Edited by Gerald Boerner
Battles of the American Civil War never seem to end. Of course we have heard of the Battle of Gettysburg, Bull Run, and Antietam. There were many other battles, some major and some minor, that took place during the various campaigns. The Confederacy had the advantage of General Robert E, Lee as head of the Army of Northern Virginia; Lee had been offered the position of head f the Union Forces, the Army of the Potomac by Lincoln, but this offer was rejected.
Unfortunately for the Confederates, that was one of the few things going for thr secessionist states. The faced a naval blockade the prevented the export of their tobacco and cotton and the importation of supplies. The lack industry and standardization in the south put the armies of the south at additional disadvantages. When they tried to break the siege of Petersburg and Fort Stedman, The were in their final attempt to keep up their fight. Concurrently Sherman was inflicting his terror campaign on the Carolinas. The South needed a victory.
But it would not come at Fort Stedman. The North held their lines and this was the beginning of the end of the Appomattox Campaign. The Army of Northern Virginia would soon surrender to Grant to end this bloody conflict. Too many would die in the brutal methods of fighting practiced at that time.
But it is time to proceed with our exploration of this final battle of the Civil War… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4263 Words ]
Quotations Related to CONFEDERATE:
“Note to secessionist Texans: now is the time to wave the Confederate Flag.”
— Melissa Harris-Lacewell
“This is said to us, even as this counterfeit president has legalized the Confederate Flag in Mississippi.”
— Amiri Baraka
“The flag that was the symbol of slavery on the high seas for a long time was not the Confederate battle flag, it was sadly the Stars and Stripes.”
— Alan Keyes
“I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.”
— Howard Dean
“A doctor today would never prescribe the treatments my grandfather used in the Confederate Army, but a minister says pretty much the same thing today that a minister would have said back then.”
— John Templeton
“Before my troops reached the little city, and before the people of Fredericksburg knew that any part of the Confederate army was near, there was great excitement over the demand for surrender.”
— James Longstreet
“Narcissism and the Confederate dead cannot be connected logically, or even historically; even were the connection an historical fact, they would not stand connected as art, for no one experiences raw history.”
— Allen Tate
“According to its doctors, my one intransigent desire is to have been a Confederate general, and because I could not or would not become anything else, I set up for poet and beg an to invent fictions about the personal ambitions that my society has no use for.”
— Allen Tate
Siege of Fort Steadman: The Last Battle of the Civil War…
The Battle of Fort Stedman was fought on March 25, 1865, during the final days of the American Civil War. The Union Army fortification in the siege lines around Petersburg, Virginia, was attacked in a pre-dawn Confederate assault by troops led by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. The attack was the last serious attempt by Confederate troops to break the Siege of Petersburg. After an initial success, Gordon’s men were driven back by Union troops of the IX Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke.
In March 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee continued defending his positions around Petersburg, but his Army was weakened by desertion, disease, and shortage of supplies and he was outnumbered by his Union counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, by about 125,000 to 50,000. After the defeat of his subordinate, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, at the Battle of Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley, Lee realized that an additional 50,000 men under Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan would probably join Grant’s army at Petersburg. Furthermore, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was marching north through the Carolinas to join Grant as well. Lee had to avoid being outnumbered almost 4 to 1 by these arriving forces and he asked Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon for advice.
Gordon replied that he had three recommendations, in decreasing order of preference: first, offer peace terms to the enemy; second, retreat from Richmond and Petersburg, link up with the Confederate army in North Carolina under General Joseph E. Johnston, jointly defeat Sherman, and then go after Grant; third, fight without delay. An argument ensued, with Lee rejecting the political implications of the first choice and indicating the difficulty of the second, but Gordon left the meeting with the impression that Lee was considering those options. On March 6, however, Gordon was summoned back to headquarters and Lee told him that "there seemed to be but one thing that we could do—fight. To stand still was death. It could only be death if we fought and failed."
