Siege Of Petersburg Descriptive Essay

On By In 1

The Battles and Siege of Petersburg is a particularly complex and broad series of actions that spanned some ten months and hundreds of square miles. To get you started, here are ten facts (plus more) about Petersburg.

Fact #1: In 1860, Petersburg was the second largest city in Virginia and the seventh largest in the Confederacy.

Nestled at the head of navigation on the south bank of the Appomattox River, Petersburg had been a tobacco, cotton, and iron manufacturing center before the Civil War as well as an important domestic port.  By 1864, however, its significance resided in the five railroads that connected Petersburg with Richmond and points south and west.

Fact #2: Petersburg’s transportation nexus made it an attractive target for General Ulysses S. Grant in June 1864. 

The Union general-in-chief had run out of maneuver room north of the James River in his twin quest to cripple General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and capture Richmond.  A swift and secret move across the “mighty James” against Petersburg promised to isolate the Confederate capital and place Lee at a severe disadvantage.

Fact #3: The Petersburg Campaign encompassed 292 days of combat, maneuver, and trench warfare between June 15, 1864, and April 2, 1865.

From June 15-17, 1864, the outnumbered Confederate General Beauregard and his troops saved Petersburg from Union capture. He created a third defensive line along high ground closer to the city and occupied it on the morning of June 18, welcoming reinforcements from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The appearance of Lee’s men ended Federals’ hopes to take Petersburg by storm and ensured a lengthy siege and seemingly endless fighting.  For the next nine months, Grant focused on severing Petersburg’s many wagon and rail connections to the south and west.  Four offensives between June and October made incremental gains.  By the end of the 1864 campaign season, Lee could rely on only a makeshift supply line via the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad to maintain communications with the south.

Fact #4: The largest regimental loss of the Civil War was sustained by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg.  

On June 18, 1864, the 850 men of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery advanced across a cornfield when the Confederate line erupted in sheets of flame.  Supporting units failed to protect their flanks, and the men of the 1st Maine found themselves subjected to fire that seemingly hit from every angle.  Within ten minutes, a staggering 632 men lay dead or wounded on the field, and not a single man had come close to reaching the enemy line.

Fact #5:  On July 30, 1864, Pennsylvanians exploded four tons of explosives under the Confederate line and created the most famous American military crater.

The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry excavated a 510-foot tunnel beneath a Confederate fort southeast of Petersburg.  They packed the galleries with 8,000 pounds of powder and ignited the fuse.  The blast created a huge gap in the Confederate line, sending more than 300 South Carolinians to their graves.  The attacks that followed failed to match the engineering success.  Poor planning, communications, and leadership robbed the Battle of the Crater of its potentially decisive results.  Bold Confederate counterattacks repaired the breach, focusing particular bitterness upon the black troops who participated in the assaults.  Grant pronounced it “the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.”

Fact #6: Supply operations at nearby City Point all but assured the success of the Union campaign against Petersburg.

After his failure to take Petersburg by storm, Generals Grant and Meade created a massive support operation at City Point, where the James and Appomattox Rivers met. Grant’s headquarters was established there, and the Union army literally created a city (now Hopewell, Virginia), where a declining ex-river port had once stood.   Huge wharves, a busy harbor, a giant government bakery and an immense hospital, highlighted the operations.

Fact #7: Most of General Grant’s major offensives were launched southwest and west of Petersburg from September 1864 to April 1865.

Significant actions at Peebles Farm, Burgess’ Mill, Hatcher’s Run, White Oak Road, Five Forks and the Breakthrough targeted Lee’s remaining supply lines—the Boydton Plank Road and the Southside Railroad—which ultimately ushered in Union success.

Fact #8: April 2, 1865, proved to be the day of decision at Petersburg.

The Union Sixth Corps broke through the Confederate defenses southwest of the city, and Lee notified President Jefferson Davis that it would be necessary to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg that night.  Vicious fighting the rest of the day allowed the beleaguered Confederates to maintain their inner defenses until nightfall shielded their successful withdrawal.  Lee hoped to reach General Joseph Johnston’s army in North Carolina to continue the war.

