At the end of the lesson, each student:
Will identify three reasons why Petersburg was a target for the Union army during the Civil War.
Will explain how soldiers from both the Union and the Confederate army acquired supplies during the siege of Petersburg.
Will describe Grant's strategy to defeat the southern army at Petersburg when a direct attack failed.
Copies of the maps of Petersburg with focus questions.
The siege of Petersburg is not always remembered in the textbooks of American history. Yet, Petersburg saw ten months of fighting during the last year of the Civil War. Grant expected that the Union army would capture Petersburg in a direct attack. When this failed, Grant's strategy switched to an attack on the supply lines. This endeavor would take much longer than Grant expected.
Involvement of the Learners:
Read the following excerpt to the students.
Grant's words following the initial attack on Petersburg, June 15th-18th
"I now ordered the troops to be put under cover and allowed some of the rest which they had so long needed. They remained quiet, except that there was more or less firing every day, until the 22nd, when General Meade ordered an advance towards the Weldon Railroad. We were very anxious to get that road, and even round to the South Side Railroad if possible."
Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
Study the maps to figure out Grant's strategy at Petersburg. Follow the troop movements on the maps in the order that they appear, and write a brief description of where the Union troops are attacking.
Answer the focus questions following each map.
Select a headline and write an article for a local newspaper about the siege of Petersburg.
Activity One: Focus questions for the Maps
Map #1: Opening Attack on Petersburg
Why did the Confederate army build fortifications around the city of Petersburg in 1862, two years before the fighting ever arrived here? Why did Petersburg need to be protected?
Why did General Grant and the Union army choose City Point as the location for their headquarters during the siege? What were the advantages of being at City Point?
Map #2: Battle of the Weldon Railroad
When the Union army failed to take Petersburg during the initial attack, why did they want to capture the Weldon Railroad?
What two railroad lines were in Union hands after the initial attack?
Why did the strategy of the Union army shift to a focus on the railroad lines around Petersburg? What was significant about these railroads for the Confederate army?
Map #3: Battle of Five Forks
At this point in the war, the Union army had possession of the City Point Railroad, the Norfolk and Petersburg line, and portions of the Weldon Railroad. What was Grant's target in the Battle of Five Forks?
The Union army succeeded in breaking through the Boydton Plank Road, a major roadway west of the city. The success of the Union army at Five Forks opened the door to the Union army to take the Southside Railroad. Why did this mean the end for the Confederate army?
After studying the maps, what do you believe is the goal of a military siege? Was it a success at Petersburg?
Activity Two: Become a reporter
Select a headline, and write a front page article for a local paper. Big stories make the front page, so use your imagination!
Confederate Soldiers Dig In...Worry that Petersburg May Be Attacked!
General Grant Fools Lee...Surprise Attack on Petersburg!
Petersburg Under Siege!
Attack on the Weldon Railroad...Union Soldiers Hit 'Em Where It Hurts:
In The Stomach!
It's Supply or Die for the Confederate Army!
Five Forks Falls...The End is Near!
Read the following quote from the Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee,
Rev. J. William Jones, D.D.
"We must destroy this army of Grant's before he gets to the James River. If he gets there, it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time."
These prophetic words were spoken by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, prior to the siege. Why did Lee worry that the Confederate army would be in trouble, if Grant got south of the James? How did he know what would happen?