The first battles for Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864

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Virginia Tech

During June 15-18, 1864, the Federal Army of the Potomac launched a series of attacks against the vital Confederate rail center of Petersburg, Virginia. Union leaders believed that capturing Petersburg would force the abandonment of the Rebel capital at Richmond. The assaults failed, however, and the opposing armies settled into a ten-month siege.This study investigated the opening battles for Petersburg on three levels. First, the strategic dispositions and movements of the Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia are discussed prior to and during the battles. Secondly, the study looks carefully at the tactical situation on each of the four days of fighting. Thirdly, the paper reveals the personal side of combat through the use of soldiers' diaries, letters, and regimental histories. The thesis concludes that Federal failure occurred because of poor Union leadership and staff work, a strong Confederate defense, and extreme exhaustion throughout the Northern army.