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[357] rarely realized it on the most favorable occasions, while this was one of the least so. Summing up these intervals of time, we have two hours to add to the time of General Grant's writing to General Sheridan. I venture to say it took nearly this time for the note itself to reach General Sheridan. Adding these two hours, would make it at least twelve o'clock before my two divisions could move. They then had four miles to traverse, taking the White Oak Road, before reaching the crossing of Gravelly Run, which would occupy till two A. M. They had then to cross the stream and strike the rear of the enemy opposed to General Sheridan, enumerated by him as follows:

The opposing forces was Pickett's division, Wise's independent brigade of infantry, and Fitz Hugh Lee's, Rossers', and W. H. Lee's cavalry commands. This force is too strong for us.

To join General Sheridan by midnight, on this route, I finally had to capture or destroy whatever of this force was between me and General Sheridan. Any expectations more unreasonable could not have been formed, nor would I attribute them to any one not wholly ignorant of the true state of the case.

In regard to intercepting the enemy, the facts show it was impossible under the circumstances. I learned from deserters that they had begun to move toward Five Forks as early as ten P. M. the night before, believing their position would be untenable the next morning. They had consequently withdrawn in the night, carrying off their wounded and leaving only a cavalry picket in General Sheridan's front, which, as General Ayres says, “hastily decamped” as he approached at daylight. It will be seen by a dispatch of General Meade to General Grant, dated six A. M. (given hereafter), that General Sheridan must have been aware of this withdrawal of the enemy early in the night.

While awaiting with General Griffin for instructions from General Sheridan, who had advanced with the cavalry toward Five Forks, I received, about 9.30 A. M., the following order, written by General Webb at six A. M.:

General Meade directs that, in the movements following your junction with General Sheridan, you will be under his orders, and will report to him. Please send a report of progress.

I sent the report of progress requested, which was in accordance with the facts herein-before given.

To show how General Meade was led to send me this order, I will give a copy of a dispatch from him to General Grant, written at six A. M., April 1, an official copy of which was furnished me:

The officer sent to General Sheridan, returned between two and three A. M., without any written communication, but giving General Sheridan's opinion that the enemy were retiring from his front. The absence of firing this morning would seem to confirm this. I was asleep at the time this officer returned, and did not get the information till just now. Should this prove true, Warren will be at or near Dinwiddie soon, with his whole corps, and will require further orders.

This dispatch also shows an important circumstance that affects the question of my ability to intercept the enemy. The officer that brought General Meade this information from General Sheridan, “between two and three A. M.,” could not have left General Sheridan less than two hours previous, the distance being about ten miles over the worst possible roads; so that General Sheridan thought the enemy was retiring as early, at least, as between twelve and one, and the information could scarce have reached General Sheridan, from his picket line, in less than one hour's time, so that the enemy's movements in retiring must have become apparent as early, at least, as between eleven and twelve. This confirms the reports deserters, in the morning, gave me, and which the completeness of the withdrawal sustains. Thus, at the very time of the night that General Sheridan thought the enemy retreating, I was impressed, by repeated dispatches from General Meade, that General Sheridan could not hold on without reinforcements, and I acted under that authority and belief.

The order from General Meade placing me under General Sheridan's orders, however, was not necessary for that purpose, as I should have obeyed any orders General Sheridan might give me, recognizing him as my superior army commander.

Battle of five Forks.

When I met General S., at about eleven A. M., his manner was cordial and friendly. I had never served with him before.

After talking with General Sheridan a short time, at the place I found him, while he was occasionally receiving reports from his cavalry, he mounted and rode off to the front. At one P. M. an officer brought to me an order to bring up the infantry. I at once dispatched Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Bankhead to give the orders to the division commanders to bring up their commands, specifying the order which I thought they could most rapidly move in. I then went up the Five Forks Road in advance of the infantry, to see General Sheridan, and to inform myself of the use to be made of my troops, so that no time would be lost on their arrival. General S. explained to me the state of affairs, and what his plan was for me to do. This I entered upon most cordially. General S. had placed an officer back on the road to mark the point where my command was to turn off. I then rode back to the point indicated, turned up the road which led by Gravelly Run Church, and examined the ground, and employed my escort, which had by this time rejoined me, to picket the front I was to take up, so as to prevent the enemy discovering the presence of my infantry.

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Philip H. Sheridan (21)
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