Fact #9: Petersburg remains the longest siege in American history but was not a siege, at least in the traditional sense. 

Most accounts of the Petersburg operations refer to the actions as a siege but a siege, accurately defined, entails the surrounding and blocking reinforcement or escape of an enemy force.  Robert E. Lee was never trapped at Petersburg—he could leave at will.  Nor did the Federal forces conduct formal siege warfare by advancing trenches toward the Confederate lines.  Comparing Ulysses S. Grant’s situation at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863 with his Petersburg operations reveals the stark distinction between a true siege and the events at Petersburg.   

Fact #10: The Battles and Siege of Petersburg involved more than 180,000 soldiers and produced some 60,000 casualties.

The armies at Petersburg were in almost constant transition, making the determination of troop strength a moving target.  In general, Union troop strength exceeded that of the Confederates by nearly two-to-one for most of the campaign.  Even at the end of the campaign, on April 2, 1865, Lee evacuated more than 50,000 men out of Richmond and Petersburg, while Grant’s combined armies counted at least 110,000 men by that time. Although precise figures are hard to come by, the best estimates suggest 42,000 Union casualties and 28,000 Confederate casualties, in total.

Bonus Facts:

  • The Civil War Trust has preserved more land around Petersburg than anywhere else—more than 4,000 acres from the Eastern Front to Five Forks.
  • Some cite the “Battle of Old Men and Young Boys” on June 9, 1864, as the true beginning of the campaign, instead of the more traditionally used date of June 15, 1864.
  • The Federal forces at Petersburg belonged to three armies-- the Army of the Potomac, the Army of the James, and the Army of the Shenandoah which arrived at Petersburg on March 25, 1865.
  • Two Confederate armies fought at Petersburg-- the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, held the Petersburg lines alone from June 15 through June 17 until the arrival of  the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • The operations at Petersburg covered roughly 576 square miles.
  • Union troops moved into Petersburg on April 3.  Six days later, Lee rendezvoused not with Johnston but with Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the war in Virginia.
  • While General Grant commanded all the Union armies at Petersburg, Union General George G. Meade commanded the largest army there—the Army of the Potomac.
  • Lee was utterly surprised by the choice of Petersburg as the target Union operations.
  • Lee and his army did not arrive at Petersburg until June 18—a full nine days after the first attacks on the city began.
  • Confederate spies made numerous attempts to sabotage City Point and succeeded partly using a time bomb planted on a munitions ship in August 1864.
  • On March 25, 1865, General Lee launched a massive attack against Union Fort Stedman, east of Petersburg hoping to draw Federal troops away from the western extension of their lines.  The attack fails and Lee returns to his fortifications, badly bloodied.
  • General Grant launched nine distinct offensives at Petersburg, usually striking simultaneously north and south of the James River:
    • 1st Offensive, June 15-18, 1864: Grant’s attacks on the eastern Petersburg defenses force Beauregard back toward the city.
    • 2nd Offensive, June 22-24, 1864: Grant targets the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad, but Confederate counterattacks limit his gain to the capture of the Jerusalem Plank Road.
    • 3rd Offensive, July 26-30, 1864: Results in the operations at First Deep Bottom north of the James River and the Battle of the Crater on July 30 southeast of Petersburg. 
    • 4th Offensive, August 12-21, 1864:Second Deep Bottom north of the James River and the Battle of Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg. 
    • 5th Offensive, September 29-October 2, 1864: Union gains north of the James River at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison.  Southwest of Petersburg, the Union attackers extend their lines three miles westward but fail to capture Lee’s two remaining supply lines.
    • 6th Offensive, October 27, 1864: Sharp but inconsequential fighting north of the James River.  Southwest of Petersburg, Northern troops briefly occupy the Boydton Plank Road near Burgess’s Mill, but Confederate counterattacks drive them back, ending active campaigning for the year.
    • 7th Offensive, February 5-7, 1865: Grant exploits mild weather to target the Boydton Plank Road.  The Battle of Hatcher’s Run ensues, and although the Confederates preserve their supply routes, both armies extend their fortifications several miles further west.
    • 8th Offensive, March 27-April 1: Grant captures the Boydton Plank Road and opens a clear path to the South Side Railroad.  Battles at Lewis Farm, White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Court House, and Five Forks leave the Confederates on the brink of disaster.
    • 9th Offensive, April 2: Results in his Sixth Corps breaking the Confederate line southwest of Petersburg at dawn.  Lee plans to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg that night, and desperate fighting at Fort Mahone, Fort Gregg, Edge Hill, and Sutherland Station buy him time to do so.

