Western Front

After the Union army failed to capture Petersburg in a direct assault, Grant’s objective was to swing west and cut all roads and rail lines feeding in to the city that supplied the Confederate army. Through the summer and fall of 1864, General Grant used his numeric superiority to employ simultaneous engagements at Petersburg and Richmond forcing Lee to defend both cities and in turn diminish the Confederate response.

For the control of these dirt roads and rail lines more than 42,000 men became casualties in the last eight months of the siege. These men were traded for the life these routes provided the Confederate cause and the victory their demise meant to the Union.

Voices from …

“Now we will rest the men and use the spade for their protection until a new vein can be struck. As soon as [the] Cavalry is rested we must try & cut the Enemy’s lines of communication.”

June 18, 1864 at 10 P M
Telegram from Grant to Meade

According to Grant’s words, the Siege of Petersburg began on June 19, following the failure of the initial assaults on Petersburg. Grant wired this telegram to General Meade, explaining the change in strategy for the Union army. For the next nine-and-a-half months, soldiers from both armies dug in to fight, in what became miles of trenches west of the city. The routine of siege life was marked by long periods of boredom and inactivity in the trenches, suddenly interrupted by frightening moments of movement, action, and battle. In this landscape, soldiers from both armies dealt with homesickness and intense heat as often as the exchange of shot and shell.

Read accounts of a Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers who endured this harsh landscape around the city for nearly ten months. Learn more about their experiences on the Western Front.

A native of Boston, Charles Wellington Reed served as bugler of the Ninth Massachusetts Battery. He fought in battles from Gettysburg to Petersburg, serving in the trenches around Petersburg from June 64 to October 64. After this time, he was detailed to Fifth Corps Headquarters at Petersburg as an assistant topographical engineer. His accounts of Petersburg are those taken from his experience in the trenches.

John Haley served in Company I of the 17th Maine Volunteers from August 1862 to June 10, 1865, the date it mustered out. He described himself as a soldier below criticism, poor fighter, present all the time. Like Reed he fought in many battles throughout the war, including the siege of Petersburg. His accounts are also taken from the trench line.

Unfortunately, single accounts of the siege of Petersburg were not recorded among Confederate soldiers like the detailed diaries and journals that exist among Union soldiers. For that reason, the voice of the Confederate soldiers is the voice of many. The following Confederate accounts are taken from more than thousands of letters and diaries written by hundreds of Confederate soldiers and officers.

Moving / Marching

Union Perspective:
July 1
“Marched for Petersburg ... We arrived at the breastworks that Burnside took at daylight June. Were under fire all day but not in position. We had to stand and take it ... the next morning the rebs were driven from their works and we then went in and fought for an hour or so with four other batterys ... We soon drove them this time across the Norfolk and Petersburg RR then another advance ... we came out on the night of the 20th and lay to the rear, a few days in the woods then the 5th corps moved to the left relieving the 2nd corps, and we come in here.”
- Charles Reed

Sept. 7th, 64
“We were ordered to harness up in expectation of an attack to be ready to move down if occasion required. But did not move and shortly after dark we were allowed to unharness and pitch our tents again. But we were not allowed a quiets night rest for at 12 Midnight we were called out to be ready to move at a moments notice, which soon came and we hauled out of position on to the main road running parallel to the R.R. north and South. . . the cavalry scouring out through the woods dodged in on the rebs picket line driving them in, and capturing three with but very little firing and no one hurt. . . finally after all this night tramping at 8 o clock in the morning we returned to our old position on the right of the R.R. we had just fairly got settled down in camp when we were ordered to pack up and hitch up ready to move at a moment.”
- Charles Reed

Thursday, September 1, 1864
“On the Weldon R.R. Morning 1-45 all ready to march. 3d Div to march at 2 a. m. got started about 4 a. m. went down on the left found nothing. Came back and struck out from the left of the R.R. the cavalry captured two Johnies. Finally went back to camp.”
- Charles Reed

Weather

Union Perspective:
Sunday, June 26
In position. The weather still intensely warm. The least exertion causing the perspiration flow copiously.

Monday 27
In Position on the Jerusalem Plank raod. Still intolerably warm. Can neither read, write, or take scetches. Very quiet in our immediate vicinity.

August 3d/64
Fort Warren near Petersburg

You have not the slightest idea how intensely hot it is out here. The slightest exertion causes an instant flow of perspiration in profuse streamlets taking the very vitality away from me. Stand outside ones tent five minutes and you will not want to move a peg the rest of the day. Yesterday ... I was obliged to walk some five or six miles in the scorching ray of the sun. I was nearly melted my shirt draws pants blouse and every thing I had on was wet through and through. My boots even were so soaked that it was with difficulty I got them off at night and on this morning I was good for nothing the rest of the day ...”

Wednesday, July 10, 1864
Fort Warren near Petersburg, Va.
Were blest with a delightful shower during the night, and continuing through the day. Soon became muddy to an unpleasant degree.

Sept. 9th\64
Have been wet to the skin for days, have slept in mud, stood in mud, kneeled in mud to avoid shells, worked in the mud, rode in the mud, been spattered with mud from head to foot with mud by shot and shell and drank muddy water. Altogether we have had a nasty time of it.

Confederate Perspective:
The weather is exceedingly dry and hot, have not had a drop of rain for more than a month. It seems to me that the soldiers can’t stand it much longer.
- 2d Lt. E. Harleston Barton, 2nd South Carolina Rifles.

It is so dry & hot I cant hardly live.
- Sergeant 56th North Carolina

I feel very much refreshed today as it is the first rain we have had for two months and probably a longer period. The dust was excessively annoying.
- Benjamin Simms, Georgia

It has been raining now for two days and the trenches are nearly knee deep in mud.
- Soldier, 24th North Carolina

Digging / Building

Union Perspective:
July 18th
Fort Warren, near Petersburg

“... You will see by the heading of this that we are in a fort. It is an immense affair being four hundred feet square and it not quite completed yet. It is situated only about two hundred yards from the position we have been occupying on the Jerusalem Plank road. The rebs have not found it out yet as there was a heavy and high screen of brush and trees thrown up between us and the rebs completely hiding the work from the enemys view ...”

Sunday, 19th
Ordered up to the same position in line we had yesterday. A fine breastwork was thrown up by the infantry during the night, which with a little altering answered our purpose ‘to a T’.

Confederate Perspective:
We are fixing up here though as if we intended to remain a life time. Genl Lee has issued a circular to the Division Commanders ordering them to do everything here to their works and camps that will be conducive to the health and comfort of their commands, that we were liable to remain here a long time.”
- Sgt. Maj. J. Mark Smither, 5th Texas

We work day & night on our works making them better, safer, & stronger. The work is done by details 35 or 40 working at a time, the balance of the regt lay in trenches ready to meet the enemy if they should attack us.
- North Carolina Major

The works are quite formidable here on both sides and constantly improved – in so much so that both sides are afraid to attack.
- Georgia Staff officer

Battle

With the siege underway, Grant ordered numerous Federal offensives along the Petersburg-Richmond front. His goal was to stretch the thinning Southern lines further, by alternating attacks north and south of the James River to threaten Richmond and Petersburg while Lee was forced to shift troops to meet him at both points. Read more about the battles from the lines.

4th Offensive: Battle of Weldon Railroad / August 18th – 21st
Days 65 – 68
Grant ordered the Fifth Corps to strike westward against the Confederate right on August 16th. The ultimate objective was the Weldon Railroad, a vital supply line between Petersburg and the deep South. The attack began early morning on August 18th. Confederate forces reacted swiftly, but underestimated the Union strength.

