Radio messages are broadcast at each of Lee’s Retreat stops.
Stop 1: South Side Station
Stop 2: Sixth Corps Breakthrough
Stop 3: Sutherland Station
Stop 4: Namozine Church
Stop 5: Amelia Court House
Stop 6: Jetersville
Stop 7: Amelia Springs
Stop 8: Deatonville
Stop 9: Holt’s Corner
Stop 10: Hillsman House
Stop 11: Marshall’s Crossroads
Stop 12: Lockett’s House
Stop 13: Double Bridges
Stop 14: Rice’s Depot
Stop 15: Cavalry Battle at High Bridge
Stop 16: Farmville
Stop 17: Battle of Cumberland Church
Stop 18: High Bridge
Stop 19: Clifton, Grant’s headquarters April 8
Stop 20: New Store
Stop 21: Lee’s Rearguard
Stop 22: Battle of Appomattox Station
Stop 23: Burkeville Junction
Stop 24: Crewe
Stop 25: Nottoway Court House
Stop 1: South Side Station
Welcome to the route of Lee’s Retreat driving tour. As you follow this historical excursion, you will be seeing important sites associated with the final campaign of the Civil War from April 2nd to the 9th, 1865.
This is the beginning of a 26-stop trail that follows a 110-mile portion of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox. The tour, starting here at the South Side Station and ending at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, will provide you with historical narratives by turning your radio dial to 1610 AM unless otherwise denoted. You may receive further information and a map by stopping in at the City of Petersburg’s Visitor Center behind you. It is open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant noted of this final operation of the war in Virginia that “the object of my campaign was not Richmond, not the defeat of Lee in actual fight, but to remove him and his army out of the contest, and, if possible, to have him use his influence in inducing the surrender of [General Joseph E.] Johnston and the other isolated armies.”
To accomplish this purpose, Grant’s objective here at Petersburg is to cut the remaining lifelines, the railroads, which continue to support the Confederate forces commanded by General Robert E. Lee. By April 1865, only one railroad remained open running directly into this city from the west. It is the South Side Railroad, the station for which stands before you.
Chartered in 1846 and fully operational by 1854, the line runs a distance of 123 miles to Lynchburg, where it connects with other important supply lines for the Confederacy. Since the fall of 1864, Union forces here besieging the city have attempted to cut this railroad. On April 2, 1865, after a series of conflicts around the city, their goal is met with the capture of the railroad 10 miles west of here at Sutherland Station.
That night Lee begins to withdraw his forces from the Richmond and Petersburg defenses and commences his westward journey toward North Carolina. His army will follow four major routes in their retreat, this driving tour following the most southerly one. Their immediate rendezvous point is Amelia Court House on the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Those troops that leave by crossing over the Appomattox River, which is right behind this station, do so by passing over the Pocahontas Bridge, to your right, Campbell’s Bridge into Ettrick, and a pontoon bridge further west near Battersea.
Before leaving, General Lee sends a message to the War Department in Richmond: “It is absolutely necessary that we abandon our position tonight, or run the risk of being cut off in the morning. I have given all the orders to officers on both sides of the river, and have taken every precaution that I can to make the movement successful. It will be a difficult operation, but I hope not impracticable.”
Stop 2: Sixth Corps Breakthrough
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army here at Petersburg, recalled in later years that “It is natural to suppose that Lee would understand my design to be to get up to the South Side [Railroad] and ultimately to the [Richmond &] Danville Railroad, as soon as he had heard of the movement commenced on the 29th [of March]. These roads were so important to his very existence while he remained in Richmond and Petersburg, and of such vital importance to him even in case of retreat, that naturally he would make most strenuous efforts to defend them. He did on the 30th [of March] send [Major General George] Pickett with five brigades to reinforce Five Forks.”
On the evening of April 1st, Union troops capture this strategic crossroads known as Five Forks, and the door to the South Side is open. That night, upon hearing of the victory, Grant walks into his tent and writes out several dispatches to be sent over the field telegraph wires. He then coolly announces to his staff, “I have ordered a general assault along the lines.”
At 4:40 a.m. on the damp, foggy morning of April 2nd, 1865, a military event takes place here that will signal the fall of Petersburg. After a tenuous nine and a half months of struggling to defend this strategically important city, the inevitable has come. Union Major General Horatio Wright and his Sixth Army Corps rush forward from their lines a break through the thinly garrisoned Confederate trenches at this point. The fighting persists as Wright’s men continue moving down the Southern line, capturing many prisoners as they go. Finally, reaching Hatcher’s Run, the Union forces call off their movement. Those Confederate troops south of the breakthrough are now cut off from the rest of Lee’s main army in Petersburg. Nearby that morning, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill is killed as a direct result of this action.
Similar engagements also take place at other points along the Southern defenses. Union troops assault the area around Confederate Fort Mahone along the Jerusalem Plank Road, capturing portions of the outer lines. A mile north of here, and following the breakthrough in the afternoon, was the Homeric defense of Confederate Fort’s Gregg and Whitworth. Fighting to protect Petersburg from being entered through the west by Union forces, the men in these forts were told by their general, Cadmus Wilcox, “Men, the salvation of Lee’s army is in your keeping; you must realize the responsibility, and your duty; don’t surrender this fort; if you can hold the enemy in check for two hours, [General] Longstreet…will be here, and the danger to the army in the trenches will be averted.” They hold the fort long enough and street fighting in Petersburg is averted.
Nightfall on the 2nd now finds the Union army encircling the city on all three sides. Breastworks are already being built. To the west, at Sutherland Station, Union forces now control the South Side Railroad. General Robert E. Lee must now withdraw his forces from both Petersburg and Richmond to begin his journey and try and outmarch Grant’s army, eventually reaching General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee.
Additional information on the fighting that took place here can be obtained by visiting the interpretive center at Pamplin Park Civil War Site. Across the road, at Tudor Hall, you will be able to see the location of Confederate Brigadier General Samuel McGowan’s headquarters during most of the Petersburg campaign. Further information on the “Lee’s Retreat” driving tour, including a map, is also obtainable in the center.
Stop 3: Sutherland Station
From this point on the “Lee’s Retreat” auto tour, there are two different routes you may follow, so refer to your map and make your decision. The shortest drive is to follow Route 460 West to Appomattox with a possible side trip to Sailor’s Creek Battlefield. The more complete version is by following Route 708 to Amelia.
The Siege of Petersburg begins in mid June 1864 and is still going on after nine and a half months. In April of 1865 the noose around this Southern stronghold is quickly tightening. “Hold Five Forks at all hazards. Protect the road to Ford’s Depot and prevent Union forces from striking the Southside Railroad” was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s emphatic message to General George Pickett. If Five Forks falls and the South Side Railroad is cut, Lee’s last supply line into the besieged city will be eliminated. Without this supply source Lee will have to abandon Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. The fall of Richmond will have devastating effects on any further Southern war effort.
Union Generals Philip Sheridan and Gouvernor Warren smash into Pickett’s entrenched position at Five Forks on the afternoon of April 1st. By the time darkness covers the battlefield, the strategic crossroads is in Federal hands. That night, Union General Ulysses S. Grant orders an early morning assault against the Confederate lines around Petersburg.
At daybreak on April 2nd, General Horatio Wright’s Union Sixth Army Corps assaults the Confederate trenches along Boydton Plank Road, present day U.S. Highway 1, west of Petersburg and cuts the Southern forces in half. Throughout the day, other attacks take place along the Petersburg front: Fort Mahone, Fort Gregg, Sutherland Station, and others. The Southerners fight with intense ferocity and manage to hold out until the cover of darkness brings an end to the days bloody engagements.
