Battle of Cumberland Church (April 7, 1865)

Updated: February 22, 2013

The Battle of Cumberland Church took place in Cumberland County, Virginia on April 7, 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. 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.

Lee's plan was to march his beleaguered army west to Amelia Court House, where he expected to find much-needed provisions. From there, he intended to move south to join forces with Major General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of North Carolina. As the Confederates moved west, Sheridan's cavalry began hounding them almost immediately. Three minor engagements took place during the next three days at Sutherland's Station, Namozine Church, and Amelia Springs.

On April 6, Lee was marching the Army of Northern Virginia west towards 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.

On April 6, the Federals scored a decisive victory at the Battle of Sailor's Creek, capturing about 7,000 Confederate soldiers, including nine generals. Lee ordered another in a series of night marches to move what remained of his army west. The Rebels crossed the Appomattox River that night but failed in their attempts to destroy the wagon bridge at High Bridge on the morning of April 7, enabling the Federals to continue their pursuit.

After crossing the Appomattox River, Lee found some high ground around Cumberland Church and entrenched to hold back the Federals while providing his men with much needed rest. There, the Rebels withstood several attacks by Grant's 2nd Corps. As evening fell, the Federals called off their assault. During the night, Grant sent his first message to Lee suggesting that the Confederate commander end the bloodshed and surrender the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee declined. Instead, he ordered yet another night march west, hoping to reach potential sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which were now within his sight.

The Battle of Cumberland Church was the last battlefield victory for the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. The achievement was hollow however, for it accomplished little beyond extending the beleaguered army's mounting privations and adding to the war's casualty list. The Union lost 655 men (killed, wounded, and captured/missing), including Major General Thomas A. Smyth. The Confederacy lost 255 soldiers.

While not all of these units were actively engaged in the battle, some of the Ohio units that were present at the Battle of Cumberland Church or in the vicinity of the action included:

Infantry units:

4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

23rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

34th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

110th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

116th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

122nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

126th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery Units:

Battery L of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment

Cavalry Units:

2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry


Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Battle of Cumberland Church," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Apr 2019 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=410>

APA Style

"Battle of Cumberland Church." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved April 23, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=410

Comments powered by Disqus

Help support the ongoing development of Ohio Civil War Central by clicking the banner and then purchasing products from Amazon.com.

Ohio Civil War Central: An Encyclopedia of the American Civil War