Union Perspective:
Friday, August 19
On the Weldon R.R. before Petersburg. Quiet during the am. The enemy attacked our right with vigor driving in our lines and coming out of the woods into a cornfield on our right, where we repulsed them handsomely, with some loss in prisoners on both sides ...

Sunday, 21
The enemy attacked us early this morning. Their artillery having a complete flank fire taking us in the rear as well as front. They charged our battery but were repulsed and driven back. Our canister layed them out. We received a terrific shelling. Lt. Milton had a narrow escape from a shell. Rained very hard in the evening. I was wet to the skin.

Confederate Perspective:
Oh mother the men we have lost on the road (Weldon) and made nothing for the Yankees is well fortified. Most of our brigade is killed and wounded. . . I am afraid we will have to go up on the road in a few days again to charge the Yankees for all of us to get killed. . . Our men have been fighting up on the road since Friday but never accomplish much by charging the Yankees work, only lost men.
- James King Wilkerson, 55th North Carolina

5th Offensive: Battle of Peebles Farm / September 20 – Oct. 2, 1864
Days 107 - 110
After a quiet month following the Battle of Weldon Railroad, Union forces launched yet another offensive aimed at both the Richmond and Petersburg fronts. While the Army of the James, north of the Appomattox River, moved against the Richmond defenses, some of the Army of the Potomac moved against the Confederate right to threaten the South Side Railroad.

Union Perspective:
Friday, September 30, 1864
Fort Duchesne Weldon RR. Fighting resumed this a.m. more to the right. Our corps doing splendidly the 9th broke an ran. Two lines of the enemy taken and a fort with one cannon.

Confederate Perspective:
In this fight our troops gained a most decided victory with small loss but most heavy to the enemy. If we can gain such victories with what troops we have & against such odds what will we do when we get in all the detailed men.
- Confederate / Third Corps

The Yankees have gained some advantage on both sides of the River tho’ their losses are much heavier than ours. I must confess that (to me) things do not look so squally as some people seem to think.
- Third Virginia Private

There is a considerable margin of soil yet remaining that we can afford to give up, and still keep Ulysses Grant out of Richmond.
- Col. William T. Poague

Oh it was and awful time Saturday chargeing the Yankees in the rain through the woods and swamps and thickets, and the balls flying thick and fast in every direction and men getting killed and wounded hollowing all over the woods.”
- Pvt. James King Wilkerson, 55th North Carolina

Battle of Hatcher’s Run / February 5th
In early February, Grant launched another offensive aimed at cutting off Confederate-supply wagon traffic on the Boydton Plank Road. He planned to do this by sending cavalry out to destroy as many wagons as they could find while two other Corps provided support to keep the Confederates occupied. General Lee feared for the safety of both the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, had Confederate forces assume the offensive against this movement. The Union anticipating such a response dug in and repulsed three separate attempts to break their lines.

Union Perspective:
Heard the drums and bugles sound reveille at 3 o’clock and knew something was about to happen. Of course we expected to hold the picket line till the culmination of the movement. Great was our astonishment to receive an order to fall in when the column came along. . . We had only a few moments to consider before we saw the head of the column approaching, preceded by a division of cavalry. As our regiment came along we fell in, and the column moved down toward Hatcher’s Run. . . We soon made a breach in the Rebel lined and moved on. . . The Rebels tried in the afternoon to sever our connection with the left of our line. . .[they] confidently advanced, but were hurled back leaving most of their dead on the field.
John Haley

Shot and Shell

Union Perspective:
July 1
In Position near Petersburg, Va
On the Jerusalem Plank Road
“... this is the seventh day we have been in line here. I am ensconsed in a snug little hole safe from bullets and big balls I hope. We got into position safely enough relieving another battery under cover of a dark night without drawing the enemy’s fire ... The next day the sharpshooters and skirmishers commenced early and kept up their annoying fire all day ... we were obliged to lay low that day. The only decent spring near us was just in good range of their sharpshooters and when we could stand thirst no longer one of us would take a pile of canteens and make a run for it ...”

October 20th
During the day it was quiet, but in the evening the Johns made up for any excess of inactivity. Those who sat in the front-row seats received many tokens of affection from across the way. Our mortars in and about Fort Hell reciprocated these tokens. At night went on picket again. It begins to look as if we have not wholly escaped the dangers of the front.
- John Haley

Confederate Perspective:
Considerable sharpshooting along the line and cannonading, a man cant expose himself a second now without he hear the Zip of a Minnie.
- Texas Private

The siege progresses slowly, & no new developments are transpiring. Dig, dig, dig! Is the word; while boom, boom, boom! From the mortars, & the shrill whistle of the minnies, alone, break the monotony of the tiresome, demoralizing, debilitating siege.
- Ord. Sgt. James W. Albright, 12th Battalion Virginia Light Artillery

The situation here is unchanged in every respect. . . . It has become to be such a continual day and night business that it excites neither notice or remark.
- Capt. Francis Marion Coker, Third Corps Artillery

We wore through a month of guard duty, mortar shelling, and sharpshooting, watching and waiting for the affray, but no assault was made.
- South Carolina Brigadier

Many is the luckless fellow, who, in an unguarded moment, shows his crown above the works & receives into it a ball that ‘settles the hash’ with him forever. Sometimes a man is struck down dead without himself or any one near hearing the report of the gun that sent the fatal bullet. Such is war as now conducted.
- North Carolina Soldier

I cant write much about the war our men & the yanks are lying in their ditches shooting at one another all the time.
- Alabama private

Some of our men place an old hat on a ramrod & elevate it just enough for the Yankees to see it, & then coolly count the shots that hit or miss it.
- Capt. Benjamin Wesley Justice

Just this moment a Shell fell in the ditch about 20 yards to my feet & fortunately only wounded two men. I allow on Company at a time to go out and bathe in the river during the day and it so happened that the shell fell where the Company was gone from so there was only a few men where it fell if the Company had all been in it would have hurt several them.
- Maj. William Sammons Grady, 25th North Carolina, Early July

Rations / Supplies

Union Perspective:
December 30th
Went on picket near Hatcher’s Run, where we had a rumpus in October. The trees area all battered and bruised as if nature had been on a rampage. The Rebs are picketing on the west side of the run on the Vaughn road and are anxious to trade but afraid to approach us. They are dressed (if such I may call a condition so near nudity) in old carpets and pieces of quilt – anything that will cover them.
- John Haley

September 8th
The Confederates took it into their heads today to have a diversion with Grant’s railroad. They don’t take kindly to the fact that we have obtained a controlling interest in the Weldon Railroad. With this supply route cut off, flour has advance to one hundred dollars a barrel in Richmond, and other articles have risen in proportion.
- John Haley

September 23rd
Rainy and uncomfortable. We should have fared badly enough in camp, where we have small shelters – out here we have none, and but little fire. On picket our only tent is the sky, and it is leaking badly now. We munch hardtack and raw pork, washing it down with cold water.
- John Haley

July 21st
Not a military thing to record, only the usual morning fusillade in front of the 18th Corps. Other report than those of firearms reach us from the front, one that make us desire to share some of their danger that we might also claim some of the ... luxuries. While we revel in an abundance of pork and hardtack, it is said that they are kept on rice, canned fruits and meats, potatoes, pickles, dessicated fish and vegetables.
- John Haley

Confederate Perspective:
I am afraid we are going to have a good deal of sickness this summer. The men are looking very badly and a good deal complaining. . . We don’t get anything to eat but bread and meat and coffee and peas; just one thing all the time. The Dr. says that is what makes the men sick so much.
- Samuel Lockhart, 27th North Carolina

