Photograph of soldiers standing in front of a cannon

Petersburg in the Civil War

In six weeks of constant combat, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had managed to keep General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces from capturing Richmond, Virginia, in the spring of 1864. Grant, however, had retained the initiative, forcing Lee to wage a defensive campaign and making significant gains in his effort to seize the Confederate capital. Even after suffering a lopsided defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant was determined to make good on his promise to “fight it out…if it takes all summer.” With Lee’s army between him and Richmond, Grant set his sights on Petersburg, a key railroad hub supplying goods to Richmond and Lee’s army. If Grant could capture Petersburg while Lee was still in front of Richmond, the fate of the Confederacy might be sealed.

On June 12, 1864, Grant began quietly pulling his troops out of the trenches at Cold Harbor, moving them across the James River and toward the outskirts of Petersburg. A stunned Lee scrambled to send troops to the Cockade City, but by June 15, only a token force under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard opposed the Federals massing outside of Petersburg. Fortunately for Lee, Union delays allowed the Confederates just enough time to shift troops into the Petersburg lines and defeat Union attacks on June 15 and June 18. With the opportunity to take Petersburg by storm now lost, Grant began to entrench around Lee’s army with the hope of starving it into submission. The 292-day siege of Petersburg had begun and with it, the penultimate chapter of the Civil War in Virginia.

Explore numerous resources related to the battles of the Petersburg Campaign, from its opening phases in 1864, to the desperate struggle in the spring of 1865 in this collection.

The Siege of Petersburg

The city of Petersburg, 24 miles south of Richmond, was the junction point of five railroads that supplied the entire upper James River region...