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Doc. 40.-the battle of five Forks, Va.

Major-General Warren's account.1


The confidence shown by the Commander-in-Chief in selecting me for the command of the Department of Mississippi, then the theatre of actual warfare, immediately after the battle of Five Forks, I deemed a thorough vindication of my conduct on that memorable occasion.

I felt, though denied the official investigation which I had applied for, that I could leave my justification before the public to the ultimate publication of the official reports. I trusted, too, that General Sheridan's report would do me justice, and that he could not fail in it to acknowledge that his treatment of me was hasty and based on erroneous impressions. The publication of this report, dated May 16, in the Official Gazette, disappointed this hope, for therein, as far as mention is made of me, it is in terms of disparagement, and in efforts to justify his inconsiderate action.

After this publication I thought the investigation I sought could not long be denied, and I have remained silent till now, fully believing an impartial investigation would relieve me of the imputations of General Sheridan, and place just censure on those by whom I have been wronged.

To bring my professional grievances before the public is a thing from which I have shrunk, and I do not do so now from any love of controversy. If circumstances were different I should be glad to avoid it; but the facts being little known and understood, and there being many misrepresentations, I am under this necessity. I have, therefore, prepared the following narrative of facts in much detail, so that each one can examine and judge for himself, as, I presume, all fair-minded men, whose time will permit, will gladly do. [347]

In the report2 of General Sheridan there are three imputations against me — the first of which is vaguely made, in the following:

Had General Warren moved according to the expectations of the Lieutenant-General, there would appear to have been but little chance for the escape of the enemy's infantry in front of Dinwiddie C. H.

If such expectations were formed, they were not reasonable, according to the facts. I acted during the night under orders from General Meade, which, with my dispatches to him, and other facts, will be given. It will appear that the enemy held all the roads necessary for his. escape; that he withdrew from General Sheridan's front to Five Forks early in the night, and that the swollen state of Gravelly Run and a broken bridge prevented my troops from reaching General Sheridan till daybreak. It also will appear that the tenor of my orders from General Meade were, not that I was to prevent the escape of the enemy, but to use every exertion to succor General Sheridan, who could “not maintain himself at Dinwiddie C. H. without reinforcements.” My dispatches show that it was my own suggestion to attempt to intercept the enemy if he remained in General Sheridan's front, and not fall back, as I was at first ordered.

The second imputation is contained in the following:

General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.

The facts of the movements of the troops in coming up to this point are all given in the statements of Brevet Brigadier-General Bank-head, who carried my order to the troops to move up while I rode forward to examine the ground on which they were to form; and in the letters of Generals Crawford, Griffin, and Ayres, who commanded my three divisions. I present them here in their proper place in the narrative, and they are conclusive that I and my troops exerted ourselves to form for the attack as rapidly as possible.

While the troops were forming I told General Sheridan it would occupy till four P. M., at which time they were formed, and at which time the sun was two and a half hours high. Certainly I could not have expected the sun to go down before the “dispositions for the attack could be completed,” nor have given him reason to think I wished it. I had at the time confidence in the success of our proposed attack, and the kindest feelings toward General Sheridan under whom I was glad to serve. I am utterly at a loss to account for the misapprehension he labored under in imputing such baseness to me, and I trust my conduct throughout the war has shown to those by whom I am best known that I am incapable of it.

The third imputation is contained in the following:

During this engagement portions of his line gave way when not exposed to a heavy fire, and simply from want of confidence on the part of the troops, which General Warren did not exert himself to inspire.

I had, at the time of the engagement, to control the movements of an entire corps d'armee, fighting and changing front as it advanced through the forests. It is clearly a case for the exercise of a corps commander's judgment, how far he shall at any time give his personal efforts to the general control of his corps, or assist his subordinate commanders in their commands, and whether he shall use his staff and himself to rally troops who break under a not very severe fire, from want of confidence, or to so direct other portions of his command as to thereby remedy the evil which this giving way produced. Whatever is vital to the success of the whole is the thing deserving the corps commander's attention, and to that, throughout, I gave mine. On account of the forest, General Sheridan saw but one flank of the operations of my command, and was no further cognizant of my exertions. He saw nothing of the fighting of General Crawford's division, which suffered more from the enemy's fire than any other. There was no part of my command that did not witness my exertions at one time or another, and my horse was fatally shot close to the enemy's breast-works. To those who served under me I refer for proof of my exertions, and, as they represent every section of our country, any one who wishes can verify my assertion by those around him.

If General Sheridan had stated which of my troops misbehaved for want of my presence, I could bring the evidence of their commander to bear in my defence. But how this exertion could have been specially required of me I am at loss to understand; for he says himself, “I cannot speak too highly of the troops in this battle and the gallantry of their commanders.”

The duty of every soldier to obey has its correlative which entitles him to the protection of those under whom he serves, and this I have been denied.

General Sheridan says:

I therefore relieved him from the command of the Fifth corps, authority for this action having been sent to me before the battle, unsolicited.

From the time that authority reached him he, apparently, sought occasion to use it. I say this with regret; but the tone of the report toward me, and his hasty action, indicate that it was so. If a victory won by my command, under my direction, could not gain me credit, where the plans made were, as he says, “successfully executed,” and where my efforts and directions were known to almost every one, then nothing could.

General Grant, while giving the above authority to General Sheridan, had never signified to me, in the remotest manner, any dissatisfaction [348] with me. I had had no direct official relations with him. My instructions all came through General Meade, and to him all my reports were made. If General Grant had ever expressed himself displeased with me to General Meade, the latter had kept it from me; and he ever showed, by intrusting to me the advance of the army on many vital occasions, and often by sending me on detached expeditions, the highest confidence in me, and this is well known.

I shall further reply to the imputations of General Sheridan while giving the narration of the events to which they relate, which narration, I hope, will possess an interest of its own, independent of its defence of me.


In order to introduce the battle of Five Forks intelligently, I will first describe the previous operations of March twenty-ninth, thirtieth, and thirty-first, and shall do so but briefly, in order to confine attention particularly to the first of April and the orders of the night before.

My command, on March twenty-ninth, consisted of General Crawford's division, five thousand two hundred and fifty strong; General Griffin's division, six thousand one hundred and eighty strong; and General Ayres' division, three thousand nine hundred and eighty strong. I took with me, as directed, only five four-gun batteries, under General Wainwright. I had no cavalry, except an escort of forty men, under Captain Horrell.

All the cavalry of the army, except headquarter escorts, was with General Sheridan, whose operations were to be so distinct from mine that I was ordered to act entirely independent of any protection he could give my flanks. My position throughout was on the left flank of the infantry and artillery, army of General Meade.

To facilitate the understanding of the subject, I have added to my narrative a reliable map, on a scale of one mile to an inch. The region represented is of the character common in Virginia, level, much covered with thick and tangled woods, and well watered by numerous small, swampy streams. The soil was clayey or sandy, which, when commingled in wet places, partakes of the nature of “quick-sand,” and where, up-heaved by the winter frosts that now had left it, presented little less support to wheels or hoofs than would a bank of snow.

I enumerate here the officers of my staff, not merely because it is due to them whenever the operations of the Fifth army corps are considered, but also to point out those to whom any one can specially refer for the correctness of what I write. This staff has probably had as much experience in the actual warfare as any other that could be named. It consisted of Colonel H. C. Bankhead, Inspector-General, and Major Wm. T. Gentry, Commissary of Musters, both graduates of the United States Military Academy; of Colonel F. T. Locke, Adjutant-General, which position he had held from the organization of the corps, in May, 1862; of Colonel A. L. Thomas, Chief Quartermaster; of Colonel D. L. Smith, Chief Commissary of Subsistence; of Colonel T. R. Spencer, Medical Director; of Dr. Chas. K. Winne, Medical Inspector; of Captain Malvern, Chief Ambulance Officer; and of Captain G. B. Halstead, Assistant Adjutant-General. To these, for the time, was added Captain Wm. H. H. Benyaurd, of the Regular Engineers, detached from General Meade's staff to accompany me, and who gave me most important assistance, as also did Major Van Bokkelen, of the Volunteer Engineer Brigade, who joined us with a light canvas pontoon train. My personal aides-de-camp were Major E. B. Cope, a most valuable topographical officer; Captain James S. Wadsworth, son of the lamented General James S. Wadsworth; and Captain Gordon Winslow, son of the like lamented Rev. Gordon Winslow.

Battle of Quaker road.

We left our camp, in rear of the lines at Petersburg, at three A. M., on March twenty-ninth. We moved south, across Rowanty Creek, below the junction of Gravelly and Hatcher's Runs, took the road thence to Dinwiddie Court House, as far as the Quaker Road, then turned up this latter, and crossed Gravelly Run.

A sharp engagement took place between a division of the enemy and my advance, consisting of General Griffin's division, at the Old Saw-Mill site, in which General Griffin drove the enemy back to the junction of the Quaker Road and Boydton Plank-road, inflicting upon them a severe loss, and losing himself three hundred and sixty-seven killed and wounded.

It commenced raining in the night, and continued to rain heavily all day on the thirtieth. During this day, General Griffin's line was advanced, with heavy skirmishing up the Boydton Plank-road, so as to confine the enemy, near Burgess' Mill, to his breastworks along the White Oak Road. A reconnoissance by General Ayres' division was also made, as far west as where the enemy's line along the White Oak Road turned northward to Hatcher's Run, and our picket line was established near the White Oak Road. Finding, on personal examination, that, though we could see the road, our pickets did not occupy it, I directed this occupation to be made that evening.

Battle of White Oak Ridge.

