Grant realized the priority of grinding down the Confederate Army in Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee, the South’s most successful General. With “overwhelming numbers and resources” the Yankee commander finally breached the Confederate defenses of Petersburg on April 2, 1865, after a brutal nine-month siege. As the hungry Confederate survivors streamed from their forty miles of trenches westward to meet up with food supplies, President Jefferson Davis and the government of the Confederacy fled the capital city of Richmond, to try and carry on the war from points further south. In close pursuit of Lee’s army, the Union forces scooped up thousands of demoralized and footsore men who would not or could not go any further.
The respective troop movements in the final days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House (left side of map), April 2-9, 1865. Union troops are indicated by blue, while Confederate troops are indicated by red.
Union cavalry interposed between Lee’s army and the rations that had been sent for rendezvous with the starving army at a key railroad junction. Forced on to backroads moving westward toward Lynchburg, Confederates trudged on for twenty-four hours straight with the Union army following a trail of abandoned and burned wagons and the flotsam and jetsam of equipment and broken down soldiers. On April 6, Union cavalry, moving fast, blocked CSA General Ewell’s Corps at Sailor’s Creek until the infantry arrived. Several thousand men fell on both sides in a ferocious battle, and 7,000 Confederate troops were surrounded and captured, along with the wagon train.
During the Appomattox Campaign, Union cavalry captures Confederate guns and burns a wagon train near Paineville, Virginia, April 5, 1865
By April 8, the remnants of Lee’s army arrived in the environs of the little crossroads village of Appomattox Court House. He could probably have placed only about 10,000 rifles into a battle line with another 2,000 or so officers and perhaps another 10,000 artillerymen without guns, sailors, soldiers who had no weapons, wagoners, surgeons, chaplains and other basically unarmed stragglers and other non-combatants. More than 30,000 superbly-armed infantry under General Meade filed into place behind and on the flanks, with another 30,000 under Sheridan, many of them cavalry, arrived in Lee’s front, and moved to complete the total envelopment, before the gray army could break through to Lynchburg, twenty miles away.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, showing the historic Court House on the left, and a reconstruction of the McLean House on the right