The Petersburg Campaign: The Opposing Armies

This entry is part 3 of 21 in the series Petersburg Campaign

At the start of the Petersburg Campaign the opposing armies consisted of the following formations.

General George Gordon MeadeThe Federal force included the Army of the Potomac commanded by Maj. Gen. George Meade and the Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-chief of the Federal armies was in overall command of all Federal forces.

The Army of the Potomac was composed of 5 corps:

  • II, commanded by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, with three infantry divisions;
  • V, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, with four infantry divisions;
  • VI, commanded by Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, with three infantry divisions. This corps was detached for service in the Shenandoah Valley from mid-July 1864 until mid-March 1865;
  • IX, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, with four infantry divisions. Following the Battle of the Crater Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke;
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, with three divisions. This corps was detached for service in the Shenandoah Valley from mid-July 1864 until mid-March 1865.

The Army of the James was also composed of 5 corps:

  • X, commanded by Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore who was replaced  by Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, with two infantry divisions;
  • XVIII, commanded by Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith, with three infantry divisions;
  • XXIV, commanded by Maj. Gen. Edward O.C. Ord, with three infantry divisions;
  • XXV, commanded by Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, with three divisions;
  • Cavalry Corp, commanded by Brig. Gen. August Kautz. Kautz’s unit actually started the campaign as a division with two brigades.

On December 3, 1864, the racially integrated X Corps and XVIII Corps were reorganized to become the all-white XXIV Corps and the all-black (officers excepted) XXV Corps.

The Confederate forces during the Petersburg Campaign were under the overall command of General Robert E. Lee. Lee was the preeminent commander on the Confederate side. During the Petersburg Campaign he initially commanded the Army of Northern Virginia with four corps andGeneral Robert E. Lee scattered forces around Richmond that numbered about 10,000 men. The Army of Northern Virginia consisted of:

  • First, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, with three infantry divisions. In October Lt. Gen. James Longstreet resumed command of this unit with Anderson taking command of the newly-created Fourth Corps;
  • Second, commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early. This corps was detached for operations in the Shenandoah Valley and took no part in the siege.
  • Third Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, with three infantry divisions;
  • Fourth, formed in October 1864 and commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard H. Anderson. It consisted of 2-3 divisions of between 9-13 brigades.
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, with two divisions.

General P.G.T. Beauregard commanded the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia which had four depleted divisions which were later reorganized into two stronger divisions.

Artillery Information

Both armies had large numbers of artillery which were organized into batteries that were attached to the various divisions. On the Federal side each corps had varied headquarters troops of signal corps troops, provost guards (military police), engineers and artillery.

The number of guns per battery varied during the war. On the Federal side there were six guns per battery at the beginning of the conflict by 1864 that had been reduced to four guns due to a shortage of horses. The Confederate artillery was organized along similar lines.

The Dictator MortarAs the battle settled into a siege, artillery became a major factor for both sides with constant bombardment from bigger artillery pieces. Both sides used a wide range of types of artillery.

Civil War artillery guns fell into four general categories:

  • Guns were long-barreled, heavy weapons which fired solid shot at long range with a low degree of elevation using a large powder charge. Both sides used a wide variety of guns that were smoothbore or rifled. As the war went on many of the smoothbores were re-rifled for greater range.
  • Howitzers had a shorter barrel and could throw shots or shells at a shorter range but at higher elevation with smaller powder charges.
  • Mortars were high arc artillery that could throw a heavy shell for greater distances with a smaller charge. At Petersburg the Federals had a 13-inch mortar called “The Dictator” that could fire a 200 lb. projective 2 ½ miles. To accommodate its 17,000 lb. weight it was mounted on a flat bed rail car.
  • Columbiards were classified as seacoast defense artillery and were mounted in fixed positions. They were heavy iron artillery pieces which could fire shot and shell at a high angle of elevation using a heavy powder charge.

Artillery ammunition fell into four categories:

  • Solid shot was used against soldiers and enemy artillery.
  • Shell ammunition was filled with black powder and fused.
  • Case shot was similar to shells but with the addition of small iron balls. This type of ammunition was used against soldiers.
  • Canister ammunition was simply a tin can filled with iron balls and other pieces of scrap metal. When it was fired it acted like a shotgun shell and caused incredible damage at close range.

Despite all of this it is believed that 90% of the casualties in the Civil War were caused by rifle fire.

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