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EXCERPT: Sheridan after Five Forks (Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan)


AotP Staff Officer Carswell McClellan wasn’t impressed with the memoirs of Grant and Sheridan.

SOPO Editor’s Note: Carswell McClellan, cousin of famous General George McClellan and a Third Corps staff officer during the Civil War, was unimpressed by the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and Phil Sheridan immediately upon reading them.  He was upset with their portrayal of his Army of the Potomac, and he set out to do something about it.  McClellan wrote two books, The Personal Memoirs and Military History of U.S. Grant Versus the Record of The Army of the Potomac in 1887 and Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan in 1889, shortly after each man’s memoirs were published.  Carswell examines the statements of Grant and Sheridan and compares them to the records available at the time to see if they hold up.  Oftentimes they don’t.  In this excerpt from Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Carswell critiques Sheridan’s actions on April 2, 1865 at the Siege of Petersburg, as well as during the early stages of the Appomattox Campaign.

Carswell McClellan’s Critique of Sheridan’s Actions after the Battle of Five Forks:

Five Forks to Appomattox Court House.1


General Grant (Mem. Vol. 2. p. 216) describes General Warren as “a gallant soldier, an able man; and he was besides thoroughly imbued with the solemnity and importance of the duty he had to perform”. Afterwards, referring (p. 445) to the removal of General Warren from the command of the Fifth Army Corps, he says: —

“I was so much dissatisfied with Warren’s dilatory movements in the battle of White Oak Road and in his failure to reach Sheridan in time, that I was very much afraid that at the last moment he would fail Sheridan. He was a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, that was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us. He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.

I had sent a staff officer to General Sheridan to call his attention to these defects, and to say that as much as I liked General Warren, now was not a time when we could let our personal feelings for any one stand in the way of success; and if his removal was necessary to success, not to hesitate. It was upon that authorization that Sheridan removed Warren. I was very sorry that it had been done, and regretted still more that I had not long before taken occasion to assign him to another field of duty.

It is unnecessary to dwell upon General Grant’s expression of regret that he had not sooner removed General Warren from the field where he had won his corps command, or to call attention to his sorrow over the adoption of his own suggestion. It is worthy of notice, however, that, when testifying under oath before the Warren Court of Inquiry, General Grant stated positively (Record, pp. 10281034) that his reasons for sending the authorization for removal to General Sheridan did not have reference to General Warren’s conduct on March 31, or April 1, 1865, but “to previous conduct.” While the sworn evidence thus emphatically denies the correctness of the later statement as to that point, it is evident that all recollection of the witness-stand had not escaped the writer of the Memoirs, for in his testimony we find (Record p. 1041) the interjected implication:

But where officers undertook to think for themselves, and considered that the officer giving them orders had not fully considered what everybody else was to do, it generally led to failure or delay.

In consideration of the opinions expressed by the court of inquiry upon the allegations made against General Warren by Generals Grant and Sheridan; and in view of the facts, well established by the record of that court, that General Warren not only saw the dangers encountered by his command on March 31, and April 1, 1865, but successfully met and overcame them, and, in addition, of his own soldierly volition made such dispositions as materially aided General Sheridan to maintain himself under the reverse he encountered upon March 31, — the record of General Warren may safely be left to maintain his honor and ability against indefinite insinuations as “to previous conduct.” Had that record not been practically unassailable, General Warren could not have maintained the command he held from May 4, 1864, to April 1, 1865. To this the Military History and Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant bear witness, and the time and method of his removal from that command emphasize the involuntary testimony.

Constituted, as it was, solely for the consideration of General Warren’s conduct, the investigation of the Warren Court of Inquiry was made upon the assumption, repeatedly stated and assented to by counsel for General Warren, that the appropriateness of the action of Generals Grant and Sheridan, and the sufficiency of their authority, were not to be questioned. That, as a matter of absolute fact, the assumption was at least debatable, is very clearly indicated by General Sherman’s report and pleading upon the proceedings of the court. That the course pursued by the Lieutenant-General and the commander of the Army of the Shenandoah “does not occur frequently,” is acknowledged by the evidence (Record, p. 93) of General Sheridan.

