previous next

8% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Philip H. Sheridan (97)
Charles Griffin (78)
R. B. Ayres (67)
S. W. Crawford (34)
G. K. Warren (26)
Genaral Meade (25)
Bartlett (23)
W. A. Webb (22)
Allen Crawford (22)
P. H. Sheridan (18)
Ulysses S. Grant (16)
Benjamin G. Humphreys (14)
McKenzie (12)
J. Boiseau (11)
T. M. Merritt (10)
Custer (9)
E. B. Cope (8)
H. C. Bankhead (8)
George G. Meade (7)
U. S. Grant (6)
Devin (6)
William Butler (6)
J. G. Pickett (5)
J. M. Brooks (5)
J. A. Miles (4)
William T. Gentry (4)
Coulter (4)
William H. H. Benyaurd (4)
Gordon Winslow (3)
James S. Wadsworth (3)
H. Pearson (3)
Davies (3)
S. Dabney (3)
Crook (3)
T. S. Bowers (3)
R. Boiseau (3)
Wise (2)
Winthrop (2)
Wainwright (2)
Melancton Smith (2)
D. L. Smith (2)
John A. Rawlins (2)
William H. Lee (2)
W. H. Lee (2)
Fitz Hugh Lee (2)
Humphrey (2)
Horrell (2)
George H. Gordon (2)
Gilliam (2)
W. Dabney (2)
Chamberlain (2)
Captain Benyaurd (2)
J. F. Baxter (2)
Wistar (1)
Charles K. Winne (1)
Wads (1)
A. L. Thomas (1)
T. R. Spencer (1)
T. L. Rosser (1)
J. J. Richardson (1)
J. A. Rawlins (1)
Pennington (1)
E. O. C. Ord (1)
Mink (1)
T. F. McCoy (1)
Malvern (1)
F. T. Locke (1)
S. Phillips Lee (1)
Fitzhugh Lee (1)
F. W. Kellogg (1)
B. R. Johnson (1)
R. F. Hoke (1)
G. B. Halstead (1)
Gwin (1)
Grimn (1)
Maxcy Gregg (1)
James T. Gillespie (1)
Gibbs (1)
Funk (1)
Doc (1)
Deven (1)
Capehart (1)
Bokkelen (1)
B. Boiseau (1)
Ambulance (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: