Chronology of the Appomattox Campaign

James F. Epperson

Some scholars start the Appomattox Campaign with or after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg.  I am choosing to follow Chris Calkins, who has written extensively on the subject.

March 25 Battle of Fort Stedman:  Lee throws a large portion of his army, under the immediate command of Lt. Gen. John Gordon, against the Federal lines east of Petersburg.  The objective is Fort Stedman, and the idea is to force Grant to perhaps contract his lines some, which would make it easier for Lee to escape westwards.  The effort is a failure, costing the Confederates perhaps as many as 4,000 men (against Union losses of about 1,000), which they could ill afford to lose.  That evening, Federal forces advance and seize the Confederate advance pickett lines along much of the Petersburg lines, resulting in a series of sharp fights that cost about 1,200 Federals and 1,600 Confederates.
Lt. Gen. John B. Gordon
March 26 In the wake of the disaster at Fort Stedman, Lee writes to President Davis:

26th March 1865
His Excy Jefferson Davis
President C States
Mr President,
My dispatch of yesterday to the Secretary of War will have informed you of the attack made upon a portion of the enemy’s lines around Petersburg, and the result which attended it. I have been unwilling to hazard any portion of the troops in an assault upon fortified positions, preferring to reserve their strength for the struggle which must soon commence, but I was induced to assume the offensive from the belief that the point assailed could be carried without much loss, and the hope that by the seizure of the redoubts in the rear of the enemy’s main line, I could sweep along his entrenchments to the south, so that if I could not cause their abandonment, Genl Grant would at least be obliged so to curtail his lines, that upon the approach of Gen Sherman, I might be able to hold our position with a portion of the troops, and with a select body unite with Gen Johnston and give him battle. If successful, I would then be able to return to my position, and if unsuccessful I should be in no worse condition, as I should be compelled to withdraw from James River if I quietly awaited his approach. But although the assault upon the fortified works at Hair’s Hill was bravely accomplished, the redoubts commanding the line of entrenchments were found enclosed and strongly manned, so that an attempt to carry them must have been attended with great hazard, and even if accomplished, would have caused a great sacrifice of life in the presence of the large reserves which the enemy was hurrying into position I therefore determined to withdraw the troops, and it was in retiring that they suffered the greatest loss the extent of which has not yet been reported. I fear now it will be impossible to prevent a junction between Grant and Sherman, nor do I deem it prudent that this army should maintain its position until the latter shall approach too near. Gen. Johnston reports that the returns of his force of the 24th inst; gave his effective infantry thirteen thousand five hundred. He must therefore have lost, after his concentration at Smithfield about eight thousand men. This could hardly have resulted from the casualties of battle, and I fear must be the effect of desertion. Should this prove to be the case, I can not reasonably expect him to bring across the Roanoke more than ten thousand infantry, a force that would add so little strength to this army as not to make it more than a match for Sherman, with whom to risk a battle in the presence of Grant’s army, would hardly seem justifiable. Gen Johnston estimates Gen Sherman’s army, since its union with Schofield and the troops that were previously in N Carolina, at sixty thousand. I have no correct data upon which to form an estimate of the strength of Gen Grant’s army. Taking their own account, it would exceed a hundred thousand, and I fear it is not under eighty thousand. Their two armies united would therefore exceed ours by nearly a hundred thousand. If Gen Grant wishes to unite Sherman with him without a battle, the latter after crossing the Roanoke has only to take an easterly direction towards Sussex, while the former moving two days march towards Weldon, provided I moved out to intercept Sherman, would render it impossible for me to strike him without fighting both armies.

I have thought it proper to make the above statement to your Excellency of the condition of affairs, knowing that you will do whatever may be in your power to give relief.

I am with great respect

Your obt servt

R E Lee

March 26Orders are issued for the Army of the Potomac to move out to the left at 3:00 a.m. on the 29th.  Maj. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, commanding the Army of the James, is ordered to take three divisions to replace Second Corps in the lines southwest of Petersburg.  Sheridan's cavalry command is ordered (on March 28) to move out for Dinwiddie Court House at 5:00 a.m. on the 29th.
March 29 Maj. Gen. Gouvernor Warren's Fifth Corps, moving northward along the Quaker Road southwest of Petersburg, encounters Confederates under Bushrod Johnson at the Lewis Farm.  A sharp fight results, with Chamberlain's brigade leading the attack, and the day ends with Fifth Corps across the vital Boydton Plank Road and within striking distance of the White Oak Road, the main east-west avenue in the area.  Second Corps, under Humphreys, kept pace on Warren's right and remained connected to Ord's troops.  Sheridan's cavalry reaches the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court House.
Brig. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain
March 30 Heavy rain brings almost all operations to a stop.  Sheridan advances to the vicinity of Five Forks.  Pickett's infantry arrives in the vicinity of Five Forks, along with the cavalry divisions under Fitz Lee and W.H.F. Lee.
March 31 The Battles of Dinwiddie Court House and White Oak Road:  At about 11:00 a.m. Pickett attacks Sheridan's advanced divisions in front of Five Forks and, on the left, along a swampy stream known as "Chamberlain's Bed."  The attacks are successful and Sheridan is forced back to a position in front of Dinwiddie Court House at dark.  (In fact, one of Pickett's subordinates thinks he should have continued the fight after nightfall.)  Meanwhile, Warren had reported that morning that he could get possession of the White Oak Road, but his advance is so clumsy that a counterattack by four Confederate brigades (one of which did not really participate) is able to rout two Fifth Corps divisions.  A Federal counterattack by the remaining Fifth Corps division, supported by a division under Nelson Miles of Second Corps, is able to recover the situation and the fighting ends with part of Fifth Corps across White Oak Road.  Pickett is now cut off from the rest of Lee's army.
April 1 The Battle of Five Forks:  After a night of confusing and contradictory orders and counter-orders, Warren finally gets to near Dinwiddie Court House at around 8:00 a.m.  At about 4:00 p.m., Warren leads Fifth Corps against the right flank of Pickett's line covering Five Forks.  The attack is initially mis-placed, but the Federal force is too strong and the Confederates are badly beaten, with 4,500 prisoners taken.  Lee's right flank is irrevocably turned, but Warren is relieved of his command at the end of the battle, an action that is controversial to this day.
Maj. General G. K. Warren
April 2 Breakthrough at Petersburg:  At 4:30 a.m., elements of Ninth Corps assault the Confederate lines near Fort Mahone. Although initially successful, the attack bogs down and eventually stalls.  At 4:40 a.m., Sixth Corps (under Wright) attacks in force along the Boydton Plank Road line and shatters the Confederate defenses.  A pair of stragglers from this attack shoot and kill Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill.  Humphreys (Second Corps) attacks near Hatcher's Run and also breaks through.  Troops from the Army of the James take Fort Gregg, but not in time to prevent Lee from holding Petersburg for the night.   Lee evacuates during the night.
Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill
April 3
The fall of Richmond and Petersburg: The results of the fighting on April 2nd meant the Confederates would have to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg. Warehouses were ordered burned in Richmond, which started a conflagration that destroyed much of the downtown area. The army would head for Amelia Courthouse, about 40 miles away on the Richmond and Danville RR; the government would head for Danville, Virginia, near the North Carolina border. Trainloads of provisions were ordered to meet Lee's men at Amelia.

On the Federal side, both cities were occupied in the early morning. Credit for the first troops in to Petersburg usually goes to a pair of Michigan regiments from Ninth Corps, which set United States flags up on a couple of public buildings. A Massachusetts cavalry regiment was the first to enter Richmond. Fittingly, some of the first troops into the Confederate capital were USCT regiments. Lincoln entered Petersburg and met with Grant at the Wallace House in mid-morning.  An account of raising the first United States flag in Richmond can be found here.

