Lee's attack was his last bold gamble for great stakes. Never one to submit tamely to even the most formidable odds, he sought in the surprise attack to cripple Grant's army so that the overwhelming spring attack the Federals were building up could not be launched.
Lee hoped that he could speed to North Carolina with part of the veterans, join General Johnston and crush Sherman while still holding his Richmond-Petersburg line. Had the attack gone as well in its latter stages as it did in the first onslaught, he would have been within range of City Point, only some ten miles away.
The wholesale destruction of the host of supply ships, mountains of stores, and vast arsenal would have ended Grant's plan for seizing Richmond that spring.