The Siege of Petersburg, Virginia: June 1864 to March 1865
"...A mere question of time." - R. E. Lee

Petersburg - Remains of a Confederate Fort

The Army of the Potomac's campaign of 1864 began in early May. By early to mid June, they had lost about 60,000 men, a number equivalent to that of General Lee's entire Army at the beginning of the Campaign. Although a desperate time of near non-stop savagery, the Army of Northern Virginia remained confident. In his writings about his father, Captain Robert E. Lee would document Colonel Walter Taylor's perspective on the current situation. "Soon after this, he (Grant) abandoned his chosen line of operations, and moved his army to the south side of the James River. The struggle from Wilderness to this point covers a period of about one month, during which time there had been an almost daily encounter of hostile arms, and the Army of Northern Virginia had placed hors de combat of the army under General Grant a number equal to its entire numerical strength at the commencement of the campaign, and, notwithstanding its own heavy losses and the reinforcements received by the enemy, still presented an impregnable front to its opponent, and constituted and insuperable barrier to General Grant's 'On to Richmond.' "

Captain Lee would continue, "Thus after thirty days of marching, starving, fighting, and with a loss of more than sixty thousand men, General Grant reached the James River, near Petersburg, which he could have done at any time he so desired without the loss of a single man. The baffling of our determined foe so successfully raised the spirits of our rank and file, and their confidence in their commander knew no bounds." [52]

Despite the Confederates' confidence and successes with frustrating the Army of the Potomac, it was this situation that General Lee feared most, a concern he expressed in the weeks prior to Petersburg. In the book, "Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee", the Reverend J. William Jones, a former Chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia, noted that General stated, "We must destroy this army of Grant's before he gets to the James River. If he gets there, it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time." Despite several fierce clashes, the Confederates held their lines outside of Petersburg. And so, with few other options, General Grant set the stage for the siege Lee feared.