The final act of the US Civil War in Virginia is generally well known, with the long siege of Petersburg finally ended after the Union victory at Five Forks, Lee withdrawing his army and retreating west before surrendering at Appomattox Courthouse. Most accounts tend to skip over the period between Five Forks and Appomattox, but as this account makes clear Lee had more in mind than simply attempting to retreat west – his actual aim was to move south to join up with Johnston's Army of Tennessee, one of the few other Confederate field armies still intact.
This topic tends to be something of a footnote in histories of the Civil War, which tend to skip over the period between the end of the sieges of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender at Appomattox. It is thus rather nice to have a book that actually focuses in detail on the course of Lee's retreat, looking at his intentions, his route, Union attempts to cut him off and the details of the battles along the way. If Lee had achieved his objectives, then the war might have continued into the summer of 1865, so this campaign was of some significance.
Lee's problem was that he needed to escape to the south, but Union forces were already present on his right flank, so in order to achieve that he needed to move west quicker than his pursuers, find supplies on the way, and then turn south. The Union forces needed to block his path south, and attempt to get in front of him. This book traces the course of the series of battles that saw Grant's men repeatedly frustrate Lee, cut him off from supplies, and dismantle his army.
The key strength of this book is that it focuses on those often overlooked battles that decided the fate of Lee's army, supporting the battle narratives with good supporting maps, as well as a useful overall campaign map.
The Battlefield Today
Author: Ron Field