On April 6, 1865 the last major battle of the Civil War occurred in this area near a tributary of the Appomattox River called Little Sailor's Creek. The Battle of Sailor's Creek was actually comprised of several simultaneous actions at the Hillsman House, Holt's Corner, the Lockett House, Double Bridges and Marshall's Crossroads. Union Gen. Sheridan's cavalry attacked the Confederates on the hill across from Sailor's Creek near the Hillsman House. At Holt's corner Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army divided, with one division heading toward the Lockett House and the other toward the Hillsman House. The Union attacked the Confederate rear guard at the Lockett House, and one of Lee's divisions was attacked at Double Bridges while attempting to cross Sailor's Creek. At Marshall's Crossroads the Confederate infantry defended itself against the Union cavalry.

sailors creek battlefield artillery

Robert E. Lee's army was divided at Holt's Corner, a stop on the driving tour.

When it was over nearly one-quarter of Lee's army - almost 8,000 men including 8 Confederate generals - Robert E. Lee's son Custis Lee among them - were captured, surrendered or casualties of the battle. Lee admitted that "a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over." At the end of the day Union Gen. Sheridan advised President Lincoln that, "If the thing is pressed, I think that Lee will surrender." Lincoln responded, "Let the thing be pressed." Within a few days, a long tragic journey would come to an end at Appomattox.

Visiting the Sailors Creek Battlefield

Your best bet to tour the Battle of Sailor's Creek is to begin at the Sailor's Creek Battlefield State Park Visitor Center. The staffed visitor center houses a museum and gift shop, and the park offers hiking, picnicking and special events. From the visitor center, you can walk or drive approximately one mile to the Hillsman House, crossing Little Sailor's Creek along the way. There are also three hiking trails in the park - the Pickett Trail, Custis Lee Trail and Confederate Overlook Trail. All three trails are less than one mile round trip and consist of a mowed grass track on level or gently sloping terrain and feature interpretive signs and benches for relaxing and enjoying the views.

sailors creek battlefield artillery rocks

The Confederate Overlook Trail preserves the history of the clash between Union Gen. George A. Custer and Confederate Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw. The battle forced Confederate surrender, and while captive, the Union band played Dixie for the Confederates - perhaps out of respect for the soldiers whose final surrender was imminent. The following morning during their retreat, the Confederates responded by playing Bonnie Blue Flag followed by Rebel Yells.

A Driving Tour Loop for the Battles of Sailor's Creek brochure is available at the visitor center for the other sites associated with this battle. These include the first stop at the Hillsman House where heated battle forced Confederate surrender. The second stop is Holt's Corner where Robert E. Lee divided his army. The tour continues on to the historic Lockett House where bullet holes in the chimney attest to the fierce fighting of the day. The fourth stop, Double Bridges, is the site of Union attack on Confederate troops bogged down in the mud while crossing Sailors Creek. The last stop, Marshall's Crossroads, was the site of a cavalry battle that forced Confederate withdrawal.

sailors creek battlefield hillsman house sign

The Hillsman House served as a field hospital during the Battle of Sailor's Creek. The owner, James Hillsman, was a Confederate sharpshooter captured in Spotsylvania. His wife and family hid in the basement during the battle.

Visit Civil War Trust and Sailors Creek Battlefield State Park for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the very top: Union artillery placed at the Hillsman House bombarded the Confederates who had run out of ammunition during the battle.