We can’t get anything to eat only what we draw. We can’t get vegetables of any description. Our rations are one pound of meal and one fourth pound of bacon a day. I get about a tin cupful of peas cooked every other day. I just believe that I could eat as much more as I get and then not have enough.
- William Leak, 22d South Carolina

There are score of men in this army who are almost destitute of clothing, and would be glad of the commonest articles. But the private soldier is first and foremost in one thing only, and that is in battle.
- A Ragged Private

Deserting

Union Perspective:
February 27th
Another lot of deserters landed in our midst with the same old story of want and starvation to tell. All of them agreed that the Confederacy is played out, but their leaders will never give up as long as they can get a following.
- John Haley

December 23rd
At 11 o’clock we were ordered out to witness an execution of an Englishman charged with desertion with intent to betray. He had left our lines a little to the left of Fort Sedgwick ... He threw the bandage from his eyes at least twenty times. He would take off his coat and walk around, then put it on and sit on his coffin ... The marshall and chaplain finally lost patience and informed him that no more fooling around would be allowed. With this, he submitted to the bandage, and in a few moments his body was riddled with bullets. It was a great relief when it was over.
- John Haley

March 18th
Nothing of note going on this morning, only a notice that we should go out at 10 o’clock to witness an execution ... The victim this time was a person whose intellect was in several senses below par, and this is by no means the first such instance I have noticed. The men who were selected to do the shooting made a botch of it and hit the man everywhere except in a vital part. He rolled on the ground, writhing in agony until the reserve, two in number were ordered to finish him, which they did by blowing his brain out. It was the most sickening sight I have ever witnessed.
- John Haley

Confederate Perspective:
I hope this will be the last year of the war & I believe it will if our men will only fight with one half the spirit that they have heretofore. I Sometimes of late think that they are not quite so full of ardour & Spirit as they were the first two years of the war, and with the last few weeks we have [had a] good many desertions.
- Confederate Third Corps

It is now half after 3 oclock P.M. & one of Capt. Crumplers men (James Ray) is to be shot at 4 oclock. His crime was desertion & cowardice. I am sorry for the boy for I do not really think he has any sense. He will be shot here in the trenches before the Regt. I would give almost anything to be absent when it is done. Though he deserves death, I don’t want to see him shot.
- Confederate Soldier

Death

Union Perspective:
October 24th
We lost two commissioned officers in our company today, and with but one bullet. The missile passed through Captain Hobbs’s lungs and lodged in Lieutenant Widden’s shoulder. The captain, who had just been promoted to this rank, died in five minutes.
- John Haley

Confederate Perspective:
Even the death of [a] solder is looked on as one of those inevitable results of War . . . a man drops out of the ranks and is scarsly spoken of, after a few moments. I hear men talking laughing & singing when two were killed an hour ago and they appear as unconcerned as if nothing had happened.
- Maj. William Sammons Grady, 25th North Carolina

Whilst we husband our ammunition and the enemy are thinning our ranks with comparative impunity – our men being compelled to simply suffer and endure – a moral effect is being produced which may prove very detrimental to our future success.
- Bushrod Johnson

Profiles of Duty

“I have no doubt that there is suffering for want of food. The ration is too small for men who have to undergo so much exposure and labor as ours.”
- General Robert E. Lee, January 27, 1864

In the days, weeks, and months that soldiers guarded their ever expanding lines around Petersburg, one thing became very clear. A soldier’s spirit and willingness to fight was entirely dependent on being properly clothed, equipped and fed. As the days grew shorter and colder, soldiers in both the Union and Confederate armies did not see an end in sight to the fighting and misery of the siege. Morale and confidence was necessary to endure the harsh winter months. However, it was difficult for soldiers to keep their spirits high when their stomachs were empty.

Explore how critical supplies were to an army through the efforts of the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps and learn how important equipment was to the infantry soldier fighting in the trenches.

Equip an Infantry Soldier

“There has been a great deal of stealing going on recently & every camp near ours has been robbed at night of provisions clothes boots . . .A robbery of clothes is now quite a serious matter.”
Confederate soldier
Late December

By December of 1864, soldiers from both armies had settled into the daily routine of picket and trench duty. With the weather growing colder, they welcomed the end of active operations for the year and a chance to build proper winter shelters. Particularly, those soldiers from Lee’s army, hoped that they would have a break from the constant whiz of bullets and shells. Getting adequate clothing for the cold winter months was a concern for soldiers of both armies, though Union soldiers fared well in this regard thanks to the depot at City Point. For Confederate soldiers, however, getting proper equipment was another matter entirely.

Imagine that you were a soldier in the trench lines around Petersburg in the winter of 1864 and 65. For five long months you have been laying low in the trenches, listening to the whiz of bullets and the roar of artillery shells. What equipment did you need to have behind these trench lines to survive the fighting in the Western Front for five months, and still another four months to come? Take a look and find out.

Knapsack
Knapsacks were initially issued to all infantrymen and other soldiers who habitually served on foot. Soldiers carried many of their belongings and supplies inside the knapsack. The majority of knapsacks were made of cotton cloth painted black or coated with some preparation of this color which rendered them waterproof. The longer a soldier served, the less he learned that he needed to keep in his knapsack.

Union Perspective:
When a campaign was fairly under way the average infantryman's wardrobe was what he had on. Only that and nothing more...It seemed rather sad to see a man step out of the ranks, unsling his knapsack, seat himself for a moment to overhaul its contents, transfer to his pocket some little keepsake, then, rising and casting one despairing look at it, hurry on after the column. Many would not even open their knapsack, but, giving them a toss, would leave them to fate, and sternly resume their march."
- John D. Billings, 10th Massachusetts Battery

Confederate Perspective:
This knapsack weighed from fifteen to twenty-five pounds, sometimes even more ... The knapsack vanished early in the struggle ... as [it] was found to gall the back and shoulders, and weary the man before half the march was accomplished.
- Edward McCarthy, Richmond Howitzers

Sack Coat or Shell Jacket
The U.S. army sack coat was loose and formless, with four large uniform buttons, and carried no braid or decoration of any sort; it even lacked shoulder straps. Its greatest assets were comfort, simplicity of manufacture and cheapness.

The shell jacket was established as the upper garment of the Confederate enlisted man, though soldiers from both armies wore shell jackets. It was initially made of wool, uniform in color and shape.

Union Perspective:
And rainy day & no drill. We have drawn our clothing so there is considerable washing going on . . .I drew a coat & will wear the old one on fatigue also. . .
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers, November 19, 1864

Confederate Perspective:
The heat was at times terrific, but the men became greatly accustomed to it, and endured it with wonderful ease. Their heavy woolen clothes were a great annoyance; tough linen or cotton clothes would have been a great relief; indeed, there are many objections to woolen clothing for soldiers, even in winter."
- Edward Stevens McCarthy, Army of Northern Virginia

Trousers
The enlisted soldier wore straight, cuffless "stove pipe" trousers, fairly full. Creasing was unknown in those days and trousers were pressed round, if pressed at all. U.S. army issue trousers were made of sky blue kersey, while Confederate soldiers wore gray or butternut.