Learn More:Petersburg | The Crater | Reams Station | Fort Stedman | Five Forks | The Breakthrough

Results: 1-27 of 27   |   Refined by: Part of: Civil War Maps   RemoveSubject: Petersburg (Va.)   Remove

Collection Items

  • Map
    The retreat from Petersburg, April 2-9, 1865 "A series of 32 pen and ink maps picturing the progress of Lee's retreat and Grant's pursuit from Petersburg to Appomattox Courthouse, approximately 100 miles, (with descriptive notes) divided into three phases." Available also through the Library of Congress Web site as a raster image.
    • Contributor: Russell, Robert E. L.
    • Date:1934

    Resource:
    View 33 Results

  • Map
    Map of the main battlefields, routes, camps and head qrs., in the Gettysburg, Wilderness and Appomattox campaigns of the Civil War in U.S. Scale 1:506,880. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 512 From his Map and description of the main battlefields, routes, camps and headquarters in the Gettysburg, Wilderness and Appomattox campaigns of the Civil War in the United States. Chicago, 1900. 24 p. 23 cm. Shows "places and dates of battles," "blue lines-Union routes," "red lines-Confederate routes," railroads, canals, towns, rivers, and relief by hachures. "Losses...
    • Contributor: Smith, Joshua
    • Date:1900
  • Map
    Map of the main battlefields, routes, camps and head qrs., in the Gettysburg, Wilderness and Appomattox campaigns of the Civil War in U.S. "Losses in some of the battles," "Union Army campaign organizations," "Confed.' Army campaign organizations," and a number of engagements in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Virginia are indicated beneath the map title. Description derived from published bibliography. From his Map and description of the main battlefields, routes, camps and headquarters in the Gettysburg, Wilderness and Appomattox campaigns of the...
    • Contributor: Smith, Joshua
    • Date:1900
  • Map
    Sketch of the Confederate and Federal lines around Petersburg Sun print. Photocopy (positive). Relief shown by hachures. LC Civil War maps (2nd ed.), 610 Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library of Congress Web site as a raster image. Indicates roads, picket lines, houses, names of residents, drainage, and vegetation. Indicates Union and Confederate works hand-colored blue and red respectively. Indicates location of Confederate covered ways, guns, and mortars. In...
    • Contributor: Stevens, W. H. (Walter H.) - Stevens, W. H.
    • Date:186?
  • Map
    Bacon's large print war map showing 50 miles round Washington and Richmond. Scale ca. 1:480,000. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 484 Map of eastern Virginia and part of Maryland, showing engagements by crossed swords, fortifications surrounding Richmond, routes of the opposing armies to Petersburg, roads, railroads, towns, drainage, and relief by hachures. A few important Civil War sites are underlined in red. Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library of Congress web...
    • Contributor: Bacon & Co.
    • Date:1864
  • Map
    Battles of the Crater and of June 22nd. Relief shown by hachures. Shows Union and Confederate lines, fortifications, and names of some residents. Selected buildings shown pictorially. Available also through the Library of Congress Web site as a raster image. Includes annotations in pencil. Acquisitions control no.: 91-28. CW3
    • Contributor: Korff Brothers
    • Date:186?
  • Map
    Isometric view of General Grant's Virginia campaign. Not drawn to scale. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 488.4 From Harper's weekly, v. 8, Sept. 10, 1864. p. 580. Panoramic view of the environs of the James and Appomattox rivers showing Union and Confederate lines at Petersburg, and Butler's lines at Bermuda Hundred. Points of interest are keyed by number to a legend printed in the lower margin. Description derived from published...
  • Map
    The struggle of Petersburg. The lines of rebel intrenchments carried by our troops. [June 15-17,1864]. Scale not given. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 612 Newspaper map showing "Gen Baldy Smith's line, Wednesday, June 15th," "first line of Rebel works," "line of 2nd & 9th Corps, Thursday & Friday, June 16th and 17," "seocnd [sic] line of Rebel works," and "third line of Rebel works." Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library of Congress web site...
  • Map