Here at Sutherland Station Confederate General John Cooke will command four infantry brigades of Generals Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions. A North Carolina soldier remembered that “We … selected a position on the brow of a slight hill in an open field and rapidly fortified our line as well as we could…. The line ran … just on the edge of a highway, [Cox Road], and…was almost parallel with the South Side Railroad.”
Quickly advancing up Claiborne Road, Union troops commanded by General Nelson Miles of the Second Army Corps arrive on the field. After two unsuccessful assaults upon the Confederate line, General Miles brings in more reinforcements. This time he outflanks the Southern defenders near Ocran Church, who are forced to withdraw from their position. Northern troops finally capture the South Side Railroad and Lee’s last supply line into Petersburg is severed. This will mark the last organized combat of the siege.
That night, after telegraphing Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Lee starts the withdrawal of his Army of Northern Virginia from the three main positions it is defending: 58,000 men in all. General Richard Ewell’s forces withdraw from north of the James River. General William Mahone’s division pulls out from Bermuda Hundred. General John Gordon’s Second Corps and General James Longstreet’s combined First and Third Corps depart from Petersburg and cross to the north side of the Appomattox River. General Richard Anderson’s small Corps, along with Pickett’s men and General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, will move along the route that you will be following south of the Appomattox River.
Lee’s intention is to have the main columns of his army rendezvous along the Richmond and Danville Railroad at Amelia Court House. Planning on commissary trains awaiting his forces, Lee could then replenish his men’s food rations and reorganize the army before following the railroad down to Danville and into North Carolina. Once there, Lee will join his forces with those of the Army of Tennessee. Lee’s strategy is to combine the two Southern forces to defeat Sherman to the south, then return to fight Grant. At this point, the success of combining the armies is all that Lee and the Confederacy can hope for.
Stop 4: Namozine Church
April 3rd, 1865, is a day of running fights between both armies. At every high ground, crossroad or creek, the Southern forces attempt to hold back Union General Sheridan’s horsemen. Moving along this road with hopes of joining the rest of General Robert E. Lee’s army at Amelia Court House, Confederate cavalry General Fitzhugh Lee orders a stand here at Namozine Presbyterian Church.
North Carolinians commanded by Confederate General Rufus Barringer are ordered to hold this position and stop the advance of the blue-coated troopers. Leading the Northern cavalry was none other than General George Armstrong Custer.
General Barringer remembers of that day: “Soon the enemy appeared in force, with shouts of triumph and trumpets blowing…I ordered the whole [force] to fall back and skirmish in retreat. The 5th [North Carolina Cavalry] Regiment, which was dismounted, fought with…obstinacy and seemed slow to give up the contest. Before it retired under further orders, the enemy had gained the main road of retreat. I then moved this regiment by marching through forests and byways, and conducted it safely out to a point six miles above, where I hoped to find Major General Lee and the rest of the brigade….While reconnoitering…I was taken prisoner…by a party of Sheridan’s scouts, dressed in Confederate uniform.”
General Barringer would return as a prisoner of war to City Point, now Hopewell, where he was received by President Abraham Lincoln. A Union cavalryman, who rides onto the battlefield shortly after the engagement, recalls: “At noon we came to a small church at a cross road and here the advance of our brigade came on the rebel ‘rear guard’ and charged them bringing in many prisoners, some officers. A Captain Goodrich I think of the 8th New York Cavalry lay in the little church, having been shot through the head. He soon died. There were some 3 or 4 men most of them badly wounded in the church. We drew up in line thinking we might be called on, after waiting an hour we again mounted, our brigade dividing….”
This church, built in 1847, serves as a temporary hospital for the wounded after the fight. They are later taken to a larger hospital at Burkeville Junction. The spoils for the Union cavalry in this brief encounter include 350 of Barringer’s men captured, 100 horses, and one artillery piece. General Sheridan briefly uses the church for headquarters before riding on.
Stop 5: Amelia Court House
It is April 4th. Lee’s troops finally arrive here after being delayed trying to cross the Appomattox River at Bevil’s Bridge. As the men hungrily open the waiting trains, they find an abundance of ordnance, but no food for the army. Through a mix-up in communications, the rations are not here. Lee decides to hold his army at Amelia Court House for a day while attempting to acquire provisions from the surrounding populace and await the arrival of General Ewell from Richmond. A proclamation is sent out asking the local citizens for help. He and his soldiers go into camp around the courthouse square, which is one block south of here.
In the meantime, after occupying both Richmond and Petersburg, General Grant assembles his forces to pursue the Southern army. General Sheridan’s cavalry, followed by General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac, march south of the Appomattox River searching for the Confederate units that escaped from Five Forks. They break off the chase after realizing that Lee’s army is concentrating at Amelia Court House. Sheridan decides to ride around the Confederate army and cut off their path of retreat by severing the railroad southwest of here. Sheridan’s fast riding blue troopers, followed by infantry of the Fifth Corps, set off immediately for the railroad depot at Jetersville Station.
Stop 6: Jetersville
As the dust settles from the hard ride made by Union General Sheridan’s cavalry, the troopers look over their surroundings at Jetersville Station. A Yankee horseman describes it as “a small village on the railroad, of scarcely a dozen dwellings, a store or two, blacksmith shop, post office, and a small railroad depot where were found a few cars…. The little place wears an air of comfort and respectability.”
General Sheridan quickly determines where his men could build entrenchments to block Lee’s path to Danville. Eventually the general chooses a line along a ridge just to the southwest of Jetersville and perpendicular to the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Sheridan puts the arriving Fifth Corps to work building breastworks. It is April 5th. Last night Lee’s army was still bivouacked at Amelia Court House. Meanwhile, Federal General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Army Corps and Wright’s Sixth Army Corps, come into Jetersville and reinforce those digging the trenches. Eventually the breastworks extend more than four miles in length with cavalry protecting both flanks.
Lee had little success foraging from the countryside around Amelia, and after the arrival of General Ewell’s force starts his army down the railroad toward Jetersville. As he nears here, word comes in from his scouts that the Federals are across his path. Reconnoitering the surrounding territory, Lee decides not to attack the entrenched position. As a result, the Confederates now give up the use of the Richmond and Danville Railroad as a source of supplies. Instead, Lee heads his army in a westward direction to Farmville on the South Side Railroad. If Lee can march his army the 23 miles to Farmville, supplies for his men can be moved up from Lynchburg on the railroad. After issuing rations at Farmville, Lee can then cut south again and join forces with the Army of Tennessee. The Confederates will have to perform a night march to successfully accomplish Lee’s plan and regain the precious time lost foraging in Amelia.
Under the cover of darkness, the Southerners trudge along the muddy road to Flat Creek. The men are forced to ford the creek while wagons and artillery wait for the bridge to be repaired. General Lee crosses the creek to nearby Amelia Springs resort where he learns that enough rations to feed 80,000 men are waiting for him at Farmville.
