tv Fall of Petersburg CSPAN April 5, 2015 10:02am-11:04am EDT
tracy is a native of appomattox. he has a ba in history. he has worked for the national park service, first part-time and full-time starting in 1991 at appomattox court house national historical park. since 1997 at petersburg out of battlefield. he is the author of one of the volumes and the howard, virginia regimental history series. his deals with the 18th and 20th battalions of heavy artillery. he's past president of the lynchburg civil war roundtable. and the appomattox county historical society. his talk today will be on the fall of petersburg. please welcome tracy chernault. [applause] tracy chernault: good evening. i'm a big baseball guy.
when he asked me to speak as the leadoff man, that was a first for me. most of you can tell by my size, i have always been rather large i never hit leadoff because i -- that requires somebody speedy. being the leadoff man is something new for me. i was surprised when pat pointed out that the magazine contains his article, because you get to this article, you have to read through my article. which i think should have been the end of the magazine. [laughter] we could have avoided a lot of history that would have droned on. please pick up one of those and read my article. mike gorman has an article as well. it is always a pleasure to speak
about petersburg, because most of you in this room having heard stories of petersburg, probably never delved into it. when i was at appomattox courthouse a number of years ago my boss at the time, who , promises to heckle me later, asked me, when i said i was going to petersburg, are you crazy? he said that it was the most unimportant story in all of the civil war. i asked myself, what have i gotten myself into? and the time i promised my wife we would do the civil war in reverse. starting at appomattox courthouse we would traverse before and and at that charleston and retire. when we moved to petersburg and i begin delving into the story i realized there was more to it then ron knew.
i have not tired of it yet. the odds of me getting to charleston by the end of my career, is probably slim to none. especially if those in the park surface have their way. the petersburg story needs a set up before we get to the fall of petersburg. on the 11th day of may in 1864 ulysses s. grant has squared off against robert e lee. grant has come to virginia and against robert e lee.has it his mission to destroy the army of northern virginia. on may 11, he is going to send a message to washington, "i propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." after that they moved out
of richmond to the coal harbor area. after another stalemate, grant is then going to set his sights to the south of the james river on the city of petersburg. petersburg, virginia, in the mid-19th century, is truly a magnificent gem of the city. you are talking about a city that grew up on the fall line of the appomattox river. at its heart is industry harnessing that waterpower. the people of petersburg live a cosmopolitan lifestyle. they have running water in the downtown area. they have a gas works. cosmopolitan lifestyle. the streets are lit by gas lighting. the houses have gas lights inside. petersburg, the city of 18,000 people, is truly a magnificent city. if you read accounts of
petersburg prior to the war, you are going to see it referred to as a northern city. because of all the industry that reminded people of some of the great manufacturing centers that you find up north. petersburg, being a manufacturing city, also has developed a system of transportation to get goods and materials from there. first and foremost, the english settlers got there by boat. they find themselves at that little town that they had established and created into such a mecca of manufacturing. eventually, they are going to need to improve the roads for the farmers to get goods and materials into the factories. they have set up a network of stage roads or plank roads, which are literally just that. roads that were planked in the wet spots to make it easier to get into the city.
by the mid-19th century, the greatest mode of transportation this country explores, the railroad is now en vogue. petersburg has become a hub for that. petersburg will have railroads reaching to all points of the compass from the city. that's what brings about the civil war and grant's interest. as the war has begun, petersburg takes its role as a manufacturing city, shifted it towards the war effort, and because of all this transportation that makes it easy to come and go from there it has now become a hub for supply center for the confederate armies of virginia. most notably, it is linked by rail to the confederate capital of richmond 25 miles to the north. when grant decides to set his sights on petersburg, virginia
in june, 1864, he is after cutting the supplies that lee's army are living on. he knows that lee is going to fight to keep that line intact. on june 15 1864, 15,000 union soldiers will descend upon petersburg. petersburg is waiting for a union attack, they have been for two years. they have a system of entrenchments all the way around the city. unfortunately, for those confederates on june 15, there is very few men to man the entrenchments. less than 2500 men on june 15. this 15,000 union soldiers literally rushed through the walls around petersburg and the city's defenses crumbled in front of them. by the time that happens, it's been a long, hot day.
