Over the next nine days Americans in general and Virginians in particular will have cause to celebrate and commemorate one of the most important events in American history. We have the flags to highlight each event … because displaying flags to honor heritage is a great tradition. As there are five flags commemorating heritage in Virginia, we want to show the five flags that will commemorate this memorable week, as well as their existing equivalent in Virginia:
April 1: The Battle of Five Forks (The Sheridan Flag, I-81 at Lexington, Virginia) This flagpole was erected in timely fashion in the Shenandoah Valley, where in 1864 Phil Sheridan made a name for himself in defeating Jubal Early’s Confederates and taking the valley out of the war as a supply source and as an avenue of invasion. Early in 1864 Sheridan finally left the valley and headed east and south toward Ulysses S. Grant’s armies, located outside Richmond and Petersburg. Grant tasked Sheridan with the job of cutting off the final major Confederate lifeline along the Southside Railroad, and on April 1 Sheridan crushed a Confederate force under George Pickett, thus tightening the noose around the Confederates.
April 2: Attack at Petersburg (The Butler Flag, I-95 near Chester, Virginia) Hearing of Sheridan’s success, Grant ordered an attack all along the lines at Petersburg, convinced that the enemy position was crumbling. At last the fortifications that had withstood and repulsed many an attack gave way at several points, and the Confederate abandoned their positions. Ambrose P. Hill was killed by two Union stragglers as he sought to reform his lines to stop the Union onslaught. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee notified Jefferson Davis that he would evacuate his lines and seek to escape westward: the Confederate capitol was doomed. That night, the Confederates set fire to the city as they destroyed what they could not move, and the chase was on.
April 3: The Liberation of Richmond and Petersburg (The McClellan Flag, near I-295 at Savage’s Station) Union forces pressed forward, only to discover that the Confederates had made good their escape for the moment. But the day that many people had long awaited had finally arrived: Richmond had fallen. Richmond blacks welcomed the arriving army of liberation spearheaded by units of the 25th Corps, composed of black regiments. It was the largest number of African Americans liberated in a single day during the conflict. To the south Grant met Abraham Lincoln in Petersburg, then set off to coordinate a vigorous pursuit to trap Lee’s army and force a Confederate surrender. The next day the president visited Richmond, entered the Confederate White House, and sat in Jefferson Davis’s office chair.
April 6: Sailor’s Creek (The Burnside Flag, I-95 near Stafford, Virginia) Looking to unite forces with Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Lee thought supplies would be waiting for his army at Amelia Court House. He arrived there on April 4, only to discover that there were no supplies to be had. He spent a day directing his men to forage for supplies, then continued westward. The delay proved costly: Union cavalry shut off route south toward North Carolina, leaving Lee to head due west toward Lynchburg, with an eye on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Realizing this, Grant hurried to cut off the escape route, forming two army groups: one was assigned to chase Lee, while the other was to get out in front of him. Union forces caught up with the Confederate rearguard at Sailor’s Creek on April 6, capturing nearly a quarter of Lee’s remaining force of 32,000 men, including Richard S. Ewell. Viewing the disaster, Lee exclaimed:”My God, has the army dissolved?”
April 9: Appomattox Court House (The Hunter Flag, Jackson’s Farm, Lexington, Virginia) What remained of Lee’s army now headed toward Farmville, where supplies were awaiting him. By now the once-mighty Army of Northern Virginia was melting away, reduced to nearly half the strength it had at the outset of the campaign. Many soldiers deserted, while others abandoned their weapons: within days the number of armed men in Lee’s command would be reduced to 8,000 soldiers. Forced to flee westward once more in the face of advancing Yankees, the Confederates could not rest or consume their rations: now they looked to Appomattox Station as their next target, where more rations awaited. Entering Farmville on the evening of April 7, Grant opened a correspondence with Lee looking to secure Confederate surrender, only to have Lee fend off the initial inquiry. Union cavalry under George Custer arrived at Appomattox Station ahead of the Confederates, with Union infantry soon to follow. By the morning of April 9, the Confederates, hoping to brush aside Yankee horsemen, soon found their places taken by infantry and artillery. Realizing that he was trapped, Lee accepted Grant’s invitation to meet to discuss terms of surrender. White flags of truce began appearing along the lines of the contending armies, as officers transmitted messages. That afternoon, in Wilmer McLean’s parlor, Lee surrendered what was left of his army to Grant. Five flash points, five flags, beginning with Five Forks. Thank goodness that fifth flag went up just in time.