Stop 7: Amelia Springs
The Amelia Sulphur Springs resort, no longer in existence, stood nearby on the north bank of Flat Creek. The 20-building resort was constructed around 1825, and at one time encompassed 1,320 acres. The road that Lee’s army followed on their night march of April 5th and 6th, passed by this famous resort complex. On April 5th, 1865, the wagon train from Richmond, belonging to Confederate General Ewell’s column, is attacked by Federal cavalry four miles to the north of Amelia Springs at Painesville. The Federal cavalry, with General Henry Davies in command, successfully burns 200 wagons, and captures 11 battleflags, more than 600 prisoners, and five artillery pieces. In their return ride to the Union lines at Jetersville, Davies’ men are overtaken by Rebel cavalry sent by General Robert E. Lee. In a running fight near here, the Yankees suffer 30 killed and 150 wounded and captured.
Later this night, under the cover of darkness, Longstreet’s combined First and Third Corps and accompanying wagon train lead the Confederate line of march. General Lee himself rides at the head of this column. Following Longstreet is Anderson’s small corps composed in part of the remainder of Pickett’s division, which was shattered at Five Forks. Next comes Ewell’s Reserve Corps made up of the Richmond garrison, followed by the army’s wagon train, and finally, in the rear, Gordon’s Second Corps.
It is dawn of the 6th of April. Most of Lee’s column has slipped past the Federal army, based three miles to the south at Jetersville. As the last of Gordon’s men move along the road past Amelia Springs, alert Yankee pickets spot the Southerners. The closest Federal unit able to respond is General Humphreys’ Second Corps. Pushing across Flat Creek, the Federal soldiers pursue Gordon’s rear guard. The chase is now on.
Stop 8: Deatonville
It is now the afternoon of April 6th, 1865. Here at the small community of Deatonville some fighting occurs. Elements of Confederate General Gordon’s rear guard have stopped and fought a delaying action against Federal General Humphreys’ Second Army Corps. A Federal soldier from the 17th Maine Infantry recalls this collision: “As we approached Deatonsville, a collection of one house and its attendant outhouses, we were tendered a warm reception and met with considerable casualties.”
Another soldier of the same Maine regiment reports of the skirmish: “We soon encountered the enemy in force, behind a formidable line of rifle pits and breastworks. Between our lines and those of the enemy was a ridge upon which were a few buildings. Under a severe fire from the enemy, we charged to the ridge … and gained the cover of the houses, from which we opened fire with good effect. After firing a few moments, the rebels were discovered to be giving way on our left. Major Mattocks, with the colors, and as many of the regiment as could keep up, charged with a yell, rushed over the breastworks, and captured about one hundred men, ten or twelve officers, and one battleflag, the regimental color of the Twenty-first North Carolina, besides killing and wounding a large number of the enemy.”
After this temporary holding action, the Confederates continue their march toward Farmville. Gordon still has the responsibility of protecting the Confederate column’s rear, and at every vantage point along the way, the Southerners fend off the advancing bluecoats.
Down the road at nearby Sandy Creek, another brief stand is made. As Lee’s troops get closer to their Farmville destination, the question uppermost in the Confederates’ thoughts is: Where is the rest of Grant’s army?
Stop 9: Holt’s Corner
This intersection was the point of a major change in plans for the Confederate line of march. All the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia must pass this point en route to Farmville for the provisions they so desperately need to continue the march to North Carolina. The procession advances in five segments: Longstreet, Anderson, Ewell, and the main wagon train protected in the rear by Gordon. The Federal forces are in hot pursuit along parallel routes. It is now late in the day on April 6, 1865. This afternoon Robert E. Lee and most of Longstreet’s troops have passed Hillsman’s Farm and reached the South Side Railroad at Rice’s Depot.
Meanwhile, Anderson’s Corps is attacked here by a division of Sheridan’s Federal cavalry. Coming in from the south, the cavalry forces Anderson to stop and protect the main wagon trains following behind. When Anderson stops to fight, a critical gap is formed in the Confederate column between him and Longstreet.
The Federal cavalry units eventually cease their hit-and-run tactics, and Anderson moves on past Hillsman’s Farm, crosses Little Sailor’s Creek, and proceeds about a mile to Marshall’s Crossroads. By this time, some Federal cavalry commanded by General George Armstrong Custer split the gap in the column and wait for Anderson, blocking his line of march.
Later, as Ewell approaches this intersection, he realizes that Federal infantry is pressing Gordon to the rear. With Anderson slowing ahead, Ewell makes the decision to send the wagon train up the Jamestown Road in the direction of Lockett’s Farm in an effort to bypass the Federal advances. General Gordon’s Corps, behind the wagons, also follows this new line of march.
Before the dust settles here, Humphreys’ Union forces turn in pursuit of Gordon. The last of this procession through Holt’s Corner is the Union infantry of the Sixth Corps, led by General Wright. Wright pursues Ewell in the direction of Hillsman’s Farm. It is now the evening of April 6. The stage has been set. Almost simultaneously, the three engagements known as the Battles of Sailor’s Creek begin.
Stop 10: Hillsman House
It is late afternoon of April 6th, 1865. After passing over Little Sailor’s Creek, Confederate General Richard Anderson’s Corps has continued a mile past the Hillsman farm to Marshall’s Crossroads. At this point, Anderson’s men find themselves confronted by Sheridan’s Union cavalry that are now assembling in front of them.
Meanwhile, on the far ridge to the southwest, Confederate General Richard Ewell is preparing his soldiers for the impending attack by General Horatio Wright’s Sixth Army Corps closing in from behind. Leaving a small detachment of Mississippians to delay the advancing Federal soldiers at the Hillsman house, General Ewell places his 5,200 men in a battleline parallel to the creek. On the left is the command of General Custis Lee whose troops are composed of clerks and heavy artillerymen from the defenses around the city of Richmond. In the center is Commodore John Tucker’s Naval Brigade, made up of sailor’s and marines from Fort Darling located at Drewry’s Bluff on the James River. On the right are regular infantry units commanded by General Joseph Kershaw.
As Ewell’s Confederates begin digging in and preparing for the fight, they watch as the arriving Union infantry are challenged by the Mississippians. The Federals begin forming their own line of battle at the Hillsman house. The Confederates also see what will eventually amount to 20 pieces of artillery being lined up in the Hillsman’s yard and across the Rice-Deatonville Road. Fatal projectiles and balls from these weapons soon come crashing down upon their line, raining deadly shrapnel. Many in Ewell’s command have never been under artillery fire before, but they still hold firmly to their places in line. To make matters worse, Ewell has no artillery to return the enemy fire. For more than 20 minutes, the Northern cannoneers bombard Ewell’s position from a distance of 800 yards. Finally, the Union infantry is ready for the assault and the firing stops.
It is 6 p.m. General Wright’s two divisions, numbering about 7,000 men, deploy with General Frank Wheaton on the left and General Truman Seymour on the right. They begin their advance down the ridge from the Hillsman house toward Little Sailor’s Creek. Wheaton’s division runs into the first resistance while crossing the flooded creek and ascending the opposite bank. After reforming their battle lines, the Federals begin to climb from the creek bank up the hill against Ewell’s line. Many of the Union soldiers feel that further bloodshed is useless at this point, and actually wave white handkerchiefs at the Southerners as an invitation for them to surrender. The response is two well-directed musket volleys that virtually “swallow up” the front rank of the Federals. The volleys send many of the others back to the creek in disorder.
Seeing this break in the Northern attack, some of Custis Lee’s men jump from their positions in the line and make a counterattack against Wheaton’s men. For a brief period, the forces clash, fighting hand to hand, with the bayonet being used freely. Some of the Southerners actually pursue the Union soldiers down to the creek. Federal artillerymen see this action and begin firing canister at the aggressive Rebels, eventually forcing them back to their lines. By the time Wheaton’s forces are engaged, Seymour’s division, which has a larger expanse of ground to cover, has crossed the creek and is ready for an assault on Ewell’s lines. Seymour joins with Wheaton’s men, and both divisions advance against Ewell’s line. The sheer numbers of the Union forces envelop Ewell’s line on both flanks.