june of 1864, the temperatures are in the 100 degree range. hot, dry, dusty. having been waiting all day for this battle to begin, most of the soldiers are so tired and worn out that their commanding officer decides to simply go into camp right there. right inside those entrenchments that he has captured. the confederates rally, come back out dig a new set of entrenchments. on the second day of fighting at petersburg, that line holds. for 4 days, grant will pour the army of the potomac across the james river into petersburg. 70,000 union soldiers will be knocking on the eastern door of petersburg itself. the confederates have rallied what they could, they have 15,000 men dug in closer to the city to protect it. after 4 days of fighting, the
confederate line is held. those 15,000 men have held off 70,000 union attackers. while inflicting over 10,000 casualties in the fields just to the east of petersburg. all because of this new way of waging warfare, the defensive system of using earthen entrenchments. using the power of those entrenchments, the confederate soldiers behind those mounds of dirt are able to fire their volleys in relative safety of those union forces coming across the field, thousands of men, shoulder to shoulder, trying to kick them out. at one point, the greatest loss of the union regiment in the entire war take place on june 18, where 900 men of the first
main heavy artillery charge across an open cornfield to get the confederates entrenched just across. in 10 minutes' time, more than 600 of those men will fall. meanwhile, the confederate regiment directly in front of them has one man killed and 24 wounded. that is the power of these earthen entrenchments. in the summer of 1864, the summer grant intended to fight along the line the entire summer is going to drag on. it is going to drag on to probably the most written about, talked about battle of petersburg, which will be the battle of the crater, where union troops tunnel 500 feet from their line, pack it full of power, blow the fort up and then
completely botch the assault on petersburg afterwards and thus the lines around petersburg will be maintained for another eight months. as summer turned to fall, all of a sudden we find ourselves at crossroads in the country's history. because in november 1864, a very important election. abraham lincoln is running for reelection and it is not clear who the country is going to pick as its leader, whether it will be his idea of reunifying the country, or whether general mcclellan or the democrats will have their way with trying to bring the boys home, and peacefully end the war. the countyrry does speak on november 8, and they reelect abraham lincoln. with that, you can say that the course is set.
because now grant and the union army is operating around petersburg and richmond have their marching orders. they are to bring lee's army to bay and they are to reunify the country. wintertime is no time for armies to maneuver and make those kind of movements. and so the armies go into winter quarters. grant himself has been in a tent outside petersburg since he arrived in june, has a log hut built to move into for the wintertime. his soldiers are going to do the same thing. as the army goes into winter camp, they are going to be bolstered by news from home up north that the holidays have approached and people are celebrating, while the confederate soldiers are faced with less and less in the trenches around petersburg and
morale is harder and harder to keep these men steadfast to their duty. one of the most important events that happens in the siege of petersburg takes place not only not around petersburg but not even in the state of virginia. on the 23rd day of december, in 1864, there is an assault on wilmington, north carolina. because, by this point in the war, petersburg, this vital transportation system, is literally fueled by just two railroads. one, the southside railroad, which leaves petersburg and goes west, runs through here in farmville, goes out toward western virginia and the all-important saltworks that the confederates have there. arguably the most important railroad coming into petersburg supplying the confederates is the one that goes south, the
petersburg-weldon railroad whose southern terminus is wilmington, north carolina. why wilmington, north carolina you would say? well, wilmington is the last seaport open to confederate blockade runners. the union navy, having blockaded every other major seaport, has not been successful in taking wilmington. with that, wilmington is now the window to the world for the confederate government. and all manner of goods and materials brought from around the world can be brought into wilmington, placed on a rail car, and then taken up to petersburg. union army, of course hampered that somewhat in the summer of 1864 when they cut the weldon railroad in the two battles that take place there, the assault on the weldon railroad on august
