tv Fall of Petersburg CSPAN April 8, 2015 5:16am-6:19am EDT
next tracy chornault talks about the long standoff between lee and grant and the entrenchments outside petersburg and the final battles in 186 a.5. he discusses the importance of supply lines to both armies and the disparity between the access in food and ammunition. this talk is about an hour. >> we have programs out there f you didn't get one in the mail pick up a program. i'm going give an abbreviated interduction of the bios we have in the program. trait tracy has a ba in history from avert college in danville and he has worked for the national park service, first part time and then full time starting in 1991
at apamatics courthouse and since 1997 at petersburg national battlefield. and as patrick mentioned tracy is the author of one of the volumes in the howard, virginia regimental history series. this deals with the 18th and 20th battalions of hefry artillery. he is also past president of the lynchburg civil war roundtable, historical society and his talk today sont fall ofis on the fall of petersburg. so please welcome tracy chenault. >> good evening. as most of you know me realize i'm a big baseball guy. and so when pat asked me to come speak on friday evening at 6:00 as the leadoff man, that was the first for me. as most of you can tell by my
size which i've always been large, i never did hit leadoff. i require someone's speedy and i've never been known for that. so to be the leadoff man is something quite new for me. but i was surprised when pat would point out that the new magazine which they have for free in the lobby contains his article because to get to his article you have to read through my article. that should have been the end of the magazine. it could have stopped right there and we could have avoided a lot of that history that would have gone on from it. please pick up one of those and read my article. mike gorman will be here later and then you get to pat's stuff down the line. most you have probably heard
stories of petersburg but never delved into it. when i was at the courthouse my boss at the time ron wilson flovent me who promises to heckle me later asked me when i said i was going to petersburg are you crazy? that's the most unimportant story in all of the civil war. not the civil war in reverse. there is a war we're going to retire on the battery down in charleston and in south carolina and live happily ever after. there is a little more to it than ron knew. so the odds mef getting to charleston, south carolina, by the end of my career is probably slim to none, especially if those higher up in the park service have their way.
i'll probably retire at petersburg whichen this is all overwith. the petersburg story needs a setup before we get to the fall of petersburg. on the 11th day of may in 1864, grabt has squared off against robert e. lee in northern virginia. and grant has just come here in virginia and made it his mission to destroy lee and the army of northern virginia. and on the 11th of may, he's going to send a message back to washington and i quote, i propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." and shortly after that they move right outside of richmond to the cole harbor area where the two great armies battle yet again. and after another stalemate there, grant is then going to set sights to the south of the jam river on the it is yif of
petersburg. now petersburg, virginia in the mid 19th century, is truly a magnificent gem of a city. you're talking about a city that grew up on the fall line of the river. and so at its heart is industry. having harnessed that water power. the people of petersburg live a cosmopolitan lifestyle. they have running water coming into their downtown area. they have a gas works. the streets are lit by gas lighting. the houses have gas lights inside of them. to petersburg, a city of 18,000 people is truly a magnificent city. and if you read accounts of petersburg prior to the civil war, you usually sometime along the line are going to see it referred to as a northern city because of all the industry that reminded people of some of great manufacturing centers that you were finding up north.
now of course petersburg developed a system of transportation to get goods and materials from there. first and foremost, when it was developed of course, the english settlers got there by boat. having sailed up the james river to the mountains and then to the fall line. they find themselves there at that little town that they had established and created. eventually they're going to need to improve the roads for the farmers to get goods and materials into the factories. and so they set up a network of stage roads or plafrpg roads as they were called which are literally just. that roads plafrpged over in wet spots to make it easier to get in and out of the city. the newest, greatest road of transportation that they're exploring, the railroad is now envogue and petersburg is a hub
for that. they could have railroads leading to all four points of the come pass and that brings about the civil war and grant's interest. as the war has begun, petersburg has taken that role as a manufacturing city and shifted it to the war effort and because of all this transportation that makes it easy to come and go from there, it has now become a hub or supply center for the confederate armies in virginia. it's linked by rail. own when grant decides to set his sights on petersburg, virginia in, june of 1864 he's after cutting the supplies that lee's army are living on.