Gordon later wrote in his memoirs that he "labored day and night at this exceedingly grave and discouraging problem, on the proper solution of which depended the commander’s decision as to when and where he would deliver his last blow for the life of the Confederacy." He worked on his plans until March 23 and decided to recommend a surprise attack on the Union lines that would force Grant to contract his lines and disrupt his plans to assault the Confederate works (which, unbeknownst to Lee and Gordon, Grant had already ordered for March 29).
Gordon planned a pre-dawn assault from the Confederate stronghold known as Colquitt’s Salient against Fort Stedman, one of the fortifications in Union lines that encircled Petersburg, named for Griffin A. Stedman, a Union colonel from Connecticut who had been killed in the vicinity in August 1864. It was one of the closest spots to the Confederate works, there were fewer wooden chevaux de frise obstructions protecting it, and a supply depot on the U.S. Military Railroad was less than a mile behind the fort. Directly after capturing Fort Stedman and its artillery, Confederate soldiers would move north and south along the Union lines to clear the neighboring fortifications and make way for the main attack, which would lead to the main Union supply base of City Point (also Grant’s headquarters), ten miles (16 km) northeast on the Appomattox River.
The assault force was three divisions of Gordon’s Second Corps (under Brig. Gen. Clement A. Evans, Maj. Gen. Bryan Grimes, and Brig. Gen. James A. Walker), two brigades from the Fourth Corps division of Maj. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson (under Brig. Gens. Matt W. Ransom and William H. Wallace) in close support, and two brigades from Maj. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox’s Third Corps division in reserve. Lee had also ordered the division of Maj. Gen. George Pickett of the First Corps to move from its position north of the James River in time to join the action. This represented almost half of Lee’s infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia: 11,500 men from Gordon’s corps and Bushrod Johnson’s division, 1,700 of Wilcox’s men nearby, and 6,500 from Pickett moving up. Maj. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee’s cavalry division was designated to exploit the expected infantry breakthrough. Opposing them were the Union IX Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, defending the first 7 miles (11 km) south from the Appomattox River, and manning in Gordon’s front (from north to south) artillery Batteries IX and X, Fort Stedman, and Batteries XI and XII. Parke’s 3rd Division, under Brig. Gen. John F. Hartranft, was in reserve behind the lines. While Maj. Gen. George G. Meade was away at City Point with Grant, Parke was the acting commander of the Army of the Potomac, although he would not realize that until after Gordon’s attack started.
Gordon’s attack started at 4:15 a.m. Lead parties of sharpshooters and engineers masquerading as deserting soldiers headed out to overwhelm Union pickets and to remove obstructions that would delay the infantry advance. They were followed by three groups of 100 men assigned to storm the Union works and stream back into the Union rear area. These men relied on surprise and speed—they carried unloaded muskets so that no one could accidentally fire and alert the enemy. The main thrust was between Batteries XI and X, with one group moving north for Battery XI and the other two for X and Stedman. The movement achieved complete surprise.
Brevet Brig. Gen. Napoleon B. McLaughlen, the officer responsible for the Fort Stedman sector, heard the sounds of the attack, dressed quickly in the predawn darkness, and rode to Fort Haskell, just to the south of Battery XII, which he found to be ready to defend itself. As he moved north, McLaughlen ordered Battery XII to open fire on Battery XI and ordered a reserve infantry regiment, the 59th Massachusetts, to counterattack, which they did with fixed bayonets, briefly re-capturing Battery XI. Assuming that he had sealed the only breach in the line, McLaughlen rode into Fort Stedman. He recalled, "I crossed the parapet and meeting some men coming over the curtains, whom in the darkness I supposed to be part of the picket, I established them inside the work, giving directions with regard to position and firing, all of which were instantly obeyed." He suddenly realized that the men he was ordering were Confederates and they realized he was a Union general, capturing him. He was taken back across no man’s land and surrendered his sword personally to Gordon.
