Battle of Petersburg III (April 2, 1865)

Updated: February 22, 2013

The Battle of Petersburg III, also known as the Breakthrough at Petersburg and the Fall of Petersburg, took place at Petersburg, Virginia on April 2, 1865, during the Appomattox Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert to strike the Confederacy from several directions. Grant would travel with Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; and Major General Franz Sigel would invade western Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee's army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade's flank.

The Union Army of the Potomac relentlessly engaged the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia throughout the spring of 1864. By June, Grant forced Lee to retreat to the Richmond-Petersburg area. Thereafter, both armies entrenched, and a stalemate ensued for the next ten months. During that period, Grant probed Lee's defenses but to no avail. Despite being well entrenched, the Confederate situation grew progressively worse as supplies dwindled. By the spring of 1865, Lee knew that, when the weather allowed, his army must escape the Union stranglehold or be starved into submission.

On March 25, 1865, Lee made one final attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg by ordering forces commanded by Major General John B. Gordon to attack Fort Stedman, a Union fortification in the siege lines surrounding Petersburg. Gordon's pre-dawn attack was successful initially, but blistering Union counterattacks forced the Rebels back inside their lines.

Grant's spring offensive, the Appomattox Campaign, began in late March 1865, when General Philip Sheridan's troops south of Petersburg moved west with orders to threaten or to capture Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, which connected to Petersburg from the southwest. Grant intended to cut off supplies coming into Petersburg and to prevent Lee from using the two arteries as avenues of escape from the city. On March 29, Major General G.K. Warren's 5th Corps defeated several Confederate brigades commanded by Major General Bushrod Johnson at the Battle of Lewis's Farm. Two days later, the action resumed at the Battles of White Oak Road and Dinwiddie Court House, as Lee shored up his right wing to halt the federal flanking maneuver. On April 1, Philip Sheridan and Warren continued their offensive, with a major victory over Major General George Pickett's forces at the Battle of Five Forks. The loss of that strategic crossroads further threatened Lee's already limited supply lines. 

Encouraged by the Federal victory at Five Forks, Grant ordered a general assault on the Confederate entrenchments around Petersburg on April 2. From midnight until 2 a.m., the Federal artillery rained a massive bombardment upon the Confederate lines. At 4 a.m., the Union 6th Corps, commanded by Major General Horatio Wright, left its entrenchments and smashed into the Rebels on the Boydton Line south of the city. By 4:40, the Federals had breached the Rebel defenses and began wreaking havoc. Shortly before 7 a.m., Union Corporal William Mauk shot and killed Major General A.P. Hill as the Confederate officer was riding to meet his soldiers in the confusion.

To the west, Major General Andrew Humphreys’s 2nd Corps broke the Hatcher Run Line and drove the Confederate defenders back into the city’s inner defenses by late afternoon.

To the east, Major General John G. Parkes 9th Corps struck Fort Mahone and the Jerusalem Plank Road line. After forcing the Rebels from their entrenchments, the Federals withstood a fierce counterattack by elements of Major General John B. Gordon’s 2nd Confederate Division during the afternoon.

By 10 a.m., Lee realized that the day was lost, and he advised President Jefferson Davis to prepare to leave the Confederate capital at Richmond. By late afternoon, as the Union offensive slowed, Grant decided to let his men rest as he planned a final assault for the next day. Lee spent the afternoon preparing to retreat. As darkness fell, the Army of Northern Virginia began evacuating Petersburg and Richmond, moving west in a desperate attempt to join forces with Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of North Carolina.

The Battle of Petersburg III was costly to both sides in terms of casualties. The Confederacy lost approximately 4,250 soldiers (killed, wounded, and captured/missing), compared with 3,500 men lost for the Union. The battle was also a death knell for the Army of Northern Virginia. Forced from its entrenchments around Petersburg, the tired and hungry Confederate army was doomed to succumb to the overwhelming Federal forces it faced during the next week.

Among the Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Petersburg III were:

Infantry units:

60th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

62nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

67th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

110th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

116th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

122nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry


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"Battle of Petersburg III," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 22 Nov 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=404>

APA Style

"Battle of Petersburg III." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved November 22, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=404

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