so 15000 union soldiers will descend upon petersburg. petersburg is waiting for union attack. they have been for two years. they built a system of entrenchments, horseshoe in shape all the way around the city. but unfortunately on june 15th for those confederates very few men to man the entrenchments. less than 2500 men. so the soldiers literally rub r rush throughout walls around petersburg and the city's defenses crumble in front of them. the temperatures are in the 100 degree range. it's hot, dry, dusty. having been waiting all day for this battle to begin most of the soldiers are so tired and
worn out that commanding officer decides to simply go into camp right there. right inside the entrenchments. it's better to rally and then dig another set of entrenchments. on the second day of fighting that line holds. for four days grant will pour the army of the potomac across the james river to assault petersburg. 7 70,000 un john soldiers will be knocking on the eastern door to petersburg itself. they have 15,000 men now dug in closer to the city to protect it. and after four days of fighting, that confederate line is held. those 15,000 men have held off 70,000 thou union attackers.
while inflicting over 10,000 casualties in the fields just teest of petersburg. all because of the new way of waging warfare, the defensive system of using earthen entrench entrenchments. and using the power of the entrenchments, they're able to fire the volleys in the relative safety of those union forces coming across the field thousands of men shoulder to shoulder to try to kick them out. and in ten minutes time more
than 600 of those men will fall. the rej ment in front of them has one man killed and 24 wounded. that's the power of these earthen entrenchments. so that is going to drag on. it's going to drag on through the most written about, talked about battle at petersburg which will be the mine assault offer the battle of the crater where union troops tunnel a00 feet from their line underneath of a confederate fort packet full of powder. blow the fort up. and then completely botch the assault on petersburg afterwards and thent lines will be maintained for another eight
months. we find ourselves at cross roads in the country's history n november of 1964 is a very important election. abraham lincoln is running for re-election and it's not clear who the kun stri going to pick as its leader whether it will be his idea of you are unifying the country or whether general mcclel yn and the democrats will have their way with trying to bring the boys home and peacefully end the war. but the country does speak on november 8th and they relekt abraham lincoln and with that, can you say that course is set. because now grand and the union armies operating around petersburg and richmond have their marching orders.
they are to reunify the country. now winter time is no time for armies to maneuver and make those kind of movements. so they go into random quarters. he arrived in mid june and has a log hut built to move into for the winter time. his soldiers are going to do the same thing. and as the armies go into winter camp, they're going to be bolstered by news from home up north that the homlidays have approached and people are celebrating while the confederate soldiers are faced with less and less in the trenches around teepetersburg and morale is hard eastern harder to keep men steadfast to their duty. one of the most important events that happens in the siege of petersburg takes playing not only around petersburg but not
even in the state of virginia. but on the 23rd day of december in 1864, there is an assault on wilmington, north carolina. because by this point in the war, petersburg, this vital transportation system, is literally fueled by just two railroads. one is the south side railroad. i goes out towards western virginia and the all important salt works that con fed rats have there. but arguably the most important railroad coming into petersburg supplying the con fed rats is the one that goes south. the petersburg and weldon railroad whose southern term is wilmington north carolina. why wilmington north carolina you say? well wilmington has not been
successful in taking wilmington. and so with that, wilmington is now the window to the world. and all manner of goods and materials brought from around the world can be brought into wilmington, placed on a rail car and then taken up to petersburg. now union army, of course, hampered that somewhat and the summer of 1864 when they cut the weldon railroad and the two battles that take place there the assaults on the weldon railroad on august 18th 19th and 21st and then further to cut the railroad to the battle of ream station on august 25th. but the confederate still maintain the tror a point into
virginia where they would then transfer those goods off of the rail cards on to wagons. and using that system of plafrpg roads, would take the goods and materials into petersburg that way. but with the union attack on wilmington in december of 1846, it starts to spell doom for one of them. it won't be until the 15th of january that wilmington and f ft. fisher will actually fall. but that is going to set into motion the vents that take place in 1865 at petersburg. because with that fall and with the confederate supplies being cut out, there now becomes a concerted effort to end this
war. and so there is talk of some type of peace being arranged. and very early in february the president of the united states is going to board a steamer side wheel steamer about 180 feet long. it was designed to be a ferry. it was called the river queen. and he and secretary of state william sechlt. ward are going to set sail and come down to hampton roads. and it's there they'll entertain in a peace commission. the vice president of the confederate states of america alexander stevens, senator robert hunt erer and the former justicest supreme court john campbell. and they will try and figure out a way to end this war without further hostility. but they're unsuccessful. and so just two days after that
catching a break in the weather, grant orders his forces to for the if i ever time in the spring of 1865, assault the con fed rats at petersburg. for three days the two armies will engage yet again trying to cut the plafrpgnk road and the supplies coming into petersburg by wagon. the battle ends in a freezing ice storm. hopefully nothing like we have this weekend. but in a storm that is so bad that wounded literally laying there on the battlefield are freezing to death. all of the trees in the area covered with ice cannot be lit on fire to even start fires. the union army moved around a
little bit and unsuccessful in pushing lee out or destroying that army of northern virginia. lee realizing that grant is going to take the initiative as soon as possible starts to look at the possibilities. how he can force grant so leave him at petersburg? by spring of 1865, grant has over 120,000 soldiers in the operational area. they're supplied by a supply base at city point that is served by over 100 ships each day. shows ships have enough food to feed every soldier in that army for 60 days.