Union Perspective:
“... I went down and washed evry bit of our clothing (but coats) & boiled them & now we will be rid of lice perhaps for a few days at least. . . We feel much better. Most all of us have got what we call the ground itch which is caused by being so dirty. Our clothes is packed full of dust & our skins is caked with dirt.”
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers / At Petersburg, August 1, 1864

Confederate Perspective:
“I sold my pants, vest, shoes, & drawers for sixtyone dollars so you see I am flush again. . . You will have to make me more pants and drawers, if you can raise the material make two pair of pants & four pair of drawers ...”
- Virginia Soldier

Forage Hats, Kepis, Slouch Hat
The forage cap was commonly worn by soldiers of both armies during the Civil War. The wool forage cap was mass produced in 1861, with visors of roughly cut pieces of leather that rapidly assumed a curved shape. The sides collapsed so that the top tended to incline forward. Similar to the forage cap, the kepi was a copy of the French officer's hat. The kepi was shorter and was not very popular because it did not protect from the rain or sun like the slouch hat. The soft-brimmed felt slouch hat was popular throughout the Confederate forces. It was practical, comfortable, and protected soldiers from the sun and rain.

Confederate Perspective:
Some of our men place an old hat on a ramrod & elevate it just enough for the Yankees to see it, & then coolly count the shots that hit or miss it.
- Capt. Benjamin Wesley Justice

Boots / Brogans and Socks
The "Jefferson boot" was the dress regulation shoe of foot soldiers. The Jefferson meant a high quarter shoe. The tops were moderately high with from two to five pairs eyelets for laces. Soles were sewn to uppers or fastened by pegs, nails, and occasionally rubber. Socks were often thick wool.

Union Perspective:
“... the weather lately has been altogether to warm for fighting, even in the shade we strip to our shirts and breeches. Boots and shirts is saturated with perspiration without the least exertion on our part ...”
- Charles Reed, Ninth Massachussets Battery, June 28, 1864

Confederate Perspective:
“... all I lack is my over coat. If you can send it I would be glad I do not want any blankets if you send any clothing but my coat let it be a par of sockes.”
- Pvt. Alfred Newton Proffit, 18th NC

“Caps were destined to hold out longer than some other uncomfortable things, but they finally yielded to the demands of comfort and common sense, and a good soft felt hat was worn instead."
- Francis McCarthy, Richmond Howitzers

Haversack
Every soldier on field service was issued a haversack or "bread bag" in which he carried his rations and eating utensils on the march. It was worn over the right soldier and rested on the left hip, with a tin cup usually buckled to the strap. The haversack was used to carry field or "marching rations" such as hard bread, salt pork, or fresh meat, sugar, and coffee. Items like tobacco, paper and pencil and a sewing kit were also carried in the haversack.

Union Perspective:
“The very thought of fresh vegetables made me throw away all caution ... I crawled along worm-fashion to the pea patch and soon filled my haversack ... I grabbed as many beats and squash as could be carried by the tops and , with my haversack ... I proceeded to crawl out on my belly.”
- John Haley, 17th Maine, June 18th

Confederate Perspective:
First he gathered a few small twigs and made a very small fire. On the fire he put a battered old tin cup. Into this he poured some coffee from his canteen. From some mysterious place in his clothes he drew forth sugar and dropped it into the cup. Next, from an old worn haversack, he took a chunk of raw bacon and a "pone" of corn bread. Then, drawing a large pocket knife, in a dexterous manner he sliced and ate his bread and meat, occasionally sipping his coffee."
- Edward Stevens McCarthy, Captain First Company Richmond Howitzers

Canteen
The canteen was the vessel in which the soldier on active service carried his drinking water or some other refreshing liquid. Canteens were made of several materials, but wood and tin were by far the most usual in this period. Some were also covered in wool cloth. The strap allowed it to be worn over the right shoulder opposite the cartridge box.

Union Perspective:
There was not a drop of water with any of us, and with three canteens beside my own I started off in quest of some. Seeing a house not far off, hither I went, finding many there ahead of me, getting the precious liquid out of a very deep well. I cannot describe my feelings as I drew near the water, for my lips were parched with thirst."
- Daniel G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Musket and Minnie Balls
The model 1842 was the standard arm of the Infantry soldiers prior to 1855. At the outbreak of the Civil War thousands of these arms were stored in U.S. and state arsenals. Additional thousands were in the hands of state militia. As a result, the model 1842 saw extensive Civil War action, especially in the first two years of the war. They fired a solid round shot known as buck and ball shot. Rifled muskets were used extensively at Petersburg, where the conical Minnie ball was fired at a much faster and accurate speed than the buck and ball shot.

Union Perspective:
On an advance into the cornfield, a shower of bullets flew around our heads. We had no protection but corn stalks, but not a man was hurt. This was nothing short of miraculous because the air was full of flying devils, whistling and screaming around us, cutting cornstalks and grass as clean as a scythe."
- John Haley, 17th Maine Volunteer Regiment

Bayonet
This weapon was usually only used when the moment came for charging. It was a knife fixed to the front end of a musket or rifle. The order to 'Fix Bayonets' had a special significance as the mark of a serious determination to overrun the enemy. Alternatively, the bayonet was also used among soldiers as a candle holder or a digging tool when soldiers did not have proper equipment to dig trenches.

Union Perspective:
The Thirty-Seventh New York go into the fight with a wild cheer, and drive the rebels at the point of the bayonet. The firing along the line is terrific...Drawing up in line in an open field, we wait for the expected charge. They emerge from the woods beyond, and every man is ready to give them a warm reception...but we have no occasion to use them, for the rebels get back into the woods again."
- Daniel G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Belt and Cartridge Box
The infantry wore a black leather waist belt. To the right end was attached a buckle. Pictured above, the belt of Union soldiers had an oval brass plate, stamped with "US" representing their army while Confederate soldiers had a “CS” stamp. On this waist belt, soldiers would sometimes attach their cartridge box that contained inserts to carry paper black powder cartridges to fire their rifles.

Union Perspective:
“... my work was finished so I cleaned up my gun & accourtriments ready for the Inspection & muster tomorrow.”
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers, December 30, 1864

Blankets
Soldiers from both armies were issued wool blankets and gum blankets. Soldiers on field service could pack their blankets and other provisions in their knapsack that could become very heavy on a long march in the hot sun, so infantrymen got rid of their knapsacks and carried their belongings in blanket rolls slung over either the right or left shoulder. Soldiers would lay the gum blanket, with the rubber side facing the ground. The rubber side would keep them dry if the ground was wet while they slept at night.

Union Perspective:
"Winter life in camp is very weary, as it is but one routine over and over again--reveille in the morning, breakfast call, sick call, guard mount call, drill call, dinner call which is the best of all calls; the batallion, or brigade call, which is not liked very well; dress parade call, supper call, roll call and taps, which means lights out and cover up in blankets."
- D.G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Confederate Perspective:
I fear there will be much suffering as many of the men are badly supplies with blankets, clothing, etc. . . The weather is growing quite cold.
- Hospital Steward, North Carolina

Rations
Among the food rations a soldier commonly carried in his haversack was salt pork, dried beans, coffee and hard square crackers made of salt, flour, and water. Hardtack was one of the major staples for both Northern and Southern soldiers.

Union Perspective:
“We got some pickled cucumbers and onions this evening. They are verry nice. So much for the Sanitary Commission & we got 4 cans of preserved turkey, beef & tomatoes & once before get Sourkraut & We live well now.”
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers / July 4, 1864 at Petersburg

Confederate Perspective:
“Well I Cant say that we are hungry. I Can live on bread and water if they would only give us plenty of bread but if you will take one tinful of flour & make it up with Cold water and bake it you will find it don’t make much bread.”
- Private Alexander Fewell, 17th South Carolina

USMRR Construction Corps

Victory rode the rails at Petersburg. Grant commenced siege operations around the Petersburg and Richmond fronts by late June 1864, with his targets south of the James being key Confederate supply routes. However, Union soldiers could not accomplish this task of eliminating Confederate supply routes without receiving the necessary supplies themselves. Food, weapons, clothing, and digging tools were vital to their success. The United States Military Railroad Construction Corps was instrumental to the success of the Union army.