Gordon soon arrived at Fort Stedman and found his attack had so far exceeded his "most sanguine expectations." Within minutes, Batteries X, XI, and XII and Fort Stedman had been seized, opening a gap nearly 1,000 feet (300 m) long in the Union line. Confederate artillerists under Lt. Col. Robert M. Stribling used the captured guns in Stedman and Battery X to open up enfilading fire on the entrenchments to the north and south. The attack began having difficulty at Battery IX to the north, where the Union troops formed a battle line and the Confederates were too confused by the maze of trenches to attack it effectively. Gordon turned his attention to the southern flank of his attack and Fort Haskell, against which he launched his division under Clement Evans. The defenders successfully employed canister rounds from three cannons, halting the assault. The Confederate artillery from Colquitt’s Salient began bombarding Fort Haskell and the Federal field artillery returned fire, along with the massive siege guns in the rear. When the Union flag was knocked down, the Union gunners assumed that it had fallen to the Confederates and opened fire on their own men. Volunteers were found to raise the flag again and four of them were killed before the Federal artillery ceased fire.
Gordon sent a message back to Lee that the attack was going well, but he was unaware of the trouble developing. His three 100-man detachments were wandering around the rear area in confusion and many had stopped to satisfy their hunger with captured Federal rations. The cavalry had not found an avenue through which to advance into the rear. Pickett’s Division had such difficulty with rail transportation that only three of its four brigades departed on schedule, and they did not arrive until midday, too late to take part in the battle. And the main Union defense force was beginning to mobilize. Parke acted decisively, ordering Hartranft’s reserve division to close the gap while his reserve artillery under Col. John C. Tidball took up positions on a ridge east of Fort Stedman and began shelling the Confederates.
Hartranft, in the words of historian Noah Andre Trudeau, "was a man possessed. From the instant he received word that Fort Stedman had fallen, Hartranft worked furiously to limit the Confederate penetration and, once that objective has been achieved, to eliminate the pocket." Finding that Maj. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox, Parke’s 1st Division commander and a more senior officer, was preparing his headquarters to withdraw, Hartranft was able to convince Willcox to yield tactical command and he organized defensive forces that completely ringed the Confederate penetration by 7:30 a.m., stopping it just short of the military railroad depot, Meade Station. The Union artillery, aware that Confederates occupied the batteries and Fort Stedman, launched punishing fire against them.
Gordon, who was in Fort Stedman, realized his plan had failed when his lead men started returning and reported remarkable Union resistance. With permission from Lee, who had arrived to watch the battle, Gordon scrambled to get his forces back to safety. By 7:45 a.m., 4,000 Union troops under Hartranft were positioned in a semicircle of a mile and a half, ready to counterattack. A messenger arrived with word from Parke to delay the attack while reinforcements came up from the VI Corps, but Hartranft ordered his line to charge, writing afterward that "I saw that the enemy had already commenced to waver, and that success was certain. I, therefore, allowed the line to charge; besides this, it was doubtful whether I could have communicated with the regiments on the flanks in time to countermand the movement." The retreating Confederates came under Union crossfire, suffering heavy casualties. Their attack had failed. Fort Stedman was recaptured by a squad from the 208th Pennsylvania.
A distinguished visitor came close to witnessing the action on March 25. President Abraham Lincoln was conferring with General Grant and a division-size review parade was scheduled nearby for that morning. Because of the Confederate attack, the review was postponed until that afternoon. A Confederate prisoner was amazed to see the general and president so soon after what he considered a massive attack, riding "by us seemingly not the least concerned and as if nothing had happened." He and his fellow prisoners took note of this self-confidence and "with one accord agreed that our cause was lost." Lincoln had telegraphed to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that morning, "Arrived here all safe about 9 P.M. yesterday. No war news … Robert [Lincoln's son, serving as an aide to Grant] just now tells me there was a little rumpus up the line this morning, ending about where it began."