Toward daylight on March 31, General Griffin's division was relieved by a portion of the Second army corps. At 7.35 A. M., in answer to a dispatch of General Webb, requesting to be informed of the location of my troops, I sent the following:

General Griffin's troops will be massed near Mrs. Butler's; General Ayres' near S. Dabney's; General Crawford's about half-way between. They are along a wood-road running from near Mrs. Butler's to W. Dabney's, on the White Oak Road. It is not practicable now for wheels, and there is a very difficult branch of Gravelly Run [349]

Map of the battle-field of five Forks, Va. April 1st, 1865, and o f the field of operation preliminary to it, showing the operations of the Fifth army corps.

[350] that runs south from the White Oak Ridge, joining the stream at the crossing of the Plank-road, which will take a long time to make practicable for wagons. I have all the pioneers I can spare at work on it. I will send you a sketch.

It must be noticed here that, at this time, we were quite ignorant of the country I was operating in, and the following corrections are now necessary in the above dispatch. The place “S. Dabney's” did not exist, though on our printed maps. The place taken for S. Dabney's is marked on the map “unknown.” The road, instead of joining the White Oak Road at W. Dabney's, does so near “Butler's.” General Griffin's division was just north of Mrs. Butler's, but this name was given to indicate the approximate location on the map.

The space occupied by the troops extended but little beyond a mile. General Crawford's division was in juxtaposition with General Ayres', and massed ready to fight in any direction. General Ayres was cautioned to be prepared to meet the enemy's attack both from the north and west, and reconnoissances were being made to gain a full knowledge of the country.

At 8.40 A. M., I received the following dispatch from General Webb:

There is firing along General Humphreys' front. The Major-General commanding desires you to be ready to send your reserve, if it should be called for, to support General Humphreys. There will be no movement of troops to-day.

To this I at once sent the following reply:

Your dispatch of 8.25 A. M. is just received. There is a good deal of musketry firing going on in our lines, by the men firing off their guns to put in fresh loads. Unless I break loose entirely from General Humphreys, I think the force he sent to relieve General Griffin is much more than, under any circumstances, would be needed there. My troops are, however, at all times as ready to move as it is possible to keep them for a long time. If the enemy break General Humphrey's line at any time, or threaten to do so, I shall not wait for orders to assist him, if I can.

At 8.50 A. M., I received the following from General Humphreys:

Please let me know where your right will rest, that I may connect with you? General Miles has relieved General Griffin, and I find a vacant space on his left.

To this I at once replied as follows:

I send you a sketch of the country west of the Plank-road, and a copy of my communication to General Webb, as to my position. I cannot take up any regular line of battle on account of the woods and swamps, but have assembled each division at a point, so they can fight in any direction. I had a brigade of General Griffin's and a battery stationed at Stroud's, for support. I don't think your left could be turned (even if I moved away), without having full information. But as my troops now are, I could move Griffin right up on your flank along with my artillery. I shall work hard all day to get the road through the woods in order.

At 8.55 A. M., I received the following from General Webb:

Owing to the weather, no change will to-day be made in the present position of the troops. Three days rations of subsistence and forage will be brought up and issued to the troops, and the artillery and wagons authorized to accompany them. The empty supply wagons will be sent to the rear, to be refilled at the railroad terminus. The Chief Engineer and Corps Commanders will use every exertion to make practicable the roads to the rear and communications with their several commands.

At 9.40 A. M., I sent the following dispatch to General Webb:

“I have just received a report from General Ayres that the enemy have their pickets still this side of the White Oak Road, so that their communication is continuous along it. I have sent out word to him to try and drive them off, or develop with what force the road is held by them.” This operation I deem essentially necessary to the security of our own position, and I directed General Ayres to use a brigade, if necessary, the distance being but a few hundred yards. In answer to it I received the following dispatch from General Webb, written 10.30 A. M.: “Your dispatch, giving General Ayres' position, is received: ‘General Meade directs that should you determine, by your reconnoissance, that you can get possession of the White Oak Road, you are to do so, notwithstanding the orders to suspend operations.’ ” 3

General Winthrop, with his brigade of General Ayres' division, advanced accordingly about 10 1/2 A. M., and was repulsed, and simultaneously an attack, which had been preparing against General Ayres, was made by the enemy in heavy force, both from the north and west, and General Ayres' division was forced back. General Ayres did all that was in his power to stay the enemy. I hastened toward the point of attack; but on arriving near General Crawford's division, it was also falling back, and all our efforts to hold the men in the woods were unavailing. General Griffin's line was then formed along the east bank of the branch of Gravelly Run, with Mink's battery on his right, and after some [351] severe fighting the enemy was stopped. Generals Crawford and Ayres re-formed their troops behind this line. Information of these events was sent to General Humphreys early in their occurrence,and he sent General Miles' division to close the space between his left and General Griffin's right. One brigade of this, also, advanced to the attack of the enemy, but was at first driven back.

At 1 P. M., I made the following report to General Webb:

General Ayres made an advance with a small force at 10 A. M., which the enemy drove back and followed up in heavy force, compelling both Ayres and Crawford to fall back on Griffin, and, of course, in much confusion. Griffin's troops held the enemy at the Run west of the Plank-road. General Miles' division4 afterward attacked the enemy and were forced back on my right. My skirmish line in front of Griffin (most of it) has advanced on my left.

I am going to send forward a brigade, supported by all I can get of Crawford's and Ayres' divisions, and attack, swinging on our right. Arrangements are being made for this, and it will take place about 1.45 P. M., if the enemy does not attack sooner.

Owing to some difficulties in crossing the Run, this advance which was thus made with the whole available corps, took place a little after the time specified above. General Humphrey's division, under General Miles, also advanced against the enemy about the same period on our right, but the movement was not made in close connection with mine. It is my intention to enter more into details when I receive the official reports of my division commanders.

At 3.40 P. M., I wrote, from the White Oak Road, the following dispatch to General Webb:

We have driven the enemy, I think, into his breastworks. The prisoners report General Lee here to-day, and also that their breastworks are filled with troops. We have prisoners from a portion of Pickett's and Johnson's divisions.

General Chamberlain's brigade acted with much gallantry in their advance, capturing nearly the entire Fifty-sixth Virginia regiment, with its flags.

We met with but little opposition in this advance, so that only this one brigade was earnestly engaged.

The loss to the corps, in killed and wounded, from the morning of March 29th to the close of the battle of White Oak Ridge, was eighteen hundred, and included several distinguished soldiers.

Operations to succor General Sheridan.

Thus far my operations were independent of those of General Sheridan, but at this point they came into direct relation to him, and the narrative will be given in more detail. It must be borne in mind, however, that I acted under General Meade's orders till daybreak of the morning of April 1.

About 5 P. M., March 31, while on the White Oak Road, I received the following from General Webb, chief of staff:

Secure your position, and protect, as well as possible, your left flank. Word has been sent to Sheridan, and it is believed that Sheridan is pushing up. General Humphreys will be ordered to push up and to connect with your right. You might, if you think it worth while, push a small force down the White Oak Road, and try to communicate with Sheridan, but they must take care not to fire into his advance.

The rattle of musketry could now be heard south-west from us, which seemed to us to be receding, and which led us to think the enemy was driving our cavalry. I then ordered General Griffin to send General Bartlett, with his brigade, directly across the country, so as to attack the enemy on the flank, and I sent Major Cope, of my staff, with him. At 5.15 P. M. I received the following from General Webb, which directed what before had only been suggested:

The Major-General commanding directs that you push a brigade down the White Oak Road to open it for General Sheridan, and support the same if necessary. The firing is so near that the General presumes that the command will not have far to go. The distance you will push out must depend on the circumstances of the movement and the support you can give them.

Thus, at the time when to General Meade it seemed “the firing is so near,” it plainly sounded to us more and more distant, indicating that our cavalry was falling back, of which I soon had confirmation.

At 5.50 P. M., I sent the following to General Webb:

I have just seen an officer and a sergeant from General Sheridan's command, who were cut off in an attack by the enemy and escaped. From what they say, our cavalry was attacked about noon by cavalry and infantry, and rapidly driven back, two divisions-Crook's and Deven's — being engaged. The firing seemed to recede from me toward Dinwiddie C. H. I have sent General Bartlett and my escort in that direction, but I think they cannot be in time. I hear cannonading that I think is from near Dinwiddie C. H.

About 6.30 P. M., I received the following from General Webb:

A staff officer of General Merritt's has made a report that the enemy has penetrated between Sheridan's main command and your position — this is a portion of Pickett's division. Let the force ordered to move out the White Oak Road move down the Boydton Plank-road as promptly as possible.

The force I sent under General Bartlett had now been gone an hour, and to recall it would have required two hours at least for it to reach the Boydton Plank-road, and make it too late for use before dark. My artillery had all been left on the Boydton Plank-road on account of the mud, which had compelled me to do so, and General Griffin had left General Pearson there, with three regiments of infantry [352] of General Bartlett's brigade to support it. I, therefore, sent the following dispatch to General Webb, at 6.30 P. M., which explained what I did:

I have ordered General Pearson, with three regiments that are now on the Plank-road, right down toward Dinwiddie C. H. I will let Bartlett work and report result, as it is too late to stop him.

It was then nearly dark.

Having previously reconnoitred the enemy's breastworks on the White Oak Road, I added the following, concerning them, to my dispatch of 6.30 P. M.:

We can see the enemy's breastworks for two miles east along the White Oak Road. If they are well manned they cannot be carried. I am within two hundred yards of where they turn off northward from the White Oak Road.

I then gave directions to secure the position we had gained by intrenching, and proceeded, with my staff, back about two miles to the Boydton Plank-road, at which place I could communicate by telegraph with General Meade during the night. General Meade's headquarters were distant four and a half miles, being near where the Vaughan Road crosses Hatcher's Run. General Grant's were near Dabney's Mill, about four miles from me. General Sheridan's at Dinwiddie C. H., distant five and a half miles, and separated from me by a stream not fordable for infantry where it crossed the Boydton Plank-road, and the bridge was broken down. General Grant and General Meade were about ten miles from General Sheridan.

