Ulysses S. Grant was on the move on April 5, 1865. He had just received a dispatch from Phil Sheridan that Lee was stalled at Amelia Court House. “We can capture the Army of Northern Virginia if force enough can be thrown to this point and then advance upon it,” the cavalryman assured his chief.
Grant agreed. Lee’s army was melting away. He informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that “we hear of the men going home generally without arms.” There was no time to waste. As he told Sherman, “Rebel Armies now are the only strategic points to strike at.”
Union forces entered Jetersville that day. While the village was not named in anticipation of commemorating a future Yankee shortstop, the bluecoats’ possession of it brought to a short stop any effort of Lee to make his way to Burke’s Station from Amelia Court House. That meant the Confederate leader had to abandon any idea of heading to North Carolina. Instead, Lee would direct his men to march due west to Farmville in an effort to elude his pursuers.
Conducting a successful pursuit is one of the most difficult of military operations, because the pursuers need to get ahead of the pursued to cut off their avenue of escape. Simply following the Confederates and catching up to the Rebel rearguard was in itself not enough. Responding to a urgent dispatch from Sheridan expressing the desire that Grant should be on the scene, the general in chief and members of his staff took off across the countryside that evening. As they rode they could see the Confederates’ campfires in the distance. One wrong move …
Grant met with Sheridan first, then after initially deciding to stay put, changed his mind and rode to confer with George Meade. He alerted the commander of the Army of the Potomac as to what Lee might do next … namely, try to circle around his pursuers before heading west once more. The best way to trap Lee was to get ahead of him, not to try to catch up to him. For the next several days the armies under Grant’s command would act as two combat groups, one following Lee, the other looking to get ahead of him.
To the east Abraham Lincoln awoke on the Malvern, which served as David D. Porter’s flagship, and returned to Richmond once more, this time to meet John Campbell. The former Supreme Court justice had sided with the Confederacy and had met Lincoln just over two months earlier at Hampton Roads. Now Campbell was trying his best to take Virginia out of the war altogether. Lincoln listened and pondered. Returning to City Point, he learned that Secretary of State William H. Seward had been badly hurt in a carriage accident. It was time for the President to prepare to return to Washington.