After four years of war, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States in March 1864 and tasked him with bringing the war to an end. Grant formulated a plan to unify the efforts of the Union’s various armies.
He tasked Union General William T. Sherman with marching south from Tennessee to take Atlanta, Georgia. From there, Sherman was to turn north to South Carolina, North Carolina and eventually meet up with the General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Virginia which had been given the task of confronting Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
On March 19, I reported on Sherman’s march to Atlanta, Savannah and Wilmington and the desperate attempt to stop Sherman by the Confederacy at Bentonville, North Carolina. By March 21, 1865, Confederate General Joseph Johnston fled Bentonville, allowing Sherman to continue his march north to Virginia, which helped to cut Lee’s escape route to the south.
Grant traveled with Meade’s Army of the Potomac. From June of 1864 to March of 1865, Meade’s army had laid siege to Lee’s army at Petersburg, Virginia. Lee’s forces had dug trenches that ran from Petersburg north to Richmond. These trenches helped Lee stave off every advance made by Grant and Meade but Lee knew that he couldn’t last much longer as his supplies and food were running low.
On March 25, 1865, out of desperation, Lee ordered General John Gordon to launch an assault against the Union held Fort Stedman. Initially, the Confederate attack broke through the Union lines, but the advance didn’t last long as the Union counterattacks drove Gordon and his troops back to their own lines of defense.
Grant knew that if he could cut off Lee’s last line of supplies that it just might force the Confederate general to either withdraw or surrender, both of which would end the ten-month long siege.
On March 29, 1865, Grant ordered General G.K. Warren to advance on Confederate forces at Lewis’s Farm. The skirmish was fierce but short lived as Warren drove the Confederates back to their trenches along White Oak Road, giving Warren control of the Boydton Plank Road.
Heavy rains fell drenched the area on March 29 and 30. Creeks swelled up, making crossing them difficult. The rains were heavy enough to almost cancel the Grant’s plans to send General Sheridan to attack Lee’s forces, but Sheridan convinced Grant to approve the assault.
On this day, March 31, 1865, the heavy rains let up and Sheridan advanced on Confederate General George Pickett’s forces at Dinwiddie Court House, but Pickett managed to drive Sheridan back. Although Pickett appeared to win the battle, he suffered twice the loses than Sheridan did.
Also on March 31, 1865, General Warren led his Union troops against the Confederates at White Oak Road. The goal was to severe the communications between Lee and Pickett. At first, Confederate General Bushrod Johnson was able to stop Warren’s assault, but the Union troops continued to push and by the end of the day, had taken their desired target along White Oak Road.
Both of the battles, Dinwiddie Court House and White Oak Road may not have appeared to be that decisive, but they set up the defeat of the Confederate forces at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, forcing Lee to retreat from Petersburg and Richmond, ending the ten-month long siege. Eight days later on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia, bringing the bloodiest war in our nation’s history to an end.
Sources for the above includes: Today, March 19, 1865: Confederate General’s Desperate Attempt to Stop Union General Sherman; Battle of Dinwiddie Court House (March 31, 1865); The Battle of White Oak Road; Battle of Dinwiddie Court House; Fighting at White Oak Road and Dinwiddie Court House; White Oak Road Hatcher’s Run, Gravelly Run Civil War Virginia; Dinwiddie Court House Civil War Virginia; Battle of White Oak Road, Virginia; The Battle of White Oak Road, March 31, 1865; Historic Dinwiddie Courthouse.