    Map shewing the position of the lines in front of Petersburg, Va., occupied by the 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, April 1st 1865 Scale ca. 1:16,700. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 607 Detailed map giving fortifications, picket lines, "Rebel chevaux de-frise," "Union abattis," "covered ways," roads, railroads, drainage, and vegetation. Each regiment of the 1st Division is identified, and the section of the line entrusted to it is delineated by broken lines. Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library of Congress web site...
    • Contributor: McCallum, Andrew
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    Sketch of the entrenched lines in the immediate front of Petersburg. [1864-5] Scale ca. 1:63,360. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 609 Indicates Union and Confederate lines, names of forts, roads, railroads, street pattern of Petersburg, houses, names of residents, and drainage. Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image.
    • Contributor: Michler, N. (Nathaniel) - Michler, N.
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    [Overlay to the map of the siege of Petersburg, 1864-5]. This is an overlay designed to be used with the map of the siege of Petersburg by J.E. Weyss. Title derived from Stephenson's Civil War maps, 1989. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 619 Includes brief field notes in pencil, red ink, and black ink, probably written by Federal engineers, and shows the location of several camps of the U.S. Engineers and the headquarters...
    • Contributor: Weyss, J. E.
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    [Map of defenses of Petersburg, Virginia, showing the position of General Lee and his staff during the attack on Fort Stedman, March 25, 1865]. Shows part of the fortifications east of Petersburg including roads, railroads, houses, and drainage. Relief shown by contours and hachures. Title from Stephenson's Civil War maps, 1989. Pen-and-ink and pencil on 5 sheets of paper mounted on cloth. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 607.2 Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image. Call no. cited in LC Civil War...
  • Map
    [Map showing the Federal and Confederate works during the siege of Petersburg : between the Appomattox River and Hatchers Run, June 16, 1864, to April 3, 1865]. Wall map of Petersburg (Va.) vicinity showing fortifications, roads, railroads, city street network, and streams. Title from R.W. Stephenson's Civil War maps, 2nd ed., 1989. Traced from a map formerly in the office of Chief of Engineers. Pen-and-ink (black and red) with lead-pencil annotations. Originally drawn on 10 sheets. Each of the present 5 sheets consists of 2 former sheets stitched together horizontally at...
    • Contributor: United States. Army. Office of the Chief of Engineers
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    Map of the siege of Petersburg, 1864-5 Relief shown by hachures. Manuscript title and scale. Pencil annotations indicating troop positions. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 617 Includes names of some residents in outlying areas. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image. LC copy imperfect: Small holes throughout and tears on edges.
    • Contributor: Weyss, J. E. - Michler, N. (Nathaniel)
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    [Map of the siege of Petersburg, 1864-5 Relief shown by hachures. Title taken from other version. Names of surveyors and draftsmen have been added by hand in the lower left corner. Scale in manuscript on verso. Mounted on cardboard, sectioned to 4 parts, and mounted on cloth. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 618 Includes names of some residents in outlying areas. Available also through the Library of Congress web site...
    • Contributor: Weyss, J. E. - Michler, N. (Nathaniel)
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    Petersburg and Five Forks. [1864-1865] Scale 1:42,240. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 607.8, 607.9 In this issue, the map is printed on a yellow background with rivers colored green. Detailed topographic map showing Confederate works in red and Union fortifications in blue, houses, fences, names of residents, drainage, vegetation, hachures, railroads, roads, and the street pattern of Petersburg. Description derived from published bibliography. Available also through the Library...
    • Contributor: Michler, N. (Nathaniel) - Michler, N.
    • Date:1867
  • Map
