Sunday, April 7, 2013

Battle of Sayler's Creek, Virginia, April 6, 1865

The Battle of Sayler's Creek (also known as Sailor's Creek, Hillsman Farm, or Lockett Farm) was fought on April 6, 1865, southwest of Peterburg, Virginia, as part of the Appomattox Campaign, in the final days of the American Civil War. 

It was the last major engagement between the armies of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant before the capitulation of Lee's Confederate army at Appomattox Court House three days later.

Grant and Lee
After Grant broke the Confederate defenses at the Siege of Petersburg, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia evacuated Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2–3 and began a retreat in hopes of linking up with General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina. Lee discovered that his route was blocked by fast-moving Union cavalry under General Philip Sheridan.   His only remaining option was to move west on a long march, without food, to Lynchburg. But the Confederate Commissary General promised Lee that he would send 80,000 rations to Farmville, 25 miles to the west.  Lee ordered a night march on April 5.  On April 6 at Sayler's Creek, nearly one fourth of the retreating Confederate army was cut off by Sheridan's cavalry. Two Confederate divisions, led by  Custis Lee and Joseph Kershaw,  under the command of  General Richard Ewell, fought the Union VI Corps along the creek. VI Corps attacked after an artillery bombardment. The Confederates counter-attacked but were driven back. Union artillery deployed at the Hillsman Farm played a key role in their repulse. 

Richard Ewell
The Hillsman house served as a hospital for both Confederate and Union troops. Bloodstains still remain on the floor from when it served as a hospital after the battles.
Hillsman House
Soon after, the Union cavalry cut through the right of the Confederate lines. Most Confederates surrendered. The Federals overwhelmed the defending Confederates, capturing 7,700 men and depriving Lee of roughly one-fourth of his army.  Among the prisoners were six Confederate generals including Richard S. Ewell,  Joseph Kershaw, and Custis Lee, the commanding general's son.

Custis Lee
Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed in front of  General William Mahone, "My God, has the army dissolved?" to which he replied, "No, General, here are troops ready to do their duty."
William Mahone

That evening, Sheridan reported his success to Grant saying, "If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender." When word of this reached Abraham Lincoln, the president responded, "Let the thing be pressed."

The next morning, April 7, Grant sent a note to Lee, thus opening the dialogue that led to Lee's surrender on April 9.

April 6, 1865, came to be known as "Black Thursday" among the Confederates.

The Sayler's Creek Battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

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