This Week in the Civil War

This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, March 29: Fall of Richmond, Virginia, seat of Confederacy.

The forces of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee reached the breaking point this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. Lee ordered infantry and cavalry units to hold a key defensive line at Five Forks, Virginia, only to come under withering Union attack. Union forces took many prisoners as they beat back Lee’s forces and soon cut off Lee’s only remaining supply line for the Confederacy to Petersburg and nearby Richmond, Virginia, seat of the Confederacy. News reports of the week recalled bloody combat and thousands of Confederates taken prison as the Southern troops were rapidly becoming demoralized. The dire turn of events forced Lee to inform Jefferson Davis that both cities would have to be evacuated and the Petersburg-Richmond siege lines abandoned. After a hasty Confederate evacuation begun on April 2, 1865, Union troops entered Richmond the next day. “Richmond and Petersburg Taken!” blared the New York Tribune in bold headlines in its April 4, 1865, edition. It added: “Colored Troops the First to Enter the Slaveholders’ Capital … THE REBELS LEAVE IN HASTE. Gen. Grant Attempting to Cut Off Lee’s Escape.” That same day, President Abraham Lincoln would visit the city, greeted by jubilant former slaves. Lee’s surrender would only be a matter of days.

This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, April 5: Lee Surrenders.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, after four years of bloodshed that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. After days of fighting and fleeing had left his forces haggard, hungry and surrounded, Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House at Appomattox Court House. Grant allowed for the parole of the Confederate officers and enlisted men but said all weapons and war equipment would be surrendered. The end of Lee’s fighting force came after federal troops had relentlessly pursued and pummeled Lee’s troops westward across the Virginia countryside. The Associated Press reported the details of the surrender, noting Lee had crossed the Appomattox River and burned bridges, seeking a position away from the river. But Union forces “attacked them vigorously” in the hours before the end, convincing Lee the fight was over. AP cited accounts as saying “the road for miles was strewn with broken down wagons, caissons, and baggage of all kinds, presenting a scene seldom witnessed on the part of Lee’s army.” AP reported that “the rank and file of Lee’s army are said to be well satisfied to give up the struggle, believing that they have no hope of success.” And AP added that the formal surrender came later at the country home, leaving the Confederates forces ‘at liberty to proceed to their homes or elsewhere, as they chose.”

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