The Danville Expedition of April and May 1865

A Scholarly Monograph by Christopher Calkins

— Out of Print —

17 September 1998

The Papers of the Blue and Gray Education Society, Number 8

Still Work to Be Done

The pursuit, confrontation, and surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia eliminated the Confederacy’s primary combat force; however, there were still small, dangerous collections of Confederate resistance left. General Joseph E. Johnston’s remnant of the Army of Tennessee was pinned down in the vicinity of Greensboro and Durham, North Carolina. Confederate President Jefferson Davis instructed his commanding generals to continue the resistance as he attempted to reconstitute his fleeing government. It was for this reason that Federal General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant ordered two Union corps from his army to move towards North Carolina just in case Major General William T. Sherman needed any help in subduing General Johnston’s army.

With the surrender and disbandment of Lee’s army at Appomattox, most of Grant’s soldiers probably felt their military service would soon be coming to an end. The Federals quickly moved back to staging areas near Burkeville railroad junction in anticipation of their discharges. This site was chosen because it was where the Richmond & Danville and South Side Railroads intersected and were an important logistics and supply base for the Federal authorities. A minimal number of soldiers were detailed to police the area around Appomattox for abandoned Confederate ordnance.

Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry had performed valuable service in the final stages of the siege of Petersburg and in the pursuit of Lee’s fleeing force. Grant may have been rewarding them for their service when he permitted them to leave Appomattox on April 10th prior to the formal surrender ceremony. Regardless of the reason, Sheridan’s hard ridden troopers were delighted to be going home.

The pace was leisurely and the route unthreatening. They rode by way of Walker’s Church (present day Hixburg) to Prospect Station where they camped for the night. The next day they proceeded through Prince Edward Court House (Worsham) en route to Rice’s Station. After passing Burkeville early the next morning, they reached Nottoway Court House by the early afternoon. Here the troopers dismounted and camped for a few days.

While at Nottoway Court House, the horses were groomed and grazed on the lush new spring growth. On April 17th they continued their journey, reaching the western edge of Petersburg where they again went into bivouac along the Cox Road.

With the arrest of Lee’s retreat, supporting Federal infantry arrived in the vicinity of Appomattox and took positions to ensure Lee’s surrounded army didn’t escape. One such force was Major General Horatio G. Wright’s Sixth Army Corps. They had marched behind Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’ Second Army Corps as it pursued Lee’s rearguard during April 8th-9th. A member of the Sixth Corps commented on their present situation, “I do not know what is going on at the front, as no one is allowed to visit the Rebel camps, but I am satisfied I have seed all the Rebels I want to see for my lifetime.”

With the surrender, the Second and Sixth Corps simply reversed their order of march. They were ordered to depart the area of Appomattox on April 11th. Wright’s Corps would now lead the column back to Burkeville. They elected to march via New Store, Curdsville, and finally through Farmville before going into bivouac five miles east of that tower. The next day they reached Burkeville.

The failure of Johnston to immediately follow Lee’s lead, the Lincoln assassination, and the problems with surrender negotiations created consternation in Washington D. C. In response, on April 22nd, General Grant ordered Major General Henry W. Halleck to “Move Sheridan with his cavalry toward Greensborough as soon as possible. I think it will be well to send one corps of infantry with the cavalry. The infantry need not go farther than Danville unless they receive orders hereafter.” Halleck immediately ordered Army of the Potomac commander, Major General George G. Meade to “put a corps of infantry at the disposition of General Sheridan.” Since the Sixth Corps had worked well with the cavalry commander the previous year in the Shenandoah Valley operations and they were on the line of march, Wright was assigned the task.

This monograph is out-of-print, but the entire text can be downloaded and printed at no charge as a pdf: The Danville Expedition of April and May 1865.

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