The army exists by authority of the Constitution of the United States. Under that authority, the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints and commissions all commissioned officers of the army. The resignation of officers appointed by the President can be accepted by him alone, and, except in time of war, no officer can be dismissed from the army except by sentence or court-martial approved by the President; and without his approval no sentence of a court-martial which affects a general officer is effective in time of either peace or war. The transfer of officers from one regiment or corps to another can be made only by authority of the President, and “if, upon marches, guards, or in quarters, different corps of the same army shall happen to join, or do duty together, the officer highest in rank . . . , . . . there on duty or in quarters, shall command the whole, . . . unless otherwise specially directed by the President of the United States, according to the nature of the case.” These powers, conferred by the Constitution upon the President alone, relate to the course of ordinary military proceedings. For special reasons and peculiar emergencies, still greater powers are entrusted to him — and to him alone. By Act of Congress, July 17, 1862, the President of the United States was “authorized and requested to dismiss and discharge from military service either in the army, navy, marine corps, or volunteer force, in the United States service, any officer for any cause which, in his judgment, either renders such officer unsuitable for, or whose dismission would promote, the public service,” and in any time of war, to him alone, as Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, belongs the right and duty of assigning commanders to Army Corps, or Armies, in the field, and of removing them for cause sufficient in his judgment; but neither the Constitution of the United States, nor the Articles of War, contain any authority for the delegation of any of these powers especially entrusted to the President to any other officer of the government. That there are grave reasons why such power should be thus limited and guarded, scarce needs an argument. Commenting upon the subject of dismissals from the service “by order of the President,” an undoubted authority (Benet. Military Law and Courts-martial) says: —

Much might be said on the ground of expediency, in opposition to the rule and practice in this regard, but we will only remark, that the power of the President to remove officers from the army at his pleasure, might some day prove of greater danger to the liberties of the people, than the simple fact of keeping up a standing army. The right of appointing to office during the recess of the Senate, said appointments to hold until the end of the next session of Congress, gives to an unscrupulous executive a fearful power. The selection of political tools, to hold such positions for many months, would suffice, under circumstances of great extremity, to work out direst evils to the republic. Such a power over an army cannot be too well guarded by all the checks which an enlightened judgment can impose, and as an evil, is more to be dreaded than the perpetual tenure of officers’ commissions, subject as they are to the close supervision of military tribunals.

To exercise by proxy the powers entrusted solely to the President, would extend, rather than guard against, the evil indicated, and concerning a delegated authority to remove regularly assigned commanders in the field, another high authority condenses the same reasoning into: —

Given a general-in-chief—say Arnold who turned traitor— he can remove every corps or division commander, replace them with tools, and make treason a success.

General Warren had for years honored a commission in the army. Not even his traducers have denied that his service—in peace and war — as subordinate or when in high command — was pre-eminently distinguished by zeal, fidelity, thoroughness, and intelligence that neither fear nor favor could swerve from the line of truth and duty. In addition, history will record that the facts established by sworn testimony before the court of inquiry, sustain the statement that his only error as commander of the Fifth Army Corps at Five Forks lay in obeying General Sheridan’s order relieving him from his command, and that even that error is not only palliated by the participation of his comrades, but heightens his renown— for it illustrates the devoted subordination so characteristic of the Army of the Potomac, which will stand forever in refutation of puerile charges of jealousy.

The following order is still on the files of the War Department, and unrevoked: —

Order                                                                         Adjutant-General’s Office,

No. 54.                                                                      Washington, 13th August, 1829

The subjoined Regulation, approved by the President of the United States, has been received from the War Department, and is published for the information and government of all concerned.


.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

“6. An officer entrusted with the command of a post, detachment, guard, or separate command, will not surrender it to another, unless regularly relieved from the duty assigned him, except in case of sickness or inability to perform his duty, when the officer next in rank, present and on duty with such command, will succeed as a matter of course.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

“By command of the President:

“John F. Eaton,

“Secretary of War.

“By Order of Alexander Macomb,

“Major-General Gommanding the Army:


“Adjutant General.”

This order appears as paragraph 15 of General Regulations of 1841, and was repeated in General Order No. 5, March 12, 1846. It does not appear in set terms, however, in the succeeding Army Regulations, probably because it announces an axiomatic principle underlying the whole military system — that no one can resign a trust confided to him unless regularly relieved by competent authority. General Warren, therefore, should have demanded to see in writing the authority under which General Sheridan assumed to act, and competent authority not being thus presented, he, in loyal subordination to the superior from whom he derived his own authority and had received his trust, should have declined to surrender his command. The command of an army, or army corps, is no ordinary charge. Commanders assigned to such positions by the President, or sovereign power, are presumed to possess additional qualities over and above the mere acquirement of technicalities, or simple personal gallantry, and only the power conferring can relieve from the grave responsibilities of such a trust. Possibly, to meet great emergencies, the President might grant to a general-in-chief, the right to remove or replace a corps commander, subject to report without delay for his confirmation or disapproval, but there can be no authority, or right, involved to delegate the power still further,— least of all, to one holding equal rank as corps commander, and by verbal authorization so vague and general that neither the author nor the recipient (Record, pp. 55, 93, 901, 1028) retain a definite recollection of the form.

