|Entrenchments at Petersburg|
At 4:40 two Union cannon fired, signalling the beginning of the attack. The Federal troops moved forward, preceded by pioneers to clear away the wooden obstructions in front of the Confederate lines. The Confederate pickets were driven back, but they alerted the main line of the attack, and soon the Yankees began to receive a heavy and well-directed fire. The first Federal over the wall was Captain Charles Gould of the 5th Vermont. He ran down the path made by the Confederate pickets, followed by three men with the rest not far behind, and crossed the ditch on a plank bridge the Confederate had placed there. Gould quickly climbed over the wall and gained the parapet, but the rebels on the other side were ready for him. He was immediately cut three times by bayonets and swords, and one southerner pointed a rifle directly at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He was pulled back over the parapet by Corporal Henry Rector, and before long more Union troops arrived and secured the position.
All along the line Federals climbed up the works, capturing them with quick hand-to-hand fighting. Breaches formed in the Confederate position and soon it fell entirely into Federal hands. The 2nd Rhode Island captured six Confederate cannon, and then quickly turned them on their former owners to drive back a counter attack.
|A. P. Hill|
|Dead Confederate at Petersburg|
I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight.During the day of heavy fighting along the entire line, Grant's army lost about 4,000 men, the Confederates about 5,000 men, mostly captured.Lee's men began evacuating the lines which they still retained at 8:00 pm. The government abandoned Richmond that night, taking with them what papers they could. The retreating soldiers set fire to the warehouses, and other structures of military use. The fire spread out of control, and much of the city burnt to the ground.
That night Grant wrote to his wife:
I am now writing from far inside of what was the rebel fortifications this morning but what are ours now. They are exceedingly strong and I wonder at the sucsess [sic] of our troops carrying them by storm. But they did it and without any great loss. Altogether this has been one of the greatest victories of the war.Early the next morning, Union troops found that Lee had abandoned his lines. He had set off towards Appomattox. The last stage of the American Civil War had begun.
|The ruins of Richmond after the fire|