Follow their efforts in getting supplies to the front for those soldiers fighting more than twenty miles from the Union supply depot at City Point.

Getting Supplies to the Front
“Five locomotives and about 100 cars are running continuously between City Point and Clark’s Station – six miles out on the Petersburg Railroad [City Point] transporting supplies and forage for men and animals. Other preparations are being made that point to a permanent occupation of City Point ...” --New York Herald article, July 7, 1864

During the month of July, six locomotives operated on the Military Railroad between City Point and the Petersburg front, logging a total of 6,220 miles for the month. This distance only increased, as the construction corps received new orders to expand the track, and the supply depot at City Point steadily grew over the next eight months.

Follow the timeline below to find out more about the work of the Military Railroad Construction Corps on a monthly basis of getting supplies to the troops in the field.

August
By the end of August, the corps received orders to extend the railroad line and to construct

“... an immense building for a Bakery ... To do all this I can only muster about one hundred Laborers and a little less than two hundred carpenters. We can draw on the Army ... for soldiers to aid us but I wish, for the time being, we had about 600 good laborers and that our Carpenter gangs were full. We have, besides the work mentioned above, the usual amount of work to do here; wharf building, warehouses, etc...”
--Letter written by Charles L. McApline, Engineer of Repairs, August 30th

During the month of August, the same six locomotives had logged 6,820 miles, an average of 220 miles per day. The construction corps now needed to meet the needs of the army once again, by extending the lines. With the help of two thousand infantrymen, they completed the extension by September 10th.

September
“Heavy trains of ammunition and supplies would pass over the track; and when on top of a grade or hill, a full head of steam would be put on, giving the train sufficient speed and momentum to drive it up over the next hill opposite; if it did not succeed, the train would back down to the hollow and take a fresh start, and with the aid of the troops pushing, it would be got over the ascent; but this didn’t happen often, the engineers knowing the draught of their train, and what amount of steam was necessary, were pretty successful ... This railroad was a great benefit to the army.”
--Annual report of military railroad

The new railroad extension was completed to the Weldon Railroad on September 10. The length of the new branch was 9 miles, with the distance along the Petersburg front totaling 14 ½ miles. During the month of September, 7 engines operated on the railroad logging in 8,720 miles.

October
Labor Assignments issued by Quartermaster Ingalls on October 24th to the Construction Corps:

1st to have the work at the landing completed such as the ordnance and coal wharves ... the putting up of a building for clerks and the laying down of the track to the clothing store house.

2nd to lay down the track to the Bakery

3rd to lay the extension from the Weldon ... some two miles.

4th to put all disposable force on the new Hospitals.

This is the order I wish work performed but if the different jobs can be executed simultaneously or in part at some time, I have no objections. Please be governed by your own judgement in that.

During the month of October 11 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front, logging a total of 11, 240 miles, an average of 363 miles each day.

November
“The inclement season is now setting in and the men are but poorly sheltered and unless some provision is soon made for their comfort. . . sickness must ensue ... We will be well up with our work on Saturday if the weather permits ... Our Wharfing is all completed, also [the] Hospital and Bakery Side Tracks and I hope by the first of next week to be able to put all the repair men and track force on the repairs as the road is greatly in need of surfacing etc. so as to render transportation safe.”
--Morgan, Chief Commissary of Subsistance

During the month November 12 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front, a little over 16 ½ miles in length. These locomotives logged in a total of 14, 337 miles and averaged 477.9 miles each day.

December
“City Point has become remarkably settled in her habits, during the last five months ... The transports come quietly into dock, and are met by the railway train which runs along the wharf, so that supplies can be taken from the transports and loaded directly on to the cars, and then they are ready to be sent to the front. Immediately the engine whistles, and off goes that train to give room for another ...”

During the month of December 12 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front, a length measuring 17 ½ miles. These locomotives logged in a total of 13, 798 miles and averaged 445 miles each day.

January
“For three days past it has rained constantly and very heavily and every thing as usual is afloat although no accidents luckily have occurred. The extension ... [of the railroad] was completed and the first train squished the track out of sight so that the mud was six inches to a foot over the rail. I have been doing what we could to get it in order again and as today opens without rain, I hope ... to make it all right soon ... It is the best (or will be) piece of ‘Army’ Railroad we have built ...”
- McApline, Engineer of Repairs

During the month of January 12 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front. These engines logged in a total of 16,089 miles and averaged 519 miles each day.

February
“We climb up to the top of a loaded train and are soon whirling through the bright morning air, on the railroad between City Point and Petersburg. A little over five miles from City Point, the railroad branches off to the left, through a piece of woods and around the city of Petersburg ... Everything is so quiet and still that you hardly believe that between you and that city, there are two hostile armies, who have been seeking to destroy each other all they can for almost eight months ... We shall now find a city of camps all along the way ... We must do our business and hasten back ...”
- Wilbur Fisk, Vermont soldier who worked at the Depot Field Hospital

During the month of February 12 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front. These engines logged in a total of 17,373 miles and averaged 620 miles each day.

March
“[They have] organized an efficient construction corps, provided rolling-stock, for which it was necessary to make onerous demands upon the manufacturers of the loyal States ... It gives information upon the means and the cost of supplying an army by railroad, and the manner of repairing and reconstructing railroads in a hostile country, which is of great interest to soldiers and engineers. The results are remarkable triumphs of military and engineering skill ...”
- Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton in a letter to President Lincoln

During the month of March 14 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front. These engines logged in a total of 18,721 miles and averaged 604 miles each day.

April
“[They have] organized an efficient construction corps, provided rolling-stock, for which it was necessary to make onerous demands upon the manufacturers of the loyal States ... It gives information upon the means and the cost of supplying an army by railroad, and the manner of repairing and reconstructing railroads in a hostile country, which is of great interest to soldiers and engineers. The results are remarkable triumphs of military and engineering skill ...”
- Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton in a letter to President Lincoln

During the month of March 14 locomotives operated on the Military Railroad along the Petersburg front. These engines logged in a total of 18,721 miles and averaged 604 miles each day.

April
After the Military Railroad Construction Corps enjoyed a day of rest on Sunday, April 2nd, word soon spread that the Union army had at last taken Petersburg and Richmond. The war’s end was close at hand. The daily work of the construction corps was essential to the success of the Union army in their defeat of Confederate forces in the siege. Victory rode the rails at Petersburg.

As described by one Union recruit,

“Two freight cars accommodated our company, the men sitting on their knapsacks, the officers on their valises. For the first few miles we speed along right merrily, but soon sensations most unique are experienced. The cars are not rocking unusually, but – can it be possible – they certainly are plunging ... We are testing that novelty of modern warfare, Grant’s military railroad ... Unprecedented conditions presented themselves as essential elements in its engineering problems, and their fulfillment indicates the power of military necessity ... and yet the fragile structure was the aorta of the army.”

Grant versus Lee

Between August 14-21, 1864 Grant and Lee will conduct two battles on either end of the same siege line that is now nearly twenty-five miles long. Soldiers on both sides will be marched or transported back-n-forth between Richmond and Petersburg either to fight, to support those fighting, or to relieve other troops to fight. In these seven days over 10,000 soldiers will be killed, wounded or missing

4th Offensive

In mid-August of 1864 Gen. Grant launches the fourth offensive of the siege. It will reflect the pattern established in the previous offensive as Grant will first send Union troops north across the James River to attack Confederate positions near Richmond and then send other Union forces southward around Petersburg. The difference is that Grant will no longer directly assault Petersburg, but instead seize a Confederate supply route into the city. By hitting both ends Grant seeks to stretch Lee’s forces, discover and exploit the resulting weakened point in the Confederate line, and keep Lee from sending reinforcements to other Confederate armies in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, or the Carolinas.