lee on the other hand has none of that. so this supply depots at city point is now so instrumental has gone as far to bring 20 locomotives and 200 pieces of rolling stock and construct a railroad from there on the docks directly out to where union soldiers are fighting in the fields and trenches around petersburg. and so the union army is spending the last months of the winter of 1865 relate ofly well supplied. the con fed rats in their lines and east of petersburg can hear the trains. they can hear the whistles as the trains go by. and so therein will come lee's final thoughts for breaking the
stalemate. general john gordon the george jornlian that's been wounded so many time yet still leads a core and lee's army of northern virginia has decided that he can breakthrough the eastern wall that union army has built around petersburg in front of him. cutting that supply line means grant is going to have to withdraw all of the sole jerdz to the west of there back to their supply depots to keep them fed and keep them with ammunition. so on the more than of march 25th predawn general gordon is going to do just that. he launches an assault. he's going to send first 3 auto men across the lines. the first 15 men aren't even allowed to carry rifles.
only axes. the next 300 men can carry rifles but they're not allowed to load them. they don't want to give away the point of assault. as they cut throughout wooden obstructions, the next 300 men force their way into the works around ft. steadman on the eastern side of petersburg and they'll cut a hole in the line on the eastern front of the union army for almost a mile and a half. allowing columns of confederate soldiers to pour through to head towards that railroad just to the rear of ft. steadman. as they got back there they encountered the union camps where soldiers have been spending the winter of 1864 and now into the spring -- 1865
winter. and as they get into those camping areas and those union soldiers are being awakened by this confederate wave that is rolling through the camps they're fleeing. flinging open the doors to the cabin and making their way to the rear much as they reach each street of those camps and find the cabin doors open, their curiosity leads them to look inside and therein lie the supplies they've been wanting for months. and that breaks down the assault on the railroad. because as this wave of confederate soldiers reaches these camps little by little the confederate force breaks away to pillage through finding their for their own needs. and with that, eventually union soldiers will form a pocket
behind this breakthrough. they will end up pressing the confederates back through that fortification and ft. steadman and will send them then back across the open field to their own entrenchments. lee is going to lose 3500 soldiers. those are 3500 men lee could not afford to lose in his defense of petersburg. if you think about it by the calendar, march 25th is just one week to the beginning of april. only two weeks before april 9th of 19865. so with the failed assault on ft. steadman, lee is now going to be forced by union assault.
grant figured if lee could assault with that many men to the east of petersburg, he must have weakened the line somewhere and he orders the other units to go forward and the union six corps which finds itself to the south aest we have of peters burgle capture a large portion of a picket line in front of it there along the jones farm. they'll use the position to start looking for places where they may breakthrough the confederate lints. but perhaps even more important that day is the visitor to that battlefield. because on march 25th of 1865, not only are these two armies fighting against one another, but the president of the united states is going to watch these two armies fight against one another. and one of the simple ironies of the war had the con fed rats reach that railroad to the rear
of ft. steadman. the president of the united states along with the commanding general for u.s. armies is coming through on one of the trains. they're headed out to review the union fifth corps. and just happen upon this bat that will is taking place. the president will ride back to the city point area later that day on a train that not only carries the wounded from the battlefield battlefield, but also confederate prisoners of war. we can only imagine the infect on their morale knowing that what they're up against. san arm is an army so large that an entire corps is pulled from the front lines to be reviewed by the president of the united states while they are so desperately seeking to try and get through.
