Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1865

Confederate forces attack Fort Stedman in final weeks of Civil War

On this day in 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee makes Fort Stedman his last attack of the war in a desperate attempt to break out of Petersburg, Virginia. The attack failed, and within a week Lee was evacuating his positions around Petersburg.

For nine months, Petersburg was under siege by the Army of the Potomac and the overall Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant. The two great armies had fought a bloody campaign in the spring of 1864, and then settled into trenches that eventually stretched for50 miles around Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Lee could not win this war of attrition, but his men held out through the winter of 1864 to 1865. Now, Lee realized the growing Yankee army could overwhelm his diminishing force when the spring brought better weather for an assault. He ordered General John B. Gordon to find a weak point in the Federal defenses and attack.

Gordon selected Fort Stedman, an earthen redoubt with a moat and 9-foot walls. Although imposing, Gordon believed it offered the greatest chance for success since it was located just 150 yards from the Confederate lines–the narrowest gap along the entire front. Early in the morning ofMarch 25, some 11,000 Rebels hurled themselves at the Union lines. They overwhelmed the surprised Yankees at Fort Stedman and captured 1,000 yards of trenches. After daylight, however, the Confederate momentum waned. Gordon’s men took up defensive positions, and Union reinforcements arrived to turn the tide. The Rebels were unable to hold the captured ground, and were driven back to their original position.

The Union lost around 1,000 men killed, wounded, and captured, whileLee lost probably three times that number, including some 1,500 captured during the retreat. Already outnumbered, these loses were more than Lee’s army could bear. Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that it would be impossible to maintain the Petersburg line much longer. On March 29, Grant began his offensive, and Petersburg fell on April 3. Two weeks after the Battle of Fort Stedman, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House,Virginia.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Last U.S. troops depart Somalia

At the end of a largely unsuccessful 15-month mission, the last U.S. troops depart Somalia, leaving 20,000 U.N. troops behind to keep the peace and facilitate “nation building” in the divided country. In 1992, civil war, clan-based fighting, and the worst African drought of the ...read more

The settlement of Maryland

The first colonists to Maryland arrive at St. Clement’s Island on Maryland’s western shore and found the settlement of St. Mary’s. In 1632, King Charles I of England granted a charter to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, yielding him proprietary rights to a region east of ...read more

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia assassinated

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, King Faisal is shot to death by his nephew, Prince Faisal. King Faisal, son of King Ibn Saud, fought in the military campaigns in the 1920s and ’30s that helped forge modern Saudi Arabia. He later served as Saudi ambassador to the United Nations and in ...read more

Yugoslavia joins the Axis Powers

On this day, Yugoslavia, despite an early declaration of neutrality, signs the Tripartite Pact, forming an alliance with Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan. A unified nation of Yugoslavia, an uneasy federation of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, was a response to the collapse of ...read more

Verdict is announced in Scottsboro case

The Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case of Powell v. Alabama. The case arose out of the infamous Scottsboro case. Nine young black men were arrested and accused of raping two white women on train in Alabama. The boys were fortunate to barely escaped a lynch mob sent ...read more

Soviets announce withdrawal from Iran

In conclusion to an extremely tense situation of the early Cold War, the Soviet Union announces that its troops in Iran will be withdrawn within six weeks. The Iranian crisis was one of the first tests of power between the United States and the Soviet Union in the postwar world. ...read more

Star driver Danica Patrick born

On this day in 1982, Danica Patrick, the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race, America’s top level of open-wheel racing, is born in Beloit, Wisconsin. Patrick became involved in racing as a young girl and as a teenager moved to England in pursuit of better training ...read more