18 19, and 21. and further with a battle on august 25. but the confederates still maintain the railroad in virginia, where they would then transfer those goods off of the railcars onto wagons. and, using that system of plank roads, take those goods and materials into petersburg. those two railroads are still the most viable way of supplying the confederate army in petersburg. but with the union attack on wilmington on december 1864, it starts to spell doom for one of them. it will not be until the 15th of january that wilmington and fort fisher will actually fall, when the defenses protecting the river feeding into petersburg and then wilmington itself falls just a little more than a month
later. but that is also going to set into motion the events that take place in 1865 at petersburg. because with that fall, and with the confederate supplies being cut out, they now becomes a concerted effort to end this war. and so there is talk of some type of peace being arranged. and very early in february, the president of the united states going to board up a steamer, a side wheel steamer about 180 feet long that has been designed to be a ferry, called the river queen, and he and secretary state william seward are going to set sail from washington, d.c. and come down the hampton roads, and it is there that they will entertain in a peace commission the vice president, alexander stephens, senator robert hunter, an assistant secretary of war, former justice
of the supreme court john campbell. and they will try to figure out a way to end this war without further hostility. they are unsuccessful. just two days after that catching a break in the weather, grant orders his forces to, for the first time in the spring of 1865, assault the confederates at petersburg. for three days, the armies will engage yet again, trying to cut the boydton plank road and the supplies coming in to petersburg by wagon. the battle ends in a freezing ice storm. hopefully nothing like we have this weekend, but a storm that is so bad that the wounded literally laying there on the battlefield are freezing to death. because all of the trees in the area, covered with ice, cannot be lit on fire to even start fires to warm them by.
and so, the first battle of 1865 ends with the union army having moved around petersburg little bit further, but yet, once again, unsuccessful in pushing lee out or destroying the army of northern virginia. lee, realizing the grant is going to take the initiative as soon as possible, starts to look at the possibility -- how can he force grant to leave petersburg? by the spring of 1865, ulysses s. grant has over 120,000 soldiers in the operational area for the campaign for richmond and petersburg. they are supplied by a supply base at city point that is served by over 100 ships each day. those ships have, on the docks of that supply depot, enough
food to feed every soldier in that army for 60 days. and to feed every horse, taking supplies to those men and pulling the artillery, for 30 days. lee, on the other hand, has none of that. the supply depot at city point that has now become so instrumental has gone as far as bring 20 locomotives and 200 pieces of rolling stock and construct a railroad from there, on the docks, directly out to where union soldiers are fighting in the fields and trenches around petersburg. and so the union army is spending the last months of the winter of 1865 relatively well supplied. the confederates, especially east of petersburg, can hear the trains. they can hear the whistles as
those trains go by. therein will come lee's final thoughts for breaking the stalemate. general john gordon, the georgian who has been wounded so many times yet still leads the corps in lee's army of northern virginia, has decided that he can break through the eastern walls that the union army has built around petersburg in front of him, and can make a rush for that supply line, cutting a supply line means that grant is going to have to withdraw all of the soldiers to the west of there back toward their supply depot, just to get them fed and keep them with ammunition. on the morning of march 25 predawn, general gordon is going to do just that. he launches an assault. he is going to send first 350 men across the lines.
the first 50 men are not even allowed to carry rifles. only axes. the next 300 men are allowed to carry rifles, they have not been allowed to load them because they don't want to give away the point of assault. they want to do this as quietly as possible. as those first 50 men with axes cut through the wooden obstructions in front of the line, the next 300 men forced their way into the works around fort stedman on the eastern side of petersburg and they will cut a hole in the line on the eastern front of the union army for almost 1.5 miles. allowing columns of confederate soldiers to pour through and head toward that railroad just to the rear of fort stedman.
