“The remarkable resistance of Beauregard’s troops alone saved the city from capture on the 15th, 16th, and 17th.” (Confederate cavalry officer Fitzhugh Lee)
After the last major pitched battle of the Overland Campaign was fought at Cold Harbor in early June, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac had suffered more casualties during the campaign than Robert E. Lee had in his entire Army of Northern Virginia at the start of May. Understandably, the American public was shocked by the carnage, and to this day Grant has been accused of being a butcher, but attrition had become a vital war aim for the North, and Grant remained undeterred.
Refusing to attack Lee in frontal assaults, and aware that Lee dared not venture out to counterattack, Grant nearly captured Richmond in mid-June by stealing a march on Lee’s army and crossing the James River. With that, Grant’s forces had a golden opportunity to capture Petersburg, a critical railroad hub and supply line for Richmond, before Lee even realized where they were. All that stood in their way was an elaborate set of defensive fortifications manned by just a few thousand men under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, who had been the Confederate hero of Fort Sumter and First Bull Run but had fallen out of favor well before June 1864.
As it would turn out, the fog of war, poor luck, and a skillful impromptu defense by Beauregard and his troops, which at times consisted of young boys, old men, and wounded veterans, stopped Benjamin Butler from taking Petersburg on June 9 and then stopped Grant from taking Petersburg from June 15 to 18. Amazingly, Beauregard managed to defend Petersburg while being heavily outnumbered, at times having less than 15 percent of the armies opposing him, and despite the fact that he received virtually no reinforcements from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during that time because Lee refused to believe Beauregard’s reports that Grant’s army had crossed the James and was no longer in Lee’s front.
Due to the amazing operations from June 9 to 18 and the failure to defeat Beauregard, Grant finally opted to start digging in and preparing for a long-term siege of Petersburg, which would last nearly 10 more months before he broke Lee’s line and captured Petersburg. When Richmond fell the same day as Petersburg and Lee was forced to surrender less than a week later at Appomattox, it became clear just how badly the Union had squandered a golden opportunity back in June 1864.
P.G.T. Beauregard Saves Richmond: The First and Second Battles of Petersburg comprehensively covers the campaign and the events that led up to the crucial battles, the fighting itself, and the aftermath of the campaign. Accounts of the fighting by important participants are also included. You will learn about the first battles for Petersburg like you never have before in no time at all.