The initial target on the north bank of the James River is a Confederate position at a landing 10 miles southeast of Richmond called Deep Bottom. The targeted supply route at Petersburg is the Weldon Railroad which links Lee’s forces to North Carolina and the last open Confederate port at Wilmington, NC.

Battle Map 8/12/04
Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
August 12, 1864

It having become evident that the enemy has sent [men] north . . I am determined to see if we cannot force him to return here or give us an advantage. . The Second Corps will march here this afternoon to embark in steamers. After dark tomorrow night the pontoon bridge will be laid at [Deep Bottom]. As soon as laid the cavalry and artillery will commence crossing. The infantry . . will reach Deep Bottom about 2 a.m. the 14th. I hope to have prompt movements and favorable results.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/13/04
Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
August 13, 1864

If the enemy are reduced as much in numbers as we have every reason to believe they are [the Second Corps] movement [to Deep Bottom] tomorrow may lead to almost the entire abandonment of Petersburg . . Either move to the [south of Petersburg] with such troops as you can take from the Ninth & Fifth Corps.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/14/04
Gen. Hampton
Cavalry commander
August 14, 1864

Halt your command and return toward Richmond. [A Union] division [of cavalry] is crossing at Deep Bottom
R.E. Lee

Gen. Field
Richmond Defenses
August 14, 1864

Have sent to halt Hampton . . Aid the cavalry all you can and drive back enemy.

Two brigades [of infantry] go from [Petersburg]. This may be a feint top draw troops from [Petersburg]. Watch closely . . .
R.E. Lee

Wife
August 14, 1864

I have been kept from church today by the enemy’s crossing to the north side of the James River [at Deep Bottom] & the necessity of moving troops to meet him. I do not know what his intentions are.
R.E. Lee

Battle Map 8/15-16/04
Richmond
August 16, 1864

... The enemy in heavy force are advancing [toward Richmond] ... I recommend the works at Richmond be manned.
R.E. Lee

Richmond
August 16, 1864

At one time [Union forces] broke through [at Deep Bottom] but was repulsed, and we now occupy our original positions.
R.E. Lee

Washington
August 16, 1864

The fighting [at Deep Bottom] today has resulted favorably for us so far as it has gone but there has been no decisive results. . . I have relieved the 5th Corps from the trenches and have it ready to march around Petersburg if the enemy can be induced to throw troops enough [toward Richmond] to justify it.
U.S. Gran

Battle Map 8/17/04
Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
August 17, 1864

The 5th Corps [will] commence a movement [southward around Petersburg] at 4 a.m. [next] morning with the intention of getting on the Weldon [Rail]road and to take advantage of any weakness that may be discovered in the lines of the enemy.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/18/04
Richmond
August 18, 1864

This afternoon [at Deep Bottom] . .our line advanced against the enemy . . to discover his strength and position; . . and finding him strongly entrenched withdrew.

About noon the enemy in front of Petersburg the enemy moved his 5th Corps towards the Weldon Railroad, when he was met [by Confederate troops] who drove him [back], capturing prisoners.
R.E. Lee

Washington
August 18, 1864

[The Fifth Corps moved] this morning to and across the Weldon [Rail]road about [three miles] south of [Petersburg].
U.S Grant

Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
August 18, 1864

Have the [Fifth Corps] close up on Petersburg, . . and intrench and stay there. So long as the enemy is occupied [around Richmond] he can spare no force to drive [the Fifth Corps] away. When we withdraw from [Deep Bottom] the [Second Corps] can go to [the Fifth Corps’] support and the 10th Corps will relieve the 18th [Corps] from their trenches [freeing up] another Corps.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/19/04
Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
August 19, 1864

[Three Confederate] divisions came out and attacked [the Fifth Corps] this evening. A heavy fight ensued with considerable loss in prisoners captured on each side. As we understand [another Confederate] division is also in Petersburg. This leaves [about three Confederate divisions] to guard from Petersburg to [near Richmond]. There must be a weak point somewhere.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/20/04
Richmond
August 20, 1864

[We] attacked the enemy’s Fifth Corps yesterday afternoon . . three miles [south of] Petersburg on Weldon Railroad. Defeated and captured [thousands of] prisoners . . Loss on our side believed to be smaller than that of the enemy.
R.E. Lee

Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
August 20, 1864

. .all the troops from [the Deep Bottom area] are ordered to return [south] tonight.
U.S. Grant

Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
August 20, 1864

If the enemy comes out to attack [around Petersburg] we will have the advantage of position. If they hold their lines only & persist in sending more troops to [fight in the Shenandoah] valley we can extend [their lines here] still further. I am not so particular about holding the Weldon [Rail]road permanently as I am to destroy it effectually & to force the Enemy to attack us with advantages on our side.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 8/21/04
Gen. Field
Richmond Defenses
August 21, 1864

If all the enemy has left send as many of your brigades [to Petersburg] as you can spare.
R.E. Lee

Richmond
August 21, 1864

The enemy abandoned last evening his position [at Deep Bottom] & returned to [Petersburg]. This morning [our forces] attacked his position on the Weldon Railroad . . from which he was not dislodged.
R.E. Lee

Post Battle Map
Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederate States of America
August 22, 1864

I think it is his [the enemy’s] purpose to endeavor to complete the evacuation of our present position by cutting off our supplies, and that he will not re-new the attempt to drive us away by force.

His late demonstration [at Deep Bottom] was designed I think in part, to cause the withdrawal of troops from [Petersburg] to favor his movement against the [rail]road, but to endeavor if possible to force his way to Richmond. . . It behooves us to do everything in our power to thwart his new plan of reducing us by starvation . .
R.E. Lee

Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
August 29, 1864

I do not want to give up the Weldon [Rail]road if it can be avoided until we get to Richmond. That may be months yet.
U.S. Grant

Conclusion
Nearly two weeks after the fighting at Deep Bottom and Weldon Railroad General Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis as to the impact of the fourth offensive of the siege:

“ As matters now stand, we have no troops disposable to meet the movements of the enemy or strike where opportunity presents, without taking them from trenches and exposing some important point. The enemy’s position enables him to move his troops to the right or left without our knowledge, until he has reached the point at which he aims, and we are then compelled to hurry our men to meet him, incurring the risk of being too late to check his progress and the additional risk of the advantage he may derive from their absence. This was fully illustrated in the late demonstration north of the James River, which called troops from our lines here [at Petersburg], who if present might have prevented the occupation of the Weldon Railroad. These rapid and distant movements also fatigue and exhaust our men, greatly impairing their efficiency in battle.”

Four weeks later Grant would launch another offensive that would exceed the scale of this one and threaten to force Lee from Petersburg.

5th Offensive

Grant originally planned to launch the fifth Union offensive in early October. But with the fall of Atlanta, and Union victories in the Shenandoah Valley combined with Lee’s continued shipping of troops to the valley, Grant felt that Lee was now vulnerable enough to perhaps be driven from Richmond or Petersburg. On September 24th he had made up his mind to strike at the end of September and started issuing orders. The template of the previous offensive would be repeated as the Union would strike first at Richmond and then at transportation routes into Petersburg. Grant hoped to make Lee think the main objective was around Petersburg allowing the Union to possibly seize the Confederate capital.