At eight P. M., I received the following dispatch from General Meade, written 7.30 P. M.:

Dispatch from General Sheridan says he was forced back to Dinwiddie C. H. by a strong force of cavalry supported by infantry. This leaves your rear and that of the Second corps on Boydton Plank-road open, and will require great vigilance on your part. If you have sent the brigade down the Boydton Plank-road, it should not go farther than Gravelly Run, as I don't think it will render any service but to protect your rear.

General Pearson had been compelled to stop at Gravelly Run on account of the swollen stream and broken bridge.

At 8.20 P. M., I wrote to General Webb:

I sent General Bartlett out on the road running from the White Oak Road and left him there. He is nearly down to the crossing of Gravelly Run. This will prevent the enemy communicating by that road to night. I have about two regiments and the artillery to hold the Plank-road toward Dinwiddie C. H. It seems to me the enemy cannot remain between me and Dinwiddie C. H. if Sheridan keeps fighting them, and I believe they will have to fall back to the Five Forks. If I have to move to-night I shall leave a good many men who have lost their way. Does General Sheridan still hold Dinwiddie C. H.?

At 8.40 P. M., I received, by telegraph, the following, marked confidential, from General Webb:

The probability is that we will have to contract our lines to-night. You will be required to hold, if possible, the Boydton Plank-road and to Gravelly RunHumphreys and Ord along the Run. Be prepared to do this at short notice.

I regretted exceedingly to see this step foreshadowed, for I feared it would have the “morale” of giving a failure to our whole movement, as similar orders had done on previous occasions. It would, besides, relieve the enemy in front of General Sheridan from the threatening attitude which my position gave me, and I therefore sent the following, by telegraph, at 8.40 P. M., to General Webb:

The line along the Plank-road is very strong. One division, with my artillery, I think, can hold it, if we are not threatened south of Gravelly Run, east of the Plank-road. General Humphreys and my batteries, I think, could hold this securely, and let me move down and attack the enemy at Dinwiddie C. H. on one side, and Sheridan on the other. On account of Bartlett's position they (the enemy) will have to make a considerable detour to reinforce their troops at that point from the north. Unless General Sheridan has been too badly handled, I think we have a chance for an open field fight that should be made use of.

My object was not effected at once, for at 9.17 P. M. I received the following, by telegraph, written by General Webb at 9 P. M.:

You will, by the direction of the Major-General commanding, draw back at once to your position within the Boydton Plank-road. Send a division down to Dinwiddie C. H., to report to General Sheridan. This division will go down the Boydton Plank-road. Send Griffin's division. General Humphreys will hold to Mrs. Butler's.

Whereupon I issued the following order to my command, which was sent out 9.35 P. M.:

I. General Ayres will immediately withdraw his division back to where it was massed yesterday, near the Boydton Plank-road.

II. General Crawford will follow General Ayres, and mass his troops behind the intrenchments near Mrs. Butler's.

III. General Griffin will immediately withdraw General Bartlett to his present position, then move back to the Plank-road and down it to Dinwiddie C. H., and report to General Sheridan.

IV. Captain Horrell, with his escort, will remain where General Griffin's headquarters now are till daybreak, and then come back to the Plank-road, bringing in all stragglers.

V. Division commanders, in executing this movement, which is ordered by Genaral Meade, will take care to see that none of their pickets, or any portion of the troops, are left behind.

General Ayres and General Crawford will have their troops under arms at daybreak, and the Chief of Artillery will have all the batteries in readiness to move.

At 9.50 P. M., I received, by telegraph, the following from General Webb, written 9.20 P. M.: [353]

“The division to be sent to Sheridan will start at once. You are to be held free to act within the Boydton Plank-road. General Humphreys will hold to the road and the return.”

To this I immediately replied:

Your dispatch of 9.20 is just received. I had already sent out my orders, of which I send You a copy. You directed General Griffin to be sent to General Sheridan at once. It will take so much time to get his command together that I withdrew the other divisions first, they being unengaged; but this will not retard General Griffin. The bridge is broken on the Plank-road, and will take I hardly know how long to make practicable for infantry. I sent an officer (Captain Benyaurd, Engineer) to examine it as soon as your first order was received. He now reports it not passable for infantry. It requires a span of forty feet to complete the bridge, and is too deep to ford. Nevertheless, I will use everything I can get to make it passable by the time General Griffin's division reaches it.

General Griffin's division, in addition to the delay of assembling General Bartlett's brigade, had to withdraw a picket line in front of the enemy, and, if it moved first, the others, pending it, had to relieve this picket line.

The bridge over Gravelly Run we had found broken by the enemy on our occupation of the Plank-road on the 29th. As I was required, to operate independently of the cavalry, and protect my own flanks, it was desirable to me (the bridge being in my rear, as I faced the enemy on the White Oak Road), that it should remain broken. Even the dispatch of this evening from General Meade, which I received at 8 P. M. (previously given), would have justified me in destroying the bridge; had it yet been standing intact. I had no pontoons with me now; the supply with which I started on the 29th had been used in bridging Rowanty Creek and the Quaker Road crossing of Gravelly Run, and the boats and engineers were kept there for the service of the trains.

At 10.15 P. M., I received, by telegraph, the following dispatch from General Webb, written 9.40 P. M.

“Since your dispatch of 8.20 P. M., the General commanding finds that it is impossible for Bartlett to join Griffin in time to move with any promptitude down the Boydton Plank-road. He therefore directs that you send another good brigade to join Griffin, in the place of Bartlett's, in this movement. Sheridan was attacked by five brigades from Gordon's corps-three from Pickett's; possibly by two from Gordon's, one of them being Hoke's old brigade.”

This dispatch showed that my previous one, giving the condition of the bridge at Gravelly Run, had not yet been received. I deemed it would show, when it was, that General Bartlett could join General Griffin before the bridge would be passable, and that Griffin could thus reach Sheridan as soon as any one, and require no change in my previous order; and, while waiting the result of the reception of the knowledge of the state of the crossing by General Meade, I, at 11.50 P. M., received the following dispatch from him, written 10.15 P. M.:

Send Griffin promptly as ordered, by the Boydton Plank-road, and move the balance of your command by the road Bartlett is on, and strike the enemy's rear, who is between him and Dinwiddie C. H. General Sheridan reports his position as north of Dinwiddie C. H., near Dr. Smith's, the enemy holding the cross-roads at that point. Should the enemy turn on you, your line of retreat will be by J. M. Brooks' and R. Boiseau's, on the Boydton Plank-road. (See one-inch map.) You must be very prompt in this movement, and get the forks of the road at J. M. Brooks' before the enemy, so as to open to R. Boiseau's. The enemy will probably retire toward Five Forks, that being the direction of their main attack this day. Don't encumber yourself with anything that will impede your progress or prevent your moving in any direction. Let me know when Griffin starts and when you start.

This dispatch also showed that mine, concerning the difficulty of crossing Gravelly Run, was still not received. That I did not over-estimate the effect of this dispatch, when it should reach General Meade, is proved by his dispatch written at 11.45 P. M. (See over.) It also showed complete ignorance of the position of the enemy along “the road Bartlett is (was) on,” for the enemy already held this road on the south side of Gravelly Run, and, if not themselves at J. M. Brooks', occupied our approach to it. The condition of affairs here is given by Major Cope, in his report, as follows:

About five P. M. you directed me to lead Bartlett's brigade, by a direct road, if possible, toward the sound of firing in the direction of Dinwiddie C. H., and attack the enemy in the rear. I immediately reported to General Bartlett, who had his column put in motion. The left of the corps rested in open ground. We came out from the left and crossed this ground for half a mile; then we came to a small branch of Gravelly Run on the edge of the timber. Here we found a wood-road that ran in the right direction. We followed it one mile through the wood over rolling ground, crossing the branches of Gravelly Run. At the south edge of this timber, and in open ground on a hill, stands Dr.----'s house (and here our skirmishers became engaged with the enemy's pickets). The ground slopes from here to Gravelly Bun, and is open all the way down. The enemy, after considerable skirmishing, were driven down the slope and across the Run three-quarters of a mile from the house. The house is near a main road leading north from Dinwiddie C. H. to the main road. General Bartlett established a line of pickets along Gravelly Run crossing this road. He also kept videttes out on his right watching this road and other approaches in the rear. It was much after dark when he had made the proper disposition of his troops, and then we [354] began to turn our attention to the number and extent of the enemy's camp fires. They seemed to stretch for miles on the south side of the Run, and we could distinctly hear them chopping, moving wagons, and talking.

In addition to this, the enemy held the point on the road Bartlett was on, where it joins the White Oak Road, as had been ascertained by Major Gentry of my staff, while endeavoring to communicate with General Bartlett. The Major lost his orderly by capture, while he narrowly escaped himself.

It was now one hour and a-half since my order had been sent withdrawing the divisions to the Plank-road, so that I supposed they were all moving back toward the Plank-road, along the forest road, with its single bridge across the branch of Gravelly Run, and in the order of Ayres, Crawford, Griffin, with General Bartlett's brigade nearly rejoined to the latter. To prevent the confusion and delay that would occur by bringing General Griffin to the Plank-road and sending back General Ayres, one of which would have to leave the road for the other to pass, and to save the time that would be lost by each division in changing their relative places, I determined to send General Ayres' division to Dinwiddie C. H., instead of General Griffin's, as it greatly simplified and expedited the operation, and saved the men's strength so sorely tried. It had, besides, the effect to prevent the separation of brigades from their proper divisions, and keep each intact — a matter of importance. As quickly as I could write it, I at eleven P. M. issued the following order:

1st. General Ayres, instead of halting his command, as directed in his last order (see mine on p. 352), will proceed down the Plank-road to Dinwiddie C. H., and report to General Sheridan. He will send a staff officer to report here when the head of the column arrives.