    Petersburg and Five Forks. [1864-1865] Detailed topographic map showing Confederate works in red and Union fortifications in blue, houses, fences, names of residents, drainage, vegetation, hachures, railroads, roads, and the street pattern of Petersburg. Available also through the Library of Congress Web site as a raster image. This map is a reduced version of Nathaniel Michler's "Petersburg and Five Forks, " Civil War no. 607.9.
    • Contributor: Michler, N. (Nathaniel) - Michler, N.
    • Date:1867
  • Map
    The seige [sic] of Petersburg, Va.
    Siege of Petersburg, Va. Scale not given. LC Civil War Maps (2nd ed.), 611 "The above map is made to conform to a diagram of the position of the opposing armies during the seige of Petersburg, Virginia, as gotten up by N. Michler, Major of Engineers of the U.S. Army. The position of Elliotts' and Gracies' brigades are mainly represented." Map of the Richmond-Petersburg area showing forts, covered...
    • Contributor: Stinson, J.
    • Date:1908
  • Map
    Fredericksburg to Petersburg, Va. The purpose of this map is uncertain; it may have been to identify the rail lines within the corridor between Fredericksburg and Petersburg. Included (as phrased by Sneden) are the Richmond and Danville Railroad, Lynchburg Railroad, Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, Virginia Central Railroad, and the Richmond Fredericksburg (Railroad). A few key events in the entire war are indicated such as the surrender of Lee...
    • Contributor: Sneden, Robert Knox
  • Map
    Investment of Petersburg by Genl. Grant 1865 Map shows area surrounding Petersburg, Va., on the Appomattox River including all of the Union and Confederate fortifications during the siege of 1864-65 by Genl. Grant. Details include locations of roads, railroads, significant buildings, and creeks. Map extends to north as far as Fort Walthall, to west as far as Wells Church, to south as far as Reams Station, and to east as far...
    • Contributor: Sneden, Robert Knox
    • Date:1865
  • Map
    [Map of the Battle of the Crater, Petersburg, Va]. Accompanies letter of W. to "Willie" [?] concerning the Battle of the Crater and Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, Va. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as a raster image. Manuscripts
    • Contributor: W. [Otherwise Unidentified]
    • Date:1864-07-30
  • Map
    Map of the vicinity of Petersburg : made under the direction of A.H. Campbell, Captain, P.E., C.S.A., in charge Topl. dept., D.N.V. "Approved July 9th, 1864 Albert H. Campbell, Capt. P. Engrs. in chg."--caption. Relief shown by hachures. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as a raster image. Acquired through the merger of the Virginia Historical Society with the Confederate Memorial Association in 1946. Originally part of the Robert E. Lee Headquarters Papers (Mss3 L515 a). Manuscripts o.s.
    • Contributor: Confederate States of America. Army. Dept. Of Northern Virginia. Chief Engineer's Office - Campbell, Albert H. (Albert Henry) - Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward)
    • Date:1864
  • Map
    Sketch of the entrenched lines in the immediate front of Petersburg, Virginia Cover title: Map of the battlefields around Petersburg, Virginia. This item is in the Map Collection of the Library of Virginia; please contact the Library's Archives Research Services department for more information. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image. Aug. 1991, gift, unknown.
    • Contributor: Michler, N. (Nathaniel) - T.S. Beckwith and Company
    • Date:189?
  • Map
    Battles of the Crater and of June 22nd. Shows Union and Rebel lines and fortifications. This item is in the Map Collection of the Library of Virginia; please contact the Library's Archives Research Services department for more information. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image. Dec. 1943, Lydia B. Palmer, ea (lot); March 2004, Map Cataloging Team. Civil War project no.: lva00195. Conservation: Etherington Conservation Center, Jan....
    • Contributor: Korff Brothers
    • Date:1864
  • Map
    Map of the city of Petersburg, Va. : from Lynch's map : with the confederate & federal lines on the east Inset map from: Thirty five miles around Richmond, Va. This item is in the Map Collection of the Library of Virginia; please contact the Library's Archives Research Services department for more information. Available also through the Library of Congress web site as raster image. July 1943, Argosy Book Stores, c; March 2004, Map Cataloging Team. Civil War project no.: lva00196. Conservation: Etherington Conservation Center,...
    • Contributor: Hotchkiss, Jedediah
    • Date:1867

Refine your results

0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *