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PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN (1864-65)

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Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 304 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN (1864-65). The name of Peters-burg is associated with operations in the American Civil War, which formed the sequel of the Wilderness Campaign (q.v.) and the last act in the struggle between the armies of Grant and Lee for supremacy. Petersburg (see above) and Richmond, Virginia, connected by rail and covered north, east and south by forty miles of entrenchments, formed the salients of a vast fortress, into which reinforcements and supplies could be poured from the rear by means of the James Canal, the Virginia Central, the Lynchburg, the Danville and the Weldon railroads-the latter bringing up to Petersburg from Wilmington (225 M. distant) the cargoes of blockade runners. Petersburg became a strategic point as soon as Grant determined to carry the army of the Potomac—defeated at Cold Harbor on the Chickahominy (see WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN)—south of Richmond, and, being joined by Butler's Army of the James (momentarily checked in the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula by a small army under Beauregard), to operate from the east, depending on the James river, as his line of supply, while the policy of the Confederate president was to employ Robert E. Lee's army to protect his capital. Petersburg was nearer than Richmond to the navigable part of the James River—City Point is only 10 m. distant—and the capture of Petersburg would involve the fall of Richmond and the capitulation or flight of Lee's army. As early as the 9th of June 1864, while the main armies were still north of the James and Petersburg was garrisoned by a brigade under General Wise, a Federal expedition from the Army of the James approached the city. General Gillmore on the City Point road discovered strong earthworks, and General Kautz attacking on the Jerusalem Plank road experienced a repulse: the total force of the Federals was 4500, and Wise's brigade (2400) had been quickly reinforced from Beauregard's central position at Bermuda Hundred. A week later a more serious attempt was made to break through the defences, while General Lee's main army was detained north of Richmond. Grant detached the II. and XVIII. corps under Generals Smith and Hancock, who were to unite and operate along the City Point railroad and capture the outer line of works about 2 M. from Petersburg while a demonstration was made along the Norfolk railroad by cavalry under Kautz. On the 15th of June Smith attacked and captured five redans before Hancock came up, and when next day Burnside's corps (IX.) arrived and General Meade assumed control of the three corps, he attacked again at 6 p.m. On the 17th of June Warren's (V.) corps arrived, and Meade made a third assault with two corps (V., IX.). On the 18th of June the attack was renewed with three corps (II., V., IX.) late in the afternoon, and the results of the four days' fighting were so far satisfactory that ground was won which could be entrenched and held against any sortie of the Petersburg garrison. Probably on the 18th of June the town of Petersburg might have been captured by Meade, for at this crisis General Lee was in temporary eclipse. For four days Lee had refused to credit any report to the effect that Grant was crossing the James: his cavalry could not ascertain that the enemy in hisfront at Malvern Hill (VI. corps and Wilson's cavalry division), despite its menacing attitude towards Richmond, was only a flank guard for a movement to the south. It was late on the 17th of June when General Beauregard, who had for three days valiantly held his main lines south of Richmond with some 14,000 infantry against three Federal corps, succeeded in convincing General Lee that the main army was again (as in 1862 on the Chickahominy) in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when at last the Confederate leader was aroused to a sense of his danger he soon filled every road with divisions marching to save Petersburg: they marched all night; they slept in the trenches on arrival, and on the 19th of June these reinforcements convincedGeneralMeade that his main attack between the Appomattox river and the Jerusalem Plank road was delivered a day too late. At a cost of so,000 casualties Meade had gained half a mile of ground, but the Confederates in falling back had concentrated, and now that the new plan of operations was exposed and the main bodies were again face to face the power of defensive tactics reasserted itself. Yet June was not to close without adding some 8000 men to the Federal casualties, for in addition to daily losses by sharp-shooting along the front, over 5000 men fell or were captured in operations directed against the southern railroads. Grant had resolved to deprive his enemy of these lines of supply: his plan was to prolong his line of investment westward and construct redoubts (such as Fort Davis, Fort Steadman and Fort Sedgwick) as a continual menace to the Confederate garrison and a defence against sorties, while his cavalry and portions of five corps (II., V., VI., IX. and XVIII.) engaged in enterprises which it was hoped would tempt General Lee to fight outside his works. A decisive victory in the field, a successful assault on the defences between Richmond and Petersburg, or the complete destruction of the railroads, would precipitate disaster to the South, and of these three methods the last would be the surest in its effects. But such a method was necessarily slow. General Wilson's cavalry (5500) destroyed 30 M. of the Lynchburg or South Side railroad, and 30 M. of the Danville railroad, together with Burkesville Junction and Ream's Station on the Weldon rail-road; but Wilson was- caught by the Confederate cavalry 10o m. from Petersburg and escaped only by destroying his wagons and limbers and abandoning twelve guns. Even the Virginia Central railroad could not be held by the Federals after Sheridan with the main body of the cavalry had been called back to White House on the Pamunkey to escort a great convoy. By the end of June the whole of the rival forces were concentrated about the Richmond-Petersburg defences, and General A. P. Hill had already sallied out on the 21st of June to drive the II. corps from the Weldon railroad. Federal policy and Federal strategy, surmounting the crisis of Cold Harbor, were, however, at last in unison. Grant had a free hand in respect both of his dispositions and his resources in men and money, and had resolved to use unsparingly the resources placed at his disposal. Early in July Grant, however, found himself compelled to detach a corps (VI.) to strengthen the garrison at Washington, for General Early had frustrated Hunter's attempt against Lynchburg (see SHENANDOAH VALLEY), driving Hunter into West Virginia, and then, pushing down the Shenandoah and across the Potomac, had arrived within a day's march of the Federal capital: i his operation checked Grant's enterprises about Petersburg and restricted the Federal front to the ground -east of the Weldon railroad. On the 25th of July Grant resolved to weaken the enemy on his front by a demonstration north of the James, and accordingly moved a corps (II.) and two cavalry divisions across the river to Malvern Hill under cover of Foster's corps (X.). But Lee possessed the inner line, and the Federal detachment found two cavalry divisions in its front, and the Richmond defences had been strengthened by three divisions of infantry. The expedition then returned to take part in a fresh enterprise, which ended disastrously to the Federals. A Confederate redan faced Burnside's IX. corps roo yds. distant, and this strong work was to be destroyed by mining operations. The mine was fired and produced a crater 150 ft. long, 6o ft. wide and 25 ft. deep, into which the Federals poured (see FORTIFICATION and SIEGECRAFT). But the troops could be got no farther before the Confederate counter-attack was upon them, and Burnside's corps lost 4300 men. In August Sheridan was detached to operate against General Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and in order to prevent Lee rein-forcing Early another demonstration against Richmond was planned. But Lee again strengthened his left and the result of the fighting was a loss to the Federals of nearly 3000 men. Meanwhile another attack on the Weldon railroad by Warren's corps was met by General A. P. Hill on the loth of August, and the possession of the railroad cost the Federals 3000 men. A further attempt on this railroad by Hancock's II. corps and Gregg's cavalry division at a point 3 M. south of Ream's Station was foiled by A. P. Hill, now aided by Hampton's two cavalry divisions, and the Federals here lost 2372 men and nine guns. The Confederates therefore still retained possession of the railroad to a point within one day's hauling by wagon to Petersburg. During September another Federal enter-prise north of the James with two corps (X.and XVIII.) resulted in the capture of Fort Harrison near Chaffin's Bluff, and when General Lee reinforced his left and counter-attacked his troops were repulsed with heavy loss. The Federals lost over 2000 men and failed in the attempt to take Fort Gilmer, Confederate gunboats below Richmond aiding in the defence. While this operation was in progress on the Confederate left under General Grant's personal supervision General Lee was apprised of attacks on his extreme right at Peebles Farm by four divisions, which captured a Confederate redoubt covering the junction of two routes to the south-west. General A. P. Hill prevented a further advance of the enemy by a vigorous counter-attack which caused Warren and Parke (IX.) a loss of 2000 men, of whom nearly three fourths allowed themselves to be captured ; for the ranks, since the losses of the May battles, had been swamped with drafted and substitute recruits of poor quality and almost insignificant training. The Federals had, however, by these operations pushed their entrenchments beyond the Weldon railroad westward and established new works within a mile of the Con-federate right. A minor engagement north of the James on the 7th of October between the Confederates and troops of the Army of the James was without result. At the end of the month, however, General Grant resolved to make a serious effort to bring the South Side railroad within his lines and deprive the enemy of this important line of supply. Parke (IX.), Warren (V.) and Hancock (II.) took each some 11,000 infantry with four days' rations on pack animals. Gregg's cavalry (3000) were attached for the operation, and both Grant and Meade accompanied the troops. General A. P. Hill encountered this force with three divisions (14,000) and Hampton's cavalry (5500), and he contrived to hold two corps with one division and attack Hancock (II.) with his main body. The Federals were stopped when 6 m. from the railway, and Hancock lost 1500 men at Hatcher's Run on the 27th of October.trench-work and outpost duty overtaxed the patriotism of Lee's 50,000 infantry and stimulated desertion. Supplies were brought in by wagons, as the rolling stock on the railways was worn, and on the 5th of February 1865 General Gregg moved out to the Boydton Plank road to intercept the Confederate convoys. He was sup-ported by Warren, while Humphreys's (II.) corps connected the detachment with the left of the Federal entrenchments. Gregg failed to locate the wagons, and General Lee, hearing of the expedition, sent out A. P. Hill and Gordon, who drove him back with a loss of 1500 men. Sheridan, after driving Early from the Valley in October, destroyed the railways about Staunton, Charlottesville, Gordonsville and Lynchburg, and even rendered the James Canal useless as a line of supply. Grant recalled Sheridan to the main army in March, and at the end of the month prepared for a turning movement westward with the object of drawing Lee out of his lines. General Lee had anticipated such an attempt, and had resolved to abandon his lines and unite with Johnston in North Carolina, but the roads were not General Lee meanwhile had been called to Chaffin's Bluff, where again Butler was demonstrating with the Army of the James (X. and XVIII.) on the approaches to Richmond. But General Longstreet signalized his return to duty with the Army of Northern Virginia by driving Butler off with a loss of over moo men (action . End of Article: PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN (1864-65)
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