantry corps on a hard, due-west march from Farmville to Appomattox Station. Reaching the railroad first the Federals blocked Lees only line of advance.
On the morning of 9 Apr. Confederate probes tested the Union lines and found them to be too strong. Lees options were now gone. That afternoon, "Palm Sunday", Lee met Grant in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean's home to discuss peace terms.
The actual surrender of the Confederate Army occurred 12 Apr., an overcast Wednesday. As Southern troops marched past silent lines of Federals, a Union general noted "an awed stillness, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead."
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War"
This page last updated 02/03/02