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March 1865

Lee’s Grand Offensive


Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia have held the defenses around Petersburg and Richmond with bulldog determination.  But, Ulysses Grant has exhibited equal resolution in capturing the Confederate capital and perhaps compelling the surrender of Lee’s army in their trenches.  By continually shifting his forces against the Confederate supply lines that keep the defenders fed and supported, Grant has presented Lee with few viable options.  Lee knows that Union forces under Philip H. Sheridan have dispersed the few remaining Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley and can add to Grant’s besieging forces.  The Southern commander is also concerned with the progress that William T. Sherman is making through the Carolinas and the likelihood that this major Union force will reach Petersburg and present him with an insurmountable challenge to his army’s survival.  Knowing that abandonment of the lines must occur if a dramatic turn of events cannot take place, General Lee orders Major General John B. Gordon (left) to capture Fort Stedman (right), located on the far right of Grant’s line.  A successful Confederate penetration here might require a constriction of the Federal positions and buy Lee and his men more time.  It is desperate measure to which General Lee is prepared to commit almost half of his army.

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