Still not ready to give up without a contest, the Confederates continue to fight on in desperation. “The battle degenerated into a butchery…of brutal personal conflicts. I saw … men kill each other with bayonets and the butts of muskets, and even bite each others throats and ears and noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts.”
This last Federal attack proves too much for Ewell’s men to withstand and the Confederates finally hold their musket butts in the air as a token of surrender. Wright’s men begin gathering their prisoners. About 3,400 Confederate soldiers are taken in all. They find among them six Confederate generals: Richard Ewell, Custis Lee, Seth Barton, James Simms, Joseph Kershaw, and Dudley Dubose. The Confederate losses are approximately 150 killed and wounded in the battle, while Federal losses are 84 men killed and 358 wounded. Back here at Hillsman’s farm, Federal surgeons set up a field hospital in the house.
In the hallway of the house, surgeons prepare their operating table. Wounded Union officers are placed throughout the rest of the house in order to receive care. On the grounds around the house the other wounded, both Union and Confederate, are attended to. To help stave off the men’s hunger, A Yankee sergeant drives a cow into the yard and shoots her. After skinning the cow, he gives the raw flesh to the men. It will be three days before ambulances come to the Hillsman house and take the wounded to a centralized Union hospital in nearby Burkeville Junction. The dead are temporarily buried on the grounds.
The farm’s owner, Captain James Moses Hillsman, of Lee’s Sharpshooters, is in a Northern prison at the time of this engagement. He had been captured the previous May in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Captain Hillsman’s family and his mother are still living at the farm during this battle.
Stop 11: Marshall’s Crossroads
It is the evening of April 6, 1865. As the battles at Hillsman’s Farm and Lockett’s Farm take place, the Federal cavalry, under General Wesley Merritt, is taking advantage of a gap in the Confederate column. They form a battle line across the path of retreat. Three mounted divisions make up this cavalry, one is led by George Armstrong Custer, the others by Thomas Devin and George Crook. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee, riding with Longstreet’s forces, has arrived at Rice’s Depot four miles ahead. Lee is unaware that Anderson has been cut off. Anderson’s two infantry divisions, under Generals Bushrod Johnson and George Pickett, oppose the Union cavalry. Anderson has about 6,400 men under his command while Merritt has approximately 8,000 troopers.
As the blue horsemen prepare for their assault on the Confederate foot soldiers, Anderson begins firing his artillery. Upon hearing gunfire from Wright’s engagement at Hillsman’s Farm, Merritt orders his men against Anderson. Some of the Federal troops meet heavy resistance from the Southerners, forcing them to make several charges. Finally, the Federal troopers break through the Confederate defensive position, causing many of Anderson’s troops to scatter. Some head for safety by slipping down the road to Rice’s Depot. The others stand their ground until being forced into submission. Captured Confederates number 2,600, including two generals, Eppa Hunton and Montgomery Corse. Merritt suffers 30 killed, 128 wounded, and 14 missing.
Stop 12: Lockett’s House
As the two armies reach this area, fighting begins around the Lockett house. Slowly Confederate General Gordon’s men will fall back into the valley of Sailor’s Creek. Of the skirmishing that takes place around Lockett’s, a Federal soldier remembers: “We advanced to a white house on Sayler’s Creek…and I found some protection behind the house. I called Sergeant Percival’s attention to what I thought a better position near the hen coop, fifteen feet distant, but he ordered me to remain where I was. I thought I could get better aim from the other position. I had been hit just before reaching the house and wounded slightly. We had notified the occupants of the house to adjourn to the cellar; bullets came pattering against it.”
During the fighting, Mr. Lockett’s family and neighbors sought refuge in the west basement room, huddled on a pile of potatoes that covered some meat. A quantity of prepared food had been gathered in anticipation of visits from Confederate relatives and friends passing with the Army of Northern Virginia. Little had they realized that a battle would rage across their farm.
The fighting continues as the two forces clash at the creek crossings below until darkness stops the Federal advance. That night the home of James Lockett, known as “Piney Grove,” is converted into a Federal hospital. Casualties of both armies are brought in from the battlefield and placed around the yard and on the front porch of the house. Those who die are temporarily interred in a burial ground across the road. Later, many of their families will come to claim the bodies of their lost sons.
Even today, the Lockett house bears scars of the battle. Bullet holes still pepper the weatherboarding and chimney, attesting to the struggle here.
Stop 13: Double Bridges
It is the evening of April 6th. After trudging three miles along the road from Holt’s Corner, Confederate General Gordon’s men finally come to the high ground at Lockett’s Farm overlooking the valley of Sailor’s Creek. Down below, the road crosses the confluence of Big and Little Sailor’s Creek on a set of “double bridges.” The two branches form Sailor’s Creek, which flows north into the Appomattox River. As Gordon looks down, he sees the large wagon train in front experiencing great difficulty crossing the creeks. Realizing he would have to make another stand to protect these vital wagons, Gordon forms his exhausted troops in a battle line around the Lockett house and along the top of the ridge. By this time, the sun is beginning to set as the advance of the Federal Second Corps, under General Humphreys, arrives on the scene.
The Federals slowly press the outnumbered Confederates into the valley, where the defenders eventually began taking shelter behind the wagons. Finally the Southerners are overwhelmed by Humphreys’ men and begin surrendering. Seventeen hundred Confederates are captured along with more than 300 wagons and ambulances, three artillery pieces and 13 battle flags. Those Confederates who manage to get across the creek and up the opposite slope, are safe. That night General Gordon continues his march and later crosses the Appomattox River at High Bridge. As darkness sets in the Federals stop their pursuit. Union losses number 536 killed, wounded or missing.
That same night, the Union army counts the fruits of the day’s efforts. In the three engagements at Sailor’s Creek: Lockett’s Farm, Hillsman’s Farm, and Marshall’s Crossroads, a total of 7,700 prisoners are taken, along with eight Southern generals. This is the largest surrender during the war of an army in the field, without terms following. These defeats put nearly a fifth of Lee’s army out of commission.
In his report to General Ulysses S. Grant after the battles, General Sheridan speculates that “If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.” This message, sent by Grant to President Lincoln at City Point on the James River, brought back the response: “Let the thing be pressed.”
The next morning, as the Union troops once again begin the pursuit of Gordon’s Corps, they pass the spoils of the night before. “The ground is strewn with clothing, tents, kettles, bacon, cornmeal, officers desks, and official documents…” Emblazoned on the canvas covers of the captured wagons are slogans such as “The C.S.A. is gone up,” and “We all can’t whip you all without something to eat.” Sadly, a Union officer states that “it is strange to see the marks on the wagons, denoting the various brigades, once so redoubtable.”
Stop 14: Rice’s Depot
It is the evening of April 6th, 1865. At Rice’s Depot on the South Side Railroad, General Robert E. Lee waits with General James Longstreet’s Corps for the rest of the army to come up. Hearing heavy firing to the east, General Lee decides to investigate the situation. Taking General William Mahone’s division with him, Lee rides about two miles back along the Rice-Deatonville Road to a high knoll above Big Sailor’s Creek. Much to his dismay, Lee sees “teamsters without wagons, soldiers without rifles, and shattered regiments without officers” fleeing across the creek and up the hill.