2d. General Crawford and General Grimn will mass their divisions at the point where the order reaches them, and report their position by the officer that brings it. A change of plan makes this change of order necessary.

I note here, a little out of the order of time, that I did not learn the position of General Crawford and General Griffin till one A. M., and so difficult had it been to get the troops in motion on this intensely dark and stormy night, that, although this order from me was sent one hour and a-half after the one for them to fall back to the Plank-read, yet it found them still in the same position. It must be remembered that our troops, so near the enemy, could not be roused by drums and bugles or loud commands, but each order had to be communicated from each commander to his subordinate, from the General till it reached the non-commissioned officers, which latter only could arouse each man by a shaking.

The obstacles to overcome in carrying out so many orders in the darkness of a stormy, starless night, when the moon had set, deserves a statement of them in detail

The roads and paths the staff officers and messengers would have to take, were often filled with troops, and were as bad as clayey soil at the breaking up of winter could make them. These routes were mostly shut in by the ever-green forests through which they passed, rendering the night's darkness as profound as that of the deepest caverns. The horse, exhausted for want of food and wearied with life and-death exertions, carried his rider slowly through the mud, and staggered and stumbled over the obstructions. The messenger disappeared on his mission the instant he moved, and once out of call of the voice could not be stopped, or found till he had made the tour his instructions required, and returned to the place of departure. On arriving at his destination, the messenger, though, perhaps, familiar with it in the daylight just closed, could scarce recognize it in the light of the camp-fires, which burned around him on every side, showing everything in disproportioned and unreal forms. By these fires, the exhausted soldiers slept heavily, almost deaf to the questions addressed to ascertain the locality, or answered half in their sleep. The commanding officers, to escape the noise of drivers urging their struggling teams along the muddy roads, and the straggling of men over them as they slept, were compelled, in seeking repose, to establish their headquarters a little way from the main routes; and this alone many times caused vexatious delays in getting orders to them. Added to these were the vicissitudes of battle, which always left the commands and detachments scattered, more or less, as the day closed, and much increased the difficulties of getting the orders for a general movement in the night, sometimes causing such detachments to be left entirely without orders, when all the rest of their commands had moved away.

Knowing all these things, every precaution was used to provide for them, but yet they always existed.

In order to comply with General Meade's first order, I had first to send an officer to each division. Then Major Cope was the only person capable of taking an order to General Bartlett's brigade, and he was sent. I had sent Major Gentry to ascertain General Bartlett's location; but he taking the White Oak Road, found the enemy holding the junction of it with the one General Bartlett was on, and failed, as before stated, to find a way to him. I had to send another officer for the pioneers, and go with them at once to the crossing of Gravelly Run, to make the bridge. I had to send another to the bridge itself, to report the condition of the crossing. I had, with my full complement of staff officers, but the following available, all the others being engaged in their appropriate departments: Colonel Bankhead, Major Gentry, Major Cope, Captain Benyaurd, Captain Wads-worth, and Captain Winslow.

Having, under these circumstances, made my dispositions to execute one order for a general movement promptly, it is easy to see what strait [355] I was placed in to countermand those orders before the officers sent out with the first one returned.

But to resume the narration. After I had sent the order last quoted, I informed General Meade what I had done, as follows:

I issued my orders on General Webb's first dispatch, to fall back, which made the divisions retire in the order they could most readily move, viz.: Ayres, Crawford, and Griffin. I cannot change them to-night without producing confusion that will render all my operations nugatory. I will now send General Ayres to General Sheridan, and take General Griffin and General Crawford to move against the enemy, as this last dispatch directs I should. Otherwise I cannot accomplish the apparent objects of the orders I have received.

I proceeded to make the necessary orders and arrangements to move with the two divisions as soon as I could. The movement had to be made without artillery, or ambulances, or ammunition wagons, and instructions had to be given, in the two latter cases, for special provisions. The Chief of Artillery had to be informed, and relations established between him and General Humphreys, commanding the Second corps, whose troops were required to take my place along the Plank-road.

At twenty minutes past twelve, I received the following from General Humphreys:

I am directed to resume my position of this morning, &c., &c. At what time do you propose to move? I propose to move simultaneously with you.

To this I sent the following reply:

I have just received your dispatch, by Captain Wistar. Under the order to withdraw at once (viz., that received at 9.17 P. M.), I thought we each could do so individually under cover of darkness, and so ordered. I have since received orders to attack the enemy with two divisions, sending one down the Plank-road to report to General Sheridan. My artillery, five four-gun batteries, under General Wainwright, will remain on the line of the Plank-road. I think the enemy that drove General Sheridan must withdraw to-night. I had a brigade on the north road from J. Boiseau's. I have now orders to move against the force that attacked Sheridan, and shall send all I have to move there or wherever the firing of battle near us may indicate.

At one A. M., I received reports from my officers who had returned from carrying my order of eleven P. M., and learned the position of Generals Crawford and Griffin. At this time I received the following dispatch from General Meade, written by him at 11.45 P. M.:

A dispatch, partially transmitted, is received, indicating the bridge over Gravelly Run is destroyed, and time will be required to rebuild it. If this is the case, would not time be gained by sending the troops by the Quaker Road? Time is of the utmost importance. Sheridan cannot maintain himself at Dinwiddie without reinforcements, and yours are the only ones that can be sent. Use every exertion to get troops to him as soon as possible. If necessary, send troops by both roads, and give up the rear attack. If Sheridan is not reinforced, and compelled to fall back, he will retire by the Vaughan Road.

On receiving this dispatch, showing so much solicitude for General Sheridan's position, and the necessity of reinforcing him directly, even if I had to countermand the previous order, and forego entirely the rear attack, and which, also, left the question for me to determine, I felt much anxiety about what to do. The night was far advanced. The distance to Dinwiddie C. H. by the Quaker Road, from the location of my troops, was over ten miles. It was impossible for them to reach there by that road before eight A. M. By that time they could be of no use in holding Dinwiddie C. H. In this case, the most direct route for the rear attack would be down the Plank-road, where General Ayres was marching. This attack, too, would be then the most effective, as the whole corps would be together in making it, and all in communication with headquarters of General Grant, and through him with General Sheridan, which might be of great importance. If General Sheridan retired by the Vaughan Road, too, the rear and right flank of General Humphreys would be left exposed, as stated in General Meade's dispatch, received by me at eight P. M. (already given here). Finally, to send a division around by the Quaker Road was to break my command up in three pieces, and, if it had been done, it is doubtful if the success of the first of April would have been gained, as the men thus sent would have been too exhausted to reach the Five Forks that day.

I therefore determined that it was best to abide the movements already begun, and keep the two divisions, Griffin's and Crawford's, where. they were, till I could hear that General Ayres certainly had reinforced General Sheridan. The men of the two divisions were gaining, while waiting this result, a little of that rest they stood so much in need of, on this their fourth-night of almost continual deprivation of it, and we had but a short distance to move before reaching the enemy, near J. Boiseau's.

Having determined this, at one P. M. I wrote the following dispatch to General Meade:

I think we will have an infantry bridge over Gravelly Run sooner than I could send troops around by the Quaker Road. But if I find any failure, I will send that way. I have sent Captain Benyaurd (two hours ago) with what he thought was necessary to make it practicable in one hour, and trust to that. I am sending to General Sheridan my most available force.

At 2.5 A. M., I learned the following, which I sent General Webb:

The bridge over Gravelly Run Captain Benyaurd reports now practicable for infantry, and General Ayres advancing across it toward Dinwiddie C. H. I have given General Ayres orders to report to General Sheridan.


At 4.30 A. M. I received information that General Ayres had communicated with General Sheridan, and, while I was just mounting to join Generals Griffin and Crawford, to move across the country against the enemy at J. Boiseau's, I received the following from General Sheridan, at 4.50 A. M., which is published with his report, and there stated to be written at three A. M.

“ I am holding in front of Dinwiddie C. H., on the road leading to Five Forks, for three-quarters of a mile, with General Custer's division. The enemy are in his immediate front, lying so as to cover the road just this side of the Adams' House, which leads out across Chamberlain's bed or run. I understand you have a division at J. Boiseau's; if so, you are in rear of the enemy's line and almost on his flank. I will hold on here. Possibly they may attack Custer at day-light; if so, have this division attack instantly and in full force. Attack at daylight any way, and I will make an effort to get the road this side of Adams' House, and if I do, you can capture the whole of them. Any force moving down the road I am holding, or on the White Oak Road, will be in the enemy's rear, and in all probability get any force that may escape you by a flank attack. Do not fear my leaving here. If the enemy remain I shall fight at daylight.”

This suppositious state of affairs given above promised most brilliant results, if true; but it was not. The enemy occupied the position at J. Boiseau's on the preceding night, and instead of my having a division there, the nearest to it I had was Bartlett s brigade, about three-quarters of a mile north of Gravelly Run, the crossing of which the enemy guarded. Even this brigade of mine I had to withdraw, by General Meade's order, at 9.35 P. M. I fully expected, if the enemy had not retreated, to have to fight a battle in order to get across Gravelly Run, near to J. Boiseau's; and, if the enemy had designed to stay, we undoubtedly must have done so. I so anticipated in my instructions to General Griffin.

