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From the Wilderness to Appomattox

In May 1864, Ulysses S. Grant launched a new attack on Robert E. Lee’s army, and battled south toward Richmond. In the tangled woods of northeastern Virginia known as the Wilderness, Grant’s army of 120,000 began a brutal fight against Lee’s 63,000 troops that traversed 100 miles and lasted 44 days. Grant attacked Lee several times, but failed to break his lines. Undeterred, Grant moved on toward Richmond, only to have Lee follow and block him again.

At Cold Harbor, Grant launched a furious assault against what he thought was a tired and beaten enemy—and suffered a bloody repulse. Union losses during the campaign topped 60,000 and Confederate losses were nearly 30,000. But neither army was ready to abandon the fight.

Petersburg and Richmond

In June 1864, Grant headed to Petersburg, a railhead south of Richmond that was vital to supplying the Confederate capital.

Following his defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant still remained intent on capturing Richmond. Unlike Union generals who previously had tried and failed to take the Confederate capital in direct assaults, Grant bypassed the city to cut its vital rail links at nearby Petersburg.

Surrender at Appomattox

Lee retreated from Richmond intent on continuing the fight. But he found his battered army surrounded and outnumbered and realized the end had come. On April 9, 1865, he surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant offered generous terms, allowing the defeated army to return home with their small arms and giving them rations.

Other Confederate armies soon surrendered. Americans never forgot the ruthless conflict they had waged against each other, or its bitter legacy: 620,000 dead; 400,000 scarred, maimed, or disabled.


Exhibition Graphics

Union dead at Wilderness

Union dead at Wilderness

Confederate trench breastworks, Petersburg; The fascines—bundles of sticks—reinforced trench walls.

Confederate trench breastworks, Petersburg; The fascines—bundles of sticks—reinforced trench walls.

Union troops in the trenches before Petersburg

Union troops in the trenches before Petersburg

Union flag flying over Richmond

Union flag flying over Richmond

Dead soldier in trench, Petersburg

Dead soldier in trench, Petersburg

The Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia by Louis M. D. Guillaume, 1867

The Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia by Louis M. D. Guillaume, 1867

Broadside announcing Lee’s Surrender

Broadside announcing Lee’s Surrender

General Lee’s Parole

General Lee’s Parole


Related Artifacts

Appomattox Furniture


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