“My God has the army been dissolved?”
“No, General, here are troops ready to do their duty.”
“Yes, General Mahone, there are some true men left. Will you please keep those people back?”
Sitting on his horse Traveller, Lee takes a battle flag and holds it aloft, ordering General Mahone to dig in, defend the overlook, and collect refugees from Anderson’s and Ewell’s shattered commands. The disorganized soldiers, seeing and recognizing their commanding general, begin to gather around him and halt their flight. This was to be the last rally for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Earlier in the afternoon at Rice’s Depot, General Longstreet learns about the approach of Union General Edward Ord’s Army of the James coming up the road from Burkeville Junction. Longstreet has his men entrench across the road. Later in the evening, Longstreet’s defensive position is attacked by elements of Ord’s Twenty Fourth Army Corps, but only minor skirmishing takes place.
That night, after returning to Rice’s Depot from viewing the Big Sailor’s Creek disaster, General Lee evaluates his predicament. He lost a fifth of his army at Sailor’s Creek. The Federal Army of the Potomac is directly behind him. The Army of the James is coming in from Burkeville. To save his army, he must make another night march to Farmville and issue the much needed rations waiting there. If successful in doing this, the army can continue heading south and rejoin the Richmond and Danville Railroad somewhere near Keysville Station. Thus the original objective of joining forces with the Army of Tennessee can then be achieved.
The orders are given and Lee’s men trudge on to Farmville, some following the direct road, others going by way of High Bridge. Two night marches in a row and the devastating battles at Sailor’s Creek are taking their toll on the Confederate army.
Stop 15: Cavalry Battle at High Bridge
It is noon on April 6th, 1865. Union General Edward O.C. Ord, commanding the Army of the James at Burkeville Junction, has sent a force of nine hundred infantry and cavalry on a mission to destroy High Bridge over the Appomattox River. This important railroad structure could provide an avenue of escape for Lee’s retreating army as they head toward Farmville. To complete their task, the Federals must quickly move past Rice’s Depot before Longstreet’s Corps arrives there. When the Federals are within a mile of High Bridge, Longstreet hears of their raid and sends the Confederate cavalry under General Fitzhugh Lee after them. General Ord finds out about the Southern cavalry and dispatches General Theodore Read to warn the Union raiding party of this impending threat.
Just as General Read arrives on the scene, so do Lee’s gray horsemen, cutting off the raiders escape route. In a suicidal attempt to break through, the Union cavalry charge Lee’s men and a fierce hand to hand combat takes place with the saber being used freely. In the ensuing melee, General Read is killed by a pistol shot and the Northern cavalry is virtually destroyed. Seeing the predicament their comrades are in, the Union infantry retreats toward High Bridge. The Confederate troopers quickly pursue them. Finally, as the bluecoats reach the bridge, they surrender to the Confederates. The Southerners capture close to 800 men, six flags, an ambulance and even a large brass band. High Bridge is saved and will eventually be used by General Robert E. Lee’s troops this evening as they move to Farmville.
The cost though is high for Lee’s army. Confederate General James Dearing is mortally wounded in the fighting. He will linger on until April 23rd, being the last Southern general to die of wounds received in action. A Federal cavalryman reported that: “nearly one hundred rebels were killed and wounded” in the battle. The Union prisoners are taken back to Rice’s Depot and placed with Longstreet’s command. A Colonel of one of the Federal regiments remarks to his captors: “Never mind boys, Old Grant is after you! You will all be in our predicament in forty-eight hours.”
You will be able to see High Bridge from your car once you arrive at Stop 18 on the “Route of Lee’s Retreat” Tour.
Stop 16: Farmville
As the hungry Confederate soldiers stagger into Farmville on the morning of April 7, 1865, they reach the depot and find trains loaded with rations awaiting them. The men quickly begin to distribute the provisions and sit down for their first meal in days. Suddenly, gunfire is heard from along the ridge east of town. Union cavalry of General George Crook’s division come dashing into the village, forcing Lee’s men to stop the distribution of rations and move to the heights on the north side of the Appomattox River. The boxcars are closed up and the trains are sent westward along the South Side Railroad. They will be captured the next day at Pamplin’s Depot.
At this point General Lee realizes he must change his plans again. Learning that Union cavalry and infantry are moving to the south of Farmville, he no longer can head in that direction. He decides to continue his march westward, hoping he can obtain rations at Appomattox Station. Consequently, he decides to leave Farmville and cross his entire army to the north side of the Appomattox River, burning all the bridges behind him. Undoubtedly this will slow the Federal advance.
Lee’s plans are not to be realized. One of his officers points out to him the problem. “Indeed, no man who looked at our situation on a map, or who understood the geography of the country, could fail to see that General Grant had us completely in a trap…. We were now in a sort of jug shaped peninsula between the James River and the Appomattox and there was but one outlet, the neck of the jug at Appomattox Court House, and to that Grant had the shortest road!”
The Confederate army successfully destroys the wagon and railroad bridges at Farmville, only to hear the sounds of heavy gunfire to the north. Lee quickly rides off to find out what it means.
Later that evening, General Wright’s Sixth Army Corps moves across the river on a pontoon bridge and the wreckage of a wagon bridge. As they march through Farmville, one of the Union infantrymen observes: “Stores were shut up, houses closed, frightened women peeped through dilapidated doorways, [and] sullen men lolled about the porches….” Bonfires are lit on the sides of the streets, and soldiers seize straw and pine knots, improvising them into torches. Bands play, banners wave, and cheers rise from the soldiers as they tramp in grand review by General Grant’s headquarters at the Randolph House, later known as the Prince Edward Hotel.
At 5 pm General Grant sends his first correspondence to Lee concerning the possibility of surrendering his army. “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. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, U.S. Grant.”
Stop 17: Battle of Cumberland Church
It is 2 pm on April 7th, 1865. General Robert E. Lee has entrenched his troops along the high ground surrounding Cumberland Presbyterian Church to stop Grant’s forces coming across the Appomattox River at High Bridge. He must do this to protect his wagon and artillery trains, which now are beginning their westward trek toward Appomattox Court House. A Confederate soldier remembered: “We were halted at Cumberland Church and formed in line of battle across the highway — the church being a short distance in our rear of the right of our regiment. The men … hastily threw up an earthwork with bayonets and bare hands.” As the Southerners finish their breastworks, facing north and east, lead elements of Union General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Army Corps approach.
Brief skirmishing breaks out as more and more Federal troops arrive on the scene and prepare to do battle. North of Cumberland Church, Union General Nelson Miles orders his men to attack the Confederate position. A Yankee participant in the assault recalls: “We came to a halt in a dense growth of small pines and waited for orders. Some of the officers went out in the edge of the woods to look around…. Captain Mike Foy came back and said, ‘Boys, there’s another wagon train for us behind the rebel lines’… [We] were the first to advance across an open field in full view of the enemy. The troops came to a halt in a little ravine and the bugles sounded. ‘Fix bayonets!’ Then an advance was made and when about 50 rods from the enemy the bugles sang out, ‘Forward – double quick, charge!'”
“The cheers of our men were answered by the rebel yell… then a tongue of flame leaped from all along their entrenchments, and all other sounds were drowned with the roar of cannon, the crash of musketry and the whizzing and screeching of grape and canister. Foy and scores of others would go in less than fifteen minutes.”
The Federals are unable to break the Confederate line and darkness brings an end to the fighting. Union losses amount to 40 killed and 531 wounded and missing in the day’s actions. Confederate losses are unknown.
Around 9:30 pm a dispatch is delivered to General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters through enemy lines. It is General Grant’s letter from Farmville concerning the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Southern commander reads it, then hands it to General Longstreet. After examining the note, Longstreet hands it back with the reply, “Not yet.”
A Union soldier who took part in the Battle of Cumberland Church later writes: “History makes but little mention of the battle of Farmville, as events of greater importance followed so closely, but the participants know that troops never fought more valiantly than did Lee’s soldiers in their last effort when they repulsed the assault of the veterans of the 2nd Corps.”
Stop 18: High Bridge
The original High Bridge was built in 1853, for the South Side Railroad to cross the Appomattox River. Approximately 2,400 feet long, it sat on 21 brick piers, with the highest point being 125 feet. An observer noted: “There have been higher bridges not so long, and longer bridges not so high, but taking the height and length together, this is, perhaps, the largest bridge in the world.” Although pedestrians could cross on High Bridge, a wagon bridge was built directly below it for farm vehicles.
It is the night of April 6, 1865. Confederate General John Gordon’s Corps, along with General William Mahone’s division, are sent to cross High Bridge after the disasters earlier this day at Sailor’s Creek. Orders are given to burn both bridges so that the Federal troops can’t get across the river.
Suddenly at daybreak on the 7th, advancing columns of bluecoats appear from the east. They are members of General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Army Corps approaching from the battlefield at Lockett’s Farm. Quickly the Confederates fire the two bridges, but it is too late. One of the first Union troops to arrive at High Bridge recalls what he found: “Our pioneers tried to reach the burning end of the railroad bridge, but were driven back by the enemy’s skirmisher’s, whose purpose it was to get the flames so well under way that we could not stop them….The fire had about wrapped up three spans and was at work on the fourth….The superstructure of the bridge was of wood which was tarred, and it was a truss ten or twelve feet high, the top was floored with boards and covered with tin. The men tore up the tin, cut through the floor, and then cut off the timbers one by one…. Others brought water from several half hogsheads which had been placed at intervals on the bridge…. It seemed as if the flames would catch on the fifth span…when the fourth span fell, leaving the fifth untouched by the flames.”
Down below Confederate engineers are attempting to burn the wagon bridge. Union infantry quickly drive the Southerners away, but not before this bridge is on fire. One of the Federals observes that his comrades “put out the fire with water that was in their canteens, together with boxes, dippers and tents, left by the rebels in their retreat… so low was the bridge and so high was the water [in the river] to it.” By saving the wagon bridge, the Federal troops are now able to cross the Appomattox River and continue pursuing the Southern army.
Two Northern divisions follow General Mahone’s column for five miles until they reach Cumberland Church. A third Union division skirmishes with General Gordon’s rearguard as they follow the South Side Railroad into Farmville. A brief action takes place along the way during which Union General Thomas Smythe is mortally wounded by a sharpshooter’s bullet. Taken to Burke’s Tavern near Burkeville Junction, General Smythe dies on April 9th, the last Union general killed in the war.
Stop 19: Clifton, Grant’s headquarters April 8
The large frame structure that you see across the road was built in 1842 by John Sheppard and is known as “Clifton.” At the time of the Civil War, it is owned and lived in by Sheppard’s sister who married Joseph Crute. Mr. Crute’s plantation office is the smaller building next to the dwelling.
The road on which you are traveling is the original Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. Along this road on April 8th Confederate General John B. Gordon’s Second Corps marches, pursued by Union General Humphreys’ Second Army Corps. To the north, moving along a parallel road through Curdsville was Longstreet’s Corps, with Wright’s Sixth Army Corps behind them. Both columns will be heading in the direction of New Store.
After the two armies pass this house, Generals Meade and Grant arrive on the scene and go into camp. One staff officer recalls that Grant’s headquarters are in a “large white farm-house a few hundred yards from Meade’s camp.” As the group enters the house, Grant is suffering from a severe headache, the result of fatigue, anxiety, scant fare, and loss of sleep. By night he is worse and is induced to bathe his feet in hot water and mustard, and apply mustard-plasters to his wrists and back of his neck. It is of little help.
The general then lays himself upon a sofa in the sitting-room on the left side of the hall, while the staff officers bunk on the floor of the room opposite, all trying to get some sleep. About midnight, a letter from Lee arrives through General Humphreys’ lines. In it the Confederate commander writes that he does not intended to propose the surrender of his army, but asks what terms Grant might offer. While Lee feels that the emergency has not arisen to call for his army’s surrender, and the restoration of peace being the sole object of both he and Grant, he wants to know whether the Union commander’s terms will lead to this end. He therefore calls for a meeting at 10 am on April 9th between the picket lines of both armies.
Grant walks over to Meade’s camp for some coffee early that morning then writes back to General Lee. He states that he has no authority to treat on the subject of peace. He goes on to say, “The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed.” He closes by saying, “Sincerely hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.”
One of his staff officers added to this, “General Grant kept steadily in mind the fact that he was simply a soldier, and could deal only with hostile armies. He could not negotiate a treaty of peace without transcending his authority.”
Early in the morning Grant and his staff will leave Clifton. He still is suffering from his headache. Eventually he will receive another note from General Lee. “I ask for a suspension of hostilities pending the adjustment of the terms of surrender of this army, in the interview requested in my former communication today.” Upon reading this dispatch, Grant later recalled that his headache was immediately cured.
Stop 20: New Store
This stop on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, originally consisting of Mr. Louis Dibrell Jones’ home and tavern known as “Keswick,” also had a cobbler’s shop, three offices, and a store.
On April 8th, when General Gordon’s corps reaches this intersection at New Store Presbyterian Church, he takes the lead on this single lane Stage Road. Longstreet’s corps files in behind his column at the road junction. Confederate cavalry protects the rear of the army.
The Union army will do likewise as they pursue closely but cautiously behind Lee’s men. Humphreys’ Second Army corps will take the lead, with Wright’s Sixth Army Corps in the rear. The rest of the Union army is marching south of the Appomattox River, generally following the South Side Railroad. It is a shorter route to Appomattox Station than the Confederates must follow.
Just beyond New Store is the road that Grant and his staff turned onto as they rode cross-country to confer with Lee. Recalling the events of that day that led up to their meeting, the Union commander said, “I had to ride quite a distance through a muddy country. I remember now that I was concerned about my personal appearance. I had an old suit on, without my sword, and without any distinguishing mark of rank except the shoulder-straps of a lieutenant-general on a woolen blouse. I was splashed with mud in my long ride. I was afraid Lee might think I meant to show him studied discourtesy by so coming — at least I thought so. But I had no other cloths within reach, as Lee’s letter found me away from my base of supplies.”
As the Union soldiers pass through New Store, one recalls that “it contained one house and was surrounded by several acres of land. The house contained a large quantity of flour which was gradually transferred to the haversacks of the men.”
Another remembers that the soldiers find what was thought to be sorghum molasses. “Molasses…was thought to add desirable flavor to hardtack. When passing New Store a barrel with its head knocked out stood on the roadside. “Molasses, molasses,” ran along the line, and tin cups were quickly loosed from haversacks. As the barrel was reached cups made a hurried dip, but you can imagine the strength of the language used when, instead of Porto Rico, it was found to be tar!”
This evening the Union Second Army corps passes through New Store before going into camp, while Wright’s Sixth Corps camps around here. The soldiers will press on toward Appomattox Court House the next morning, but never will get closer than four miles from the scene of the surrender.
On their march back to Burkeville Junction from the Appomattox area, Wright’s and Humphreys’ corps will return through New Store once more.
Today, the site of New Store is merely a memory along the route of Lee’s Retreat.
Stop 21: Lee’s Rearguard
The morning of April 9th, 1865, finds Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in camp from this point to Appomattox Court House, four miles south. For the first time in days his men have not had to make a night march, and they eat their meager rations in peace. To protect the rear of the army, General James Longstreet’s Corps build entrenchments across the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road at New Hope Church. The works are described by a Confederate as “fully breast high, and had an abattis of felled trees in front.” Later, upon seeing them, a Union soldier remarks that the Southerners had built “a breastwork of medium strength at the front for the pickets, and two lines of stronger works in the rear — there being a continuous slight acclivity from their front to rear work.” Generals Andrew Humphreys and Horatio Wright of the Union army quickly approach with their corps and fighting is imminent.
As the light of day dawns, the head of General Humphreys’ Corps arrive in front of the works and form into a skirmish line. A flag of truce is seen coming from the Confederate lines accompanied by three Southern officers, one is General Robert E. Lee. Hoping to meet with General Grant, they find he is not among these Union forces. Instead, one of General Humphreys’ staff officers rides up with a letter from Grant to Lee proposing that the Southern forces lay down their weapons and surrender.
After examining Grant’s proposition, General Lee writes back: “I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now request an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, R.E. Lee”
General Lee returns to his lines and rides back in the direction of Appomattox Court House to await General Grant’s reply in Sweeney’s apple orchard near the Appomattox River. He sends his aide, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Marshall, into the village to find a dwelling suitable for a meeting with the Northern commander. Union General George Meade, who is with Humphreys and Wright, authorizes a truce so that the two commanding Generals might have time to conduct their conference.
When Grant’s entourage receives the news that morning, it is read for all to hear. After a period of silence, one staff member proposes three cheers. The cheers are rather feeble and soon change into tears. They all feel that the war is finally over.
Stop 22: Battle of Appomattox Station
It is April 8, 1865. Union cavalry, commanded by General George Armstrong Custer, receives word about the Confederate supply trains known to have been dispatched from Lynchburg. Scouts tell them the trains are ahead at Appomattox Station on the South Side Railroad. Quickly Custer orders his cavalry to capture the trains before Lee’s army can reach them.
By mid-afternoon, lead elements of Custer’s cavalry division gaze upon their objective. The station consists of only two or three houses, and at the depot three trains can be seen. Loaded in the boxcars are quartermaster’s stores, clothing, camp equipage, rations, ordnance stores and medical supplies for Lee’s men. The Federal troopers pounce upon the trains and they are quickly captured. Suddenly, gunfire breaks out from the direction of Appomattox Court House, three miles north, and the captured trains are sent eastward toward Farmville.
About a mile north of the station General Lee’s surplus artillery and wagon trains, commanded by Confederate General Reuben Walker, are going into camp. Hearing of the capture of the supply trains at the depot, a cry goes out: “The Yankees are coming, the Yankees are coming!” “The cavalry are coming, they are at the station and coming up the hill!” General Walker places his artillery and men into position to meet the impending attack.
The Southern cannoneers place their weapons in a hollow circle with the wagons parked in the center. The general has about 100 pieces of artillery and several hundred baggage wagons to defend. As Custer’s cavalry arrive on the scene, they prepare to assault Walker’s camp. At 4 pm the horsemen begin their attack, charging through a dense forest and underbrush. The Southern artillery belches out canister, causing many of Custer’s men to retreat. The cavalry continue a series of hit-and-run tactics throughout the evening and finally overwhelm Walker’s camp. Their spoils include nearly 1,000 prisoners, between 24 and 30 cannon, five battle flags, and about 200 wagons. The Union cavalry have 58 killed, wounded and missing.
That night Union cavalry under General George Crook move forward to the high ground overlooking the village of Appomattox Court House and Lee’s army north of the Appomattox River. As Lee has feared, Grant’s army won the race and is across his path of retreat. At dawn on the morning of the 9th, Lee makes one last desperate attempt to break through the Union lines. He is unsuccessful and that afternoon meets with General Ulysses S. Grant to discuss the terms of surrender for the Army of Northern Virginia.
This ends our tour of the “Route of Lee’s Retreat.” Should you wish to take this drive in reverse to Petersburg, we suggest that you obtain a map from either the Town of Appomattox Visitor Center or nearby Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. We invite you to now visit the National Park and learn the story of what happens there on this important day in our history. We hope you have enjoyed following the “Route of Lee’s Retreat” auto tour.
Stop 23: Burkeville Junction
On June 23, 1864, while General James Harrison Wilson is fighting with “Rooney” Lee’s cavalry beyond Nottoway Court House at Stop19, Union General August Kautz is destroying railroad property of the South Side and Richmond & Danville Railroads at Burkeville junction. The two cavalry commands eventually will rejoin each other to the south at Meherrin Station and ride onto the Staunton River Bridge. Here they unsuccessfully fight a battle on June 25th to destroy that structure and then begin their return ride to disaster at Petersburg.
Nine months later, Burkeville Junction again will be a possible point of contention for the armies. A Confederate soldier prophesies on April 3rd that “Most of the men expect a long and arduous campaign, but I do not. I really think the war is virtually at an end. We may attempt to fight them at Burkesville, but if we do, Grant will only come up to us, send his large cavalry in our rear and perish us out.”
During the Appomattox Campaign, because of the various maneuvering going on between the armies, Burkeville will end up not being a battleground. Instead, when the South Side Railroad is reopened the 68 miles from Petersburg to this junction, the area becomes one vast hospital center. Arrangements are made for the reception of up to 2,500 wounded from the numerous battle sites in the region. Hotel buildings, warehouses at the depot, and private dwellings are all converted into hospitals for the soldiers of both armies. Eight days’ rations for between 2,000 and 4,000 men are sent from Grant’s supply base at City Point, now Hopewell.
By April 11th, about 2,200 wounded and sick, along with about 200 Confederate prisoners, are in Burkeville. Those Southern soldiers captured in the nearby Battle of Sailor’s Creek are brought to Burkeville temporarily before being marched to City Point. There they are placed in transports and taken to prisoner-of-war camps in the North.
On this day, General Grant will arrive on horseback from Appomattox and return by train to his headquarters at City Point. Many of the casualties also will begin their rail journey back to the Union Depot Field Hospital center at the same destination where they can receive full treatment for their injuries.
After the surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, the Union Army of the Potomac receives orders to return to Burkeville Junction and encamp. For many, this will be their final bivouac before heading to Washington DC, then home. Besides guard duty along the railroads and acting as provost marshal over the local populace, they will gather here all the captured ordnance and ordnance stores from Lee’s surrendered army.
Stop 24: Crewe
Although this town did not exist until 1888, during the spring of 1865, this area was known as “Robertson’s Switch or Siding” on the South Side Railroad. The role this location plays in the final campaign of the war in Virginia, is that nearby General Grant and members of his staff begin their night ride through enemy territory to reach the rest of his army at Jetersville.
After Grant confers with his officers in the village of Nottoway Court House, he and his staff ride to a point about halfway between Nottoway and Burkeville where they are confronted by what appears to be a soldier dressed in Confederate uniform. It turns out that he is a Union scout in disguise. He hands the general a note from his cavalry general, Philip Sheridan, which reads, “I wish you were here yourself. I feel confident of capturing the Army of Northern Virginia if we exert ourselves. I see no escape for Lee.”
Grant decides he must meet with Sheridan and Union Army of the Potomac commander General Meade, now entrenched at Jetersville. To do so, he and his entourage of 17 men must make a cross-county ride through unfamiliar territory a distance of nearly 20 miles. Being helped in navigating their trek is enough moonlight so that after a two-hour ride, they reach Sheridan’s pickets at half-past ten. One of the soldiers who confronts the horsemen can’t believe the commander-in-chief is wandering about at this hour and so near the enemy’s lines. Another says, “Why, there’s the old man. Boys, this means business.” Eventually, at midnight, Grant and his men will reach the camp of General Sheridan. After a meal, the commander will send a dispatch to General Ord and his Army of the James. Directions are given for him to continue his march to Burkeville and there entrench for the night. In the morning he will move west to cut off all the roads between there and Farmville.
Grant and Sheridan now ride on to General Meade where a discussion will take place over the next day’s movements. General Grant wants portions of his infantry to move upon Amelia Court House to the northeast. They will then unite with Sheridan’s troops in swinging round more toward the south and head off Lee in that direction. He emphasizes that it is not the aim only to follow the enemy, but to get ahead of him. In fact, General Grant says that he has no doubt General Lee is moving his army as they speak.
Meade’s army is given coffee at 4 am on the 6th of April and moves at daylight after the Confederate army. Grant then departs and rides to join the Army of the James at Burkeville Junction that evening.
Stop 25: Nottoway Court House
It is April 5, 1865. This small Virginia county seat sees activity as the Union Army of the James, commanded by General Edward O.C.Ord, passes through on their pursuit of General Robert E. Lee’s army. Marching westward along the South Side Railroad, they have already gone through Ford’s and Wilson’s Stations, Blacks and Whites, now Blackstone, before reaching Nottoway Court House on their way to Burkeville Junction.
The Army of the James is composed of the Twenty-Fourth Army Corps, commanded by General John Gibbon, and marching with it is one division of the Twenty Fifth Army Corps, commanded by General William Birney. This corps is made up entirely of United States Colored Troops. They will soon be followed by General John Parke’s Ninth Army Corps, who will guard the South Side Railroad from Sutherland’s Station to Farmville.
A Northern newspaper reporter writes of his surroundings: “The village of Nottoway Court House as it is usually called, is an old, dilapidated looking concern, composed of a few dozens of old unpainted frame houses, and two or three brick ones. The courthouse and surrounding offices are substantial brick edifices, and stand in a pleasantly shaded square, about two hundred yards to the left of the main road going westward. Streets or street Nottoway has not. The road through it is rather mere sinuous and cut up by gullies than elsewhere in the neighborhood. A few empty box cars were captured and a few dollars worth of saddlery trimmings. Nearly all else of value had been removed….
“In the clerk’s office was found a large collection of records, dating back to 1787, embracing court proceedings, a book of wills, election returns, deeds and other legal papers, which would offer interesting material for months of investigation. But the march of an army makes too much history daily for the correspondent to devote much time to that of the past.”
Apparently, some occupying Union soldiers do ransack the clerk’s office. Record books are hacked up and thrown into the courtyard horse trough. Others are written in with such phrases as “Abraham Lincoln, president of Virginia 1865.” Another has “Johney Reb you can thank me for saving Lawyer Jones books. I save them because I am a sort of a Yankee lawyer myself. Charles Cook, York. Pennsylvania.” Riding along this route is General Ulysses S. Grant and staff, who rest shortly at Nottoway before making a cross-country night ride to Jetersville on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. There he will meet with Generals Philip Sheridan and George Meade to discuss the present situation and future movements.
In Virginia, railroad stations such as Nottoway, were often referred to as “way stations.” Apparently, while Generals Grant and Ord are waiting on the front porch of the town tavern, a young staff officer rides up with a message. Inquiring of General Ord: “Is this a way station?” The grim old soldier, who is fond of a quiet joke, replies with great deliberation: “This is NOTT-A-WAY station.”
Stop 26: Battle of Nottoway
Although the Battle of Nottoway Court House does not relate to the final campaign between the armies of Lee and Grant in April 1865, it is the only action to take place in Nottoway County during the Civil War. This engagement was one of the first attempts by Union forces to cut Lee’s supply lines, the railroads, during the siege of Petersburg.
Almost immediately after failing to take Petersburg by direct assault in the fighting June 15-18, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant decides to send out a cavalry expedition to destroy as much of the South Side and Richmond and Danville Railroads as possible. To lead this foray, he assigns 27-year-old General James Wilson and his division of approximately 3,500 men, supported by a smaller division led by General August Kautz of 2,000 troopers. Twelve pieces of artillery will accompany them.
At 3 am on June 22 they leave the Petersburg front and reach the South Side Railroad virtually unmolested, eventually riding on to Ford’s Depot. What historically is called the Wilson-Kautz Raid has begun. At the station they find two locomotives and 16 cars filled with supplies for the Confederate army. Not only are the engines, cars and stations destroyed, but sections of the track are torn up, the ties burned, and the rails heated and then bent around nearby trees.
Early the next morning, General Kautz is sent ahead with his raiders to Burkeville Junction where the South Side and Richmond and Danville Railroads cross. They are to destroy the tracks in every direction along with the station. General Wilson, riding behind him, will continue “burning every wood pile, station, water tank, section house, and bridge” as he rides along the South Side Railroad. This is easy to do, for as he states: “The hot weather favored us, for it made buildings, crossties, bridges, trestles, wood piles, cars, and stations so dry and inflammable that they burned like tinder, filling the air with clouds of cinders and smoke, and setting fire to the dry leaves and grass on both sides of the track.”
After fording the Nottoway River and later recrossing it near Nottoway Court House, General Wilson runs into trouble as his men near the road crossing of the railroad at the Oak Grove school house. Confederate General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, made up of Generals James Dearing’s and Rufus Barringer’s brigades, attack Union Colonel George Chapman’s brigade. Stopping Lee’s advance, the Union raiders drive him back a distance, before they themselves are pushed back to their original position along the railroad. The fighting sways back and forth for almost nine hours, during which time the Union cavalry captures some of Lee’s artillery pieces. After disabling them, they are abandoned to fall again into Southern hands. Finally, darkness puts an end to the conflict. Northern casualties amount to 75 killed, wounded, and missing, while Lee loses between 60 and 100 men.
That night, after hearing that General Kautz is successful with his mission at Burkeville and is moving down the Richmond and Danville Railroad to Meherrin Station, Wilson withdraws from the field. He and Kautz continue their destructive raid until June 25th, when, at the Battle of Staunton River Bridge, he is forced to return with his command to the Petersburg front. After a series of disasters along his retreat, the scattered remnants of his command wander into Union lines on July 1st, having ridden more than 325 miles in 10 days.
The success of the Wilson-Kautz Raid is somewhat speculative, for although some 60 miles of the two railroads are destroyed, Wilson’s losses run high. On the other hand, the Union commander, General Grant, commented: “The damage to the enemy in the expedition more than compensated for the losses we sustained.” General Wilson later said of his raid: “It was the best job of its kind I ever saw, and as I afterwards learned from General Isaac St. John, the Confederate officer in charge of military railroads, it was the heaviest blow that ever befell the Confederacy till Appomattox wiped it out forever….”
Nonetheless, it is not until the following April that General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is forced to relinquish its stronghold on Richmond and Petersburg.