June, 1864-April, 1865: Siege of Petersburg Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Union general Ulysses S. Grant repeatedly failed in previous operations to turn General Robert E. Lee’s flank so that Richmond would be exposed to attack. Grant changed his strategy, making his main objective to capture Petersburg, an important railroad and supply junction, after crossing the James River from the south. He would then be in a good position to make a direct assault against the Confederate capital once Petersburg was under Union control. Grant’s Army of the Potomac managed to keep Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia unaware of his movements for several days. However, misunderstanding, a lack of coordination, and disorganization among Union commanders put a halt to the original plan.

Union general Ulysses S. Grant repeatedly failed in previous operations to turn General Robert E. Lee’s flank so that Richmond would be exposed to attack. Grant changed his strategy, making his main objective to capture Petersburg, an important railroad and supply junction, after crossing the James River from the south. He would then be in a good position to make a direct assault against the Confederate capital once Petersburg was under Union control. Grant’s Army of the Potomac managed to keep Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia unaware of his movements for several days. However, misunderstanding, a lack of coordination, and disorganization among Union commanders put a halt to the original plan.

Union soldiers waiting in their trenches for the start of the Battle of Petersburg. (National Archives)

Lee’s forces were able to reinforce and defend Petersburg; a ten-month siege began. The Union forces bungled the situation further by exploding a mine, costing many lives. Grant eventually took Petersburg after Union forces routed the rebels at Five Forks. This Union victory placed a tremendous strain upon Lee’s limited manpower and resources.

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