but unbeknownst to them, as they got back there, they encountered the union camps, where soldiers have been spending the winter of 1864 and into 1865 and as they get into the camping areas and those union soldiers are being awakened by this confederate wave that is rolling through the camps, they are fleeing, flinging open the doors of the cabin in making their way to the rear. as those confederate soldiers reach each street of those camps, and find those cabin doors open, their curiosity leads them to look inside and therein lies the supplies they have been wanting for months. and that breaks down the assault on the railroads. because, as this wave of confederate soldiers reaches these camps, little by little,
the confederate force breaks away to pillage through, finding for their own needs. and with that, eventually, you -- union soldierws will form a pocket behind this breakthrough, they will end up pressing the confederates back through the fortification at fort stedman and will send them then back across the open field to their own entrenchments. lee is going to lose on march 25, 1865, over 3500 soldiers in this fight at fort stedman. those are 3500 men lee could ill afford to lose at his defense at petersburg. if you think about it, by the calendar, march 25 is just one week to the beginning of april and only two weeks before april
9, 1865. so with the failed assault on fort stedman, lee is now going to be forced by a union assault. it figures of lee could assault but that many men from the east of petersburg, he must've weakened his line somewhere, and so he orders his other units to probe and the union six corps which finds us up to the south and west of petersburg, will end up capturing a large portion of the picket line in front of them along the jones farm. and it is there that they will use this new extended position to start looking for places where they may possibly break through the confederate lines. but perhaps even more importantly that day, is a visitor to that battlefield. because on march 25, 1865, not only are these two armies
fighting against one another but the president of the united states is going to watch these two armies fight against one another. in one of those simple ironies of the war, had the confederates reached that railroad to the rear of fort stedman, the president of the united states along with the commanding general for u.s. armies, is coming through on one of the trains. they are headed out to actually review the union fifth corps. and just happened upon this battle that is taking place. and the president will ride back to the city point area later that day on a train that not only carries the wounded from the battlefield, but also confederate prisoners of war. we can only imagine the effect on their morale knowing that what they are up against is an army so large that an entire corps has been pulled from the front lines to be reviewed by the president of the united
states while they are so desperately seeking to try and get through. both sides are going to start to ramp up their efforts at this point. it is an extremely wet spring, it is not the perfect weather for a military campaign. but both sides know, especially grant, that if lee gets the opportunity, he is going to abandon petersburg and richmond. he has to. there is really nothing that can keep him there, militarily. and so, grant says his biggest fear is that he awakens one morning and lee is gone. they will have a conference, once again on the river queen, but this time, president lincoln, who was there at city point on the river queen, is going to host general grant, general sherman, who is just
coming up from north carolina for the meeting, and admiral david dixon porter. at this meeting on the 28th of march, 1865, lincoln is going to once again reiterate to lee's men what he wants. simply, he wants to reunify this country. the problem is, having the confederates go along with the plan without the loss of further bloodshed. and, unfortunately for those men in the field, that is not going to be possible. one of the perhaps greatest stories of the petersburg campaign is the role that the federal cavalry will play in the closing days. as we study modern warfare, and we look at movements of modern armies around a field of
operations you are hard to come across anyone that could do the same accomplishments that federal cavalry has done in the spring of 1865. they break camp outside of winchester, virginia, on the 27th day of february, they go up the valley, heading south, and will destroy what is left of the confederate resistance in the shenandoah valley at waynesborough on march 2. and then they will head east where they will refit and remount all the unserviceable animals and equipment, cross the james river, and be ready to begin his campaign for grant on march 28. a month they have gone all the way from winchester, fought a major engagement, crossed the state and are ready to go into battle again.
and grant now gives his orders for his ninth and what will be his final offensive action at petersburg. that union calvary is to swing all the way around the confederate defenses of the city and they are to strike the south side railroad running west. the union cavalry is to swing all the way around the confederate defenses of the city, and they are to strike a southside railroad running west. if they encounter too much confederate resistance, they are allowed to bounce off further to the west and destroy the richmond dansville railroad. if they encounter resistance there, they can do what sherman -- or what sheridan, who is in charge of the union cavalry, had hoped to do all along, go to north carolina, join up with sherman, and accompany him and
his army here to virginia as well. so, on march 29, the calvary sets into motion. at the same time union infantry is screening that motion and fighting their first engagement since hatcher's run on the western side of petersburg around the lewis farm area. the union fifth corps will assault there, and two days later they will pin the confederates in their work around richmond. at the same time, the union cavalry has encountered what lee has mustered as his strikeforce to stop them with the division of george pickett. one would ask, i have not heard that name since gettysburg. it has been two years since you have heard someone in this auditorium talk about george pickett, and that is because his division is decimated at gettysburg.
