Battle of Petersburg (June 9th, 1864-March 25th, 1865)

Petersburg had five railroads and several key roadways making it an important supply center for the Confederacy, particularly for Richmond, the Confederate Capital. While many in the North felt that taking Richmond was the key to winning the war, General Grant knew that he had to destroy Lee's army and that if he could take Petersburg, Richmond would fall.

After Grant's crushing loss at Cold Harbor he knew direct assualt on Richmond would be pointless and began to move his main army to Petersburg. From June 15-18, 1864 Grant threw his army against Petersburg and it might have fallen, but after the defeat at Cold Harbor the Federal officers and soldiers were not as aggressive and allowed a greatly out-numbered, but well entrenched Confederate army to hold the city. After four days of fighting with no success Grant began siege operations. The siege at Petersburg is was the longest siege in American war history. Grant was also very patient and planned well. Almost every time he attacked at Petersburg he would also have manuevers against Richmond 25 miles to the north. This kept the Confederate soldiers and resources spread across a wide front. This approach allowed Grant to gradually encricle Petersburg and cut the Confederate supply lines. For soldiers on both sides the siege was almost ten months of gun fire, artillery and mortar fire, bad food and bad coffee. By October the Union had cut off the Weldon Railroad. With the approach of winter the fighting slowed down, but there was daily skirmished, sharpshooters firing and shelling.

By February Lee's 60,000 soliders were opposed by 110,000 Union soliders. In mid-March the Confederate officers knew times were getting desperate so they tried their own surprise attack with the hope of breaking the Union line. A surprise attach on Fort Steadman would have bright moments, but ultimately fail - this was the last time that the Confederates would be on the offensive.

Few people know that their was a Sunken Road and the First Maine Heavy Artillery. At the siege of Petersburg the 1st Maine had more casualties in a single day than any other regiment in the Union army. On June 18th a couple of Union attacks failed resulting in heavy losses. Disgusted by the needless loss of life and pinned down along a Sunken Road across from Colquitt's Salient many of the Union troops were on the verge of mutiny and refused to attack the entrenched Confederates. Eventually the men calmed and the 1st Maine agreed to lead the charge - what they did not know was that the regiments on both sides had decided they would only attack if they saw the boys from Maine breakthrough. At 4:30 in the afternoon the Maine boys attacked. In about 10 minutes the regiment lost 632 of their 850 men - the confederates behind the lines lost only 25. The site of this battle is near Fort Steadman which the Union built after this terrible loss.

On April 1, 1865m Grant ordered General Phillip Sheridan to attack the southern portion of the Confederate lines and take the South Side Railroad, the last remaning railroad into Petersburg. Sheridan and his men crushed forces under Confederate General George Pickett at Five Forks (I'll create a page on this later). On April 2nd, Grant ordered an all out attack and Lee's right flank crumbled - only a heroic defense at Fort Gregg saved Lee and gave his troops time to evacuate Petersburg the night of April 2. The site of the Union break-through is at Pamplin Park, a private park that I HIGHLY recommend you go see.

There is so much more to this battle and the siege, so read about it and go visit this great area. Walking the battlefield, seeing the trenches, looking at the Crater and the distance from the Union to the Confederate line you can only imagine what the almost ten months of siege was like. You MUST also visit City Point, Grant's headquarters during the siege and the Poplar Grove Cemetery.