Battle of Five Forks

Location: Dinwiddie, VA
     (part of Petersburg National
      Military Park)
Dates: April 1, 1865
Union Commander: 
Philip Sheridan,  Major General
Confederate Commander: 
George Pickett, Major General

Battle Summary:
In the latter part of March, 1865, Abraham Lincoln met with his key military commanders, aboard the River Queen.  In attendance was Lieutenant General,
Ulysses S. Grant, Major General William Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter.  They would meet on March 28, and Lincoln would advise his commanders that he wanted to let the Confederacy down easy - no bloody business such as hangings, or executions.  U.S. Grant still had work to do, but it was becoming apparent, that the Confederate line around Petersburg was weak.  With Major General Phil Sheridan's successful raids in the Shenandoah Valley, the previous year, and Robert E. Lee's desperate assault on Fort Stedman, on March 25, Grant suspected the time was right to put things in motion.

U.S. Grant believed that severing the last major railroad supply line, into Petersburg, the South Side Railroad, with a well timed attack, on Lee's lines in Petersburg, and Richmond would break Robert Lee's lines.  Grant sent Phil Sheridan, with two divisions of cavalry, commanded by Brigadier Generals George Custer and Thomas Devin, southwest towards Gravelly Run Church.  From there, they could tear up the South Side Railroad, pressuring Lee to withdraw from his front.  Additionally, screening Sheridan's troopers, to the north, were Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's V Corps and Major General Andrew Humphrey's II Corps.  These infantry troops pressed north, fighting Robert Lee's troops, commanded by CS Lieutenant General Richard Anderson's Corps dug in along White Oak Road.  In a battle named for this road, Warren's V Corps would sustain significant losses but would push very close to Anderson's weakened lines.

With the action north of him, at White Oak Road, CS Major General George Pickett would push his infantry, and cavalry, south, towards Sheridan's Federal Cavalry - pushing them south of the crossroads at Five Forks towards Dinwiddie Court House.  Robert E. Lee had previously ordered Pickett, "Hold Five Forks at all hazards.  Protect road to Ford's Depot and prevent Union forces from striking the South Side Railroad."

Under severe pressure, from Pickett's troops, Phil Sheridan sent an urgent dispatch to U.S. Grant, requesting infantry support.  Grant sent him Gouverneur Warren's V Corps, pulling them out of their works, facing Anderson's Confederate corps along White Oak Road.  Giving up this ground was tough, but Warren disengaged and sent a division, commanded by Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres, to provide relief to Sheridan, now at Dinwiddie Court House.   While in the process of sending Sheridan relief, from White Oak Road, U.S. Grant also sent Sheridan a note stating that he could remove Warren if his movements lacked celerity.

Meanwhile, George Pickett, realizing he was trapped by the significant Union forces, now arrayed in front of him, pulled back from Dinwiddie to the important crossroads at Five Forks.  Here he established an entrenched line running roughly east, and west, for almost two miles.

With Phil Sheridan, still impatiently awaiting the rest of Warren's V Corps, Warren's fate was sealed.  Later that night, after the fighting was over, Sheridan replaced Warren with Brigadier General Charles Griffin, sending Warren to U.S. Grant's headquarters.

Due to some errors, in mapping by Sheridan's cavalry, showing Pickett's line extending farther east, than it actually did, Warren placed his V Corps near the Gravelly Run Methodist Church.  He instructed them to advance until they ran into Pickett's forces, along the White Oak Road.  At the same time, Sheridan's cavalry would attack Pickett's line, on the left and center. 

Reaching White Oak Road, Warren's Corps wheeled left, on their left flank, where they found that the Confederate flank was still 3/4 of a mile to their west.  While the mapping error did cause some confusion, it allowed Warren's infantry to easily flank Pickett's refused left flank.  One full division of infantry, commanded by Brigadier General Samuel Crawford, was able to swing clear around the rear, of Pickett's line, catching them in a severe crossfire between his division, and the dismounted cavalry of Phil Sheridan.  With George Custer's cavalry division flanking CS Major General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's right flank, the Confederate line gave way.  Ironically enough, George Pickett was not there to command his troops.  He was two miles away, at a shad bake, and would arrive, on scene, too late to help his army - many of which would be taken prisoner.

Campaign: Petersburg

Outcome: Union Victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 22,000
Confederate: 10,600

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 830 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 3,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
The battle at Five Forks, would fully expose the South Side Railroad, to the Union cavalry, making Robert E. Lee's positions, in Petersburg, and Richmond untenable.  Lee would be forced to retreat, along the Appomattox River, with Phil Sheridan's cavalry, pressing from the south, and U.S. Grant's Army of the Potomac on its heels.

Five days, after his defeat at Five Forks, George Pickett would be relieved of command, after the battle of Sailor's Creek Lee would surrender his Army of Northern Virginia, on April 9, at Appomattox Court House Close Window