Location: Virginia, United States
Surnames/tags: US_Civil_War MILITARY_AND_WAR Virginia
The Battle of Sailor's Creek (also known in whole or in part as Sayler's Creek, Little Sailor's Creek, Harper's Farm, Marshall's Cross Roads, Hillsman Farm, Double Bridges, or Lockett's Farm) was fought on April 6, 1865, near Farmville, Virginia, as part of the Appomattox Campaign, near the end of the American Civil War. It was the largest battle of the Appomattox Campaign and the last major engagement between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and local Richmond area defense forces commanded by General Robert E. Lee and the Union Army (Army of the Shenandoah, Army of the Potomac and Army of the James) under the overall direction of Union General-in-Chief Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant before Lee's surrender of his army to Grant at Appomattox Court House three days later.
The battle actually was a series of at least three large separate actions, including a running battle, fought mostly simultaneously but over varying periods of time on the same day. The battleground was a wide rural area of several miles in both width and length with creeks and bluffs at its western edge. Large units of the Union Army had pursued the Confederates after the fall of Petersburg, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia and the flight of the Confederate forces after the Third Battle of Petersburg (sometimes known as the Breakthrough at Petersburg or Fall of Petersburg). The Confederates were trying to get past the Union pursuers and head south to North Carolina in order to combine with the Confederate army under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. On April 6, 1865 at Sailor's Creek, many of the Union units caught up with and fought many of the units of those Confederate forces. All of the units of both armies did not fight in all of the engagements at Sailor's Creek because of the timing of the engagements and the large area in which they were fought. Some units of the two armies were too far from the battlefield to participate at all. Except for the archaic and superseded spelling "Sayler's Creek," the alternate names for the battle are names for the separate actions rather than the entire day's action.
As the day developed, increasing numbers of men from Union forces overtook large numbers of Confederate soldiers with their equipment and supplies moving in two separate columns. Approaching the area of the battles, these Confederate Army columns were spread out over several miles of two parallel roads a few miles apart as they moved west with their equipment and wagon trains. The Confederates tried to avoid moving over the rain-soaked terrain off the roads. Delays caused by the need to cross the two small bridges over Sailor's Creek and Little Sailor's Creek and the high bluffs on the far side of the creeks added to the delays. With wagons and equipment moving at different speeds, gaps in the Confederate columns also occurred. The gaps provided easy opportunities for Union Army attacks against parts of the Confederate columns in vulnerable positions. The terrain and choke points, especially at bridges, kept some Confederates on the same side of the creeks as the Union forces, which brought increasing numbers of men to the fight. The terrain, especially high bluffs, slowed and temporarily confined Confederate units on the other side of the creeks. Union forces were able to bring up larger numbers of men than the Confederates had remaining on the near side of the creeks and gain advantageous positions on the battlefield, where they could push the Confederates up against the creeks and the bluffs.
The battle as a whole was a disastrous defeat for the Confederate States Army. The Confederate forces, who were without adequate supplies, especially food and forage, had been dwindling in numbers due to losses in previous smaller engagements during the campaign, overexertion, hunger and consequent straggling and desertion. At least one-fifth and perhaps as many as one-third of the remaining effective soldiers of the Confederate force, including several general officers, were lost at Sailor's Creek. Many were taken prisoner when large groups of the Confederates were surrounded or trapped in the unfavorable terrain. After some fierce fighting including hand-to-hand combat, in the evening of April 6, the Confederate generals whose units could not easily move away from the battlefield, mostly from the corps under the command of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, had to surrender their forces. Three days later General Lee, who had despairingly witnessed the surrender at Sailor's Creek from a bluff just west of the battlefield, concluded that the remaining depleted and surrounded Confederate units also had no choice but to surrender to avoid annihilation.
Captain Tom Custer, brother of Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer, received a second Medal of Honor in four days for his actions in this battle. This followed his first medal for actions at the Battle of Namozine Church on April 3, 1865.
- FORCES ENGAGED
- Total: 27,500
- TOTAL ESTIMATED CASUALTIES
- (Unknown) killed
- (Unknown) wounded
- (Unknown) missing & captured
- 1,150 total
- (Unknown) killed
- (Unknown) wounded
- 7,700 missing & captured
- 8,830 total
- Philip Sheridan
- Richard S. Ewell
- Union Victory