The Battle of Amelia Springs took place in Amelia County, Virginia on April 5-6, 1865, during the American Civil War.
On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed native Ohioan Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States of America. 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’s Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Ohioan Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; 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.
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, Virginia area. Thereafter, both armies entrenched, and a stalemate ensued for the next ten months. During that period, Grant probed Lee’s defenses, but to no avail. Despite being well entrenched, the Confederate situation grew progressively worse as supplies dwindled. By the spring of 1865, Lee knew that when the weather allowed, his army must escape the Union stranglehold or be starved into submission.
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 was successful initially, but blistering Union counterattacks forced the Rebels back inside their lines.
Grant’s spring offensive, the Appomattox Campaign, began in late March 1865 when Sherman’s troops south of Petersburg moved west with orders to threaten or capture Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, which connected to Petersburg from the southwest. Grant intended to cut off supplies coming into Petersburg and to prevent Lee from using the two arteries as avenues of escape from the city. 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, Ohioan Major General Philip H. Sheridan and Warren continued their offensive, with a major victory over Major General George Pickett’s forces at the Battle of Five Forks. The loss of that strategic crossroads further threatened Lee’s already limited supply lines.
Encouraged by the Federal victory at Five Forks, Grant ordered a general assault on the Confederate entrenchments around Petersburg on April 2. Federal troops breached the Confederate defenses during the Battle of Petersburg III and forced the Rebels to withdraw to the city’s inner defenses. By 10:00 a.m., Lee realized that the day was lost, and he advised President Jefferson Davis to prepare to leave the Confederate capital at Richmond. Lee spent the afternoon preparing his withdrawal from Petersburg.
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.
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 the Federals were reinforced, prompting the Rebels 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.
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 Confederates 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.