During the better part of September, Lee had been writing to Confederate officials on the need for more men. Lee thought that the previous Union offensive had clearly demonstrated how serious this need was. The day of Atlanta’s fall Lee wrote, “The strength of the enemy [at Petersburg] is such that we can spare none of the regular troops from their trenches for active operations in the field . . “. This would continue until the end of the month when, two days after Grant had committed to launching the next offensive and three days before the Union assaults would begin, Lee again is writing Richmond,

“I cannot impress upon you too strongly the imperious necessity of getting all our men subject to military duty to the field. We should have them with the armies now. . . According to this diminished estimate you will perceive that within the times specified about 10,000 men over those he has sent away have been added to General Grant here If I had negroes to replace the teamsters, cooks, and hospital attendants I could increase each division many hundred men.”

In the early morning of September 29th the fighting explodes on the north bank of the James River and will rage for the next two days from Richmond to Petersburg as places such as Chaffin’s Farm, New Market Heights, Poplar Spring Church, and Peebles Farm will be added to the roll of fields where American soldiers laid down their lives.

Pre-Battle Map
Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
September 27, 1864

GENERAL: On the morning of the 29th instant a movement will take place intended to surprise and capture the works of the enemy [near Deep Bottom and the defenses of Richmond]. The troops engaged in this will be taken exclusively from the Army of the James . . . . As a cooperative movement with this you will please have the Army of the Potomac under arms at 4 a.m. on the 29th ready to move in any direction. . . . I want every effort used to convince the enemy that the South Side [Rail]road and Petersburg are the objects of our efforts.
U.S. Grant

Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
September 27, 1864

Prepare your army according to the verbal instructions already given for moving on the morning of the 29th instant. . . The movement should be commenced at night, and so as to get a considerable force north of the James River, ready to assault the enemy's lines [at] Deep Bottom, and [in front of Richmond]. . . The object of this movement is to surprise and capture Richmond, if possible. This cannot be done if time is given the enemy to move forces to the north side of the river. Success will depend on prompt movement at the start. . . The whole of the force under General Meade will be under arms at 4 a.m. on the 29th, ready to attack Petersburg or move to the South Side [Rail]road, as circumstances may determine. . . If the enemy resists you by sufficient force to prevent your advance, it is confidently expected that General Meade can gain a decisive advantage on his end of the line. The prize sought is either Richmond or Petersburg, or a position which will secure the fall of the latter.
U.S. Grant

Battle Map 9/28-29/64
Washington
September 29, 1864

[The 18th] corps advanced this morning and carried the very strong fortifications and long line of intrenchments below Chaffin's farm, ... The whole country is filled with field fortifications thus far.
U.S. Grant

Richmond
September 29, 1864

[Confederate forces] repulsed the several attacks of the enemy made against the intermediate line of [Richmond] defenses, capturing many prisoners. The enemy still hold Battery Harrison on the exterior line. Our loss is very small.
R. E. Lee

Adm. Mitchell
James River Squadron commanding officer
September 29, 1864

I request that the bridge at Chaffin's [Bluff] may be protected and defended by your boats.
R. E. Lee

Richmond
September 29, 1864

General Ewell reports the enemy have possession of Fort Harrison. Order out the locals and all the other troops to his assistance.
R. E. Lee

Gen. Ewell
Military Department of Richmond commander
September 29, 1864

Have telegraphed [Richmond] to order out locals [militias]. Endeavor to retake Fort Harrison.
R. E. Lee

Gen. Pickett
Bermuda Hundred Front
September 29, 1864

Watch operations and endeavor to aid all in your power. See whether enemy have diminished in your front, and, if so, what re-enforcements you can send to north side. Request co-operation of the navy.
R. E. Lee

Gen. Pickett
Bermuda Hundred Front
September 29, 1864

[Confederate force at Deep Bottom] reports having captured prisoners from [the 10th & 18th Corps (US)], who say they crossed just before day this morning. These troops may have left your front. General Lee says it is very desirable, if practicable, for you to relieve a brigade to be available for service on north side of James.
W. H. Taylor
Assistant to Gen. Lee.

Gen. Ewell
Military Department of Richmond commander
September 29, 1864

Can you not draw some troops from your left to retake Fort Harrison? It will take time for troops from here to reach north side. Don't wait for them; endeavor to retake the salient at once. Pickett has been ordered to send a brigade to north side.
R. E. Lee

Confederate Force
Richmond defenses
September 29, 1864

Endeavor to ascertain nature of movement and of what enemy's force is composed. [Three brigades have] been ordered to north side.
W. H. Taylor
Assistant to Gen. Lee.

Confederate Force
Fort Darling – on James River just South of Richmond
September 29, 1864

Telegram received. Can you not send a force to defend the bridge above Chaffin's [Bluff] from this end? Communicate with commander of James River Squadron and request him to see to protection of bridge by his boats.
R. E. Lee

Washington
September 29, 1864

Union cavalry was in sight of Richmond at last accounts. . I did not expect to carry Richmond, but was in hopes of causing the enemy so to weaken the garrison of Petersburg as to be able to carry that place. The great object, however, is to prevent the enemy sending re-enforcements to Early [in the Shenandoah Valley].
U.S. Grant

Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
September 29, 1864

General Meade will attack at daylight in the morning. If the enemy have detached largely he may be able to carry Petersburg. If so, I can send two corps, using railroads and steam-boats for the infantry.
U.S. Grant

Julia
Wife
Sept. 29, 1864

Our troops surprised and captured a very long line of strong fortifications. . Before morning I presume the enemy will have his fortifications around Richmond well manned and we will have to stay out for the present.
Ulys. Grant

Battle Map 9/30/64
Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
September 30, 1864

If the enemy can be broken and started, follow him up closely. I can't help believing that the enemy are prepared to leave Petersburg if forced a little.
U.S. Grant

Washington
September 30, 1864

General Butler reported. . That the enemy had just made an assault . . . on his line near Chaffin's farm, and had been repulsed. No report from Meade since he carried the enemy's line near Poplar Spring Church [south of Petersburg].
U.S. Grant

Washington
September 30, 1864

A refugee from Richmond just come into General Butler's lines says the greatest consternation is felt in the city, and citizens generally are anxious that city should be evacuated by the military.
U. S. Grant

Richmond
September 30, 1864

An attempt was made this afternoon to retake [Fort] Harrison, which, though partly successful, failed.
R. E. Lee

Maj. Gen. Meade
Army of the Potomac commander
September 30, 1864

We must be greatly superior to the enemy in numbers on one flank or the other, and by working around at each end, we will find where the enemy's weak point is.
U.S. Grant

Washington
September 30, 1864

[Union forces] attacked and carried the enemy's line to-day on the [Confederate] extreme right [around Petersburg], capturing a number of prisoners.
U. S. Grant

Julia
Wife
Sept. 30, 1864

One fort taken yesterday they regarded as impregnable, but our troops got over the river and surprised and drove them back so rapidly that the fort was taken. .
Ulys. Grant

Battle Map 10/1/64
Richmond
October 1, 1864

Yesterday evening [our forces at Petersburg] attacked the enemy's infantry, who had broken through a portion of the line held by our artillery. . . and drove them back.
R. E. Lee

Washington
October 1, 1864

The enemy assaulted General Butler's line north of the James River three times yesterday afternoon, and were repulsed each time . . . Late in the evening [our forces] near Poplar Spring Church, [were] vigorously assaulted by a superior force and driven back until re-enforced, when the enemy [was stopped]. . .The enemy are now threatening our left in considerable force. Our line extends full two miles west of the Weldon railroad with the left turned back. The troops intrenched themselves during the night.
U.S. Grant

Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
October 1, 1864

[Through prisoners taken] . .The presence of [five Confederate divisions] was also shown about Petersburg. This shows that the enemy have divided divisions, and possibly brigades, to give the appearance of force at all points.
U.S. Grant

Washington
Oct. 1, 1864

... [Confederate General] Early [was at a point in the Shenandoah Valley] where Lee might have reinforced him rapidly if left alone. My efforts have been to prevent this mainly and in this have been successful. Our move North of the James [River] was a complete surprise . . captured miles of strong intrenchements ... South of Petersburg we extended our line some two miles towards the Southside [Rail]road ...
U.S.Grant

Post- Battle Map
Gen. Butler
Army of the James commander
October 3, 1864

I will have 40,000 re-enforcements here in ten days.
U.S. Grant

Gen. Hampton
Cavalry commander
October 4, 1864

... If the enemy cannot be prevented from extending his left, he will eventually reach the Appomattox and cut us off from the south side altogether.
R. E. Lee

Richmond
October 4, 1864

I beg leave to inquire whether there is any prospect of my obtaining any increase to this army. If not, it will be very difficult for us to maintain ourselves. The enemy's numerical superiority enables him to hold his lines with an adequate force, and extend on each flank with numbers so much greater than ours that we can only meet his corps, increased by recent recruits, with a division reduced by long and arduous service. We cannot fight to advantage with such odds, and there is the gravest reason to apprehend the result of every encounter ...
R. E. Lee

Richmond
October 10, 1864

. . . From all the information I get, Grant's army is being heavily re-enforced, and additions are being made daily. He expects to accumulate a force by which he can extend beyond our right and left, when I fear it will be impossible to keep him out of Richmond.
R. E. Lee

Conclusion
By the morning of October 3, 1864 the results of the Grant’s fifth offensive were mixed. On one hand, the Union had captured a fort on the main Confederate defense line of Richmond, had extended their siege line two miles westward around Petersburg, had Lee considering the abandonment of Petersburg on the second day of the fighting, and kept Confederate reinforcements from going to the valley. But on the other hand, the Confederates still held the line from Richmond to Petersburg and had not lost any major supply routes.

This offensive would be the climax of the siege as far as number of troops moved between the two cities, the distances covered by those troops, and the short amount of time in which this was done. It is a prime example of the talent and skill possessed by Grant and Lee in commanding their forces and understanding the nature of war. This would be the last Union offensive on this scale at this siege and soon after this Grant would concentrate his efforts solely on the lines around Petersburg.

For all that the fifth offensive achieved or not achieved the cost was the same as the previous Union effort. In those three days another 10,000 men were either killed wounded or missing.

Park Rangers

After Union forces did not achieve their objective of capturing Petersburg in a direct attack, Grant ordered the army to destroy the critical supply routes into the city. For nearly ten months, soldiers moved in a westward direction outside of Petersburg, destroying the major plank roads, the Weldon Railroad, and eventually the South Side Railroad. The Western Front expands a distance greater than twenty miles, where Union fighting was characterized by the extension of trench lines, the elimination of Confederate supply sources, and the wearing down of Lee’s army.

Earthworks Management

Taking care of the original earthworks in the Western Front is a work in progress for the rangers of Petersburg National Battlefield. Along the tour route in this area of the battlefield, these trenches dug over one hundred and forty years ago now look like a small network of hills covered by large trees. It is mission of the park to do what is possible to see that the earthworks, which are monuments to the soldiers, are protected. To preserve the earthworks in the Western Front park rangers try to control damage and erosion to what remains of this battlefield landscape.

Use the links below to explore how different divisions of the National Park Service protect and preserve the historic earthworks at Petersburg National Battlefield.

Maintenance Ranger

I am a maintenance ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. I take care of the earthworks on a regular basis by cutting the grass and keeping designated walking paths in good condition. I also assist resource managers in the field to remove hazardous trees from the earthworks and plant grasses that prevent further erosion. Because this area of the park is not as heavily visited, I monitor the condition of these pull-off sites along the tour road and report any concerns or problems to the protection and resource management rangers.

Interpreter

I am an interpretive ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. It is my job to help visitors understand the park’s resources, including historic earthworks by helping them make connections to the past. To truly understand the scope of the fighting at Petersburg, visitors can travel the entire length of the tour road to explore sites in the Western Front following the movement of the armies. I provide car and bus tours to these areas to help visitors understand what the Union objectives were during the lengthy siege and how trench warfare made it difficult for Union forces to get these objectives quickly. There are no visitor centers in this area of the park, so I create wayside exhibits to help visitors who explore these sites on their own understand how battles unfolded.

Protection Ranger

I am a Protection Ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. My job is to patrol the park to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit while also taking proper care of the park’s resources. The Western Front is unique because many of the sites are pull-offs along county roads. I regularly patrol the areas in the Western Front that are not as heavily visited to see that the earthworks are protected and that visitors are taking care of these sites.

Resource Manager

I am a resource manager at Petersburg National Battlefield. One of my jobs in Earthworks Management is to write the guidelines on how to properly care for these historic trench remains. According to these guidelines, the earthworks along the Western Front are currently being treated to stop erosion by removing trees and shrubs and planting grass. Earthworks in this unit of the park have been damaged by storms that bring down large trees. With the assistance of maintenance rangers, we remove large hazardous trees that can destroy the earthworks when they fall and take up large amounts of earth in their root bulbs.

Development and Land Protection

Battlefield sites in the Western Front are scattered along city and county roads. The fact that these sites are not connected and sit in both residential and industrial areas is a challenge for park rangers who want to protect these lands for their historical significance and maintain proper vistas and viewsheds for these sites. In addition to this challenge, the Park Service has also been identifying new sites that could be acquired to better connect the battlefield lands in the Western Front to tell the whole story of the Siege of Petersburg. Park Rangers work to protect battlefields and provide education of our national heritage in concert with local governments, homeowners, and business owners.

Maintenance Ranger

I am a maintenance ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. I take care of the battlefield landscape in the Western Front by cutting grass and keeping the earthworks well-maintained. I maintain the pull-offs, parking lots and walking trails of these sites, so that visitors have a safe and clean access. While I am not directly involved with acquiring new lands, I am responsible for the daily care and maintenance of any new areas that the park obtains.

Interpreter

I am an interpretive ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. It is my job to provide tours and create brochures and wayside exhibits that tell visitors the stories of battles and provide maps of all the sites that they can visit. These are all methods that I use to help visitors connect to these battlefield sites so that they will understand and appreciate the importance of the areas along the Western Front. Further, I direct some management decisions about other sites that need to be protected that will help us better tell the entire story of the siege.

Protection Ranger

I am a Protection Ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield. My job is to patrol the park to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit. This is particularly important along the Western Front, since there are no visitor contact stations at the pull-off sites. I monitor these areas to see that park resources in the Western Front are protected.

Resource Manager

I am a resource manager on the Western Front. Two major issues that I deal with in this area are development and land protection. While development in these rural areas provides jobs and stimulates the economy, I am interested in seeing that certain land areas that are important to telling the story of the siege are protected from development. To protect certain lands, I work with other agencies that may want to purchase land parcels. I also make agreements with local landowners who are willing to manage buffer zones that fall next to park property, so that the landscape looks more like it did in 1864 and 1865. Finally, I research potential areas that the park may want to acquire or protect because of its historical significance.

 

Links

Petersburg Index

Introduction

Grant's Headquarters at City Point

The Eastern Front

The Western Front (current section)

The Battle of Five Forks

Poplar Grove National Cemetery

Challenge Your Understanding

 

Open multimedia version of The Siege of Petersburg

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