The Last 100 Days of the Civil War: Goals & Actions

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  • 0:08 The War Winding Down?
  • 1:14 Sherman Marches…
  • 2:42 Grant and Lee Face Off…
  • 4:23 The End Approaches
  • 6:24 The Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

As the new year of 1865 dawned, the North and South had been at war for nearly four years, but the last days of the Civil War were fast approaching. In this lesson, we will explore some of the events of those last days.

The War Winding Down?

As the new year of 1865 dawned, the North and South had been at war for nearly four years. Union General Ulysses S. Grant had started marching toward the Confederate capital of Richmond in the previous spring, but he still was not in possession of the city. Instead, he had settled his troops in a siege around Petersburg, Virginia, about twenty miles away, in hopes of starving out Confederate forces commanded by General Robert E. Lee.

Further south, Union General William T. Sherman had captured Atlanta in September of 1864 and proceeded to march across Georgia, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. He reached the Atlantic coast in December and presented Savannah as a Christmas present to President Abraham Lincoln.

Now, at the beginning of 1865, both Grant and Sherman were preparing for a final push that would perhaps wind down the Civil War once and for all.

Sherman Marches through the Carolinas

Early in the year, Sherman began marching up from Georgia in the hope of joining Grant and possibly cutting off Lee's supply and escape routes. On February 17, his troops captured Columbia, South Carolina. After nearly reducing the city to ruins, the Union force moved out, headed toward Wilmington, North Carolina, which was captured on February 22.

Meanwhile, a Confederate army under General Joseph Johnston was gearing up for an attack. The resulting Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, began on March 19. The Confederates struck first, ramming into the Union line and shattering it. Union soldiers, however, quickly fell back and dug in. The Confederates charged four more times without budging the Union line. Fighting continued sporadically for two more days, for Johnston refused to retreat.

Finally, though, he had to acknowledge that his enemy had more men and more resources. He backed off; the last major Confederate offensive of the war had ended in defeat. Sherman decided not to pursue the retreating Confederates and pressed north toward Raleigh instead. Both generals realized that it was only a matter of time before Johnston would be forced to surrender.

Grant and Lee Face Off in Virginia

Further north, Grant and Lee were gearing up for the beginning of their campaign season. Lee wanted to try one more time to break the Union siege on Petersburg and take control over the situation. On March 25, 1865, Confederate forces rushed the Union position at Fort Stedman, east of Petersburg.

At first, the Confederates met with some success, for Union soldiers were stunned by their sudden onslaught. Four hours later, however, it was all over. The Union had rallied, and the Confederates were overwhelmed. The siege of Petersburg continued, but not for long.

Grant was ready to make his move and finally capture Petersburg and Richmond. He sent Major General Philip Sheridan and his cavalry to attack Five Forks just west of Petersburg and cut off Lee's last supply line into the city. Lee sent General George Pickett to meet Sheridan. Their forces clashed on March 31, and the Confederates actually pushed back the Union line. By the next day, April 1, Sheridan had received reinforcements, and he launched a vigorous offensive that cost Pickett almost half of his men.

This decisive Union victory convinced Lee that he had to make a change. His men were starving, and now he had no way to bring in more food and supplies. It was time to move. On April 2, Confederate forces evacuated both Petersburg and Richmond.

The End Approaches

Lee and his men headed west, hoping to eventually veer south and meet up with Johnston's forces. The Confederates spread out in a long, thin gray line that was soon filled with gaps, giving Union troops plenty of opportunities to sneak in between various Confederate divisions.

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