Union Forces Commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster
Confederate Forces Commanded by Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Harris
Conclusion: Union Victory
Encouraged by his victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered an assault all along the lines protecting Petersburg, and at 4:00 A.M. the next morning, 63,000 Union soldiers charged the 18,500 Confederate defenders in the muddy trenches. The attackers crashed through the entrenchments on the right of the Confederate lines and turned toward Petersburg.
The Confederate earthworks and defenders surrounding Petersburg had defied the Union Army of the Potomac for nearly 10 months, the siege of Petersburg was finally over. Gen. Robert E. Lee advised Pres. Jefferson Davis to evacuate Richmond and issued orders for the Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw. He was in desperate need of time to pull his army together and get them started on the road west- toward Appomattox Court House. Shielded by a heavy fog, the Federals launched a massive final assault on Fort Gregg at 4:40 A.M. on the 2nd.
The sparsely held Confederate lines collapsed under the onslaught. The Union IX Corps stormed over the lines along Jerusalem Plank Road. The VI Corps, in a relentless surge, crushed the works at Fort Fisher, wheeled to the left, and rolled up the Confederate defenders to Hatcher's Run. There, the Confederate lines vanished under an overwhelming attack by 2 divisions of the XXIV Corps, which then turned, charging down the Boydton Plank Road, across the front of the VI Corps, toward Forts Gregg and Baldwin.
Near noon, the Union assault wave lapped against Fort Gregg. With the collapse of the western lines, Lee notified authorities in Richmond that Petersburg would be evacuated that night, ordered a new temporary line rapidly built to guard the avenues of retreat, and shifted troops to danger spots. Lee needed time to extricate his army safely, and that task fell to the defenders at Fort Gregg, the crucial hinge in the now beleaguered Confederate line.
Barely 500 Confederate defenders and some artillery, belonging to Brig. Gens. Robert S. Foster and John W. Turner assailed the fort. The proud Confederates repulsed the attack, then another, and still one more. Three successive attacks were repulsed before the Union troops, on the strength of sheer numbers, breached the parapets and swarmed into the fort. The muzzles of the Confederate rifles and cannon sizzled from the heat. Wounded Confederates loaded rifles, passing them with bloody hands to the unhurt defenders. The Federals finally found an uncompleted ditch that led into the fort. Surging over the parapet, the Federals engulfed the garrison. The fighting continued hand-to-hand inside the fort for 25 minutes until the Confederates were overwhelmed and there were only 30 defenders left standing to be captured. The battle lasted less than 2 hours, but the gallant defense bought the time Lee needed.
The victorious Federals, suffering 714 casualties, counted 57 dead Confederates, 129 wounded prisoners, and 30 who were unhurt. The fighting spirit of Lee's veterans once more bought their commanders precious time. When the fort fell, a new Confederate line to the rear was finished. The Confederate army abandoned Petersburg under the cover of night.