Author: A. Wilson Greene

the president of Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier near Petersburg, Virginia. He is the author of Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (2006) and The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion (2008)

Petersburg during the Civil War

Petersburg, located in south central Virginia, was the second-largest city in the state at the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865). Originally sharing the conservative political stance of most business-oriented cities in the Upper South, Petersburg’s white citizens eagerly embraced the Confederate cause after Virginia’s Convention of 1861 voted to secede in April 1861. The city hosted a variety of Confederate installations, particularly hospitals, and served as headquarters for a number of Confederate military departments that bore responsibility for southern Virginia and eastern North Carolina. Petersburg experienced its first nearby combat in the spring of 1864 during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and then became the focal point of the Petersburg Campaign between June 1864 and April 1865. The city capitulated to Union forces on April 3, 1865, initiating the Appomattox Campaign and just six days before Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, ninety miles west of Petersburg.


Petersburg Campaign

The Petersburg Campaign was one of the final campaigns in the eastern theater during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It began on June 15, 1864, with the sustained contest to control the city—Virginia’s second largest and the supply center for the Confederate capital at Richmond—and concluded with its occupation by Union forces on April 3, 1865. The campaign included parallel actions north of the James River, east of Richmond, and was inextricably linked with simultaneous military actions elsewhere, most directly in the Shenandoah Valley. Union armies under Ulysses S. Grant failed to storm Petersburg from June 15 to 18 and on July 30, following the Battle of the Crater, in which a mine was exploded under the Confederate works. Southern forces led by Robert E. Lee, aided by an elaborate system of field fortifications that eventually stretched thirty-seven miles, fought on the strategic defensive, gradually surrendering the city’s supply lines to a series of Grant’s offensives. Grant at last shattered Lee’s defenses on April 2, 1865, leading to the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg that night. Within a week, Lee would surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House, ninety miles west of Petersburg, for all practical purposes ending the Civil War in Virginia.


Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)

Ulysses S. Grant rose from command of an Illinois regiment to general-in-chief of all Union armies during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and served as the eighteenth president of the United States (1869–1877). Victor at important battles in the western theater, Grant arrived in Virginia in March 1864 as a newly minted lieutenant general and the military leader of all Union forces. He took the field with the Army of the Potomac rather than running the war from a desk in Washington, D.C., and provided de facto direction of that army from May 1864 until April 1865. Grant’s stature as the preeminent Union general catapulted him into the White House for two terms, and his legacy, though still debated, remains that of the soldier who won the war for the Union.


Weldon Railroad, Battle of the

The Battle of the Weldon Railroad (or Globe Tavern) was fought August 18–21, 1864, and provided the key element of Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant‘s fourth offensive during the Petersburg Campaign of the American Civil War (1861–1865). This Union victory resulted in the permanent capture of one of Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s most important supply lines. On August 18, the Union Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac seized a portion of the vital railroad that connected Petersburg with Wilmington, North Carolina, at a point three miles south of Petersburg. A determined Confederate counterattack the following day battered but did not break the Union troops’ hold on the tracks, and a second Confederate assault on August 21 failed miserably.