About five A. M. General Griffin left his position near the enemy on the White Oak Road, and moved directly and rapidly across the country to Crumps. He found the enemy had left the crossing of the Run open, and he moved on to J. Boiseau's, meeting at the forks of the road our cavalry, under General Devin. At this point General Griffin reported to General Sheridan, as I had directed, should such a state of affairs as was found be developed.

I remained with General Crawford's division, which we formed to retire in line of battle to meet the enemy, should he pursue us from his breastworks, as I confidently expected he would as soon as he discovered our movements.5 I also deployed my escort to retire toward the Plank-road, to take back any men or supplies which might be coming to that point through ignorance of the changes that had been made in the night. General Griffin's march having been unobstructed, I did not reach him till he had met our cavalry. I then ascertained, too, that General Ayres' division was massed about half a mile south of us, near J. M. Brooks's.

It will be recollected that General Ayres began to move back from the White Oak Road by an order from me, sent at 9.35 P. M, March 31, which was written on the first intimation I received to send troops to General Sheridan. No orders stopped him, nor did anything delay him but physical obstacles-such as the darkness, bad roads, and broken bridge. I will now quote from his report the result:

The division was ordered to move down the Boydton Pike during the night of March 31, and report to General Sheridan at Dinwiddie C. H. Before arriving there it was met by a staff officer of General Sheridan, with instructions to turn off on a road leading west into a road leading from Dinwiddie C. H. to the White Oak Road

(i e., from R. Boiseau's to J. M. Brooks'), “and come upon the left and rear of the enemy, who was facing General Sheridan's command near Dinwiddie. As we approached, just after daylight, the enemy hastily decamped.”

This actual trial disposes of the question of the ability of my troops to reach General Sheridan by midnight. It took General Ayres till daybreak.

It may be said, in support of the expectations, that the state of the bridge and stream were not known when the expectations were formed; but they should have been. The route was used for communications between General Grant and General Sheridan the two preceding days. But even if not known then, they certainly were when General Sheridan wrote his report and General Grant authorized its publication; and it was but manly and just to have then corrected any unfavorable impression his lack of knowledge at the time may have caused him to take up concerning me.

But, let us suppose the two divisions that General Grant directed to be moved by J. Boiseau's, were expected to reach General Sheridan by midnight. The order which I received was written by General Meade 10.15 P. M., five minutes after General Grant's to General Sheridan. It reached me 10.50 P. M., thirty-five minutes after being written. Supposing all possible dispatch used, twenty minutes at least would be required for me to make the necessary arrangements; twenty more minutes would be required to carry my order to the divisions; twenty more minutes for them to transmit them to the brigades; and forty minutes, at least, for the troops to get ready to move; for it must be remembered that no bugles or drum could be used to sound calls or arouse the men. No General could make plans based on greater rapidity of execution than here allowed, and our experience [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. [358]

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:

April 1, 3 P M.
The following is the movement now about to be executed:

Map showing five Forks.

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.

General Griffin, in his report, says the formation prior to the attack was as follows:

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;” 6 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 [359] move at once with whatever was at hand, if he directed, and let the rest follow; but he did not. His impatience was no greater, apparently, than I felt myself, and which I strove to repress and prevent any exhibition of, as it would but tend to impair confidence in the proposed operations. When everything possible is being done, it is important to have the men think it is all that success requires, if their confidence is to be retained.

Against General Sheridan's most ungenerous statement, that I gave him the impression that I wanted the sun to go down, I simply place my denial, and trust that my whole conduct in life, and especially in this war, sustains me in it. The sun did not set until two hours and a half after the formation was completed.

In proof of the efforts I made to get the troops in position, and the rapidity with which they did move, I present the following communications from Brevet Brigadier-General Bankhead, of my staff; Brevet Major-General Crawford, commanding Third division; Brevet Major-General Griffin, commanding First division; Brevet Major-General Ayres, Second division.

General Bankhead writes me, under date of June twenty-seventh:

Sir: In reply to your letter of the seventeenth inst., received the twenty-fifth, I have the honor to state that I was with you April first, at the time you received some instructions from General Sheridan, through one of his staff officers. As to the nature of the orders I am not aware, further than that you immediately turned to me, and directed me to bring up the corps at once along the road we were at the time, and that you would meet the column yourself; that the divisions would march in the following order, viz., Third, First, Second. I immediately galloped back, and gave the orders, in person, to Generals Griffin and Crawford. As I was directed to see the head of the column was started on the right road, I sent the order to General Ayres, commanding Second division (who was further off to the right), by one of your Aids, either Major Cope or Captain Wadsworth.

The orders were obeyed promptly, and the troops moved out as expeditiously as the nature of the road and the crowded state it was in (being blocked up with led cavalry horses) would admit. Every exertion appeared to be made by General Crawford, who had the advance, to keep the road clear for the infantry to pass. I remained with the head of the column until within a short distance of the place it was halted and placed in position to make the attack.


H. C. Bankhead, Brevet Colonel Assistant Inspector-General.

The following is from General Crawford, dated July seventeenth:

General: In reply to your communication of June seventeenth, asking if my division did not move, with all practicable dispatch, in forming prior to our attack on the enemy at the battle of Five Forks, I have the honor to state, that the troops under my command moved at once, upon the receipt of the order, and that, in my opinion, no unnecessary time was lost from that time till they were formed as you directed.


S. W. Crawford, Brevet Major-General.

The following is from General Griffin, dated June twenty-sixth:

General: In reply to your communication of the seventeenth instant, in reference to the movement of the First division just prior to the battle of Five Forks, April first, 1865, I have to state I was in command of that division on that day, and about two o'clock P. M., received, through Colonel Bankhead, Corps Inspector, an order to move down the road leading northward with all possible dispatch, as the cavalry and infantry were to attack the enemy at once. I moved my troops as promptly as I could, and on arriving near the place where the corps was formed for the attack, was met by yourself. You immediately pointed out the ground that my troops were to form on, remarking, in substance, that you wished me to be as expeditious as possible. The order was executed at once, and I then reported in person to you. In my opinion, the division was formed without any halting or unnecessary delay.


Charles Griffin, Brevet Major-General.

The following is from General Ayres, dated June twenty-fourth:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the seventeenth inst., last evening, asking an official statement concerning the movement of the Fifth corps on the first of April, from the position where it was massed to that where the lines of battle were formed previous to that attack. I do not know at what time the order was given to commence the movement. I was ordered to follow the First division. This was done, and my division was kept well closed up on the troops in front. On arriving near the position where the lines were forming, you requested me to form my troops as expeditiously as possible, as General Sheridan desired to attack the enemy immediately. Once again, during the formation, you desired me to be expeditious. My division, being a very small one, was soon formed, whereupon I reported to you that I was ready. The order was then given, and the troops moved at once to the attack.


R. B. Ayres, Brevet Major-General.

My record on this point could not be better or more complete.

In view of this testimony, it is further apparent that General Sheridan had left out of his calculations the necessary time to make the formation he directed, and that, in his own opinion, his plan was endangered thereby.

The propriety of an army all moving at once pre-supposes, in order that the General who so [360] employs it should be entitled to the credit of the results obtained, that he should have his information so exact that the mass falls directly upon a vulnerable and vital point of the enemy's position. If there thould be a mistake in this, the chief merit belongs to those exertions and arrangements by which the mistake is corrected, or in the new dispositions which the occasion demands as requisite and which may be practicable. But General Sheridan's calculation, as to the position of the left flank of the enemy's line, was faulty, and to a very serious extent, considering that he had placed all the troops in position for the move. The changes we had to make afterward required the greatest exertion of myself and staff, when everything was in motion, and in woods of the difficult nature usually found in Virginia, no one of the command being at all acquainted with the ground over which we were moving.

After the forward movement began, a few minutes brought us to the White Oak Road, distant about a thousand yards. There we found the advance of General McKenzie's cavalry, which, coming up the White Oak Road, had arrived there just before us. This showed us, for the first time, that we were too far to our right of the enemy's left flank. General Ayres' right crossed the road in the open field, and his division commenced changing front at once, so as to bring his line on the right flank of the enemy's position. Fortunately for us, the enemy's left flank so rested in the woods that he could not fire at us as we crossed this open field, and the part of it that faced us formed a very short line. This General Ayres attacked at once, the firing being heavy, but less than usually destructive, on account of the thick woods. The rapid change of front by General Ayres caused his right flank, at first, to get in advance of General Crawford, owing to the greater distance the latter had to move, and exposed it to be taken in flank by the enemy. Orders were sent by me to General Crawford to oblique his division to the left and close up this interval.

As soon as I had found the enemy's left flank, orders were sent to General Griffin, by several staff officers, to move also obliquely to the left, and come in to the support of General Ayres. But as Griffin's division was moving out of sight in the woods, the order only reached him in the neighborhood of the place marked “Chimneys” on the map. While giving orders thus, I did not think it proper to leave my place in the open field, because it was one where my staff officers, sent to different parts of the command, could immediately find me on their return, and thus I could get information from all points at once, and utilize the many eyes of my staff and those of my subordinate commanders, instead of going to some special point myself, and neglect all others.

The time had not arrived, in my judgment, for me to do that. It may be that at this time it was that General Sheridan thought I did not exert myself to inspire confidence in the troops that broke under a not very severe fire. There was no necessity for my personal presence for such purpose reported from any part of the field.

The time which elapsed before hearing from General Crawford or General Griffin convinced me they must have passed on beyond the right of General Ayres. Leaving sufficient means to send any important information after me, I then rode rapidly to the right, near the Chimneys, and was received with a considerable fire from the enemy across the open field. As I afterward learned, the fire from this position of the enemy occasioned some unsteadiness in General Ayres' right, and also caused the left of General Crawford to oblique to the right, so as to keep the protection of the ridge and trees. I remained here till General Griffin arrived with his division, when I directed him to attack the enemy on the right of General Ayres, and this he proceeded to do. I then rode back to General Ayres' position, and found that he had captured the enemy's extreme left, and some thousand prisoners. This information I sent to General Griffin, and then rode as rapidly as possible to direct General Crawford, as circumstances might require.

