Appomattox Remembered (1)

The Last Fight

Similar to my approach taken with the Overland Campaign, I will pause my blog on the Battle of Fredericksburg to provide several posts concerning the events at Appomattox Court House. The sesquicentennial was held at Appomattox Court House April 8-12, 2015. I had a chance to be one of the crowd of visitors. My plan for the next three blogs is to provide a photographic overview of those events.

By April 8th, 1865, the Confederate withdrawal from Petersburg and Richmond, had progressed to the point where General Lee was quickly running out of options in his attempt to both feed his army and to move south to join forces with General J. E. Johnson in North Carolina. When the armies left Farmville, the Confederate Army was north of the Appomattox River moving west. At the same time, the Union Army was pressuring General Lee north and south of the river. The advantage of being south of the Appomattox River meant that those forces, both Sheridan’s cavalry and the XXIV and V Infantry Corps, had a shorter distance to travel to get to Appomattox station.

In the late afternoon of April 8, 1865, Union cavalry under the command of Brigadier General Custer, fought and captured the supply trains in what is called the Battle of Appomattox Station.

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This unusual affair pitted cavalry against artillery. The following pictures taken during the Museum of the Confederacy sponsored real-time event on the grounds of that battle. The land area in light blue on the map was recently acquired by the Civil War Trust. Confederate General Walker arrived ahead of the army pushing down to the Appomattox train station where supply trains were waiting. In addition to the 100 of so artillery guns, he was accompanied by some of the army wagon trains.

General Custer was opposed by artillerymen fighting as infantry as well as 25 artillery pieces placed in battery along an arc on a ridge. In the end, those 25 guns were captured. The remainder scattered, some reached Lynchburg to the west. This deprived General Lee of a portion of his artillery needed during the last fighting the next morning.

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Slide5-apx-cav-3-webSlide6-apx-cav-4-webThe Confederate artillery prepared to defend.

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Slide8-apx-arty-2-webCuster’s victorious cavalry.

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Major General Sheridan’s cavalry pushed on to the the outskirts of the village of Appomattox Court House late in the evening, setting up on the high ground west of the village. There was some minor skirmishing during the night as the rest of General Lee’s Army closes in. In the main, the Confederate Army sets up east of the Court House village.

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On the above terrain map, Union forces are in blue with the Confederate forces in red. The train station, scene of the previous nights battle is found in the lower left of the map. Major General Gordon’s troops along with some cavalry units under General  Fitz Lee were selected to attempt to breakout early in the morning of April 9, 1856. Gordon’s troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge to the west of the Court House.

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The above National Park Service (NPS) map of the Battle of Appomattox Court House, April, 9, 1865 shows how Gordon attempted to drive the Union cavalry off of the ridge west of town. At first they succeeded in pushing the Union troopers back, even capturing an artillery battery which was in support. However, as the Confederates reached the crest of the ridge, they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the Union V Corps to their right.  Lee’s cavalry saw these Union forces and immediately withdrew by the left flank to the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road and rode off unhindered towards Lynchburg. Meanwhile, the Union II Corps began moving against Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to the northeast. Lee’s outnumbered army was now surrounded on three sides.

The following photographs were taken during the morning NPS sponsored real-time event that portrayed Gordon’s attack, April 9, 2015.

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Union reenactors, both the cavalry skirmish line and Infantry may be seen through the smoke.

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Slide17-apx-union-inf-webThe withdrawal of General Gordon’s forces after seeing Union Infantry lined up to prevent General Lee’s Confederate Army from moving south.

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Colonel Charles Venable of Lee’s staff rode in at this time and asked Gordon for an assessment. Gordon gave him a reply he knew Lee did not want to hear: “Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet’s corps.”

My next Appomattox post will deal with General Lee’s response and subsequent action.

 

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About Peter Glyer

I am retired with a lifelong interest in history, primarily the Civil War and WWII - Europe. I was an Army engineer, hence my interest in terrain. I graduated with a degree in City and Regional Planning and a Masters in International Relations.
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