When Grant broke his lines around Petersburg on April 2nd and Lee put his army into retreat, his plan was to keep ahead of the Federals and join Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina. He was very low on supplies, so he would have to resupply his army along the way. He pushed his men hard to make it to the supplies that were supposed to be waiting for him at Amelia Court House. When he arrived there on April 4th, his exhausted men having marched day and night, he found that ammunition had been sent from Richmond instead of food. The little that had been traveled by wagons had been captured by Phil Sheridan's cavalry which had been hard on the Confederate heels. The rebels couldn't eat gunpowder, so Lee had to halt his army for a day to forage for what supplies they could find in the countryside, allowing Grant to catch up. Lee continued to push his army forward, but his prospects grew darker and darker. The Federal cavalry was pressing at the army's heels, but Lee did not have the time or strength to halt to beat them back.
|Ewell, who was captured at Sailor's Creek|
The rebels were headed for Appomattox Station, where they could get the supplies they desperately needed. But on April 8th Union cavalry arrived there first, and captured the food, foiling Lee's plans. The day before Grant had sent him a message suggesting he surrender. Lee refused, still hoping that he could reach Lynchburg, where more supplies waited.
Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps.When Lee received this message, he said:
Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.Out of food, exhausted from the long, hard marches, much of the army missing, and surrounded by Union forces, Lee decided with the agreement of most of his officers that it was time to surrender. Grant agreed to meet with him to discuss the terms.