Information about The Appomattox Campaign, which led to The Battle & Surrender At Appomattox Court House, one of the last Civil War Battles of the American Civil War
Appomattox Campaign Facts
Dates: April 9, 1865
Generals: Union: Ulysses S. Grant | Confederate: Robert E. Lee
Appomattox Campaign Summary: The Appomattox Campaign culminated in the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse and the surrender of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, signaling the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse took place on April 9, 1865; it followed the Siege of Petersburg and General Robert E. Lee’s thwarted retreat during the Appomattox Campaign.
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was able to cut Lee’s final supply line into Petersburg on April 2 in the Battle of Five Forks, causing Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2–3, ending the Siege of Petersburg. Lee planned to regroup at Amelia Courthouse, about 40 miles west of Richmond and Petersburg, where rations would arrive from Richmond. He planned to then head south, where he hoped to meet General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee coming from North Carolina. Together, the two armies would be able to dig in and possibly mount an offensive against Grant.
Grant had decided on a course of pursuit intending to cut Lee off, surround him, and force a surrender rather than decimate The Army of Northern Virginia in Petersburg and Richmond. To that end, he sent Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry to cut off Lee’s direct southern route the night of April 2–3. On April 3, ordered Major General George G. Meade’s infantry to follow.
When Lee arrived at Amelia Courthouse on the morning of April 4, the expected rations from Richmond had not arrived. His men needed food and supplies, so instead of continuing their rapid retreat, he sent men into the countryside to obtain supplies from local farmers. Unfortunately, they returned with very little.
On April 5, they began to march south but encountered elements of Sheridan’s cavalry within a few miles. Rather than attack and continue south, Lee changed his plan and turned the men west toward the South Side Railroad about 20 miles away in Farmville, planning to resupply there and continue on to Lynchburg. This would also put the Appomattox River between the two armies, which would be a considerable obstacle for Grant’s men if Lee was able to burn the crossings.
Having lost precious time at Amelia Courthouse, Lee had his men march non-stop in an effort to outrun the Union pursuers and arrive in Farmville with enough time to reprovision his men before continuing the retreat. On April 6, Sheridan was able to exploit gaps in Lee’s column of tired, hungry soldiers south of the Appomattox near Sailor’s (Sayler’s) Creek, cutting off about one quarter of the retreating army. The Federals overwhelmed and captured many of the Rebels, including generals Richard Ewell, Custis Lee, Montgomery Corse, and Joseph Kershaw. Those not captured hurried to catch up with the vanguard, which consisted mainly of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s Third and Fifth Corps. When Lee saw the survivors streaming up the road, he said "My God, has the army dissolved?"
High Bridge, Farmville, and Cumberland Church
Before Lee’s men were overrun at Little Sailor’s Creek, Grant and Meade had both guessed at Lee’s plan and sent a raiding column to burn the High Bridge, a 2,400-foot-long trestle railroad bridge—an engineering triumph for its time, with a parallel, lower, wagon bridge over the Appomattox. Lee and Longstreet were alerted to the raiders and sent their own cavalry in pursuit. When the Battle of High Bridge was fought later that day, the Rebels won and held the bridge. The remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia were able to cross to the north bank of the Appomattox on the night of April 6–7. They set fire to the bridge behind them and crossed the river again into Farmville, where they began to receive rations from several train loads and prepare meals on the morning of April 7.
Lee planned to cross back to the north side of the Appomattox and head for Appomattox Station, where additional supplies and rations would be waiting. Although the northern route to Appomattox Station was eight miles longer than the southern route, Lee hoped to delay Grant’s men by a day or two by burning both sets of bridges to the north side of the river, requiring them to maneuver pontoon bridges into place to cross the unfordable river.
Before the rations could be fully distributed or prepared and eaten, the sound of gunfire alerted the Confederates to a Federal approach from the east. Lee sent the supply trains on to Appomattox Station; by the time the last of his men crossed back to the north side of the river and set the bridge afire, Sheridan’s cavalry, never far behind them, arrived in Farmville. While Confederate artillery subdued the Federals in Farmville, the infantry marched north toward Cumberland Church and, to Lee’s surprise, additional sounds of gunfire. Lee discovered that his orders to burn the High Bridge had not been fully carried out: part of it had survived. Lee’s men lit the railroad bridge and had just begun to set the lower wagon bridge afire the night of April 6–7 when the Union II Corps under Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys arrived. Humphreys’ troops were able to chase off the remaining Confederates, save the lower wagon bridge, and move on Lee’s flank April 7 at Cumberland Church.
Anticipating that the Federals would approach from the north and east, and needing to protect the Confederate wagon train as it continued west, Lee’s men had laid their breastworks in a rough fishhook line at Cumberland Church. About 2 p.m., Humphreys arrived with two of his three divisions —the third had advanced towards Farmville. Elements of Sheridan’s cavalry were also closing in after finding nearby fords. However, the Confederates were able to fend off the Federals, even capturing about 60 men. Humphreys had hoped for reinforcements from Farmville, but Lee had succeeded in burning both the rail and wagon bridges.
As darkness fell, the fighting ended. Lee would have to push his men to march another night to escape the Federals, but before he left the area, Longstreet handed him the first letter from Grant suggesting surrender and an end to further bloodshed. Lee handed the letter back, saying, "Not yet," still hoping to outrun and outmaneuver Grant.
Grant had set up headquarters in Farmville and was able to procure a pontoon bridge. The VI corps was crossing to join the II corps, while Sheridan’s cavalry was following the southern route to Appomattox. As Grant was preparing to set out on the morning of April 8, he received Lee’s reply to his letter, in which Lee asked what Grant’s terms of surrender might be. Grant replied and offered to meet with Lee at a place of Lee’s choosing to discuss the full terms of a surrender, then set out over the bridge on the northern route toward Appomattox Station and Courthouse.
Battle of Appomattox Station
During the late afternoon and evening of April 8, Maj. Gen. George A. Custer pushed his division of Union cavalry forward to Appomattox Station, where Confederate supply trains were waiting. Brigadier General Reuben Lindsay Walker’s artillery, camped nearby, was taken by surprise. In the short but fierce battle that ensued—unusual in that it was mainly artillery against cavalry—the Union cavalry prevailed, capturing 25 guns and burning the trains. Sheridan arrived as the fighting was ending and, realizing how close they were to surrounding Lee, sent word to Grant to urge on the infantry corps. The final confrontation of the campaign occurred the morning of April 9 in the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. Before the sun set that day, Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army to Ulysses S. Grant.