Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry divisions routed a Confederate position held by Gen. George Pickett on April 1 at Five Forks, Virginia, in the last major battle of the Civil War. Having turned the Confederate right flank, the Union commander Ulysses Grant ordered an attack on the center at Petersburg for the next morning.
Powerless before Grant’s immense army, Lee fled and informed Jefferson Davis that his government would have to abandon Richmond. Federal troops entered the Confederate capital on April 3, and President Lincoln visited the next day, displaying boyish pleasure as he sat in Davis’s chair.
Lee hoped to march south to join Joe Johnston in North Carolina, but Sheridan forced him westward through days and nights of helter-skelter fighting until his weary men came to rest finally at a small town called Appomattox Courthouse. “Now smash ‘em, I tell you, smash ‘em,” exhorted Sheridan, eager to finish the job. On April 9, as Grant prepared for one final crippling assault, a lone horseman emerged from the Rebel lines, a white flag waving from the staff he carried. The field of battle went silent as Grant and Lee arranged the terms of surrender. North and South, nearly four hundred thousand American soldiers had lost their lives in four years of war. Now it was over.
∗President Abraham Lincoln was mortally wounded at Ford’s Theater in Washington on April 14 by the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died at 7:22 the next morning in a nearby boardinghouse. Andrew Johnson took the presidential oath of office three hours later.