The only fighting of note was between Confederate forces and Union cavalry at Namozine Church, west of Petersburg, as Sheridan was continuing his pursuit of the remnants of the force he had fought at Five Forks. Confederate General Rufus Barringer of North Carolina was captured in this fight.

Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer
April 4 Lee begins to concentrate at Amelia.  Longstreet's First Corps arrives in the morning, Third Corps throughout the afternoon.  But the trainloads of rations are not there, so the army is forced to forage through the immediate countryside, to little effect.  

Meanwhile, the Federal pursuit begins.  Crook's Federal cavalry division arrives along the Richmond and Danville RR in the morning, followed shortly thereafter by more cavalry and the infantry of Fifth Corps.  Second Corps and Sixth Corps get as far as Deep Creek, a short distance east of Jetersville.  Sheridan's remaining cavalry and Fifth Corps begin to arrive at Jetersville at about 5 p.m.  General Ord, with three divisions from the Army of the James, along with Ninth Corps, would move along the Southside RR towards Burkeville Junction.  Meade was with Second and Sixth Corps; Grant, traveling with Ord's column, reached Wilson's Station on the Southside RR, from which he telegraphed Secretary of War Stanton with a progress report.
April 5
Confederate formations continue to arrive at Amelia Court House.  Lee considers attacking the Federal force at Jetersville (still consisting of only Fifth Corps and the cavalry) in order to push it out of the way, but is concerned about more Federal infantry arriving on his left flank.  Second and Sixth Corps arrive in the afternoon; part of  Ord's column begins to arrive at Burkeville during the night.

 Sheridan thinks that the Confederates are trapped, but fears that they may get away if Meade is left to manage things, so he sends a courier to find Grant, who is with Ord's column at Nottoway Court House.  Grant decides to make the 14 mile ride to Jetersville at night, accompanied by four staff officers and fourteen cavalry as escort.  They reach Federal lines at about 10:00 p.m.
April 6 As Federal troops advance to attack the Confederate position near Amelia Court House, Lee has already begun a night march, first to the north and then west, towards Farmville, where provisions are ordered to meet the Confederates.  Meade and Grant pursue Lee directly, with Second and Sixth Corps.  Sheridan, with the cavalry, takes a parallel route south of Lee.  Skirmishing occurs throughout the day, with Federal cavalry dashing up side roads to attack the Confederate column, hit-and-run style.  The Confederate column is badly strung out;  Lee is riding with the lead elements, and a lengthy wagon train divides Gordon's Second Corps, the rear-guard, from the rest of the army.  At Sayler's Creek, disaster strikes the Confederates as three separate small engagements result in the loss of some 7,700 men from Lee's army, including numerous general officers captured, among them Maj. Gen. Joseph Kershaw, Lt. Gen. R.S. Ewell, and Lee's oldest son, Custis.  At the end of the day, Lee's force is near Rice's Station on the Southside RR, while the Federals go into camp about two miles beyond the battlefield.

A Federal attempt to destroy the strategic High Bridge near Farmville failed, resulting in the capture of some 400 men.
Maj. Gen. G.W.C. Lee
April 7
Lee's army begins another night march, this time for Farmville where provisions are supposed to be found.  Mahone's Division, with the remnants of the commands that fought at Sayler's Creek,  is directed to march to High Bridge, cross over it, and the destroy both it and the smaller bridge for wagon traffic.  Longstreet is directed to take the rest of the army to Farmville, where rations are supposed to be waiting for the army.  Lee is able to briefly meet with Confederate Secretary of War Breckinridge, but the approch of Federal cavalry upset the plans to distribute the rations.  Lee orders the trains run westward where they might be met the next day, and orders his army across to the north side of the Appomattox River, burning the bridges behind them.

