General Robert E. Lee’s repulse at Fort Stedman on March 25 coincided neatly with General Ulysses S. Grant’s final offensive. He understood that Lee’s situation was extremely desperate. Supplies were scarce, troops were deserting in larger numbers, and Lee’s lines were frighteningly thin. It was time to strike.
On March 31 Federals attacked and captured Confederate positions along White Oak Road. They continued their offensive the next day and won a decisive victory at Five Forks. Wasting no time, Grant attacked Lee’s main lines in the early hours of April 2. Union soldiers broke through the thin Confederate lines, and only a stubborn and heroic Confederate defense enabled Lee to extricate his army and escape across the Appomattox River. Lee pushed his army west in a bid to secure supplies before trying to link up with Confederate forces in North Carolina.
Grant pursued Lee aggressively and captured Richmond on April 3. Constantly harassed by Federal cavalry during the retreat, Lee changed the route of his march several times to avoid forces blocking his path. He managed to avoid disaster until a portion of his army was attacked and defeated at Sailor’s Creek on April 6. As damaging as Sailor’s Creek was, however, the Confederate failure to burn High Bridge was more so. With Federals in hot pursuit of his army Lee was forced to abandon the food stores waiting for his army at Farmville and push on toward Appomattox Station.
Lee could not escape his pursuers and was finally pinned down on April 8 at Appomattox Court House. On the morning of April 9, Lee attempted a final breakthrough but the effort failed and he surrendered his army, marking the beginning of the end of the war.