both sides are going to start to ramp up their efforts at this point. it's an extremely wet spring. it's not perfect weather for a military campaign. but both sides know, especially grant that, if lee gets the opportunity, he is going to aband on petersburg in richmond. he has to. there is really nothing that can keep him there militarily. and so grant says his biggest fear is that he awakens one morning and lee is gone. they will have a conference once again on the river queen. but this time president lincoln who is there at city point on the river queen is going to host general grant, general sherman who just come up from north carolina for the meeting, and admiral david dixon porter. lincoln is going to once again
reiterate to these men what he wants. simply he wants to reunify this country. the problem is having the confederates go along with the plan without the loss of further bloodshed. one of the greatest store yifz the -- store yifzfiesst campaign is the cavalry will play in the closing days. he was study modern warfare and look at movements of modern armies around a field of operations, you are hard to come across anyone that could do the same accomplishments that federal cavalry has done in spring of 1865.
they break camp outside of winchester, virginia on the 27th day of february. they go up the valley heading south and will destroy what is left of the confederate resistance in the shenandoah valley at waynesboro on march 2nd. and they will refit and remount all the serviceable animals and equipment across the james river and be ready to begin this campaign for grant on march 28th. they fought major engagement ashgs cross the state and ready to go into battle again. and grant now gives his orders for his ninth and what will be his final offensive action at
petersburg. that calgary is to swing all the way around the confederate defenses of the city and they're to strike the south side railroad running west. if they encounter too much confederate resistance they are allowed to bounce off further to the west and destroy the richmond danville railroad. if they encounter resistance there, they can do what sherman or sharidan had hoped to do all along and that's go to north carolina and join up with sherman and accompany him and his army here to virginia as well. so on march 29th the calgary sets into motion. union infantry is screening that motion and fighting their first engagement since hatcher's run on the western side of
petersburg around the lewis farm area. they will assault there and then two days later they will pin the confederates and their works around richmond at the battle of white oak road. at the same time that union calgary eneredcountered what lee mustered adds the strike force to stop them with the division of george picket and one would ask, well gorby haven't heard that name since gettysburg. it's probably been two years since you heard this auditorium talk about george picket. that's because george picket's division is decimated at gettysburg. many of those men captured as prisoners of war have been lounging in all the resorts the federal army set up for them. but in the spring of 186 a, those men have been sent back to the army. they've been exchanged back into service. and so now one of the largest
divisions that robert e. lee has available to him is george picket's famed division of gettysburg fame. so they're going to parallel the march of that federal cavalry and first meet head-to-head at a little place called dinwitty courthouse, south and west of petersburg. it will be there that picket actually will kind of bloody sharidan sharidan's nose which may have bnt worst thing he could have done. as i study the civil war, there is no human being i would fear more rather than to serve with or against than the 33-year-old philip sharidan. you didn't get in his way and
did you what he wanted. and so by picket stopping him on march 31st he asked for support from the ibnfanti tri. he didn't like the answer he got. five roads that insect, they were known as five forks. you can go out here in prince everett county and find five forks here. can you go to every county in virginia and find that intersection. but at the one in denwitty, george pick set going to set his men into trenches running east-west right through it. to his back three miles north of there is the south side
railroad. he gets a message from robert e. lee. the message says simply hold five forks at all hazards. it's really the second line of the message that picket should have read. the second line says protect the road heading to ford's depots. protect the supply line. whether sharidan probes the con fad rat, he realizes that picket has absolutely nothing protecting either flank. and so he decides, well, i'm going to deploy the union cavalry all along the front.
