April 2, 1865: Attacking Petersburg

On April 2, 1865, the Army of the Potomac launched a major attack upon the Confederate fortifications at Petersburg. The heaviest fighting took place at Fort Gregg, a prominent Confederate position.

One of the most notable characteristics of a Kurz and Allison print is how well dressed both sides are. Look at the Confederates in regulation attire. Very snappy. Everything is so neat and clean.

The reality is somewhat different.

The above Confederates fell defending Fort Mahone.

Among those who fell that day was Ambrose P. Hill, who was cut down by a pair of Union stragglers as he tried to bring order out of chaos.

Not all representations of the assaults were so divorced from reality as was the Kurz and Allison print, produced decades after the war. Here’s a sketch by A. R. Waud:

However, I don’t know what to make of this representation by Currier and Ives:

Others sought a middle ground.

If the assaults proved bloody and costly, they were also successful. Robert E. Lee knew that if he did not evacuate Richmond and Petersburg immediately, he would be trapped by the advancing Yankees. And so on the night of April 2, the Confederate evacuated both cities, setting fire to Richmond as they left.

Somehow no one associates Lee with this act of arson. I wonder why.

18 thoughts on “April 2, 1865: Attacking Petersburg

    • bob carey April 2, 2015 / 3:26 am

      When Lee ordered the military stores to be destroyed, he had to know that the fires would spread, afterall he was intelligent. This act should be considered a complete disregard for the safety of the people of Richmond, something the lost causers seem to forget. They also forget that the fires were put out by Union troops, many of which were USCT’s, many of which were Southern born. The modern day Southern Heritage people should be these action actions of their native sons but don’t seem to get around to it.

      • bob carey April 2, 2015 / 3:41 am

        Please forgive me for my lack of typing skills. I meant to say that the Southern Heritage folks should be embracing the actions of the USCT’s many of which were former slaves native tothe south

      • Mark April 2, 2015 / 8:35 am

        Yes, it was a scorched earth policy in reverse. But it was also official Confederate war policy. Lee following policy to the bitter end without regard to its effect. Per usual.

      • Joshism April 2, 2015 / 7:59 pm

        I’m reading Jay Winik’s “April 1865”. He describes civilian mobs looting and rioting the night of Lee’s departure; not only did they rob and wreck the place ahead of the fire, but they cut the fire hoses of the volunteer fire department who tried to fight the fire.


  1. Will Hickox April 2, 2015 / 7:55 am

    I won’t be making any friends here, but having written about this battle, I feel compelled to point out that the photos of Confederate dead were taken at Mahone, not Fort Gregg.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 2, 2015 / 8:58 am

      I am not making the claim that the photographs were taken at Gregg. Indeed, the K&A print doesn’t even specify what part of the action it represents. I am simply suggesting the distance between portrayals of battles and their aftermath. Gregg seems to have been a focal point for several representations of the day’s fighting.

      Bill Frassanito’s Grant and Lee discusses the Mahone images. The two forts were a significant distance apart and were the objectives in two separate operations, with IX Corps going up against Fort Mahone and VI Corps against Fort Gregg (although the real breakthrough came to the west). I understand that a book on the fighting at Gregg compares it to the Alamo.

      Of course, you know all this. Still, it is a useful reminder.

      • John Foskett April 2, 2015 / 10:43 am

        I believe that’s John Fox’s book. It’s actually pretty well done and has some very good maps. He certainly got input and vetting from the right places – Greene, Calkins, Krick, et al.

  2. Leo April 2, 2015 / 8:47 am

    Didn’t Confederate troops also set fire to stores in Atlanta before Sherman arrived?

      • John Foskett April 2, 2015 / 10:45 am

        I heard that the Atlanta fires were set by a guy named Victor Fleming. 🙂

      • Leo April 2, 2015 / 10:52 am

        We both know the heritage crowd uses that very source. I am sure Margaret Mitchell would be proud. 🙂

  3. Bob Nelson April 2, 2015 / 9:24 am

    Also, the walls in the Kurz and Allison print are so tidy and square and perfect. They look like concrete, not even close to what the mud and log Confederate defensive works actually looked like.

  4. Rosemary April 2, 2015 / 11:55 am

    Lee and arson: Totally in character.
    I look at Lee from the point of view of his wife, who lost her inheritace cause her husband didn’t care what his personal wishes meant for her life, and I look at it from the point of view of his slaves who hated his guts.
    Yes, Mrs. Lee blamed Lincoln …. but in her heart of hearts she had to know her husband betrayed her.
    He was a rat.

    • Mark April 2, 2015 / 3:25 pm

      Rosemary, let’s add to that. None of Lee’s daughters ever married. I think there were four of them. The romantic Lee couldn’t stand to see daddy’s little girls with any other man than himself. That is the creepiest thing this side of criminality I’ve ever heard. It isn’t even disputed that Longstreet had to convince him that Grant wouldn’t humiliate him before he’d surrender. That’s our Lee. The idea that he was selfless is belied by the facts. He was so selfish it beggars belief.

      • Rosemary April 3, 2015 / 6:06 am

        Hey, Mark. For me, I would not be so quick, without research on the four daughters as individuals, to say they didn’t marry because Daddy was the big cheese. ….. Though, perhaps they saw their mother’s life and concluded for themselves: No Way! ….Or maybe they never met men they would have married because the men died in the war.
        I don’t feel sorry for them. You know the old saying: It takes a mighty good husband to be better than none.

        • Mark April 3, 2015 / 10:19 am

          I wasn’t “so quick”. Read accounts of his private letters with direct quotations. Being a history blog, I thought perhaps those interested would be intrigued by such a rare occurrence of *no* daughters marrying and investigate before coming to their own conclusions. If I recall correctly, he even admitted to discouraging his young daughters from attending weddings. He didn’t need to admit that he encouraged his sons to imagine themselves married. The former is in no way normal, and in no way justifiable in any circumstances the family was in. He wasn’t a tyrant over them, but couldn’t seem to separate his own desires from those of others. Everyone knows that young girls fantasize about marrying their dads, and it is painful for dads to let go of this image. But they do it. No parent wants to let go but they do. It seems Lee never even considered doing so.

  5. Ira Berkowtiz April 2, 2015 / 7:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing. The caricatures of war often sanitize the consequences (intentionally or not). The pictures of the “reality” provided here call forward an essential truth. The Civil War was a brutal horror for those who experienced it.

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