Before proceeding further, I will give quotations from Major Cope's report relating to the preceding:

You sent me to General Griffin with an order to bring his division toward the White Oak Road, by the flank, in order to be in better supporting distance of the second division. Also to inform General Crawford that he was going somewhat too far to the right. I found Generals Griffin and Crawford to the right of the Chimneys, and gave them your orders. At this time the enemy had a line of skirmishers running from the left of their line of works, by the Sidney House, toward Hatcher's Run. You came to where General Griffin was, and then returned to the White Oak Road, where I joined you a few minutes after. The part of the enemy's line where you were had been carried by General Ayres, and you sent me again to General Griffin, with this information, and with an order to push forward as fast as possible. He had already reached the Sidney House, and was pushing forward across the field. I delivered your order, and gave him the direction to advance, which was west.

I also annex an extract from General Ayres' report, describing his operations after the forward movement began:

After moving through a wood into an opening, the skirmishers engaged those of the enemy, pushing them back. Soon after crossing the White Oak Road, finding the enemy's fire to come from the left, I changed front to the left by facing the Second brigade to the left, and filing it to the left. Not to lose time, I also threw the First brigade

(his reserve) “into the front line on the left of the Second. The Third brigade, soon after engaging the enemy, finding its right flank in the air (I must confess that I experienced anxiety also on this account) portions [361] of it were very unsteady, but subsequently moved up and bore their part of the action in a handsome manner. After this change of front, the troops were pushed forward and soon came upon the left flank of the enemy, which was thrown back at right angles with his main line, and covered by a strong breastwork, screened behind a dense undergrowth of pines, and about one hundred yards in length. This breastwork my troops charged, and took it at the bayonet's point, capturing, in carrying it, over one thousand prisoners and several battle-flags. Halting there a short time by General Sheridan's order, till it was apparent the enemy were giving away generally, I pushed forward rapidly, holding my men in hand, and r arching steadily in line of battle.”

I have italicised the “halting there,” &c., because it shows that General Sheridan modified his own order not to halt. No order to halt was given by me. What caused the general giving way of the enemy while General Ayres was halted by General Sheridan's order, was due to the operations elsewhere directed.

It will be seen that the rapid change of front by General Ayres, necessitated by the unexpected condition of things, unavoidably threw his flank temporarily “in air.” Had the line gradually swung round, by wheeling, General Crawford would have been on his right, but as it was, the change Lad the momentary effect to leave General Crawford “en echelon,” in rear of Ayres' right. It happened, also, that the right of General Ayres became exposed, too, to a fire from the enemy across the open field, around Sidney's. General Crawford's left encountered this same fire, as it came up on General Ayres' right, and the effect was to cause Crawford's line to oblique somewhat to the right to gain the cover of the woods and ridges, but it kept steadily moving on in the enemy's rear — a threatening movement which made the position of the enemy no longer tenable, assailed as he was both in front and flank besides.

I will now extract from General Crawford's report. After giving a copy of the order to attack that I had furnished him with (see p. 358), he says:

In obedience to this order we crossed Gravelly Run; crossed the White Oak Road, and changed direction to the left and advanced directly west. We encountered the enemy's skirmishers shortly after moving, driving them steadily back. Our way led through bogs, tangled woods, and thickets of pine, interspersed with open spaces here and there. The connection between the Second division and my line, could not be maintained. I received an order from both General Sheridan and General Warren, to press rapidly forward. I urged on the entire command. General Coulter's brigade, from being in support of my rear, was brought to fill the gap between me and the Second division. I pressed immediately on and found myself in the enemy's rear on the Ford Road, which I crossed.

* * “Just at this point the enemy opened on my centre and left flank a very heavy fire. Major-General Warren arriving on the field at that moment, directed me to advance immediately down the Ford Road, and General Coulter's brigade was selected for that purpose. Two regiments, commanded by Major Funk, placed on what was then the left of the road, and the rest of the brigade were on the right, supported by the other two brigades, ‘en echelon,’ I advanced at once, and captured a battery of four guns and the battle-flag of the Thirty-second Virginian infantry. We then changed direction and advanced again in a south-west direction, the enemy flying before us, though keeping up a desultory firing.”

General Griffin's report says:

Immediately after, the order to advance against the enemy was given, with instructions to the division that after it had crossed the road it was to change direction to the left, so as to strike the enemy in flank and rear. After advancing about a mile, and finding nothing in front, save a few cavalry-videttes, and there being heavy volleys of musketry to the left and rear, the division was halted.

This halting under the circumstances, was a commendable exercise of discretion. He says that, a personal examination showing him the enemy on his left, he marched in that direction. To effect this same thing I had sent Major Cope to him, as already stated. A small portion of General Griffin's division became separated in the woods from the rest, and continued on with General Crawford's division, and was used by me on the Ford Road. General Griffin, having made proper dispositions, “moved against the enemy at double-quick,” taking his breast-works and one thousand five hundred prisoners.

As stated by General Crawford, I came up with his division near B. Boiseau's after he had crossed the Ford Road. He had been driving back the enemy's skirmish line all the way, and continually turning the left of any force opposing Generals Ayres and Griffin. I at once directed his line to swing round to face southward, as we had now closed up the outlet for the enemy's escape northward, and to move down upon the position of the enemy at the forks of the road, a point well indicated to us by the firing of some pieces of artillery there by the enemy. General Crawford's troops soon encountered a stiff line of the enemy formed to meet him, and from the fire of which General Coulter's brigade suffered severely. The contest, however, was short, for the enemy, now pressed front, flank and rear, mostly threw down

note.--General Sheridan's report states that he directed General McKenzie. to swing round on the right of the infantry and gain the Ford Road, so as to cut off the enemy's escape that way. As General McKenzie did not succeed in getting there till after the infantry had gained the road, I asked of him the nature of his operations. He informed me that in attempting to execute his order he found himself north of Hatcher's Run, and moving directly away from the battle, which seemed heavy. He therefore (as General Griffin had done) moved back toward the White Oak Road, so as to take part in the action. [362] their arms. Three guns of the captured battery were found on the road, where they had been stopped in their attempt to escape north-ward.

Immediately after the forks were gained I directed General Crawford to change front again to the right, and march toward the sound of the firing, so as again to take the enemy in flank and rear, and this he at once did. I also directed a cavalry brigade, which had been kept mounted, and which now came rapidly along the Ford Road toward me, not to move along it further, but to file to their left and proceed in the direction General Crawford had taken.

I then passed down the Ford Road, and on reaching the forks, turned to the right along the White Oak Road. The troops were joyous and filled with enthusiasm at their success, but somewhat disorganized thereby and by their marching and fighting so long in the woods. On my arriving at the point E (see map), I found that our advance there was stayed by the enemy, who had formed a new line for their left flank near the position F, while they yet maintained their front against our cavalry on the south. Though the orders had been not to halt, and many officers were then urging their men forward, the disordered men, not feeling the influence of their commanders, continued to fire without advancing.

Accompanied by Captain Benyaurd and the portion of my staff then present, I rode out to the front and called those near me to follow. This was immediately responded to. Everywhere along the front the color-bearers and officers sprang out, and, without more firing, our men advanced, capturing all the enemy remaining.

During this last charge my horse was fatally shot within a few paces of the line where the enemy made his last stand, an orderly by my side was killed, and Colonel Richardson, of the Seventh Wisconsin, who sprang between me and the enemy, was severely wounded.

I sent General Bankhead, after the last of the enemy had been captured, to General Sheridan to report the result and receive his instructions. He returned with the reply that my instructions had been sent me. At seven P. M. they reached me, and were as follows:

Major-General Warren, commanding the Fifth army corps, is relieved from duty, and will report at once for orders to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding armies United States.

I at once asked of General Sheridan an explanation of this order, but could obtain none.

The Fifth corps, in this battle, captured 3,244 men, with their arms, eleven regimental colors, and one four-gun battery with its caissons.

It lost, in killed and wounded, 634 men, of which 300 were in General Crawford's division, 205 in General Ayres' division, and 125 in General Griffin's division. Among these were several distinguished officers of high promise. Their names will be duly recorded in the official reports.


I believe there never was a previous period of my military life when the operations I have described would not have gained me the praise of my superior. I have seen nearly all the principal officers of my command, and all unite in telling me that they regard my treatment as unjust. General Griffin assured me he would so express himself at suitable opportunity to General Sheridan. Of the many expressions of sympathy I have received from members of my corps, the following letter, sent me unsolicited, but published here by permission, written by one of its most worthy officers--Colonel T. F. McCoy, of the One Hundred and Seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers--is given as a type:

I had expected to have the pleasure of meeting you before retiring from the service, personally paying my respects, and bidding you a kind farewell; but it was ordered otherwise. A mere glimpse of you, as we passed through Petersburg on our march North, was the last sight the Fifth corps had of their beloved commander. I can most truthfully assure you of your great popularity with the corps, both officers and men; and I can assure you further, that it was a prevailing sentiment that it was a well-merited popularity. I speak freely and frankly. I can realize how gratifying it is to a commanding officer to know that he has the love and respect of his men.