It would seem, therefore, that General Sherman’s plea for relief from the restraints of “any rule of conduct” was somewhat urgently needed in the attempt to sustain the assumption of presidential authority shown by the removal of General Warren and the assignment of General Griffin to the corps command over General Crawford, a senior division commander present and on duty with the corps. The supposition that any emergency called for such an exercise of illegal power cannot be maintained. Legitimate means were available, and ample for all necessities. If General Sheridan was satisfied that General Warren had in any way failed in his duty on April 1, 1865, he had it rightfully in his power, as commanding officer, to order General Warren to report in arrest to his army commander, General Meade. In that event, however, General Warren could not have been denied an immediate hearing before a tribunal of his peers.

It is scarcely necessary to comment on the gratuitous discourtesy to the commander of the Army of the Potomac, involved in the method adopted.

General Grant has gravely recorded that General Warren’s intelligence, activity, and prevision, in connection with his subordination in carefully reporting to his superiors the developments of the field as they presented themselves and his judgment as to the means that best could meet those developments, were “very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies.” The acknowledged intelligence of General Grant precludes the possibility of accepting as sincere — save as an involuntary confession of incorrigible prejudice — the suggestion, thus made, that the very qualities pre-eminently requisite in a corps commander could be prejudicial to his usefulness when guided by an earnest loyalty such as all accord to General Warren. That General Grant himself, as a matter of fact, attached but little importance to the charges he insinuates against General Warren — save as they might affect the credulous public mind—is fully evidenced, not only by his intelligence, but also by his Military History and Personal Memoirs aided by the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan. The last named work has certainly made clear the fact, indicated on the pages of the preceding works, that, in General Sheridan’s case when in command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac from May 4, to May 7, 1864, General Grant not only sustained, but even rewarded, that officer for exercising the right of thinking for himself and of reflecting upon his commander to an extent that even a moderate rendering of military law and ethics can class only as closely bordering upon open mutiny. Again — on pages 436-7 of his second volume, General Grant relates the dissatisfaction of General Sheridan at the order he (General Grant) had issued for the movements of March 29, 1865, because he believed himself to be therein ordered “to cut loose again from the Army of the Potomac” (the very order to secure which he had revolted against the command of General Meade ten months before), and that he (General Grant) followed and, in a private conversation, pacified his discontented subordinate by confidential explanations.

General Sheridan now makes the point even clearer still. On pages 112 and 113 of his second volume, referring to his Shenandoah Valley campaign of February, 1865, he says: —

Grant’s orders were for me to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join General Sherman in North Carolina wherever he might be found, or return to Winchester, but as to joining Sherman I was to be governed by the state of affairs after the projected capture of Lynchburg.

Then, on page 119, he states: —

Being thus unable to cross until the river should fall, and knowing that it was impracticable to join General Sherman, and useless to adhere to my alternative instructions to return to Winchester, I now decided to destroy still more thoroughly the James River Canal and the Virginia Central Railroad and then join General Grant in front of Petersburg. I was master of the whole country north of the James as far down as Goochland; hence the destruction of these arteries of supply could be easily compassed, and feeling that the war was nearing its end, I desired my cavalry to be in at the death.

On page 124, he continues: —

The transfer of my command from the Shenandoah Valley to the field of operations in front of Petersburg was not anticipated by General Grant, indeed, the despatch brought from Columbia by my scouts, asking that supplies be sent me at the White House, was the first word that reached him concerning the move. In view of my message the general-in-chief decided to wait my arrival before beginning spring operations with the investing troops south of the James river, for he felt the importance of having my cavalry at hand in a campaign which he was convinced would wind up the war. We remained a few days at the White House . . . . When all was ready the column set out for Hancock Station. . . and arriving there on the 27th of March, was in orders reunited with its comrades of the Second Division . . . The reunited corps was to enter upon the campaign as a separate army, I reporting directly to General Grant; the intention being thus to reward me for foregoing, of my own choice, my position as a department commander by joining the armies at Petersburg.

On page 127, he states that when he met and reported to General Grant at City Point, the general-in-chief closed the conversation upon the Shenandoah Campaign “with the remark that it was rare a department commander voluntarily deprived himself of independence, and added that I should not suffer for it.” Continuing, in succeeding pages, he relates that, after reading a general letter of instructions prepared by General Grant for the coming movement, he showed plainly that he was dissatisfied with it, and immediately began to offer his objections to the programme in a somewhat emphatic manner, and that, when he had finished, General Grant quietly told him that the portions of the instructions to which he objected were only “a blind.” On pages 132-3, relating the interview between General Grant, General Sherman, and himself, on the night of March 27, he states: —

. . . I made no comments on the projects for moving his own (General Sherman’s) troops, but as soon as opportunity offered, dissented emphatically from the proposition to have me join the Army of the Tennessee, repeating in substance what I had previously expressed to General Grant. My uneasiness made me somewhat too earnest, I fear, but General Grant soon mollified me, and smoothed matters over … so I pursued the subject no farther.

The details thus given by General Sheridan are substantially sustained by Generals Grant and Badeau.

It remains, therefore, that General Grant rewarded the insubordination of General Sheridan at Spottsylvania Court House by detaching him from the command of General Meade; that he again rewarded him, by changing for his benefit the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac into the independent command entitled “the army of the Shenandoah,” after he (General Sheridan) had decided for himself that it was useless to adhere to the instructions under which he had been operating in the Shenandoah Valley, and had—in defiance of rules and articles of war—withdrawn his command from the department to which he had been assigned without any more urgent necessity than that, “feeling that the war was nearing its end, he [I] desired his [my] cavalry to be in at the death;” and that, finally, he “mollified” the same officer’s emphatic discontent and objection to the duties to which his command might possibly be assigned, by concessions in his favor. While General Sheridan boasts, and General Grant admits, such facts, one can scarcely credit with much of dignity the efforts of the last Generals of the U. S. Army to justify the arbitrary removal of General Warren from the command he graced, and from participation in the final triumph of the cause to which he had devoted the best years of his unselfish, earnest life.

With regard to the sending of General Miles to General Sheridan on the night of April 1-2, General Grant states in his report: —

Some apprehensions filled my mind lest the enemy might desert his lines during the night, and by falling upon General Sheridan before assistance could reach him, drive him from his position and open the way for retreat. To guard against this, General Miles’s division of Humphreys’s corps was sent to reinforce him, and a bombardment was commenced and kept up until four o’clock in the morning (April 2), when an assault was ordered on the enemy’s lines.

General Humphreys’s report states that, in compliance with orders from General Grant, at 5.30 p. m., April 1, he advanced General Miles’s division, not only toward, but across the White Oak Road, and held the road in force, and that (by General Grant’s order), soon after midnight, finding the enemy’s lines in his front too strong to be broken, he sent General Miles down the White Oak Road to reinforce General Sheridan.

After the close of the engagement at Five Forks, two divisions of the Fifth Corps were posted for the night across the White Oak Road near Gravelly Run Church, and the third was put in position upon the Ford Road. Mackenzie’s division of cavalry was left at the Ford Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run, and the remainder of the cavalry (the Army of the Shenandoah ) was held at and near Five Forks.

The extreme right of the Confederate intrenched lines rested upon Hatcher’s Run, in timber, and about a third of a mile west of the Claiborne Road. Thence they extended to the left, crossing the Claiborne and White Oak roads just east of the forks, and covering the latter road to its junction with the Boydton Plank road, which they crossed, and again rested upon Hatcher’s Run east of Burgess’s Mill. The confronting lines of the Second Corps held close up to these intrenchments. After the defeat of the Confederate forces at Five Forks, the Cavalry divisions of Generals Munford and the Lees united, after crossing Hatcher’s Run, so as to cover the Ford Road crossing of that stream. They were joined during the night by four brigades of infantry, under General R. H. Anderson, sent out by General Lee, by routes north of Hatcher’s Run, to cover the collection of General Pickett’s disorganized troops and to take up a position at Sutherland Station. They were there joined, on the morning of April 2, by the remnants of General Pickett’s command.


