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Breakthrough at Petersburg

At the beginning of 1865 Union and Confederate troops were still facing each other across the no-mans-land outside the City of Petersburg, Virginia.  Seven months of siege warfare had gained the Union little else except additions to the casualty lists. Despite this Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant continued his envelopment of the beleaguered City. As the soldiers began to prepare for the inevitable spring offensives a feeling in the air told many that the end of the war was drawing near.

Reenactors storm an earthen fort in Henrico, Va

Reenactors storm a reconstructed earthen fort during a commemoration of the Petersburg Campaign in Henrico, Virginia 2014

Union armies were campaigning all across the south and Confederate forces were on the retreat. In the eastern theater of the war Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were suffering from the bloody mathematics of a war of attrition. Grant’s Union armies were steadily surrounding what was left of the Confederacy – squeezing the noose ever tighter.

The Confederates would attempt one more offensive at Petersburg designed to keep the Federals off-balance long enough to allow them to escape. The Battle of Fort Stedman would be General Lee’s last offensive in the Civil War and would precipitate the Five Forks Campaign – and the Union Breakthrough at Petersburg.

Click the link below to the see the images and story of the final days at Petersburg:

Petersburg 1865

Andersonville

Andersonville was the notorious Confederate prison built in February of 1864 to accommodate the increasing number of Union soldiers captured in various theaters of the Civil War. In the fourteen months the prison was operational forty-five thousand Union prisoners-of-war would walk through the stockade gates at Andersonville – over thirteen thousand would find their final resting place there.

The horrendous mortality rate at the prison, due mainly to starvation and neglect, made Andersonville as deadly as any battlefield of the war.

Union escapees run down by bloodhounds

Union escapees run down by bloodhounds in 1864

When the war ended testimony of what the Union prisoners had endured was heard in the halls of Congress. The hearings led to the arrest and eventual execution of the commandant of the prison, Capt. Henry Wirz. It’s important to note and a testament to the horrendous war crimes at Andersonville that Wirz was the only Confederate executed after the war.

Although there were over one hundred and fifty military prisons built both north and south during the Civil War Andersonville stands out for the sheer size of the atrocity that occurred there. Within a few months of the end of the war the thirteen thousand soldiers ingloriously buried in mass graves at Andersonville were carefully disinterred and ceremoniously reburied in a new National Cemetery. Widely publicized at the time the location of the prison grounds were also preserved and together with the cemetery would later become a National Historic Site.

Andersonville POWs fired on by the camp commandant of Stockade Florence

Andersonville POWs fired on by the camp commandant of Stockade Florence

The story of what happened at Andersonville in 1864 still resonates today. In 1996 the hollywood film, Andersonville, visualized the story of the notorious prison for modern audiences and in 1999 part of the grounds at Andersonville were chosen as the location of the new National Prisoner of War Museum. Books on the subject of Civil War era military prisons continue to be published today and is a subject that remains contentious.

Case and point – along the road to Andersonville there is still an old Georgia State plaque dedicated to Capt. Henry Wirz – praising him as a hero of the Confederacy.

Click the link below to see archive and present day images of Andersonville:

Andersonville

The March to the Sea

On Christmas eve 1864 William Tecumseh Sherman sent a telegram to Abraham Lincoln offering the southern City of Savannah as a yuletide gift.

In five weeks Sherman had led an army of 60,000 Union soldiers across a huge swath of Georgia and captured the coastal city giving the Union commander and the Federals their first permanent link to the sea in the South. Declaring, “I will make Georgia Howl”, Atlanta was still burning when Sherman turned his armies east and began an expedition designed to demoralize the rebellious Southerners, to demonstrate the overwhelming strength of the Union armies and the desperate condition of the Southern Cause.

150 year old evidence of Sherman's March to the Sea. Chimney and hearth in Bostwick, Ga -2014

150 year old evidence of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Chimney and hearth in Bostwick, Ga -2014

After four years of Civil War the Confederacy was running out of resources and would have no real army to oppose Sherman’s March to the Sea. Confederate cavalry and State Militia troops could only nip at the heals of Sherman’s force as they live off the land and burned their way through the state utterly destroying the railroads and ultimately isolating Georgia from the rest of the Confederacy.

The three hundred mile March to the Sea would come to a climax just south of Savannah in the Union assault on Fort McAllister. Protecting the mouth of the Ogeechee River Fort McAllister had resisted numerous Union Naval bombardments throughout the war and Sherman would find that it was the key to Savannah.

Follow the trail of Sherman’s troops 150 years after these events and see what remains of the march and what this region of Georgia looks like today.

Click the link below to see the story and images following Sherman’s March to the Sea:

The March to the Sea

The Savannah Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina - 2014

The Savannah Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina – 2014

Shenandoah 1864

“The Union and the Confederacy battled over the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for three years. Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Valley and Ridge Appalachians to the west, the valley served as granary for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia , providing bread and beef to feed this shield of the Confederacy, and fodder and remounts for its cavalry.” **

Above the clouds in Shenandoah National Park

Above the clouds in Shenandoah National Park

In the summer of 1864 Ulysses S. Grant appoints Gen. Phil Sheridan the head of a new Army of the Shenandoah ordering him to pursue the Confederate Army of the Valley to the death.  

Sheridan’s expedition would also include the wholesale destruction of anything of use to the Confederacy in the valley.  Known as the Burning, Union forces in 1864 lay waste to this rich region of Virginia denying its use as a Confederate supply center for the rest of the Civil War.

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign would make Phil Sheridan famous and his opposing Confederate commander Jubal Early infamous in 1864.  Sheridan’s victories at Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek effectively ended the war in the Shenandoah Valley and “forged a tide of Union success that could not be stayed by a beleaguered Confederacy.” *

Click the link below to see the story and images of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Shenandoah Valley 1864

The Siege of Petersburg -1864

The battle and eventual siege of the City of Petersburg,Virginia was the longest single battle in American history. Lasting from June 1864 to April 1865 the two armies, Union and Confederate, faced each other across a no-mans-land of trenches at Petersburg that would come to resemble the battlefield of the Europe some fifty years later.

During the ten month siege there would be six major battles, eleven engagements, fifty skirmishes, six assaults and four expeditions before the Union were able to break the defenses around Petersburg.

US Grant's modest Head Quarters at City Point. It was from here in 1864 and 1865 that Grant would issue the orders the would end the Civil War.

US Grant’s modest headquarters at City Point,Va. It was from here in 1864 and 1865 that Grant would issue the orders the would end the Civil War.

Culminating in the Battle of Five Forks, Union troops finally break the defenses around the City in April 1865 – the Confederacy was collapsing…

Click the link below to see the story and images from the first five months of the siege. Together with the battlefield images will be coverage of the reenactment of the Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico County Virginia commemorating the fighting around Petersburg in 1864. In late 2014 and early 2015 I’ll be returning with additional posts on this drawn out battle and further explorations of the Petersburg/Richmond area battlefields.

The Siege of Petersburg

The Atlanta Campaign

The State of Georgia was nearly untouched by the war in 1864 and served as an enormous bread basket for the Confederacy. The City of Atlanta had become a large manufacturing center, its’ rail yards linked the southern and western states in rebellion to the rest of the Confederacy.

Little Kennesaw Mountain from Big Kennesaw, Ga 2014

Little Kennesaw Mountain from Big Kennesaw, Ga 

In the spring of 1864 William Tecumseh Sherman united several Union armies in the western theater for his coming operations in Georgia forming one of the largest armies in American History. Sherman and his 100,000 man army began to march toward Atlanta from their base in Chattanooga, later to be called the Atlanta Campaign.

Click the link below to see what remains of the Atlanta Campaign battlefields and images from the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Resaca, Georgia in May 2014.

The Atlanta Campaign

North Anna River to Cold Harbor

“As Grant began to disentangle his army from the lines at Spotsylvania and march by his left flank, he hoped to use some of his men to pin down Lee’s army while marching others to the North Anna River and the railroad line at Hanover Junction about 25 miles away.

Reenactors construct Civil War era earthworks in Mosley, Virginia 2014

Reenactors construct Civil War era earthworks in Mosley, Virginia 2014

If he could accomplish that by beating Lee’s army to those spots, he would have captured one of Lee’s most natural supply lines while depriving the Army of Northern Virginia from using the North Anna River as a defensive line.”*

North Anna to Cold Harbor

(*) The Overland Campaign – Charles River Editors

Bloody Spotsylvania

As the Union Army began to dig-in at Spotsylvania US Grant famously wired Washington saying, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer”.

This statement sent shock waves through the North.  In three years of war one Union general after the next had been bested by Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. It seemed that Lee had finally met his match.

Morning fog shrouds the Bloody Angle on the Battlefield at Spotsylvania 2014

Morning fog shrouds the Bloody Angle on the Battlefield at Spotsylvania 2014

The fighting near Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia became known as Bloody Spotsylvania because of the fighting that happened there on May 12th 1864.  On that date 20,000 Union troops attacked the Confederate earthworks at Spotsylvania – 22 hours later the fight ceased in what became the longest stretch of combat in the entire Civil War.

See the link below for images and stories from Spotsylvania:

Bloody Spotsylvania

The Overland Campaign

In May of 1864 US Grant began a concerted campaign to bring the rebellion to an end.  Setting the Army of the Potomac in motion in northern Virginia, Grant also set Sherman loose in Georgia for an all out asphyxiation of the Confederacy.

Confederates prepare for the Union assault at Spotsylvania 2014

Confederates at Spotsylvania Courthouse 2014

In the spring of 1864 prospects for the Confederacy were looking dim, but southerners had one hope.  In the fall of 1864 there would be a presidential election.  If the northern people could be made to believe that the war could not be won on the battlefield then their newly elected leader would have to sue for peace.

In this final stretch of the war the rebels would fight with desperation and the Union troops would find that a lot more blood would have to be spilt before it was all over…. See the link below for an outline of the Overland Campaign:

The Overland Campaign of 1864

The Battle of the Wilderness

“On May 5th 1864 the rival armies marched into the heart of the Wilderness and began a fight that lasted until the end of the war.”

The Wilderness Battlefield 2014

The Wilderness Battlefield 2014

The fighting in the Virginia Wilderness in the spring of 1864 was the beginning of US Grant’s Overland Campaign.

See the link below for the story and images of the Wilderness Battlefield and battle reenactments in Virginia in spring 2014.

The Battle of the Wilderness

Sun set over the Union encampment in Spotsylvania County Virginia 2014

Sun set over the Union encampment in Spotsylvania County Virginia 2014

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