General Sheridan's order was to form the whole corps before advancing, so that all of it should move simultaneously. He especially stated that the formation was to be oblique to the road, with the right advanced, with two divisions in front, and the third in reserve behind the right division. The number of lines and consequent extent of front, he left me to decide. Upon examination, I determined on an equivalent of three lines of battle for each of the front divisions, arranged as follows: Each division was to place two brigades in front, each brigade in two lines of battle, and the third brigade in two lines of battle behind the centre of the two front lines. The third division to be posted in column of battalions in mass behind the right. To General Ayres I assigned my left, General Crawford my right, and General Griffin my reserve behind the right. In moving, they were instructed to keep close to the left, and to preserve their direction in the woods, by keeping the sun, then shining brightly, in the same position over their left shoulders. General Ayres placed the Maryland brigade on his left, in two lines, and General Gwin's brigade on his right; this last brigade was formed in three lines instead of two, as the regiments could not be so well disposed in two lines. General Winthrop's brigade, General Ayres formed as his reserve. General Crawford formed his lines so as to place Colonel Kellogg's brigade on his left, General Baxter's brigade on his right, and General Coulter's brigade as his reserve. The length of the front we occupied was about a thousand yards. The casualties of the three preceding days, together with the loss of those who had given out from weariness, or were absent on detached duty, had probably reduced our effective force at least a thousand men in each division below that with which we set out on the twenty-eighth, so that we had then present about twelve thousand men. While the troops were forming, I prepared the accompanying sketch, with explanations, for each division commander, and directed them, as far as time would permit, to explain it to the brigade commanders:
General Griffin, in his report, says the formation prior to the attack was as follows:April 1, 3 P M.The following is the movement now about to be executed:
The line will move forward as formed till it reaches the White Oak Road, when it will swing round to the left, perpendicular to the White Oak Road. General Merritt's and General Custer's cavalry will charge the enemy's line as soon as the infantry get engaged. The cavalry is on the left of the infantry, except McKenzie's, which is moving up the White Oak Road from the right.
Map showing five Forks.
The First division on the right flank formed in three lines, with one brigade on the right en echelon.I supplied General Griffin with the same sketch and plan of operations as I had General Ayres and General Crawford, in which I thought I indicated General Griffin's position in rear of the right. But the necessity for him to protect his own flank, and the wedge-like shape of the formation, as a whole, led General Griffin to regard his division as on the right. General Sheridan says, in his report, that he directed “one division to be formed in reserve opposite the centre.” This is a mistake; his order was to form it in rear of the right. The line was to be formed “obliquely to and at a point a short distance from the White Oak Road;” 1 this threw the right in the advance, and, it was supposed by him, would strike the enemy first and need the support. During the formation of my troops, I used all the exertions possible to hasten their arrival, and everything was so prepared for them, that they marched at once to their assigned position without a halt. General Sheridan expressed to me his apprehension that our cavalry, which continued to fire on the enemy, would use up all their ammunition before my troops would be ready. I informed him that they would not all be in position before four P. M., but that I was ready to