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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part X.A: Grant's Ninth and Final Offensive

The last of the major works in the Petersburg Canon is a very good one, Wilson Greene's Breaking the Back of the Rebellion.  I agree completely with Greene that the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2, 1865, was the decisive battle compelling the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg, not Five Forks on April 1.  I would have liked to see Greene point out that for Lee, the decisive battle was Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, where Pickett failed to evict Sheridan from that critical point.  If you don't think so, take a look at page 922 of The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee.  I've pointed this out in every book I've written on the Siege.  Problem was, Lee had superiors who appear to have dithered or required more convincing, so it took the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2 to end the Siege.

I would also have liked to see Greene explore the parallel between August 25, 1864, and April 2, 1865.  On both occasions, the Federals had forces in threatening positions, and Lee was marshaling his forces to attack them (Hancock in 1864 and Sheridan in 1865).  The difference was that Grant was sick in 1864 and well in 1865.  Meade defended passively in 1864 and Hancock was trounced at Second Reams Station.  Grant defended by attacking in 1865 and brought the Siege to an end.

Greene has a big canvas to fill, and provides solid background summary while getting to a more personal level with the Sixth Corps--a clever and economical strategy.  His judgments are sound and he has admirably dealt with the Siege's end.

But the Petersburg Canon is not finished!  My next and I think last entry on this subject will be Part X.B.