Friday, April 10, 2015

The War in 1865: Part Seven

The app provides this map of the general situation around Petersburg, Virginia at the time of the Battle of Five Forks.
The aftermath of the Battle of Five Forks can be seen here.  After almost a year, the Union troops breached the Confederate lines and pinned the surviving force against the city of Petersburg itself.  Isolated from what was left of the Confederacy, the Army of Northern Virginia retreated that night, also triggering the abandonment of the Confederate capital at Richmond.  The Army of the Potomac remained in hot pursuit resulting in Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House a few days later. 
Note: This is the conclusion of my series of posts on how The Civil War Today app covered the final months of the War Between the States, which ended 150 years ago.
General Ulysses S. Grant reinforced General Philip Sheridan's cavalry, which had maundered through Virginia over the past several weeks.  Grant's additional infantry placed under Sheridan's command brought the Federal force up to about 27,000.  Sheridan assaulted General George Pickett's division of about 10,000 men.  The attack was unexpected by the Rebels and the Yankees tore through the Confederate lines at the important road junction of Five Forks.  As a result, half of Pickett's command was lost due to casualties and capture.

Having turned General Robert E. Lee's right flank after months of trench warfare, Grant ordered an immediate assault all along the Southern lines at Petersburg. Lee's thin defensive lines broke just east of Five Forks and the Union troops poured into the position fighting toward the city of Petersburg itself. General A.P. Hill attempted to rally the Confederates and mount a counterattack, but he was killed in the process.  The attack was costly for both sides with more than 3,500 Northern casualties but by the end of the day Lee's army was pinned against Petersburg itself, it's rail lines and road communications cut off from the rest of the South.

Lee ordered a retreat out of Petersburg by crossing the Appomattox River during the night.  This precipitated a withdraw from the Confederate capital of Richmond as well. Disorder reigned in the streets as President Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Confederate government fled. Rebel troops set various warehouses ablaze and portions of the city burned as thugs freely roamed the streets breaking into factories and stores.  Looting was widespread.

Not wasting any time, five Union corps remained hot the heels of the retreating Confederates, who were fleeing westward without any real plan other than to attempt to reorganize.  President Abraham Lincoln personally toured Richmond but returned to City Point at the request of his officers for purposes of safety.  Portions of Richmond remained chaotic as Union troops attempted to police the streets and bring order to the city. Meanwhile, Davis attempted to stitch his government together again in Danville, Virginia, vowing to continue resistance. Lee's shattered army was already cut off from Danville, however, thanks to rapid and decisive Federal pursuit.

Meanwhile, 12,000 Union cavalry under General James Wilson captured Selma, Alabama.  General Nathan Bedford Forrest with about 7,000 Confederate cavalry was unable to stop the Union forces.  There were thousands of Southern deserters and the small garrison in Selma was captured.  The ability and willpower to fight was fast abandoning the Rebels as the Yankees seemed successful in every endeavor.

On April 6, fierce hand-to-hand fighting occurred near Sailor's Creek as infantry under General Richard Ewell attempted to save more then 300 Confederate supply wagons from capture.  Both Ewell and the wagons were captured in the process, along with most of his makeshift command.  The size of the disaster can be gauged by Lee's response to the news, "My God, has the army dissolved?" With supply lines cut south toward Danville and with his wagons captured, Lee was forced to face the fact that his army had no rations at all. Most of his remaining troops had not eaten in several days. Hunger and malnutrition were now allied with the hot pursuit of Grant's forces in burdening and demoralizing Lee's once-vaunted army.

Grant wrote to Lee: "GENERAL: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia."

But Lee remained defiant even after General George Custer cut off the Confederate army's retreat at Appomattox Station. 1,000 more Southern prisoners were taken in hard fighting there.  The remains of Lee's army held its ground. In response to Grant's correspondence of the previous day, Lee wrote: "To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army; but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposal may affect the C.S. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 a. m. to-morrow, on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies."  Lee met with his remaining generals that evening to discuss whether to surrender or to try to break out toward Lynchburg, Virginia.

