Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, USA
Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, CSA
Both sides deployed Corps for the battle.
The Union lost around 2,000 men, the Confederacy over 4,000.
In a last-gasp offensive, Gen. Robert E. Lee amassed nearly half of his army in an attempt to break through Grant's Petersburg defenses and threaten his supply depot at City Point. He knew that if he sat still, Grant would eventually crush the Army of Northern Virginia, and unexpected attacks had worked well against Union armies in the past.
Directed by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, the pre-dawn assault on March 25 overpowered the garrisons of Fort Stedman and Batteries X, XI, and XII. False 'deserters' had gone over during the night and at a signal they overpowered their guards. Carefully trained engineer parties cut through obstacles with axes, and storming parties overran Stedman and turned the guns around to widen the gap. But then things went wrong. The plan was to occupy a second line of forts, but in the dark nobody could find them ' because they didn't exist. They were remnants on the map of old outer defenses of Petersburg, and Gordon (relatively new to the area) had misinterpreted them. Also, three reinforcing columns got lost. Fort Haskell now was the bottleneck, and preliminary fire softened up Woerner's Battery, the main garrison. But they were still feisty, and canister fire shattered an infantry attack.
Union troops were responding; a charge by the 59th Massachusetts Veterans retook Battery XI. The 200th Pennsylvania attacked about 7am didn't gain ground, but did stop the Rebels surrounding Haskell. Then at 7:30 the 211th Pennsylvania, well supported, charged through and retook Fort Stedman. Many Confederates were cut off, and more than 1,900 captured. Lee, watching from Colquitt's Salient, at 8am ordered buglers to sound 'recall' and the cavalry (that were supposed to burst through to City Point) dispersed. But many men were pinned down in the Union crossfire and either hit or too scared to try and retreat.
During the day, elements of II and VI Corps assaulted and captured the entrenched Confederate picket lines in their respective fronts, which had been weakened for the assault on Fort Stedman. This was a devastating blow for Lee's army: not only had the sortie failed, but their defensive front was weakened as well. Lee lost about a fifth of the men available, and the whole thing didn't even draw in the reserve Union corps that Lincoln inspected later in the afternoon, about the same time there was a truce to retrieve the wounded.