By the end of March, Northern military actions and occupations had reduced the Confederacy to tatters. The only remaining Confederate army of any significance was Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, numbering fewer than fifty thousand troops. But it remained trapped in Petersburg, surrounded by an army more than twice its size.
Lee recognized that his army would be destroyed if it remained in Petersburg. Sherman's army was drawing ever closer. The Confederate gen eral knew that the addition of those eighty thousand troops to Grant's Army of the Potomac would make his foe even more powerful. Reviewing the situation, Lee decided to strike before Sherman arrived. On March 25, he ordered a desperate attack on Fort Stedman, a Union position outside of Petersburg. He hoped to punch a hole through Grant's line so that he could escape Petersburg and join forces with Johnston's small army to the south.
The Army of Northern Virginia fought valiantly, but Grant's forces pushed back the assault. As Lee's weary soldiers retreated back to their former positions, Grant decided to launch a strike of his own. On April 1, twelve thousand Federal troops led by General Sheridan defeated a small rebel force commanded by George Pickett (1825-1875) at a place called Five Forks, fifteen miles west of Petersburg. Sheridan's victory enabled the North to seize the last remaining railway line that had been providing supplies to Petersburg and Richmond.
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