According to the app: "Confederate War Secretary, John Breckinridge, writes to Jefferson Davis at Danville today: 'I left General Lee at Farmville yesterday morning, where he was passing the main body across the river for temporary relief. He will still try to move around toward North Carolina. There was very little firing yesterday, and I hear none to-day. No definite information as to movements of enemy from Junction toward Danville. Stonemans [Federal] advance reported yesterday to be near Liberty [NC]. Lomax reports enemy in considerable force advancing up Shenandoah Valley [toward Lynchburg]. . . The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable.'"

The app reads on April 9: "After his army failed to break through Union lines during a short battle this morning, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his army to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

"For more than a week, Lee had tried to outrun Grant to the west of Petersburg, Virginia. After a ten-month siege of the two cities, the Union forces broke through the defenses and forced Lee to retreat. The Confederates moved along the Appomattox River, with Union General Phillip Sheridan shadowing them to the south. Lee's army has little food, and they began to desert in large numbers on the retreat. When Lee arrived at Appomattox Court House, he found his path was blocked. He had no choice but to request a meeting with Grant. 

"They met at a house in the village of Appomattox Court House at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. Lee was resplendent in his dress uniform and a fine sword at his side. Grant arrived wearing a simple soldier's coat that was muddy from his long ride. The great generals spoke of their service in the Mexican War, and then set about the business at hand. Grant offered generous terms. Officers could keep their side arms, and all men would be immediately released to return home. Any officers and enlisted men who owned horses could take them home, Grant said, to help put crops in the field and carry their families through the next winter. These terms, said Lee, would have 'the best possible effect upon the men,' and 'will do much toward conciliating our people.' The papers were signed and Lee prepared to return to his men.

"In one of the great ironies of the war, the surrender took place in the parlor of Wilmer McClean's home. McClean had once lived along the banks of Bull Run, Virginia, the site of the first major battle of the war in July 1861. His home near Manassas was used as General Beauregard's headquarters and was hit by at least one Union shell. Seeking refuge from the fighting, McClean decided to move out of the Washington-Richmond corridor to try to avoid the fighting that would surely take place there. He moved to Appomattox Court House only to see the war find him again, and come to an end in his parlor."

Lee's surrendered about 23,000 starving troops, which were the finest trained, motivated, and led in the Confederacy. Though Jefferson Davis vowed to continue the fight, there was little fight left in the Southern people.  They were whipped. But, then again, they had been whipped when 1865 began and still they fought, mostly in heavy skirmishes rather than full-pitched battles. Fighting continued at Mobile, Alabama for example, unaffected as yet by events in Virginia. Union forces captured Fort Blakely on April 9 in upper Mobile Bay, after capturing Spanish Fort the previous day.

The war remains the most horrific conflict in American history. According to the app, during four years with mostly primitive weapons the North suffered 390,243 dead from battle and disease.  The South's dead was a larger percentage of its comparatively smaller population, numbering 391,783. Over 780,000 Americans died in the Civil War by the time of Appomattox. 

The war, already ending in slow motion since late-1864, slowed to a crawl.  Fighting virtually ceased though officially the Federal and Confederate armies remained hostile. Almost a dozen additional surrenders and/or disbanding of troops occurred after Appomattox. These took many weeks to fully play out. The most significant were the surrenders of the commands of Generals Joseph E. Johnston (April 26) and Edmund Kirby Smith (May 26). 

Native-American General Stand Watie was the final Confederate to surrender his land-based command on June 23. Out at sea, the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah was the last entity to strike its Confederate flag. It did so near Liverpool, England on November 6, 1865. 

Even after 150 years, the war remains very much a part of American culture.  It is the most written about aspect of American history and its causes, its history, and its legacy are all still widely discussed and debated today.  The Civil War Today app affords an excellent resource for obtaining an overview of the war along with the personalities and the times in which it was fought. 

While it is by no means a complete (or even an academic) study, it is accessible and provides anyone interested in the conflict a gateway to many useful maps, articles, and correspondences from the period in which it took place.  I would rank it as one of the best apps I have purchased for my iPad so far.  It is self-evident that I highly recommend it, since I devoted this series of posts to (hopefully) demonstrating for you what the app is all about.  

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