Petersburg, Virginia, was important strategically because it was the junction point of five railroads, which supplied Richmond (24 miles/39 km north) and the upper James River region. The first Union assault on the Petersburg defences was under General Benjamin Butler who led his army over the Appomattox River on 15 June. His army successfully drove back the 5,400 Confederate defenders who were under the command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Meanwhile, Confederate reinforcements under General Robert E. Lee were rapidly advancing from the north, while further Union Corps under Major General George G. Meade crossed the George Court House Rd and, on 16 June, succeeded in carrying a large section of the eastern defences of Petersburg. On 17 June, renewed assaults against the Confederates’ improvised breastworks failed to provide additional gains. On 18 June, Lee’s Northern Virginian army arrived and deflected further Union attacks. The battle ended in a Confederate victory and Meade ordered his men to dig in; the siege of Petersburg had begun.
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