In view of the fact that, on April 7, General Grant, in personal command at Farmville, with at least two army corps present and ready to his hand, permitted the Second Corps to remain isolated at Cumberland Church, north of the Appomattox River, when holding at bay the entire remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Grant’s solicitude for General Sheridan’s safety at Five Forks certainly appears to have been excessive and unnecessary. It was manifest from the situation that General Lee was imperatively held to a defensive course. With the loss of the engagement at Five Forks, and the occupation of the White Oak Road by the left of the Second Corps, the roads south of the Appomattox River ceased to be available, as lines of retreat, for more than a small fraction of his army; but the Danville Railroad, and its connections with Lynchburg, still remained—provided he could maintain his lines until the wagon-roads were passable. There is nothing to indicate that, under the circumstances, General Lee could have invited inevitable, and irretrievable, disaster in the manner apprehended by General Grant. It is difficult to understand how the White Oak Road could have been opened as a way for retreat except by the defeat of the Union Army. That General Sheridan at Five Forks was efficiently covered upon his right by the position of the Second Corps upon and along the White Oak Road, is clearly indicated by the fact that, upon General Miles reporting to General Sheridan, that officer immediately ordered him to retrace his steps to the position he had left.

But General Sheridan (Vol. 2, pp. 172. 173) makes another point prominent and explanatory, when referring to General Miles’s movements on April 2. He says: —

The night of the 1st of April, General Humphreys’s corps— the Second — had extended its left toward the White Oak Road, and early next morning, under instructions from General Grant, Miles’s division of that corps reported to me, and supporting him with Ayres’s and Crawford’s divisions of the Fifth Corps, I then directed him to advance toward Petersburg and attack the enemy’s works at the intersection of the Claiborne and White Oak roads.

Such of the enemy as were still in the works Miles easily forced across Hatcher’s Run, in the direction of Sutherland’s depot, but the Confederates promptly took up a position north of the little stream, and Miles being anxious to attack, I gave him leave, but just at this time General Humphreys came up with a request to me from General Meade to return Miles. On this request I relinquished command of the division, when, supported by the Fifth Corps it could have broken in the enemy’s right at a vital point; and l have always since regretted that I did so, for the message Humphreys conveyed was without authority from General Grant, by whom Miles had been sent to me, but thinking good feeling a desideratum just then, and wishing to avoid wrangles, I faced the Fifth Corps about and marched it down to Five Forks, and out the Ford Road to the crossing of Hatcher’s Run. After we had gone, General Grant, intending this quarter of the field to be under my control, ordered Humphreys with his other two divisions to move to the right, in toward Petersburg. This left Miles entirely unsupported, and his gallant attack made soon after was unsuccessful at first, but about three o’clock in the afternoon he carried the point which covered the retreat from Petersburg and Richmond.

Before the Warren Court of Inquiry ( Record, pp. 127. 128) General Sheridan testifies that on the morning of April 2, he advanced with General Miles’s division supported by the Fifth Corps and drove the enemy out of the intrenchments at the forks of the Claiborne and White Oak roads; that he captured 800 prisoners at the crossing of Hatcher’s Run; that he came back as soon as he found they had gone from there; that he didn’t care about them any more; that he saw General Humphreys, and General Humphreys’s command; and states: “I told him it was not any use for me to go up there, and I went back so as to get to the railroad as quick as I could.”

In the official report of Lieutenant-General Grant, it is stated that on the morning of April 2, “General Sheridan being advised of the condition of affairs, returned General Miles to his proper command.” This corroborates the official report of General Humphreys, which states: “At 9 a. m. I received intelligence from General Miles that he was on his return, and about two miles from the position he had occupied the night before on the White Oak Road.” This is also sustained by the despatch from General Meade to General Sheridan, which that officer appears to think he received at the hand of General Humphreys although the terms of the despatch do not support the supposition. As given in the Appendix to General Sheridan’s report of May 16, 1865, that despatch is as follows: —

Headquarters Army of the Potomac.

April 2, 1865 —10 a. m.

General: The enemy has abandoned his line in front of Humphreys, and is falling back to his own left, and said to be forming a little beyond Hatcher’s Run.

Humphreys is coming out on the Boydton plank, and Miles on the Claiborne road. General Humphreys has assumed command of Miles; the 5th Corps is left to you. General Wright is moving down (south) the Boydton road, with General Ord covering his left. We presume you to be on the Cox and River roads. If General Humphreys hears you engaged he will move toward you. If you hear him engaged you are requested to move toward him.

