Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Petersburg, Siege of

Civil War Battle Summary

Petersburg, Siege of | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeA drawing of the siege of Petersburg, VA, April 2-9, 1965. From a sketch by James Kiness.

The Siege of Petersburg, 1865 ca.

A drawing of the siege of Petersburg, VA, April 2-9, 1965. From a sketch by James Kiness. View the original source document: WHI 70624

Date(s): June 9, 1864-April 2, 1865

Location: Petersburg, Virginia (Google Map)

Other name(s): see individual engagements (below)

Campaign: Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (June 1864-April 1865)

Outcome: Union victory

Summary

The 10-month Union siege of Petersburg, Virginia, led to the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the war.

In June 1864, as Union forces closed in on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, attempts were made to take Petersburg, Virginia, a railroad hub 20 miles south of Richmond. After two unsuccessful assaults, the Union attempted a third attack on June 9. A small force attacked Petersburg but was repulsed by the Confederates. A week later 60,000 Union troops again tried, but were held back by only 38,000 Confederates. Union commanders then decided to settle in for a siege.

Each side dug a maze of deep trenches outside Petersburg. A soldier raising his head above ground level was likely to be shot by an enemy sniper. The stalemate dragged on for nearly a year as residents in Petersburg and Richmond were reduced to poverty.

The final battle for Petersburg took place on April 2, 1865, when 63,000 Union troops drove 19,000 Confederates from the city at nightfall. A few days later, Richmond also fell and its top government and military leaders fled toward the west.

EnlargeThis detailed map of the area between Richmond and Petersburg shows fortifications, roads, railroads, towns, street patterns of Petersburg and Richmond.

Region Embraced in the Operations of the Armies Against Richmond and Petersburg,1865

This detailed map of the area between Richmond and Petersburg shows fortifications, roads, railroads, towns, street patterns of Petersburg and Richmond, drainage, relief by hachures, and houses and names of residents in outlying areas. View the original source document: WHI 90861

Wisconsin's Role

The 5th, 6th, 7th, 19th, 36th, 37th, and 38th Wisconsin Infantry regiments took part in the climactic assault on Petersburg on April 2, 1865. They also participated in these notable engagements during the siege: Weldon Railroad (August 18, 1864), Reams Station (August 25, 1864), Hatcher's Run (February 5-7, 1865), and Five Forks (April 1, 1865).

Union troops set off a tremendous mine on July 30, 1864, to break the Confederate lines. Among the soldiers charging into the resulting crater were Co.K, 37th Wisconsin Infantry (composed partly of Menominee Indians) and Wisconsin's only black unit, Co. F, 29th U.S. Colored Troops. Delayed by bungling commanders, they were trapped in the crater, exposed to crossfire from Confederate soldiers, and cut down mercilessly. Of the 250 men from the 37th Infantry, 155 were killed or wounded. Among the dead were Menominee Corporal Hahpahtow Archiquette and privates Kenosha, Jeco, Nahwahquah, Nashahkahappah, and Wahtahnotte. Of the 85 African Americans in Co. F, 11 lost their lives in the day's action.

Links to Learn More
View Original Documents About the Following Engagements

[Source: Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields (Washington, 1993); Estabrook, C. Records and Sketches of Military Organizations (Madison, 1914); Love, W. Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Madison, 1866).