union cavalry by 1865 is not the same cavalry you would have found early on in the war. no longer is this a group of mounted men who ride and raids to get information who picket roads, who pull their sabers and go to slashing at one another across open fields. the union cavalry of 1865 is akin to any type of modern force that may use as a mechanic anized infantry. they're primarily armed with a seven shot repeating car beam the spencer. and because of that, they can leave one man mounted. he controls three other horses while those three men move forward on foot to engage the enemy. and using the superiority of the firepower having the literally firing power of 21 confederate soldiers with single shot
weapons, they're able to either subdue their target or fall back to their horses and maneuver to another position on the battlefield. they simply hold them in place while the union fifth corps falls in on the eastern flank. as the union fifth corps arrives on the battlefield, they encounter one mad little irishman. sharidan is fighting sun down as much as he is fighting the con fed rats. he realize that's even picket if left there overnight is going to fall back to the railroad. and he wants to gobble them up before the sun goes down. but it's now 4:30. sun down is around 6:30. so they have two hours.
so in that two hours union infantry along with union cavalry will move forward and hitting the eastern end of that confederate line will literally roll it right back through the intersection. grant has one of his staff officers there. you're probably going to hear his name more and more associated with the next couple of weeks. his name is horace porter. he is going to ride from the battlefield there at five forks. so grant for the first time in this campaign has left city point and he just made his headquarters in the field with the armies. he is set up at the staem saw mill. and having arrived there at the saw mill when horace porter rides back into that camp that evening, he reports that sharidan has completely defeated the confederate force protecting
the south side railroad. of course, can you imagine after 9 1/2 months what it must have been the relief for the union officers finally realizing that they are on the verge of capturing lee's last supply line knowing very well that he is either going to have to fight to defend it or leave. grant disappears into the tent. and a few minutes later he merges and he reads to the officer's gathered there the content of the message. i have ordered a general assault along the lines. and so on the night of april 1st, 186 a5, a day that one confederate officer describes as all fools day, a day of evil omen, an artillery barrage begins.
it begins from richmond all the way along the lines all the way around petersburg, everywhere union artillery can fire on confederate positions and they'll continue to bombard the confederate lines all night. grant knows that if lee is going to go back out there to fight sherman or sharidan he is going to have to pull troops out of the line. and so the next morning he is going to probe everywhere along those lines to find that weak point. the first place they probe the line on the morning of april 2nd is going to be the union nineth corps. and they will breakthrough the confederate lines at ft. ma hone. but gordon stops the breakthrough and pushes union troops back and they the battle throughout the day on april 2nd to the south of petersburg. at the same time, the union
sixth corps is moving through. having captured the picture lines at jones farm on march 25th they now find themselves much closer to the confederate line than they had been. so he will end up breaking through the confederate lines there south of petersburg. and once they breakthrough to the south even lee from his headquarters at the turnbel house can see his lines crumbling. he sends the commander for that sector down to figure out what is going on and a.p. hill and one staff officer come across two union soldiers in the woods. they order them to surrender and the union soldiers shoot first. and a.p. hill will be lost. petersburg is getting ready to fall. and with that, the union sixth corps turns south to push all of the con fed rats out of the line south of them. leaving a gap fortunon 24th
corps, the army of the james that is brought to petersburg to go through andhood in petersburg. at that point, lee is going to send a message to the confederate secretary of war, john breckenridge. and breckenridge is going have that message forwarded to the president of the confederate states. he was in church service on the morning of april 2nd. that telegraph says i see no prospect of holding more than holding our position until night and not certain i can do that. i advise that all preparations be made for leaving richmond tonight. shortly after, the union second corps engages the confederate army west of petersburg. thael end up severing the south side railroad and now that lee has no reason to stay he simply wishes to stay long enough to
gather up his army without having to fight street by street for their retreat. >> he's there to the south and west of town at two little uncompleted forts. ft. greg and ft. witworth when held off 8,000 soldiers with no more than ahundred500 or 600 men. finally, lee is going to send secretary of war breckenridge one final note. it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight or run the risk of being cut off in the morning. and overnight on april 2nd the con fet federates will fleet pettersburg. the trench that's they have lived in from 9 1/2 months are now going to be left behind.
it is written that at 4:28 on the morning of april 3'd the first michigan sharp shooters go into petersburg and their color guard will break in to the courthouse. they will climb the clock tower of the courthouse. they will break open the clock face. and it's there that they will unif you recall their national colors the first time the flag of the united states has flown over petersburg in four years. peters petersburg is now no longer involved in the civil war. pretty soon after that the city councilman have written up an order and they march out in different directions trying to find grant to try to spare the city from being burned or looted or pillaged.
