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, Va. General view. Timothy H. O’Sullivan, photographer, [1865]. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

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

Richmond, Va. Ruins of Richmond & Danville Railroad Bridge. Alexander Gardner, photographere, [1865]. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division
Richmond, Va. Street in the Burned District. 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division
  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)

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