The attack on Fort Stedman turned out to be a four-hour action with no impact on the Union lines. The Confederate Army was forced to set back its own lines, as the Union attacked further down the front line. To give Gordon’s attack enough strength to be successful, Lee had weakened his own right flank. The II Corps and VI Corps seized much of the entrenched Confederate picket line southwest of Petersburg, but found the main line still well manned. This Union advance prepared the ground for Grant’s breakthrough attack in the Third Battle of Petersburg on April 2, 1865.
Union casualties in the Battle of Fort Stedman were 1,044 (72 killed, 450 wounded, 522 missing or captured), Confederate casualties a considerably heavier 4,000 (600 killed, 2,400 wounded, 1,000 missing or captured). But more seriously, the Confederate positions were weakened. After the battle, Lee’s defeat was only a matter of time. His final opportunity to break the Union lines and regain the momentum was gone. The Battle of Fort Stedman was the final episode of the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign. Immediately following was the Appomattox Campaign, including the Battle of Five Forks, the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, and the final surrender of Lee’s army on April 9, 1865.
More on the Major Combatants in the Battle of Fort Stedman
John Brown Gordon (1832 – 1904) was one of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted Confederate generals during the American Civil War. After the war, he was a strong opponent of Reconstruction and is thought by some to have been the titular leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia during the late 1860s. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a U.S. Senator from 1873 to 1880, and again from 1891-1897. He also served as the 53rd Governor of Georgia from 1886 to 1890.
Although lacking military education or experience, Gordon was elected captain of a company of mountaineers and quickly climbed from captain to brigadier general (November 1, 1862), to major general (May 14, 1864). Though Gordon himself often claimed he was promoted to lieutenant general, there is no official record of this occurring. Gordon was an aggressive general. In 1864, Gordon was described by General Robert E. Lee in a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis as being one of his best brigadiers, "characterized by splendid audacity".
Gordon was a brigadier general and brigade commander in D.H. Hill’s division in the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. During the subsequent Seven Days Battles, as Gordon strode fearlessly among his men, enemy bullets shattered the handle of his pistol, pierced his canteen, and tore away part of the front of his coat. He was wounded in the eyes during the assault on Malvern Hill.
Assigned by General Lee to hold the vital sunken road, or "Bloody Lane", during the Battle of Antietam, Gordon’s propensity for being wounded reached new heights. First, a Minié ball passed through his calf. Then, a second ball hit him higher in the same leg. A third ball went through his left arm. He continued to lead his men despite the fact that the muscles and tendons in his arm were mangled, and a small artery was severed by this ball. A fourth ball hit him in his shoulder. Despite pleas that he go to the rear, he continued to lead his men. He was finally stopped by a ball that hit him in the face, passing through his left cheek and out his jaw. He fell with his face in his cap and might have drowned in his own blood if it had not drained out through a bullet hole in the cap.
After months of recuperation, in June 1863 Gordon led a brigade of Georgians in Jubal A. Early’s division during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania. His brigade occupied Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River, the farthest east in Pennsylvania any organized Confederate troops would reach. Union militia under Col. Jacob G. Frick burned the mile-and-a-quarter-long covered wooden bridge to prevent Gordon from crossing the river, and the fire soon spread to parts of Wrightsville. Gordon’s troops formed a bucket brigade and managed to prevent the further destruction of the town.
At the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, Gordon’s brigade smashed into the XI Corps on Barlow’s Knoll. There, he aided the wounded opposing division commander Francis Barlow. This incident led to a story (which many people consider apocryphal) about the two officers meeting later in Washington, D.C., unaware that Barlow had survived the battle. The story was told by Barlow and by Gordon and was published in newspapers and in Gordon’s book.
Many historians discount this story because of Gordon’s tendency to exaggerate in post-war writings and because it is inconceivable to them that Gordon did not know that Barlow subsequently fought against him in the Battle of the Wilderness.