many of the men captured at gettysburg as prisoners of war have been lounging at the federal resorts set up for them, but by the spring of 1865, they have been sent back into the army. they have been exchanged back into service. now, one of the largest services robert lee has available is of george pickett's gettysburg fame. they along with the confederate calvary, along with its new leader robert e. lee's nephew fitz lee, meet south of petersburg. and it will be there where pickett will bloody sheridan's nose, which could have been the worst thing he could've have
done. because as i have studied the civil war there is no human being i would fear more rather than to serve with or against is 33-year-old phil sheridan in 1865. by pickett stopping him, he asked for support from the infantry. he did not like the answer that he got, but he gets the union fifth corps attached to him. pickett, realizing the infantry was coming to support the cavalry, withdraws to one of the most obscure little crossroads you will ever come across. five roads that intersect in rural dinwiddie county, known locally as five forks. you can go out here in prince edward's county and find five forks here. you can go to every county in virginia and find that intersection. but at the one in dinwiddie
george pickett is going to set his men into trenches, running east-west, right through it. to his back, three miles north of there, is the southside railroad. he gets a message from robert e. lee, and the message says, simply, hold five forks at all hazards. it is really the second line of the message that pickett should have read because the second line says protect the road headed to ford's depot. protect the southside railroad. protect the supply line. but pickett reads the order, translates it literally, and puts his men right in the middle of the intersection with both flanks up in the air. when sheridan probes the new confederate position on the morning of april first, he realizes take it has absolutely
-- that pickett has absolutely nothing protecting either flank. so, he decides i am going to deploy the union cavalry all along their front. the union cavalry by 1865 is not the same cavalry you would have found early in the war. no longer is this a group of mounted men who ride in raids to get information, pickett roads, pull their sabers, and go at slashing -- one another across open fields. the union cavalry of 1865 was akin to any type of modern force that may use a mechanized infantry. the union calvary, in 1865 primarily is armed with a seven-shot repeating carbine dispenser, and because of that they can leave one man mounted. he controls three other horses
while those three men move forward on foot to engage the enemy. using the superiority of their firepower, having the, literally, firepower of 21 confederate soldiers with single-shot weapons, they are able to either subdue their target, or fall back to their horses, and maneuver to another position on the battlefield. and, so, sheridan deploys these men in front of pickett's division there at five forks, to simply hold them in place, while the union fifth corps falls in on their eastern flank. as the union fifth corps arrives on the battlefield, they encounter one mad little irishman, because sheridan is fighting sundown as much is fighting the confederates at that point of the day, and he realizes that even pickett, if left there overnight, is going to fall back to the railroad. he wants to gobble them up before the sun goes down, but it
is now 4:30 p.m. sundown is around 6:30 p.m. so, they have two hours. in that two hours, union infantry, along with union cavalry, will move forward, and hitting the eastern end of that confederate line will literally roll it right back through that intersection. grant has one of his staff officers there. you are probably going to hear his name more and more associated with the next couple of weeks. his name is horace porter. horse porter is going to arrive -- to ride from the battlefield there at five forks, back to grant's headquarters, because grant, for the first time in this campaign, has left and made his battlefield with the armies, set up at dabney steam sawmill and having arrived there, when
horace porter rides back that evening, he reports that sheridan has completely defeated the confederate force, protecting the southside railroad. of course, you can imagine after nine and a half months what must've been the relief for those union officers, finally realizing they're on the verge of capturing lee's supply line, knowing he will have to fight to defend it, or leave. grant disappears into his tent. a few minutes later, he emerges, and he reads to the officers gathered there, the content of his message -- "i have ordered a general assault along the lines." so, on the night of april 1, 1865, a day that one confederate
officer describes as all fools day -- a day of evil omen -- an artillery barrage begins. it begins from richmond, all the way along the lines, all the way around petersburg, everywhere union artillery can fire on confederate positions, they will continue to bombard the confederate lines all night. grant knows that if lee is going to go back out there to fight sheridan, he will have to pull troops out of the line. so, the next morning he is going to probe everywhere along those lines to find that weak point. the first place they probe the line on the morning of april 2 is going to be the union ninth corps along the jerusalem plank
road. and they will meet at fort mahone. but gordon stops the breakthrough and pushes union troops back. they will battle throughout the day on april 2, just through petersburg. having captured those picket lines on jones farm, they find themselves much closer to the confederate line than they have been, so they will end up breaking to the confederate lines there, south of petersburg. once they breakthrough to the south, even lee, at his headquarters from the terminal -- at the turnbull house house can see his lines crumbling. he sees at ap hill to find out what is going on, and they come across two union soldiers in the woods. they order them to surrender. the union soldiers shoot first and a.p. hill will be lost as petersburg is getting ready to