On the second of April, when it was known that you had been taken from us, there was mingled surprise, regret, and gloom. I have read and re-read, again and again, General Sheridan's report of the battle of the Five Forks, and in my humble judgment, he utterly fails in justifying his conduct in your removal. Even if what is asserted were true, (which I do not believe,) in view of your past valuable services to the country, and more especially to your corps, and you in command, having, in a great measure, gained by its splendid conduct that afternoon, the most important victory of the campaign; and while thanks and shouts were going up to Heaven for the great achievement, to relieve from his honored command one of the principal heroes was an act most strange and no less astounding. This is merely the substance of what has been in my mind, and which I would have been pleased to have expressed to you personally, could I have met you at any proper period since. I look back upon this battle of the Five Forks with great interest, it being the turning point of the great movements from which flowed so many favorable and glorious results. Then, I have a more personal interest in it from the fact of my regiment conducting itself so well, that I had the honor of receiving the thanks of General Baxter on the field.

It is a source of much regret to me that the suddenness of my removal has prevented my taking an appropriate leave of my command, [363] and thereby to express to them my warm wishes for their future, and my sympathy with them, whatever that future may be.

I feel, too, that many to whom it would have been gratifying to carry with them to their homes my testimony of their services have been deprived of it. So far as this can be remedied, I shall be glad to do so yet. I also hope that those who may have been overlooked in the distribution of honors will write to me, and I will endeavor to promote their just claims as far as my endorsement can.

No. 119 East Seventeenth Street, New York city,, December 10, 1865.


I give herein an appendix of all the authoritative communications yet published on the battle of Five Forks

Letter from General Warren in regard to his being relieved by General Sheridan.

Mississippi River, Thursday, May 11, 1865.
To the Editors of the New York Times:
I respectfully request the publication in your paper of this communication and accompanying letters relating to the battle of Five Forks.

The only reason I have heard assigned for relieving me at that time were the surmises of newspaper correspondents, which there is no authority for. But an unfriendly spirit toward me apparently dictated their suppositions, and they have done me much injustice. I was relieved only after the battle was over, and while at the head of my troops, and when not even a fugitive of the enemy was in sight.

I personally sought of General Sheridan a reason for his order; but he would not, or could not, give one, and declined to do so. I obeyed the order to report to General Grant that night, and was by him assigned to the command of the defences at City Point and Bermuda Hundred. After the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg, I was given the command of the troops at the latter place and along the Southside Railroad, belonging to the Army of the Potomac. When these troops were relieved by troops from the Army of the James, I was left in Petersburg awaiting orders. I then addressed a letter (copy sent herewith), dated April ninth, to General Rawlins, Chief of Staff, soliciting an investigation. On the twenty-second April, I sent another, requesting permission to publish the first one, for the reasons set forth therein (copy sent herewith). On the second May, I telegraphed Colonel Bowers, Adjutant-General, to ascertain if these had been received, and he answered, they “were received, the latter during General Grant's absence. Orders have been sent you (me) to report here, when you can see the General.”

On May third, I received by telegraph an extract from General Orders No. 78, of May first, assigning me to the command of the Department of the Mississippi I at once proceeded to Washington, and, after a personal interview with General Grant, received, on the sixth of May, an answer to my communications of the ninth and twenty-second April, authorizing my publishing them, and stating the reasons for not granting me the investigation sought. A copy of this letter is herewith sent.

Having thus exhausted my means of getting at the cause of my being relieved by General Sheridan, I present the following brief account of the operations on the first of April:

The operations of the enemy on the thirty-first of March made it necessary for me to send a portion of my corps during the night to support General Sheridan's cavalry, which had been forced back to near Dinwiddie Court House. One of my divisions was thus compelled to march all night, after having fought all day, and the rest of the corps moved toward the enemy that confronted the cavalry at daybreak.

Our presence on the flank and rear of the enemy compelled him to fall back rapidly to the vicinity of the Five Forks, and General Sheridan, on advancing with the cavalry, found him slightly intrenched there. This force proved to be a complete division of the enemy's infantry, and all the cavalry of Lee's army.

I received an order from General Meade, after joining General Sheridan, to report to him for duty, which I did, and the corps was halted by his direction at the point where we joined him, about eight A. M. At one P. M. I was directed to bring up the corps to Gravelly Run Church, a distance of about two and three-fourths miles from where they had been halted, and there form with two divisions in front and one in reserve, so as to move with the whole corps, and attack and turn the enemy's left flank on the White Oak Road.

My line was formed accordingly. Ayres on the left, in three lines of battle; Crawford on the right, in three lines of battle; and Griffin's division in reserve in masses. This occupied till four P. M. The forward movement then began. General Ayres' division became first engaged, wheeling to the left, from facing north to facing west, as it advanced. General Crawford's division also wheeled to the left on General Ayres' as on a pivot, but owing to the nature of the ground and forests, and the greater distance to gain, he lost his connection with General Ayres.

Into the interval thus left General Griffin's division was placed. These two divisions steadily drove in the enemy's left flank. General Crawford's division moved on westward till it gained the road leading north from the centre of the enemy's position, when it was wheeled to the south, and attacked the troops that were endeavoring to hold this road as an outlet for escape.

All the divisions now closed in upon the enemy, capturing the artillery that was attempting to move north, and nearly all the infantry, which their movements had thrown in the greatest confusion. I successfully followed the operations [364] of my divisions from left to right, being with General Crawford when the position was taken.

While these movements above described were going on, the cavalry engaged the enemy along his whole front, which was facing south. The enemy still maintained the right of his line, confronting the cavalry, after we had swept away his left and centre; but the Fifth corps crowding along the line without waiting to re-form, captured all who remained, as it swept along.

I was with the extreme advance in the last movement, and was relieved while there at seven P. M., the battle being then over, and not even a fugitive enemy in sight.

The following are copies of the letters herein referred to.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. K. Warren,, Major-General Volunteers.

General Warren to Col. Bowers.

Petersburg, April 22, 1865.
To Colonel T. S. Bowers, A. G., Headquarters Armies of United States:
Colonel: I beg leave to forward a copy of communication addressed to Headquarters Armies United States, on the ninth instant, with the request to be allowed to publish the same. This will relieve me and my friends from an unpleasant relation to the public, will answer many letters daily received, and will prevent my silence being an injury to me. I can then patiently await the investigation that I do not doubt will in due time be accorded to me.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. K. Warren, Major-General Volunteers.

Request for an investigation.

Petersburg, April 9, 1865.
To Brigadier-General J. A. Rawlins, Chief of Staff, Headquarters Armies of United States:
General: The order of General Sheridan taking from me the command of my corps on the evening of the first of April, after the victory was won, assigns no cause, and leaves me open to the inferences now finding expression in the public prints, and which are in every way to my prejudice.

I am unconscious of having done anything improper or unbecoming to my position, or the character of a soldier, or neglected any order or duty.

I therefore respectfully request a full investigation of the matter as soon as the exigencies of the service will admit.

I make this application now while awaiting orders, which I deem the most appropriate time; but I do not intend nor desire to press the matter upon the consideration of the Lieutenant-General until he can give it his attention without interfering with more important duties. The regard already shown me, in immediately assigning to me another command on the second instant, gives me the assurance that he will not deem it an intrusion to solicit an opportunity to vindicate the honor and reputation of a faithful soldier of the Union, who waits in silence under an unmerited injury, till such time as his superior shall be ready to give him a hearing.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. K. Warren, Major-General Volunteers.

General Grant's reply.

headquarters armies of the United States, Washington, May 6, 1865.
To Major-General G. K. Warren:
General: Your note, requesting authority to publish your application for an investigation of the grounds upon which you were relieved from the command of the Fifth army corps, or to have the investigation, is received.

It is impossible at this time to give the court and witnesses necessary for the investigation, but I see nothing in your application objectionable to have published.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

The following report, it will be perceived, contradicts no statement of my letter of May 11. It is copied from the Army and Navy Journal:

Report of Major-General Sheridan.

cavalry headquarters, May 16, 1865.
General: I have the honor to submit the following narrative of the operations of my command during the recent campaign in front of Petersburg and Richmond, terminating with the surrender of the rebel army of Northern Virginia, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865:

* * * * *

During the night of the thirty-first of March, my headquarters were at Dinwiddie Court House, and the Lieutenant-General notified me that the Fifth corps would report to me, and should reach me about midnight. This corps had been offered me on the thirtieth instant; but very much desiring the Sixth corps, which had been with me in the Shenandoah Valley, I asked for it, but on account of the delay which would occur in moving that corps from its position in the lines in front of Petersburg, it could not be sent to me. I respectfully submit herewith my brief accounts of the operations of the day, the response to which was the ordering of the Fifth corps to my support and my command, as also the dispatch from the Lieutenant-General notifying me of his action. I understood that the Fifth corps, when ordered to report to me, was in position near S. Dabney's house, in the angle between the Boydton Road and the Five Forks Road.

Had General Warren moved according to the expectations of the Lieutenant-General, there would appear to have been but little chance for the escape of the enemy's infantry in front of Dinwiddie Court House. Ayres' division moved [365] down the Boydton Plank-road during the night, and in the morning moved west via R. Boiseau's house, striking the Five Forks Road about two and a half miles north of Dinwiddie Court House. General Warren, with Griffin's and Crawford's divisions, moved down the road by Crump's house, coming into the Five Forks Road, near J. Boiseau's house, between seven and eight o'clock on the morning of the first of April. Meantime I moved my cavalry force at day-light against the enemy's lines in front, which gave way rapidly, moving off by the right flank and crossing Chamberlain's Creek. This hasty movement was accelerated by the discovery that two divisions of the Fifth army corps were in their rear and that one division was moving toward their left and rear.

