On February 1, 1865, General Sherman marched his sixty thousand-man army northward out of Savannah, Georgia. His goal was to move all the way up the Atlantic coastline to Petersburg, Virginia, where Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) awaited his arrival.
Months earlier, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had been forced to retreat to Petersburg in order to prevent Grant's Army of the Potomac from capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond. Richmond received most of its food and supplies from railroads that passed through Petersburg, which is twenty-three miles south of the capital city. If those railways were captured, the capital would have to surrender or face starvation.
Lee's defense of Petersburg prevented the Army of the Potomac from swooping in and capturing Richmond. But Grant's decision to lay siege to Petersburg prevented the Confederate defenders from moving anywhere else for the rest of 1864. Grant's siege kept Lee's troops trapped in Petersburg for month after month, even as Union armies in the West carved up large sections of Confederate territory.
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