One of Lee's most perceptive officers, the artillerist Col. Edward Porter Alexander, thought this was a fatal mistake.  The army was now caught in a sort of peninsula formed by several deep watercourses, and the only way out was via Appomattox---and the distance from Farmville to Appomattox along the south side of the river was shorter than along the north side.  "Well, there is time enough to think about that," was Lee's only response

Gen. Meade sends Second Corps after Mahone at about 5:30 a.m.; they reach High Bridge too late to save several of the westernmost spans, but the parallel wagon bridge is saved by the 19th Maine and so the Federals are able to cross the river.  Meade has been ill for much of the pursuit---yesterday he rode a horse, but the effort caused him to relapse so he now is riding in an ambulance and is not happy about it.  Humphreys is across the river by about 9:30, and at about 1:00 p.m. he comes upon the Confederates entrenched in a defensive line near Cumberland Church.  An attack is launched at about 3:00 p.m. and the fighting continues until about 6:30, with the Confederates holding their line.

The rest of the Federal force---the cavalry, Fifth Corps, Sixth Corps, and Ord's Army of the James column---would make for Farmville.

Grant arrived in Farmville sometime in the afternoon and took up residence in the Randolph House Hotel, where he issued the orders for the next day.  Sixth Corps should cross to the north side of the river and join Second Corps in directly pursuing Lee.  Fifth Corps and Ord's column (Ninth Corps had been left at Nottoway Court House) would make a forced march along the south side of the river in an effort to get ahead of Lee.  Sheridan with the cavalry was already dashing ahead along the south side of the river.  Then Grant wrote a letter to General Lee, to be dispatched by an orderly under flag-of-truce:

APRIL 7, 1865.

General R. E. LEE:

GENERAL: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.



Lee received the letter at about 9:30 in the evening.  "Not yet," was the advice given by Lee's most senior subordinate, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet.  A letter to that effect was sent back to Farmville, arriving at Grant's room after midnight.

Col. E.P. Alexander

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
April 8 Grant began the day by responding to Lee's note of the previous evening, then crossed the river to continue the pursuit with Meade.  Second and Sixth Corps continued to press the Confederates, but were unable to force them to halt.  The generals stopped for the night at a house with a piano, which was most unfortunate, as a gaggle of staff officers began pounding on the keyboard, oblivious to the fact that Grant was totally tone-deaf and hated all music ("I only know two songs," he wrote in his Memoirs, "One is Yankee Doodle, and the other one isn't."), and in addition was suffering from a migraine.  His headache did not improve when another letter from Lee arrived, offering only to meet to discuss "the restoration of peace...," a turn of phrase that sent Grant's adjutant, the tempermental Brig. Gen. John Rawlins, into a minor tirade.  A second note came from Sheridan, and it contained much better news.  The hard-driving Irishman had reached Appomattox Station, where his troopers captured a lot of artillery and four trains full of rations for Lee's men.  The Yankee cavalry were in front of Lee, and if Fifth Corps and Ord could make a hard night's march to bolster the line, Lee was trapped.
April 9 Since the debacle at Sayler's Creek, the Army of Northern Virginia has been moving with Gordon's troops in the lead, and Longstreet and Mahone acting as the rearguard.  Thus it falls to Gordon to lead the final attack in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia.  At 5:00 a.m. he leads a desperate and forlorn attempt to break through to the west, by attacking the (slightly entrenched) Federal cavalry blocking the Lynchburg Road.  Initially successful, the effort fails when Federal infantry from Fifth Corps and the Army of the James appear on his left flank and across his front.  Meanwhile, Meade with Second and Sixth Corps is pressing Lee's rear, only a few miles away.  With escape impossible, Lee says, "Then there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."  White flags begin to appear along Gordon's lines.   At about 3:45 p.m., Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant in the parlor of the McLean house.

"Surrender at Appomattox," by Tom Lovell, is considered one of the most accurate renderings of the scene in Wilmer McLean's parlor.  From left to right:  Gen. Robert E. Lee, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan, Lt. Col. Orville Babcock, Lt. Col. Horace Porter, Maj. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant, Brig. Gen. Seth Williams, Lt. Col. Theodore Bowers, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker, Brig. Gen. G.A. Custer.