Siege of Petersburg
June 9, 1864 – March 25,1865
Siege of Petersburg
Attack: Union General Ulysses Simpson Grant will conduct a series of attacks from the eastern side of Richmond down to the southeastern side of Petersburg. This will be the continuing of a vicious and miserable “trench warfare” that Grant can conduct easily while being supplied by the Union navy and captured railroads. Grant continues to wear down Lee by simple attrition as the Union has more men and suppies than the blockaded Confederacy.
The “Richmond-Petersburg Campaign” is less a siege as the Union forces are not enclosing the city, but constantly attacking the CSA in attempts to cut the railroad lines that supply General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. Lee knows if his railroad supply lines are cut, his war will soon be over.
Grant will take advantage of victories and dig in, extending his lines until after 9 months of continued attacks and Union artillery bombardment, his lines are more than 30 miles long. Lee and his courageous CSA army are wearing thin.
Many initial assaults by Union Generals Meade and Butler have limited success resulting in gaining ground, than digging in for the duration.
“The Crater“ Union attack of July 30 goes down in history as later quoted by Grant..” the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war.”
A plan had been devised to blow up the Confederate defenses at one particular point in the line. Over 8,000 pounds of gunpowder were packed into a tunnel dug under he CSA lines by the Union miners. Sounds good, until when they blew it up at 04:30 hours on the morning of July 30,1864..the Union attacked by swarming into the crater left by the explosion. The Union soldiers got stuck in the huge hole left by the explosion 170 ft. long by 80 ft. wide by 30 ft. deep.
The Confederates were quick to seize the opportunity and ringed the crater with men and artillery, beginning a slaughter that most would never forget. But it will be a short lived victory for the CSA. Grant is winning by degrees.
President Lincoln is offering full support to Grant stating “I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible”
The Union campaign will continue for 8 more months until the failed CSA counter attack on Union held Fort Stedman on March 25,1865.
Petersburg and Richmond will be abandoned and surrendered by April 3,1865 leading to the last days of Lee’s Army. He will be chased until he is surrounded at Appomattox.
Defense: The Army of Northern Virginia is pushed south defending both Richmond and Petersburg. Lee has been attacked and is offering attacks in both counter attack and diversionary tactics trying to upset Grants schedule of warfare. Lee is trying to buy time. His finest Generals Longstreet, Ewell, Beauregard, A.P. Hill are fighting all along the corridor between Richmond and Petersburg with limited victories.
Continued Union attacks on strategic crossroads and the railroads, Lee’s lifeblood of Confederate supply are breaking the morale of the CSA as well as limiting necessary supplies to Lee’s exhausted and battle weary troops. His choices will diminish after his victory at “The Crater” and Union cavalry and reinforced infantry will batter the CSA at New Market, Fairoaks, Deep Bottom as well as making a new push against Richmond.
CSA General Jubal Early, a spirited and tenacious leader with a sharp tongue has even staged raids and limited cavalry attacks in Maryland and Pennsylvania as close to the District of Columbia as possible to take pressure off the Confederate Army.
Lee will shift what troops he has to assist Richmond but his lines will continue to be over extended until he must surrender Petersburg and Richmond in April, 1865.
Battle outcome: Union victories overall as Lee is pushed toward Appomattox.
Soldiers: Union-125,000 / CSA – 52,000 typical
Casualties: Union-approx. 48,000 / CSA – approx. 28,000
“In the Trenches at Petersburg” by Earl J. Hess
… explains the Union offense from the crossing of the James River to Grant’s attacks on the well fortified city of Petersburg, Virginia until it’s fall on April 3,1865.