In the Overland Campaign, Gordon commanded a division in Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s (later Early’s) corps. He proposed a flanking attack against the Union right in the Battle of the Wilderness that might have had a decisive effect on the battle, had Early allowed him freedom to launch it before late in the day. Gordon’s success in turning back the massive Union assault in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (the Bloody Angle) prevented a Confederate rout. He left with Early for the Valley Campaigns of 1864 and was wounded August 25, 1864, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Confederate engineer Jedediah Hotchkiss’s official report of the incident stated, "Quite a lively skirmish ensued, in which Gordon was wounded in the head, but he gallantly dashed on, the blood streaming over him." His wife Fanny, accompanying her husband on the campaign as general’s wives sometimes did, rushed out into the street at the Third Battle of Winchester to urge Gordon’s retreating troops to go back and face the enemy. Gordon was horrified to find her in the street with shells and balls flying about her.
Returning to Lee’s army after Early’s defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Gordon led the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia until the end of the war. In this role, he defended the line in the Siege of Petersburg and commanded the attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 (where he was wounded again, in the leg). At Appomattox Court House, he led his men in the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, capturing the entrenchments and several pieces of artillery in his front just before the surrender. On April 12, 1865, Gordon’s Confederate troops officially surrendered to Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, acting for Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
John Grubb Parke (1827 – 1900) was a United States Army engineer and a Union general in the American Civil War. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1849 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. As an engineer, he determined the boundary lines between Iowa and the Little Colorado River, surveyed routes for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, and was the chief surveyor of the party charged with the delineation of the boundary of the northwest United States and British North America, 1857–1861.
At the start of the Civil War, Parke was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded a brigade in the operations on the North Carolina coast in early 1862. He received a brevet promotion for the Battle of Fort Macon and was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 18, 1862.
In the Army of the Potomac, Parke served briefly as commander of 3rd Division, IX Corps. Then he served as chief of staff to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside during the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. He assumed command of the IX Corps and was sent to the Western Theater for the Vicksburg Campaign. Parke then was Burnside’s chief of staff in the Army of the Ohio in the defense of Knoxville.
Parke served as chief of staff to Burnside during the Overland Campaign, in which the latter commanded IX Corps, as well as in the beginning stages of the Siege of Petersburg. After the Battle of the Crater, Burnside was relieved of command and Parke assumed command of the IX Corps. He led it at the Battle of Globe Tavern, the Battle of Peebles’ Farm, and the Battle of Boydton Plank Road.
In 1865, while Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade was in a conference, Parke, being senior officer, was acting commander of the army during the Battle of Fort Stedman until Meade returned to the field. He led the IX Corps through the fall of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. In 1865 he was appointed brevet major general in the regular army in recognition of his service at Fort Stedman.
Please take time to further explore more about BATTLE OF FORT STEDMAN,
ROBERT E. LEE, JOHN B. GORDON, JOHN G. PARKE, UNION, CONFEDERACY,
and the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced
below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively
excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been
removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
The colony of Maryland is founded by Catholic and Protestant settlers sent by Lord Baltimore.
Robert E. Lee orders his last attack of the Civil War against Fort Steadman, near Petersburg, Virginia.
A devastating fire blazes through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City’s garment district, killing 146 employees, mostly young Jewish and Italian women from the city’s immigrant neighborhoods. On April 5, thousands of people will take part in a funeral procession that will also serve to protest the unsafe working conditions that led to the fire in the Manhattan sweatshop.
Golfer Horton Smith wins the first Masters Tournament, shooting a 284 and edging out Craig Wood by a single stroke at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson defeats Carmen Basilio to regain his middleweight title in a fight at Chicago Stadium, becoming the first boxer to win a divisional world championship five times.
Civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King, Jr., end their historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, at the steps of the state capitol.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Battle of Fort Stedman…
Wikipedia: Robert E. Lee…
Wikipedia: John B. Gordon…
Wikipedia: John G. Parke…
Brainy Quote: CONFEDERATE Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Robert E. Lee and the Battle of Gettysburg…