During the Union army's siege of
Petersburg (June 15, 1864–April 2, 1865), the City Point portion of the
railroad was of vital importance to Union general Ulysses S. Grant. Controlling the rail system gave Grant
the dual benefit of quickly moving and supplying his own army to the south and east
of Petersburg while simultaneously refusing the entrenched Confederates food,
supplies, and reinforcements. On April 1, 1865, the Union general
[Philip H. Sheridan] defeated
Confederate forces under George E.
Pickett in the Battle of
Five Forks, forcing General Robert E. Lee to abandon efforts to save Petersburg and the Confederate
capital at [Richmond]. Faced with
starvation and devoid of fresh troops, Lee maneuvered his Army of Northern Virginia
west toward Lynchburg. Grant, in close pursuit, followed just below Lee's bedraggled
army, utilizing the route of the South Side Railroad. This tactic prevented the
Confederate army from turning south and allowed Grant to intercept food supplies
destined for the Confederate troops in the town of Burkeville, about sixty miles west
Unable to turn south and forced into a series of long night marches, Lee's forces
continued west, hoping to resupply in Farmville. Exhausted and starving, large gaps
began to appear in the retreating Confederate column. Detachments of Grant's army
caught up to the rear-most section of Lee's army on April 6, 1865, at Sailor's Creek. Lee lost
nearly a quarter of his army in the ensuing engagements causing him to remark, "My
God, has the army been dissolved?"
The next morning, retreating survivors crossed the South Side Railroad's High Bridge.
An impressive, 2,400-foot-long structure, the bridge was built with almost four
million tons of brick and twenty-one piers to span the Appomattox River valley at a
height of 160 feet. As Lee's remnant army crossed into Farmville, they attempted to
burn it as they went, thereby severely limiting Grant's pursuit. Union forces,
however, were able to extinguish the fire before it destroyed the bridge and
continued their chase along the route of the South Side Railroad. Unable to feed or
reinforce his exhausted army, Lee was forced to surrender on April 9, 1865, at
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War; A Narrative, Red River to
Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1974.
Power, J. Tracy. Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of
Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Smith, Derek. Lee's Last Stand: Sailor's Creek, Virginia,
1865. Shippensburg, Penn.: White Mane Publishing Company, 2004.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Feeney, W. R. South Side Railroad During the Civil War. (2011, May 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Southside_Railroad.
- MLA Citation:
Feeney, William R. "South Side Railroad During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities,
26 May. 2011. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 27, 2009 | Last modified: May 26, 2011
Contributed by William R. Feeney, a doctoral candidate in history at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia.