The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864, Sean Michael Chick

The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864, Sean Michael Chick

The battle of Petersburg was the last major battle in Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864. During the campaign Grant had repeatedly attempted to slip past Lee's right wing. Although the Union armies kept moving south, they also suffered a series of costly battlefield setbacks that slowly drained their strength. Finally, Grant leap south from Richmond towards Petersburg, and for once caught Lee napping. For several days the Union armies had a chance to capture Petersburg without having to face Lee's veterans, but they missed their chance and by the time they did launch a full scale assault Lee had finally woken up and had sent reinforcements.

This account makes you realise just how close the Union came to success at Petersburg. For three days Beauregard had to defend the city without any help, and any determined attack around his very weak right flank would probably have forced the Confederates to abandon the city, or at least cut it off from its main sources of supplies.

Two main reasons are given for the failure. First is the poor performance of Grant and most of his senior officers. Grant suffered from the confused command structure of the Union armies in Virginia, with Meade still in command of the Army of the Potomac and political generals of limited ability in high positions. Even so Grant didn't perform well at Petersburg. Meade was also under-par, as were most of his corps commanders. Lower down the scale plenty of officers did perform well, and achieved some potentially critical successes, but they were never properly support (on the Confederate side Lee also emerges poorly, failing to regain contact with the Union army after it moved south, and leaving Petersburg almost unsupported for three days but Beauregard performed well). The second problem was the exhaustion of the Union army after the earlier costly battles of the Overland Campaign. This took some of the sting out of their attacks, and in some cases led to units refusing orders to attack strong positions.

This is a very valuable account of this relatively unknown Civil War battle, the point at which the war of movement in Virginia ended, and the long siege of Richmond and Petersburg began. Chick's accounts of the fighting are compelling, and his arguments convincing.


Pages: 478
Publisher: Potomac Books
Year: 2015

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