which doesn't happen. he will establish his headquarters in a home in downtown petersburg the thomas wallace home. and at 9:00 this marng, the president of the united states gets on a train and he comes in to petersburg and he will actually ride through the lines for the fighting had been that morning. he'll ride in and meet with general grant there in petersburg on april 3rd. it's there that he once more will state his objective.
the reunification of the country is a week away. thank you. >> we'll take a few minutes of questions and then after the questions we'll take a ten minute break. if you have a question if you can, come down to one of the microphones at the front of the aisle so we can be recorded on c-span that they hear your question. >> you want to be on tv right? >> if you can't make it to microphone, i'll bring a microphone to if you you put up your hand. i'll bring it back you to. >> everybody but ron. ron doesn't get to ask any questions. yes, sir? >>. [ inaudible ] >> i also fear being the leadoff batter. >> you're in manchester city better shape to be a leadoff batter than i am, however. >> i have a question about the trenches, the confederate trenches in petersburg. we've been in vixburg where, of
course, they were dug in for a number of months. and and. [ inaudible ] >> what about the trenches in petersburg? of course, we know about the trenches in world war i in france. they were elaborate. the german has wooden reinforceme nchl ts and rooms that were carpet eded dug into the soil in france. what about the trenches in petersburg. >> that's a great question. it always -- whenever i -- a ploist programs at petersburg, we do with the united states military. the united states army has one of the largest support bases at ft. lee adjacent to us. and ft. lee started in 1918 as camp lee because we were getting ready to send young men offer to europe to fight in the trenches of world war i.
and yet we didn't have anywhere to train for trench warfare. so they look into their magic ball and say hey, they're all the trenches left around peters petersburg from the civil war, let's go there. and that's what brings camp lee to petersburg is the study the trench warfare. they're going to be similar to an extent to what you find in world war i. the soil around petersburg noefrtfor the most part is clay. does it allow conducively for the digging of trenches because it does hold its shape somewhat. so war trenches are fairly easy to figure out. you dug a ditch in front of you. and the size of that ditch be it ten foot deep and ten foot across that, dirt is thrown back against a log or a a wall and that's what creates your trench. and so because of that you're able to build rooms used for the most part you'll find over time there that most of those trenches were held in place by
wood. the ravages of weather would wear them down. but do you find where they would break into houses and you will find sketches of sofas in the trenches and you'll find where these men late rallyiterally living in the trenches around petersburg. i mentioned earlier when they get to petersburg, it's hot. it will stay hot for one month. when they arrive at petersburg, the temperatures are written as being around 100 degrees. now there is nobody walking warn a thermometer. they don't have the weather channel to go back to or anything. they talk about how hot it is in june of 1864. we know from the time they arrive on june 15th, it does not rain until july 19th. so the first month these guys are there digging into these trenches. they are digging in this hot, muggy summer time like you find all the time around here. but it's dry. and then, of course you end up
with the thunderstorms and wet weather conditions and then you get into the winter which becomes one of the muddiest, wettest winters on record around petersburg. so it would have made living in the trenches an absolute nightmare. see these men going back for reunions around petersburg is they didn't want to return to what they remembered about petersburg. it was a place, as ron told you, you didn't want to go there. the trenches are very similar to world war i. if you want to get a good look at the trench systems around petersburg, the beauty of petersburg is it is extensively
photographed. mike is going to show you some wonderful pictures of richmond that are done the single way. if you go to loc dot gov you can scroll through hundreds of the trenches around petersburg. did that answer your question? yes, sir. i think you were up first. >> i'm originally from erie, pennsylvania. now living in the d.c. area. as far as five forks was concerned, fifth core rolled up the confederate left very successfully, but its commander was relieved by sheridan. i would like to ask you to share some thoughts about the incident and share his reasoning and ultimately after he had passed away. warren was vindicated and not
court martialed. >> there are certain polarizing figures in the civil war. we were taught grant was a drunkard. we all know to hate george custer for just being george custer. if you were around the civil war, you would have had two polarizing figures around the civil war. one general sheridan and the other is warren. warren finds himself being a democrat in a republican army. you can only imagine what he and winfield go through being supporters of general