Geo. G. Meade.

Major-General Commanding.

Major-General Sheridan

General Miles testified before the Warren Court of Inquiry (Record, p. 646) that he reported to General Sheridan as directed, on the night of April 1, and was instructed to be ready early in the morning, and that he reported again, about 5 o’clock in the morning, and received orders to move back and attack the enemy’s line where it crossed the White Oak Road. He continues;

I moved back up this road, and sent word to General Humphrey’s notifying him of my approach and dispositions to attack that line at the junction of the road [White Oak and Claiborne Roads] . Just as the enemy abandoned it, I followed them over to Sutherland Station, and had a very successful fight with them there.

In his official report of April 21, 1865, General Humphreys, after stating the giving way of the enemy’s lines in his front at 8.30 a. m., and the return of General Miles as above quoted, says: —

. , . I directed Mott to pursue the enemy by the White Oak and Claiborne roads, leading to Sutherland’s Station on the Southside Railroad, Hays to follow Mott, and Miles to enter their works by the White Oak Road and take the Claiborne Road. From Miles’s position on the White Oak Road he would probably lead. I expected by this movement to close in on the rear of that portion of the enemy’s troops cut off from Petersburg, while Sheridan would probably strike their flank and front.

Upon the arrival of the Major-General commanding the Army of the Potomac upon the ground these orders were changed. Mott and Hays were ordered to move on the Boydton Plank Road toward Petersburg, and connect on the right with Wright’s corps, (the Sixth), and Miles was instructed to move toward Petersburg, by the first right-hand fork road after crossing Hatcher’s Run, and connect with the other divisions.

These orders having been given, I rode over to Miles’s division, which I overtook on the Claiborne Road about a mile beyond Hatcher’s Run, meeting also General Sheridan in that vicinity. Upon hearing from the latter that he had not intended to return General Miles’s division to my command, I declined to assume further command of it, and left it to carry out General Sheridan’s instructions, whatever they might be. It had just got in contact with the enemy’s rear.

In “The Virginia Campaign of ’64 and ’65,” General Humphreys, avoiding even the appearance of reflecting on General Sheridan, say of this:

Finding that General Miles was satisfied that he could defeat the force before him. General Humphreys left him to accomplish it and rejoined his two other divisions, .”

It is evident that General Humphreys first overtook General Miles, and afterwards met General Sheridan and simply declined to dispute the claim made by the latter to continued control of General Miles’s division.

The diary of General Fred. T. Locke, Assistant Adjutant-General Fifth Army Corps, contains the following note for April 2, 1865:

Marched at 6 a. m. toward the Claiborne Road. Received orders to cross Hatcher’s Run to Cox Station. Arrived at South Side R. R. at 2 p. m.

It is about seven miles from the junction of the Claiborne and White Oak roads to the South Side Railroad at Cox Station, about one mile from the same junction to the Claiborne Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run, and over two miles from that crossing to Sutherland Station. The report of General Charles Griffin, commanding the Fifth Army Corps, dated April 29, 1865, says:

On the morning of April 2d the command moved down the White Oak Road some two miles, and massed near the “Dabney House,” where it remained until about 11 a. m., when it returned to the “Five Forks” and moved across Hatcher’s Run on the Ford Road.

The Dabney House was a mile west of the junction of the White Oak and Claiborne roads. It is manifest, therefore, that the Fifth Corps was not within immediate supporting distance of General Miles’s attack upon Sutherland Station, when the order to counter-march upon Cox Station was received. On slight reflection, it is also manifest that it was impossible to “break in the enemy’s right at a vital point” by an attack upon the force at bay at Sutherland Station, for that force was simply a detachment, cut off and separated from the right of the Confederate lines by a distance of about seven miles.