fall. with that, the union sixth corps turns south, leaving a gap for the union 24th core that has now been brought to petersburg to go through and head toward petersburg. at that point, lee is going to send a message to the confederate secretary of war john breckenridge, and breckenridge is going to have that message forwarded to the president of the confederate states, who is in church service on the morning of april 2. that telegraph said "i see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. i am not certain i can do that. i advised that all operations be made for leaving richmond tonight." shortly after, the union's
second corps engages the confederate army west of petersburg. they will end up severing the south side railroad, and now lee has no reason to stay. he simply wishes to stay long enough to gather up his army without having to fight street by street for their retreat. he is only allowed to do that because of the confederate resistance there, to the south and west of town, at two little, uncompleted forts, fort greg and fort woodward, which managed to hold off almost 8000 union soldiers with no more than 500 or 600 men. finally, that night at 7:00 p.m., lee is going to send secretary of war breckenridge one final note -- "it is absolutely necessary that we abandon our position tonight or run the risk of being cut off in the morning."
overnight, on april 2, the confederates will flee petersburg. the trenches they have lived in for nine and a half months will now be left behind. it is written that at 4:28, on the morning of april 3, the first michigan sharpshooters go into petersburg, and their color guard will break into the courthouse. they will climb the clock tower of the courthouse. they will break open the clock face. it is there that they will unfurl their national colors. the first time the flag of the united states has flown over petersburg in four years. petersburg is now no longer involved in the civil war. pretty soon after that, the city councilman have written up in
order and they march out in different directions, trying to find grant, trying to spare the city from being burned, looted or pillaged, which does not happen. grant will come into the city, and he will establish his headquarters in a home right in downtown petersburg, the thomas wallace home. at 9:00 that morning, the president of the united states gets on a train, and he comes into petersburg. he will actually ride through those lines where the fighting had been that morning. he will ride in, and he will meet with general grant there in petersburg on the morning of april 3. it is there that he once more will state his objective -- be lenient, make the confederates our countrymen again.
the reunification of the country is a week away. thank you. [applause] david: we will take a few minutes of questions, and then after the questions, we will take a 10-minute break. if you have a question, if you can, come down to one of the microphones in the aisle so you can be recorded on c-span and they can hear your question. tracy: you want to be on tv, right? david: and if you cannot make it down to the microphone, i will bring a microphone to you and bring it back to you. tracy: everybody but ron. ron doesn't get to ask questions. david: my name is david from charlotte. i also fear being the leadoff
batter. tracy: you are much better being the leadoff batter than i am. >> i have a question about the confederate trenches. we've bene at vicksburg. [indiscernible] what about the trenches here in petersburg? of course, we know about the trenches in world war i over in france. they were quite elaborate. the germans had wooden reinforcements. they had rooms that were carpeted, dug into the soil in belgium and france. what about the trenches in petersburg? tracy: it is a great question, and it always -- whenever -- my programs at petersburg we do with the united states military. the united states army has one of its largest combined support bases at fort lee, adjacent to
us, and fort lee started in 1918 as camp lee because we were getting ready to send young men over to europe to fight in the trenches of world war i, yet we did not have anywhere to train for trench warfare, so they look in their magic ball and said there are these trenches left in petersburg from the civil war, let's go there. that is what literally brings camp lee to petersburg, the study of trenches here. the trenches at petersburg will be similar, to an extent, to what you would find in world war i. the soil around petersburg, for the most part, is clay, so it does allow, conducively, for the digging of trenches, because it does hold its shape somewhat. they are easy to figure out. you dug a ditch in front of you, and the size of that ditch, that dirt is thrown back against a
log or a wall, and that is what creates your trench. because of that, you're able to build rooms. you will, for the most part, be able to find, over time, most of those trenches were held in place by wood, because the ravages of the weather would break them down. they would break into houses. you will find sketches of sofas in the trenches. you will find where these men, literally, are living in these trenches around petersburg. i mentioned earlier, when they get to petersburg, it is hot. it will stay hot for one month. when they arrive at petersburg the temperatures are written as being around 100 degrees. there is no one walking around with a thermometer. they do not have the weather channel to go back to, or anything, but they talk about how oppressively hot it is when they arrived in june, 1864. we know from the time they arrive on june 15, it does not rain until july 19, so the first
month these guys are there digging in these trenches, they are digging in this hot, muggy summertime, which you find all the time around here, but it is dry. then, of course, you end up with thunderstorms, and wet-weather conditions, and then you get into the winter, which becomes one of the wettest, muddiest on record in petersburg, so it would have made living in these trenches an absolute nightmare. it would have been, since the beyond description. my theory is that the reason yo u don't see these men going back for reunions around petersburg after the war like they do at gettysburg, is they do not want to return to what they remembered about petersburg. just as ron told me, you do not want to go there -- these guys did not want to go back there either. the trenches were very similar to world war i, rooms, the whole nine yards.
