|After several days of secret preparation, Grant’s Federal Army of the Potomac headed for Petersburg, Virginia - while Lee mistakenly believed the Union troops were going to Richmond. Despite its initial success, the campaign was marred by a series of mistakes which prolonged the Civil War by several months.
On the evening of June 15, Union General W. F. (“Baldy”) Smith attacked P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate forces at Petersburg. Outnumbering Beauregard’s forces, Smith had the perfect opportunity to seize the city. However, he opted to cease fire and withdraw for the night.
The ensuing results were catastrophic for the Union. Beauregard seized the chance to recapture some of his positions at Petersburg, with the help of A.P. Hill and Richard Anderson. The combat became so fierce that the Union lost 632 lives out of a 900-man unit - the highest casualties of any Union regiment during a single Civil War battle. Three days later, Union General James Wilson destroyed portions of the railroad which led to Richmond, the Confederate capital. Hill’s soldiers moved in and almost had Wilson surrounded - but Wilson burned his wagons and fled to avoid capture.
After a series of skirmishes and ill-conceived maneuvers, the Union finally won Petersburg in March of 1865. By that time, the Civil War was already nearing its end.
Mort Künstler painted this scene, The Waiting War, which typifies the life of a soldier before the battle begins.