Siege Of Petersburg, a series of operations in the last ten months of the civil war in the United States. After the second battle of Cold Harbor (see Chickahominy) Grant crossed the James, June 12,1864, and took up his position at City Point, at the junction of the Appomattox and the James. Butler, in command of the army of the James, had already established himself close by, to the right, on the peninsula of Bermuda Hundreds. Lee at almost the same time crossed the Chickahominy, and took up a position which covered Richmond from attack on the N. and E, sides of the James. Including the force which he found there, Lee had about 70,000 men, while Grant had about 100,000. The first serious attempt to seize Petersburg was made unsuccessfully on June 15, by the corps of W. F. Smith of the army of the James. Grant directed another attack to be made, on the afternoon of the 16th, by the three corps of Smith, Hancock, and Burnside. The result of a series of engagements which cost the federals 10,268 men (1,198 killed, 6,853 wounded, and 2,217 missing), as stated by Grant, was that "the enemy was merely forced into an interior position, .... and the army proceeded to envelop Petersburg." Lee, leaving not quite half his force near Richmond, took the remainder to Petersburg; and his lines gradually grew in extent and strength, encircling the city on the east, south, and southwest.
The actual siege began on June 19. Grant's first effort (June 21) was to seize the Weldon railroad. This attempt was committed to the corps of Wright and that of Hancock, now temporarily commanded by Birney. The effort was abandoned after a loss of about 3,000 men. Simultaneously with this attempt, Wilson with about 8,000 cavalry tore up the Weldon, South Side, and Danville railroads for many miles, so that the confederate army was reduced to sore straits for lack of supplies. Late in July a part of the Union army had crossed the James and intrenched itself at Deep Bottom, where it directly threatened Richmond. Grant hoped to induce Lee to send thither a part of his force at Petersburg. That accomplished, an attack upon the latter place was to be commenced by the explosion of a mine which had been dug by Burnside's direction. This mine, extending under a fort which occupied a salient position in the confederate lines, consisted of a gallery 520 ft. long, terminating in lateral branches 40 ft. in either direction. Directly behind this fort was Cemetery hill, which completely commanded Petersburg. Grant ordered the mine to be charged with 8,000 lbs. of powder, and if the confederate works should be destroyed by the explosion, Burnside was to be followed up by other corps.
The mine was exploded about daybreak of July 30. The fort was blown up, carrying with it its garrison, a South Carolina regiment of a few hundred men, leaving a crater 200 ft. long, 60 ft. wide, and 30 ft. deep. The confederates fled from their works on either hand. The sides of the crater were so rough and steep that it was impossible to mount them in military order; a single Union regiment climbed up and made for Cemetery hill; but not being followed by others, they fell back into the crater. The confederates began to pour in shell, and planted guns so as to command the approach. After four hours of ineffectual effort the Union forces were withdrawn, leaving 1,900 men prisoners to the confederates. The entire Union loss in this attempt was about 4,000; the confederate loss appears not to have reached 1,000. Months of indecisive operations now ensued, Lee steadily foiling Grant's attempts to get possession of the railroads on the south and southwest. Butler endeavored to cut at Dutch Gap a shorter approach to Richmond by water, but this led to no important result.
Early in February, 1865, an unsuccessful attack was made upon the extreme confederate right by Warren's corps and that of Hancock, now commanded by Humphreys. The Union loss was 2,000, that of the confederates about half as many. At the opening of spring the confederacy was practically limited to the southern third of Virginia and the northern third of North Carolina. Here Lee and Johnston had barely 100,000 men against the armies of Grant, Sherman, and Schofield, and the ample reenforcements on which they could reckon. Lee resolved to abandon Petersburg and Richmond, and to unite with Johnston somewhere on the borders of Virginia and North Carolina, but waited for practicable roads and new depots of supplies. On March 24 Grant issued orders for a movement to be commenced on the 29th against the extreme confederate right. Lee planned an offensive operation which would facilitate his own withdrawal; this was to pierce the lines near the Union right. Early on March 25 squads of men announcing themselves as deserters approached the Union lines; this had now become common, and no suspicions were aroused. These squads suddenly dashed upon the Union pickets and overpowered them.
Then the confederate abatis were thrown down, and a column of 5,000 rushed out and seized Fort Steadman and some works on either side. The Union batteries from all sides began to play upon the fort, which was speedily retaken, and of the 5,000 confederates hardly 2,000 regained their lines. The entire confederate loss this day was about 4,500, that of the federals 2,034, nearly half of whom were prisoners. In pursuance of the order of the 24th, Sheridan with his cavalry moved by a wide detour toward the extreme confederate right. The infantry movement began on the morning of the 29th. Including Sheridan's 10,000 cavalry, the moving force was about 50,000. Stripping his intrenchments so that he left barely 10,000 men to hold lines ten miles long, Lee collected 15,000 or 20,000 men to oppose the enemy. They did not move until nightfall, but during the night a furious storm set in which lasted all the next day, making the roads almost impassable. Sheridan and Warren, however, worked their way a little onward, both heading toward the Five Forks, where the confederates had some slight works isolated from the main line. The confederates reached the Five Forks on the morning of the 31st, partly by the White Oak road, which they tried to hold.
But Warren had already worked his way up to this road, and a severe struggle here ensued. After some apparent success the confederates suddenly fell back and disappeared, hastening to face Sheridan, who had pushed a part of his cavalry up to the Five Forks, from which he drove the enemy. Lee moved down the road, regained the Forks, and drove Sheridan back to Dinwiddie Court House, where a stand was made. Early on the morning of April 1 Warren had concentrated his corps within three miles of the Forks. Sheridan, who took command of both cavalry and infantry, completed his arrangements late in the afternoon, and two hours before sunset Warren moved upon the Forks, and forced the enemy into their works and then out of them. They made an ineffectual stand about a mile distant, but were routed and fled in confusion, pursued for miles by Sheridan's cavalry, who had also borne an important part in the action. The two strong divisions upon which Lee had mainly counted for the salvation of his army were annihilated. The Union loss was about 1,000. The confederate loss in killed and wounded is unknown, but they lost 5,000 or 6,000 prisoners.
To prevent Lee from falling with his whole force upon Sheridan's command, a heavy bombardment was opened upon Petersburg, and a general assault was made at daybreak. The principal resistance was met in one of a chain of strong forts in rear of the lines, in which was a garrison of not more than 250 men. The fort was captured with a loss of 500 men; of the defenders only about 30 escaped. Lee concentrated the remnant of his army, and telegraphed to Richmond that he should abandon Petersburg and the capital that night. He still had about 40,000 men, but they were widely scattered. At 2 o'clock of the morning of April 3 the confederate pickets were still out; but the retreat was begun some hours before, and by 3 o'clock the confederate troops were all safely across the Appomattox, burning the bridge behind them, and blowing up the magazines on the whole line to Richmond. Parke's corps advanced, and were met by the mayor, who formally surrendered the city. At half past 4 the Union flag was raised over the court house. To unite their forces Lee marched N. W. from Petersburg, and Longstreet S. W. from Richmond, coming together at Chesterfield Court House. They then moved westward.
Grant pursued by roads parallel to theirs, hoping to intercept them before they should reach Burkesville, at the crossing of the Danville and South Side railroads, 52 m. W. of Petersburg. Lee had ordered a provision train to meet him at Amelia Court House, but when it reached the place it was met by orders to proceed to Richmond to bring off the persons and archives of the government. The train went on without unloading, so that when Lee arrived he found no rations for his famishing troops, and he had to halt and break up his army into foraging squads. This unexpected delay proved fatal, and resulted in the surrender at Appomattox Court House, April 9.