if you want to get a good look at the trenches, the beauty of petersburg is that is -- it is extensively photographed. everyone that owned a camera showed up there at one point or another, and mike will show you some wonderful pictures that are done the same way. if you go on a library of congress' website you can just scroll through hundreds of images of the trenches around petersburg. did that answer your question? yes, sir. i think you are up first. george: good evening. i am originally from erie, pennsylvania. now living in the d.c. area. one thing you did not have time to comment on as far as five forks is concerned, the fifth corps rolled up the confederate left very successfully, yet its commander, warren, was relieved by sheridan. i would just like to ask to share some thoughts about the incident, and sheridan's
reasoning, and of course ultimately, after he had passed away, warren was vindicated by a court-martial. can you elaborate on your opinion on what happened and why? tracy: there are certain polarizing figures from the civil war. in virginia, you're taught to revere robert e. lee, that grant was a drunkard, and could not have mustered this with his own will. we know the hate for george custer because of just being george custer. if you are around at the civil war, though, you would have had two polarizing figures at the end of the war. one being philip sheridan, who i mentioned earlier, you either love him or hate him, and you had better love him, or else he will kill you.
the other is gouverneur warren. unfortunately, for gouverneur warren, he finds himself being a democrat in a republican army, and you can only imagine what he and winfield scott hancock go through in election year when a republican wins. not a good place to be as an officer in the army, especially when your commanding officer unfortunately, for gouverneur warren, he finds himself being a democrat in a republican army, and you can only imagine what he general grant, is a republican. that being said, warren tends to not want to follow orders as grant gives them. he wants to interpret orders and to the benefit of his men, only do what he thinks is going to preserve his fifth corps. that is not how grant wages warfare, and certainly not how sheridan wages warfare. when the fit corps is sent to sheridan at five forks sheridan instantly balks knowing these are some of his men. when sheridan is told he has to
use the fifth corps as his support, led by general warren that order is followed up by general grant with if you have any problems with the corps commander, leave him with one of the division commanders, which you can say pretty much puts the writing on the wall that warren is not going to make it to the battle. warren as i alluded to, warren is late in getting his men there. of no fault of his own but as the battle is ending, he'll have leading the last charge at ficeve forks, as the sun is setting, he has his horse shot from underneath him. as he picks himself up, and men are rushing by him, pushing the confederates, and everyone is cheering, one of sheridan's staff officer rides over and he says commanding general which is -- wishes to let you know that you have been relieved. whoops. it probably was not the best time for either man.
