Battle of Rice's Station (April 6, 1865)

Updated: May 08, 2011

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.

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. Federal troops breached the Confederate defenses during the Battle of Petersburg III and forced the Rebels to withdraw to the city's inner defenses. 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. Lee spent the afternoon preparing his withdrawal from Petersburg.

As Lee moved his army west, he attempted to slow the Federal pursuit by destroying bridges behind him. A key bridge along his path was High Bridge, a railroad bridge that spanned the Appomattox River about six miles east of Farmville. Constructed in 1854, the bridge was an engineering marvel, 2,400 feet long and reaching a height of 125 feet above the river. Adjacent to the railroad bridge and closer to the valley floor stood a smaller bridge built for wagon traffic.

On April 6, Lee was marching the Army of Northern Virginia west toward Farmville, where supplies awaited. Lee's 1st and 3rd Corps, commanded by Major General James Longstreet, led the march. Major General Richard Anderson, commanding the army's 4th Corps, followed Longstreet. Two more divisions, led by Major General Custis Lee and Major General Joseph B. Kershaw, under the command of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, trailed Anderson. The Confederate 2nd Corps, consisting of three cavalry divisions, commanded by Major General John B. Gordon, served as Lee's rearguard.

As Lee moved west, he attempted to slow down the Federal pursuit by destroying bridges behind him. A key bridge along his path was High Bridge, which crossed the Appomattox River about six miles east of Farmville. When Longstreet's soldiers reached Rice's Station, they began entrenching to secure access to the bridge until the Confederate army had passed. Early in the afternoon, the 24th Corps of the Army of the James, commanded by Major General John Gibbon, approached Rice's Station on its way to destroy High Bridge. When Gibbon encountered Longstreet's entrenchments he deployed his soldiers for battle, and heavy skirmishing ensued. With evening approaching, Gibbon decided to forgo an immediate assault against the Rebels. During the night, the Confederate army safely passed over High Bridge, and Longstreet withdrew toward Farmville.

Neither side lost many soldiers at the Battle of Rice's Station. The skirmishing did impact Lee's retreat however, by diverting attention and possible Rebel reinforcements away from the Battle of Sailor's Creek, which was raging just a few miles to the east.

No exclusively Ohio units participated in the Battle of Rice's Station.


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"Battle of Rice's Station," Ohio Civil War Central, 2020, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Sep 2020 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=409>

APA Style

"Battle of Rice's Station." (2020) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 23, 2020, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=409

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