On April 6, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant’s two-pronged approach to pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia paid off handsomely. While Charles Griffin’s V Corps and elements of the Army of the James under Edward O. C. Ord continued to sweep westward in order to cut off the Confederate escape route, Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps, Andrew A. Humphrey’s II Corps, and Union cavalry crashed into the retreating Confederates in a series of engagements along Sailor’s Creek (sometimes called Sayler’s Creek) east of Farmville. The already disorganized Confederates struggled to escape, but losses were heavy, and several prominent commanders, including Richard S. Ewell, fell captive into Union hands. Bluecoat thrusts found gaps between Rebel columns, facilitating the Confederate collapse, with limbered artillery and wagon trains clogging the retreat path. However, an attempt to burn High Bridge to block off the Confederate escape route to Farmville failed.
Viewing the disaster, Robert E. Lee exclaimed: “My God, has the army dissolved?”
Ulysses S. Grant was doing all he could to answer that question in the affirmative. So was Phil Sheridan, who told Grant, “If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.”
Back at City Point Abraham Lincoln was still contemplating John A. Campbell’s plan to allow Virginia to make a separate peace. Suppose members of the Confederate state legislature agreed to leave the Confederacy and seek to open negotiations? Although he was willing to entertain the idea, the president admitted to Grant that he did “not think it very probable that anything will come of this”; moreover, “it seems you are pretty effectually withdrawing the Virginia troops from opposition to the government.” In the meantime, the president readied to return to Washington.