The Siege of Petersburg


Who: Ulysses S Grant, George Meade and Benjamin Butler (Union) vs Robert E Lee (Confederacy)

What: The culmination of Grant’s Overland Campaign led to a ten-month siege of Petersburg

Where: Petersburg, Virginia

Why: Petersburg was a vital supply city to Richmond

When: June 9, 1864 – March 25, 1865

“A mere question of time” – Robert E Lee

Ulysses S Grant’s Overland Campaign had had a heavy toll on both sides, but despite inconclusive battles, Grant’s advancing Army of the Potomac had not stopped. After the Battle of Cold Harbor, where Grant engaged Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia directly at great cost, Grant implemented a brilliant tactical manoeuvre, constructing a pontoon bridge over the James River and bypassing Lee. Lee, believing Grant would aim for Richmond, only left a token force under P.G.T Beauregard at Petersburg. General Benjamin Butler, looking to vindicate his generalship, attacked the 2,500 Confederates at Petersburg on June 9, 1864. The Confederates, bolstered by strong defensive earthworks, held. George Meade then attempted an attack on June 15, again beaten back, and by June 18, Lee had reinforced the troops defending Petersburg. The sides settled to a ten-month siege, digging trenches to shelter from the incessant artillery. Attempts to break the siege, notably the Battle of the Crater, were routed. Finally, on April 2, with Lee’s forces spread thinner than ever and starving, Union General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry broke through Lee’s right flank and Grant ordered a full assault on all fronts. The Army of Northern Virginia was broken, and Lee gave the order to abandon Richmond and Petersburg. Grant pursued Lee’s retreating army all the way to Appomattox, where he cornered them and forced Lee’s surrender on April 9. Total losses on both sides of the siege were high, around 42,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate casualties.

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