Ulysses S. Grant’s Army Attacks Confederate Lines at Petersburg

At approximately 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 2, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant’s army attacked Confederate lines at Petersburg, Virginia. By mid-afternoon, Confederate troops had begun to evacuate the town. The Union victory ensured the fall of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, located just twenty-five miles north of Petersburg.

President Jefferson Davis received word of the events in Petersburg while attending services at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond. He abandoned the capital late that night on a train bound for Danville, Virginia.

I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight…

Telegram from Robert E. Lee, in Petersburg, to Jefferson Davis, in Richmond, April 2, 1865. 1

Petersburg, Virginia, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, photographer, circa 1865. Selected Civil War Photographs

Richmond, meanwhile, burned, as fires set by fleeing Confederates and looters raged out of control. Davis was eventually captured by Union soldiers, but not until May 10, 1865. 2

Ruins of Richmond and Danville Railroad Bridge, Richmond, Virginia, circa 1865. Selected Civil War Photographs
Street in the Burned District, Richmond, Virginia, 1865. Selected Civil War Photographs
  1. Telegram from Robert E. Lee, in Petersburg, to Jefferson Davis, in Richmond, April 2, 1865, quoted in The Civil War Day By Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865, E.B. Long with Barbara Long (1971; reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 663. (Return to text)
  2. Ibid., 663, 664. (Return to text)

Learn More

  • Selected Civil War Photographs includes numerous photographs of the siege of Petersburg and Richmond in 1865. To narrow the selection, try searching the collection on Petersburg AND Union, Petersburg AND Confederate, or Richmond AND burned.
  • By 1861 telegraph lines networked much of the United States and were an important means of wartime communication. Less than twenty years earlier, on May 24, 1844, the first telegram was sent by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse. See the Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793-1919 collection in American Memory.
  • Long after the fall of Richmond, the Confederate States of America echoed on in Southern culture. Julia A. Wood’s 1877 sheet music, Virginia Cotillions (which pays homage to Confederate heroes Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard, James Longstreet, and “Jeb” Stuart) is found in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885, consisting of tens of thousands of pieces of sheet music registered for copyright during the post-Civil War era. The cotillion was a popular ballroom dance in both the antebellum and post-Civil War periods.
  • Search, for example, on Petersburg and Richmond to view maps, charts, and atlases depicting battles, troop positions and movements, engagements, and fortifications in Civil War Maps.