Hillsman House, at Sayler's Creek Battlefield
Hillsman House, at Sayler's Creek Battlefield
Wikipedia - Source
License: Public Domain

Battle of Sayler's Creek

Other Names: Hillsman Farm, Lockett Farm

Location: Amelia County, Prince Edward County, and Nottoway County

Campaign: Appomattox Campaign (March-April 1865)

Date(s): April 6, 1865

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan [US]; Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell and Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon [CS]

Forces Engaged: Corps

Estimated Casualties: 9,980 total

Description: On April 6 at Sailor’s Creek, nearly one fourth of the retreating Confederate army was cut off by Sheridan’s Cavalry and elements of the II and VI Corps. Most surrendered, including Confederate generals Richard S. Ewell, Barton, Simms, Kershaw, Custis Lee, Dubose, Hunton, and Corse. This action was considered the death knell of the Confederate army. Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed “My God, has the army dissolved?”

Result(s): Union victory

CWSAC Reference #: VA093

Preservation Priority: II.2 (Class B)

The Battle of Sayler's Creek (also known as Sailor's Creek, Hillsman Farm, or Lockett Farm) was fought April 6, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, as part of the Appomattox Campaign, in the final days of the American Civil War.

Background

After Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant broke the Confederate defenses at the Siege of Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia began a retreat in hopes of linking up with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina.

Battle

On April 6 at Sayler's Creek, nearly one fourth of the retreating Confederate army was cut off by Union cavalry forces under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and elements of the II and VI Corps. Two Confederate divisions fought the VI Corps along the creek. The Confederates attacked but were driven back, where Union artillery deployed at the Hillsman Farm played a key role in their repulse. Soon after the Union cavalry cut through the right of the Confederate lines. Most Confederates surrendered, including generals Richard S. Ewell, Seth M. Barton, James P. Simms, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., Joseph B. Kershaw, Custis Lee (Robert E. Lee's son), Dudley M. Du Bose, Eppa Hunton, and Montgomery D. Corse. Also present at this battle was Confederate Commander John Randolph Tucker and his naval squadron (300–400 strong), and so sailors were fighting at Sayler's Creek. Farther away, II Corps pushed back John Brown Gordon, who had mistakenly been on a different road.

Aftermath

Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed in front of General Mahone, "My God, has the army dissolved?" to which he replied, "No, General, here are troops ready to do their duty." Touched by the faithful duty of his men, Lee told Mahone, "Yes, there are still some true men left ... Will you please keep those people back?"[3]

Naming the battle

The National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Virginia both use the more recent name "Sailor's Creek" for this battle, but the historic name was "Sayler's", presumably named for a local property owner. Many prominent Civil War historians (James M. McPherson, Shelby Foote, Bruce Catton, Douglas Southall Freeman, etc.) use the historic spelling. Published in the early 1900s, the New International Encyclopedia calls the battle "Sailor's Creek".

The Sayler's Creek Battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.