Prelude to the Battle of Amelia Springs
Grant’s Umbrella Strategy
On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert and strike the Confederacy from several directions: Grant would travel with Major General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three federal armies south from Chattanooga to capture Atlanta, and Major General Franz Sigel would invade Western Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee’s army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade’s flank.
Stalemate at Petersburg
The Union Army of the Potomac relentlessly engaged the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia throughout the spring of 1864. By June, Grant forced Lee to retreat to the Richmond-Petersburg area. Thereafter, both armies were entrenched, and a stalemate ensued for the next ten months. During that period, Grant probed Lee’s defenses to no avail. Despite being well-entrenched, the Confederate situation grew progressively worse as their supplies dwindled.
Union prospects, on the other hand, improved over the winter. Major General Philip Sheridan completed his task of sweeping the Confederates from the Shenandoah Valley, and his well-rested troops rejoined Grant in the spring. Determined to break the stalemate at Petersburg, Grant ordered Sheridan to turn Lee’s right flank with the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps along with the 2nd and 5th Infantry Corps, and force Lee out of Petersburg.
Battle of Fort Stedman — Failed Confederate Breakout
On March 25, 1865, Lee made one final attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg by ordering forces commanded by Major General John B. Gordon to attack Fort Stedman, a Union fortification in the siege lines surrounding Petersburg. Gordon’s pre-dawn attack succeeded initially, but blistering Union counterattacks forced the Confederates back inside their lines.
Many historians consider March 29, 1865, as the beginning of the Appomattox Campaign. On that date, Grant opened his spring offensive against Lee’s army by ordering Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry (freshly returned from the Shenandoah Valley) and Major General G. K. Warren’s 5th Corps to attempt to turn Lee’s right flank at the Battle of Lewis’s Farm. Two days later the action resumed at the Battle of White Oak Road and Battle of Dinwiddie Court House as Lee shored up his right wing to halt the federal Flanking maneuver. On April 1 Sheridan and Warren continued their offensive, with a major victory over Major General George Pickett’s forces at the Battle of Five Forks.
A String of Federal Victories
On March 29, Major General G.K. Warren’s 5th Corps defeated several Confederate brigades commanded by Major General Bushrod Johnson at the Battle of Lewis’s Farm. Two days later, the action resumed at the Battles of White Oak Road and Dinwiddie Court House, as Lee shored up his right wing to halt the federal flanking maneuver. On April 1, Philip Sheridan and Warren continued their offensive, with a major victory over Major General George Pickett’s forces at the Battle of Five Forks. Losing that strategic crossroads further threatened Lee’s already limited supply lines.
Confederates Evacuate Richmond and Petersburg
Encouraged by the Federal victory at Five Forks, Grant ordered a general assault on the Confederate entrenchments on April 2, 1865. By 10 a.m., Lee realized he could no longer hold the Yankees back. He advised President Jefferson Davis to prepare to leave the Confederate capital at Richmond. As Lee abandoned his defenses at Petersburg, three minor engagements took place during the next three days at Sutherland’s Station, Namozine Church, and Amelia Springs.
Lee’s plan was to march his beleaguered army west to Amelia Court House, where he expected to find much-needed provisions. From there, he intended to move south and join forces with Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of North Carolina. As the Confederates moved west, Sheridan’s cavalry began hounding them almost immediately. On April 3, cavalry from both sides met in the inconclusive Battle of Namozine Church.
Clash at Amelia Springs
Two days later, another cavalry engagement erupted north of Amelia Springs. Three brigades of Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate cavalry (commanded by Brigadier General Martin Gary, Major General Thomas L. Rosser, and Brigadier General Thomas T. Munford) counterattacked a brigade of Major General George Crook’s Union cavalry (commanded by Brigadier General Henry E. Davies, Jr.) about three miles north of Amelia Springs. Davies’s cavalry was returning from a raid on the Army of Northern Virginia’s supply train near Painesville. The two cavalry forces fought a running battle through Amelia Springs almost to Jetersville, six miles southwest of Amelia Court House, where Robert E. Lee planned to concentrate his army.
The initial phase of the battle was inconclusive until Federal reinforcements arrived, prompting the Confederates to withdraw to Amelia Springs. Later that night and during the morning of April 6, Union forces, commanded by Brigadier General Nelson Miles and Major General Gershom Mott, fought another minor and inconclusive battle against Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate rearguard.
Significance of the Battle of Amelia Springs
Casualty totals at the Battle of Amelia Springs are imprecise. The Union lost between 110 and 160 soldiers (killed, wounded, and captured or missing). The actual number of Confederate casualties at the Battle of Amelia Springs is unknown, but estimates place the total in the neighborhood of 100 or fewer. The battle accomplished little other than forcing the Army of Northern Virginia to detour around Jetersville on its journey to Amelia Court House.