warren will ride to sheridan and ask him to reconsider, and it is a classic sheridan quote -- "reconsider, hell, i do not reconsider any of my determinations " he does not have time for warren and cast them aside as well. with that, warren is left in petersburg. unfortunately for warren, he misses out on the last week of the war. "reconsider, hell, i do not he will remain in petersburg without a command. he will put in for an inquiry for the charges he thinks are unwarranted. with that, he will be left behind. his men absolutely loved him. when they leave appomattox, the union fifth corps they will
march back to petersburg and form a torchlight review of him in downtown petersburg before heading up to washington for the grand review. they are the only union unit to march back to petersburg, not go back to richmond. they obviously admire their leader. he, though, however, is going to remain in the army, and won't get his day in court until much later. it is, again, another political move, but warren will eventually be vindicated. by a court of inquiry also politically motivated. the findings won't be released until after he has died. so, he never knows that his name has been cleared from the court of inquiry. yes, sir. lee: my name is lee hellyer. i'm from the birthplace of john mosby. my question is similar to the first in the sense of paralleling trench warfare from the civil war's perspective, to the first world war, specifically december, 1914. there was a secret weapon that the germans had in 1914, and
that was the tenenbaum, and it was the silent night. are there any stories of fraternization, specifically a temporary truce in that december, 1864 period where the troops decided well, let's be friends for christmas eve? tracy: it was not just december of 1864. it is all through the siege of petersburg. these armies are of the same nationality, language, religion. there is no barrier between the union and confederate army other than some of them live up north, and some of them live down south. instantly, because there is no language barrier, for the most part, the trenches are set, then in front of the trenches are even closer soldiers. the eyes and ears of the army in the riflepits in no man's
land are literally no further than me to the back of the room from here. with that you have almost instantly an open dialogue and conversation with the most written about is that fort stedman in march of 1865, where general gordon wants to launch the assault by having one of the pickets fire a warning shot, and that is to send everyone across the field. in doing so, the sentry pauses and he yells out before firing the shot, "hey, yanks, we are going out to gather some corn." with that, he clears his conscience because they have a informal truce of not firing without warning. at the same time there's no huge effect, but there's are
newspaper boys from richmond who go through the lines to sell papers to union officers. there are union soldiers who come through the lines to barter and trade with confederates who have tobacco for sugar. sketches in newspapers that record it. it is not uncommon during the civil war at petersburg. >> interesting that "stille nacht" is translated into english in 1859. david: one last question. russ: i have a question about the desertion rate during the siege. can you estimate the percentage? tracy: you know, i cannot. i have no facts or figures as to a percentage of, however i will tell you that it had become such a concern for both armies that the confederates will do just about everything in their power, because of the amount of desertion -- especially after sherman crosses over and gives
savannah to president lincoln as a christmas gift in 1864, and then starts heading up through the carolinas -- now, all of a sudden, all of these men from north carolina, south carolina and georgia, are getting letters from home talking about how bad it is, how they have nothing to live on, how they have no food or anything, so it is very hard for young men in these trenches around petersburg that are enduring these horrid conditions to steadfast there, rather than go back and take care of their families, and i do not know that anyone would blame any of them for doing so, except for their duty was to the army. it is compounded by the union army actually using propaganda to promote men to desert from the confederate army. they would put leaflets into the confederate lines and throw paper across, and have these pickets exchanged, like we were just talk about, where they would offer you money to desert from the confederate army and come into the union lines with your weapons. they would pay you to bring your
weapon in, and then they would provide you transportation anywhere you wanted to go after you signed an oath of allegiance. you had those two forces working against the confederate army. that being said, while the army does get smaller and smaller, it is not of such a vast number because lee begins the campaign with 60,000 men. of course will surrender almost 30,000 at appomattox courthouse. they were melting away from the army to get supplies from home. they would return to the army eventually. all of that factors in. i don't have an exact figure. >> i appreciate it. thank you all for being here. [applause]
>> american history tv visited longwood university for a seminar on the closing of the civil war in 1865. the program was cohosted by the university and the appomattox courthouse national historical park. next richmond in 1865 and what historians can learn from. the photographs. the talk is just under an hour. >> you can see some more of those here today. michael grew up in richmond. he worked for the national park service in 1999. one thing that he is well known
for is his website, civil war richmond. if you have not seen that, you really need to go there and look at it. i tell my students that this is about one of the best websites related to the civil war i have ever seen. i did an article on civil war hospitals and got a lot of good stuff from his website. definitely go see that. mike served as technical advisor on the set of steven spielberg's lincoln, and also served as technical advisor for the movie free state jones with matthew mcconaughey. he has been involved in those types of activities. also he has done an article