With the fall of Richmond the Civil War was drawing rapidly to a close. However, Lee still led the remnants of his army and he had a plan: march to the west and break contact with the Army of the Potomac and head south to join up with Johnston in North Carolina. It was unlikely that he could accomplish this, but Lee felt duty bound to try. His main initial problem was to feed his army. To accomplish this he had the army concentrate at Amelia Court House where he expected to find supplies. To his astonishment he found plenty of ammunition but no food. To feed his army he had to draw upon the civilian population:
Amelia C. H., April 4, 1865.
To the Citizens of Amelia County, Va.
The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions, which had been ordered to be placed here by the railroad several days since, but to my surprise and regret I find not a pound of subsistence for man or horse. I must therefore appeal to your generosity and charity to supply as far as each one is able the wants of the brave soldiers who have battled for your liberty for four years. We require meat, beef, cattle, sheep, hogs, flour, meal, corn, and provender in any quantity that can be spared. The quartermaster of the army will visit you and make arrangements to pay for what he receives or give the proper vouchers or certificates. I feel assured that all will give to the extent of their means.
R. E. Lee, General
The next day Lee found his path south blocked as the Army of the Potomac occupied Jetersville. General Longstreet in his memoirs gives us the details:
With Union victory at Five Forks, General Lee desperately shifted troops to the west to protect the Southside Railroad. Grant, realizing that Lee was thinning his lines around Petersburg and Richmond to protect the railroad, ordered a general assault against the Confederate fortifications.
The VI Corps achieved a major breakthrough up the Boydton Plank Road. Lee telegraphed Secretary of War Breckenridge:
I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight. I will advise you later according to circumstances.
The II Corps to the left of the VI Corps and the XXIV Corps to the right of the VI Corps also achieved breakthroughs. Union casualties were about 4,000 compared to 5000 Confederate, most of whom were taken prisoner. The siege of Petersburg and Richmond was at an end as Lee moved his army out of his lines and began the march to the west that would end at Appomattox Court House.
Here is General Longstreet’s account of the Third Battle of Petersburg in his memoirs: Continue Reading
Hattip to Pat McNamara for his post on Longstreet’s conversion which inspired this post.
Lee referred to James “Pete” Longstreet as his “Old War Horse”. One of the more talented corp commanders of the Confederacy, Longstreet’s memory was long blackened in the South after the War due to Longstreet becoming a Republican and working as surveyor of customs at the port of New Orleans in the Grant administration, and by the efforts of a coterie of former officers of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Jubal Early, who blamed Longstreet for the defeat at Gettysburg. The vituperation that he received mattered little to Longstreet who throughout his life did what he thought was right no matter what other people might think. In 1874 he became adjutant general of the Louisiana militia. In an uprising of the White League he was wounded and taken prisoner in his own customs house. His captors gave the rebel yell. The wounded Longstreet looked at them with disdain and said, “I have heard the yell before.” Continue Reading