Saturday, March 31, 2012

Civil War Sesquicentennial Notes, March 1865

It is Friday, 31 March 1865. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) has withdrawn from the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia and is retreating to Appomattox Court House. Lee must reach Appomattox quickly because he desperately needs the rations that have been moved by train from Danville, Virginia to Appomattox. On 30 March General Grant released General Sheridan’s cavalry to move fast and turn Lee’s left flank. Philip Henry Sheridan, born in Albany, New York in 1831 and graduated from West Point in 1853, had been given command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac (AOP) the previous year. In September and October 1864 Sheridan, in a swift and hard hitting campaign, defeated General Early and drove him out of the Shenandoah Valley. For the entire war the Valley had been the “bread basket” for the ANV. Now, about five months later, Sheridan strikes hard on the left flank of Lee’s retreating army at White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia again reducing Lee’s freedom of movement and turning what was to have been an orderly retreat into a hasty withdrawal. Lee, whose army was hungry, fatigued, and beginning to fray, now had to increase his march tempo to break contact with the AOP in order to reach his supply depot at Appomattox. The Confederate clock was ticking