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.
After Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant broke the Confederate defenses at the Siege of Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia evacuated Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2–3 and began a retreat in hopes of linking up with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. As the Union Army pursued, and engaged the Confederates in the Battle of Namozine Church (April 3) and the Battle of Amelia Springs (April 5), Lee discovered that his route to Danville was blocked by fast-moving Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan. His only remaining option was to move west on a long march, without food, to Lynchburg. But the Confederate Commissary General promised Lee that he would send 80,000 rations to Farmville, 25 miles (40 km) to the west.
On April 6 at Sayler'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. Two Confederate divisions, led by Maj. Gens. Custis Lee and Joseph B. Kershaw, under the command of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, fought the VI Corps along the creek. VI Corps attacked after an artillery bombardment. The Confederates counter attacked but were driven back at last. Union artillery under Maj. Andrew Cowan 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 Ewell, Lee, Kershaw, Seth M. Barton, James P. Simms, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., Dudley M. Du Bose, Eppa Hunton, and Montgomery D. Corse. Col. Stapleton Crutchfield was killed leading a detachment of artillery personnel formerly in the defenses of Richmond. 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 Maj. Gen. John Brown Gordon, who had mistakenly been on a different road.
Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed in front of Maj. Gen. William 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?"
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.
- National Park Service battle description
- Freeman, Douglas S., Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (3 volumes), Scribners, 1946, ISBN 0-684-85979-3.
- Salmon, John S., The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide, Stackpole Books, 2001, ISBN 0-8117-2868-4.
- Salmon, p. 479.
- Salmon, p. 480.
- Freeman, vol. 3., p. 711.
- Animated History of the Siege of Petersburg and Surrender at Appomattox
- Battle of Sailor's Creek: Maps, Histories, Photos, and Preservation News, Civil War Preservation Trust
fr:Bataille de Sayler's Creek nl:Slag bij Sayler's Creek ja:セイラーズクリークの戦い pt:Batalha de Sayler's Creek