The following were the instructions sent to General Warren:

cavalry headquarters, Dinwiddie Court House, April 1, 1865, 3 A. M.
To Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Army Corps:
I am holding in front of Dinwiddie Court House, on the road leading to Five Forks, for three quarters of a mile, with General Custer's division. The enemy are in his immediate front, lying so as to cover the road just this side of A. Adams' house, which leads out across Chamber-lain's Bed or Run. I understand you have a division at J. Boiseau's; if so, you are in rear of the enemy's line, and almost on his flanks. I will hold on here. Possibly they may attack Custer at daylight; if so, attack instantly and in full force. Attack at daylight any how, and I will make an effort to get the road this side of Adams' house; and if I do, you can capture the whole of them. Any force moving down the road I am holding, or on the White Oak Road, will be in the enemy's rear, and in all probability, get any force that may escape you by a flank attack. Do not fear my leaving here. If the enemy remains, I shall fight at daylight.

P. H. Sheridan, Major-General.

As they fell back, the enemy were rapidly followed by General Merritt's two divisions, General Devin on the right and General Custer on the left, General Crook in the rear. During the remainder of the day, General Crook's division held the extreme left and rear, and was not seriously engaged.

I then determined that I would drive the enemy, with the cavalry, to the Five Forks, press them inside of their works, and make a feint to turn their right flank; and, meanwhile, quietly move up the Fifth corps, with a view to attacking their left flank, crush the whole force, if possible, and drive westward those who might escape, thus isolating them from their army at Petersburg. Happily, this conception was successfully executed. About this time General McKenzie's division of cavalry, from the Army of the James, reported to me, and consisted of about one thousand effective men. I directed General Warren to hold fast at J. Boiseau's house, refresh his men, and be ready to move to the front when required; and General McKenzie was ordered to rest in front of Dinwiddie Court House until further orders.

Meantime, General Merritt's command continued to press the enemy, and, by impetuous charges, drove them from two lines of temporary works; General Custer guiding his advance on the widow Gilliam's house, and General Devin on the main Five Forks Road. The courage displayed by the cavalry officers and men was superb, and about two o'clock the enemy was behind his' works on the White Oak Road, and his skirmish line drawn in. I then ordered up the Fifth corps on the main road, and sent Brevet Major Gillespie, of the Engineers, to turn the head of the column off on the Gravelly Church Road, and put the corps in position on this road, obliquely to and at a point but a short distance from the White Oak Road, and about one mile from the Five Forks. Two divisions of the corps were to form the front line, and one division was to be held in reserve, in columns of regiments, opposite the centre.

I then directed General Merritt to demonstrate as though he was attempting to turn the enemy's right flank, and notified that the Fifth corps would strike the enemy's left flank, and ordered that the cavalry should assault the enemy's works as soon as the Fifth corps became engaged, and that would be determined by the volleys of musketry. I then rode over to where the Fifth corps was going into position, and found them coming up very slowly. I was exceedingly anxious to attack at once, for the sun was getting low, and we had to fight or go back. It was no place to intrench, and it would have been shameful to have gone back with no results to compensate for the loss of the brave men who had fallen during the day. In this connection, I will say that General Warren did not exert himself to get up. his corps as rapidly as he might have done; and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed. As soon as the corps was in position, I ordered an advance in the following formation: Ayres' division on the left, in double lines; Crawford's division on right, in double lines; and Griffin's division in reserve, behind Crawford's; and the White Oak Road was reached without opposition.

While General Warren was getting into position, I learned that the left of the Second corps of the Army of the Potomac, on my right, had been swung around from the direction of its line of battle until it fronted on the Boydton Road, and parallel to it, which offered an opportunity to the enemy to march down the White Oak Road and attack me in right and rear. General McKenzie was therefore sent up the Camp Road, with directions to gain the White Oak Road, if possible; but to attack at all hazards any enemy [366] found, and, if successful, then march down the road and join me. General McKenzie executed this with courage and skill, attacking a force of the enemy on the White Oak Road, and driving it toward Petersburg. He then counter marched, and joined me on the White Oak Road just as the Fifth corps advanced to the attack, and I directed him to swing round with the right of the infantry and gain possession of the Ford Road at the crossing of Hatcher's Run. The Fifth corps, on reaching the White Oak Road, made a left wheel, and burst on the enemy's left flank and rear like a tornado, and pushed rapidly on, orders having been given that, if the enemy was routed, there should be no halt to re-form broken lines. As stated before, the firing of the Fifth corps was the signal of General Merritt to assault, which was promptly responded to, and the works of the enemy were soon carried at several points by our brave cavalrymen. The enemy were driven from their strong line of works and completely routed, the Fifth corps doubling up their left flank in confusion, and the cavalry of General Merritt dashing on to the White Oak Road, capturing their artillery and turning it upon them; and riding into their broken ranks so demoralized them that they made no serious stand after their. line was carried, but took to flight in disorder. Between five thousand and six thousand prisoners fell into our hands, and the fugitives were driven westward, and were pursued until long after dark by Merritt's and McKenzie's cavalry for a distance of six miles.

During this attack I again became dissatisfied with General Warren. During the engagement portions of his line gave way, when not exposed to a heavy fire, and simply for want of confidence on the part of the troops, which General Warren did not exert himself to inspire. I therefore relieved him from the command of the Fifth corps, authority for this action having been sent to me before the battle, unsolicited. When the pursuit was given up, I directed General Griffin, who had been ordered to assume command of the Fifth corps, to collect his troops at once, march two divisions back to Gravelly Church, and put them into position at right angles to the White Oak Road, facing toward Petersburg, while Bartlett's division, Griffin's old, covered the Ford Road to Hatcher's Run. General Merritt's cavalry went into camp on the widow Gilliam's plantation, and General McKenzie took position on the Ford Road at the crossing of Hatcher's Run. I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the troops in this battle, and of the gallantry of their commanding officers, who appeared to realize that the success of the campaign and fate of Lee's army depended upon it. They merit the thanks of the country and reward of the government. To Generals Griffin, Ayres, Bartlett, and Crawford, of the Fifth corps, and to Generals Merritt, Custer, Devin, and McKenzie of the cavalry, great credit is due; and to their subordinate commanders they will undoubtedly award the praise which is due to them for the hearty co-operation, bravery, and ability which were everywhere displayed.

* * * * * * *

I am, Sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

P. H. Sheridan, Major-General. Brevet Maj.-Gen. John A. Rawlins, Chief of Staff.

cavalry headquarters, Dinwiddie C. H., March 31, 1865.
Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding Armies United States:
The enemy's cavalry attacked me about ten o'clock to-day, on the road coming in from the west, and a little north of Dinwiddie C. H. This attack was very handsomely repulsed by General Smith's brigade of Crook's division, and the enemy was driven across Chamberlain's Creek. Shortly afterward, the enemy's infantry attacked on the same creek in heavy force, and drove in General Davies' brigade, and, advancing rapidly, gained the forks of the road at J. Boiseau's. This forced Devin, who was in advance, and Davies, to cross to the Boydton Road. General Gregg's brigade and General Gibbs', who had been toward Dinwiddie, then attacked the enemy in the rear very handsomely. This stopped the march toward the left of our infantry, and finally caused them to turn toward Dinwiddie and attack us in heavy force. The enemy then again attacked at Chamberlain's Creek, and forced Smith's position. At this time Capehart's and Pennington's brigades of Custer's division came up, and a very handsome fight occurred.

The enemy have gained some ground, but we still hold in. front of Dinwiddie C. H., and Davies and Devin are coming down the Boydton Road to join us.

The opposing force was Pickett's division, Wise's Independent Brigade of Infantry, and Fitzhugh Lee's, Rosser's, and W. H. Lee's cavalry commands.

The men behaved splendidly. Our loss in killed and wounded will probably number four hundred and fifty men; very few were lost as prisoners.

We have of he enemy a number of prisoners. This force is too strong for us. I will hold out to Dinwiddie C. H. until I am compelled to leave.

Our fighting to-day was all dismounted.

P. H. Sheridan, Major-General.

Dabney Mills, March 31, 1865--10.05 P. M.
Major-General Sheridan:
The Fifth corps has been ordered to your support. Two divisions will go by J. Boiseau's, and one down the Boydton Road. In addition to this, I have sent McKenzie's cavalry, which will reach you by the Vaughan Road.

All these forces, except the cavalry, should reach you by twelve to-night.

You will assume command of the whole force sent to operate with you, and use it, to the [367] best of your ability, to destroy the force which your command has fought so gallantly to-day.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

1 an account of the operations of the Fifth army corps, commanded by Major-General G. K. Warren, at the battle of five Forks, April 1, 1865, and the battles and movements preliminary to it, by G. K. Warren, late Major-General volunteers.

2 Extracts from this report giving all that relates to me, are placed in tho appendix to this narrative.

3 Comparison of the preceding dispatches with the following extract relating to the same subject, taken from Lieutenant-General Grant's report to the Secretary of War, dated July 22, 1865, published with the annual documents, shows that Lieutenant-General Grant must have been misinformed in relation to the reports made by me, and the orders I received.


On the morning of the 31st, General Warren reported favorably to getting possession of the White Oak Road, and was directed to do so. To accomplish this, he moved with one division instead of his whole corps.

It is seen that the operations proposed by me and ordered, were as General Meade describes, of the nature of a “reconnoissance” only, the result of which was to determine what should be done. Special arrangement would have to be made with General Humphreys, if Griffin's division had to be moved up to the point where Generals Ayres and Crawford were. The action of the enemy, however interfered with the plans, as they often did, and produced the resulting operations.

4 a brigade of it

5 The neglect of the enemy to follow up General Crawford's division as he withdrew is still inexplicable to me; for had they done so, General Lee would have been early informed of the movement of our infantry against his detached force at Five Forks, and either have reinforced them or warned them to withdraw, and the disaster to them which resulted might have not occurred. It seems to me an oversight not to have been expected from our previous experience.

6 See Sheridan's Report.

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