Grant at Petersberg

Today you can walk the grounds of General Grant's headquarters
Today you can walk the grounds of General Grant's headquarters.

by Frank Kohl

As the Civil War began its fourth year, Ulysses S. Grant was camped at City Point, near the besieged city of Petersburg. With winter in full force, the Union forces were unable to take action against the entrenched Confederates.

In January 1865, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and other Confederate officials approached Grant’s headquarters to discuss peace. They were escorted to a steamer where they waited for Union President Abraham Lincoln’s arrival. Despite his feelings, Grant was a gracious and courteous host.

“I never had admitted, and never was ready to admit, that they were the representatives of a government. There had been too great a waste of blood and treasure to concede anything of the kind.” - Ulysses S. Grant, “Memoirs.”

The meeting with Lincoln was unsuccessful and the Confederates left without reaching an agreement. Stephens later wrote that Grant was “one of the most remarkable men” he had ever met.

A Failed Attempt

In March 1865, Lincoln and his family visited Grant. During their visit, General Lee launched a surprise attack to distract Union soldiers and create an escape route to flee the city. The attack failed and the Confederates took heavy losses. This defeat signaled the beginning of the end for Petersburg and the war itself.

A week later, Grant launched a major assault, which included the largest force of black soldiers in the Union. The Union broke through Petersburg’s defenses and pushed into the outer city. Lee immediately telegraphed Confederate President Jefferson Davis and advised him to leave Richmond. Confederate troops abandoned the city.

Within 24 hours, both Petersburg and Richmond were under Union control. Instead of taking time to bring up his cannons, Grant chose to immediately pursue Lee and finally bring the war to a close.

“I had not the heart to turn the artillery upon such a mass of defeated and fleeing men, and I hoped to capture them soon.” -Ulysses S Grant.

Part of a series of articles titled The Odyssey of Ulysses.

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Petersburg National Battlefield

Last updated: March 20, 2022