The writer has willingly corrected an error committed by him in a previous publication when, misled by the conflicting statements of General Badeau’s work, he defended General Sheridan from the imputation of having left General Miles unsupported in his gallant encounter with the enemy. Otherwise, the account as given by General Sheridan has claimed extended notice only as another illustration of the characteristics of his Memoirs, and as bearing upon his statement that General Grant ordered General Humphreys to be recalled from the pursuit of the enemy in his front, because he intended that quarter of the field should be under General Sheridan’s control. General Badeau, also, makes this last point prominent in his Military History, but General Grant more prudently refrains. It is unnecessary to quote further from General Sheridan’s words to illustrate or emphasize a fact concerning the recognition of which he seems to have been needlessly apprehensive. General Grant states (Mem. Vol. 2. pp. 454-456) that, with General Meade, he entered Petersburg on the morning of April 3, and that General Meade, influenced by an improbable report, wished to cross the Appomattox river at that point in pursuit of the Confederate army. He says: —

I knew that Lee was no fool, as he would have been to have put himself and his army between two formidable streams like the James and Appomattox rivers, and between two such armies as those of the Potomac and the James.  .  .  .  .  . My reply was that we did not want to follow him; we wanted to get ahead of him and cut him off, and if he would only stay in the position he [ Meade ] believed him to be in at that time, I wanted nothing better;  that when we got in possession of the Danville Railroad, at its crossing of the Appomattox river, if we still found him between the two rivers, all we had to do was to move eastward and close him up.

Official records show that the evacuation of Petersburg by the Confederate army, commenced at 8 p. m. of April 2, General Longstreet’s command leading the column on the River Road north of the Appomattox River, which they recrossed at Goode’s Bridge, and reached Amelia Court House some time in the afternoon of April 4. General Gordon’s command was not far from the Court House by night of the same date, and General Mahone was at or near Goode’s Bridge, ten or twelve miles distant. General Ewell’s command did not reach the Court House till mid-day of April 5, and General Anderson’s command, which, with General Fitz Lee’s cavalry, had fallen back by the roads south of the Appomattox River, arrived on the morning of that day.


Recalling now, in connection with the opinion of General Grant just quoted, the statement of General Sheridan that General Miles, at Sutherland Station, “carried the point which covered the retreat from Petersburg and Richmond,” a glance at any map of the environs of Petersburg will indicate that, had General Sheridan been with his command upon that line of retreat on the morning of April 2, as General Meade’s despatch of 10 a. m. of that date states it was supposed he would be, and had General Humphreys been allowed to continue the pursuit of the enemy retreating before the Second Corps as he proposed and had commenced to do, there can be no doubt but that the whole of the Confederate force at Sutherland Station would have been destroyed or captured, and the way to the upper crossings of the Appomattox River have been left undisputed save by possible remnants of General Fitz Lee’s cavalry. It would seem, therefore, that on the morning of April 2, General Grant had at least a very favorable chance to confine General Lee between the Appomattox and James rivers. As it was, with General Sheridan controlling that portion of the field, the Fifth Corps, by his order, wasted the morning of April 2, in a false march eastward from Five Forks, and the evening of April 3, found the Army of the Shenandoah, and the Fifth Army Corps, confronted by the Confederate rear-guard at Deep Creek — but little more than twenty miles west of Sutherland Station. Then ensued movements that space forbids to follow in detail here. Suffice it to say, that, — the concentration of “the Army of the Shenandoah” with the Army of the Potomac, at Jettersville; — the retarding of the arrival of the infantry at that point until the afternoon of April 5, by the erratic movements of General Sheridan’s cavalry upon the approaches from the east; — the fact that at midnight of that date General Sheridan could give no more definite account of the enemy then moving in full force, unretarded and unobserved, upon the unguarded bridges at Farmville, than such as enabled General Grant to “have no doubt Lee was moving right then”;—the sacrifice of General Read and Colonel Washburn, and their gallant little command, on the morning of April 6;—the fact that the retreating Confederate army was first discovered at 9 a. m. of April 6, by the cavalry escort attached to the headquarters of the Second Army Corps;—the disappearance of the despatches of the commander of that corps giving information of the unequalled achievement of his troops in the combat which immediately followed, and which made possible General Sheridan’s share in the victory at Sailor’s Creek;—the ignoring of the isolated position of the Second Corps when at Cumberland Church on the afternoon of April 7, it held at bay north of the Appomattox River all that remained organized of the Army of Northern Virginia;—the separation of General Grant from General Meade, and from direct communication with General Lee, on the early morning of April 9;—these, and many other details of that movement from Petersburg to Appomattox Court House, admit of but one intelligible explanation—that claimed by Generals Badeau and Sheridan, and tacitly admitted by General Grant.

The Army of the Potomac has never asked to share the reputation, or the responsibility, attaching to the peculiar tactics of that campaign; but it will be an ungrateful country indeed that fails to recognize and award that army—tried and true as few armies have ever been—the respect and gratitude due to the heroic loyalty and self-forgetfulness that nerved its efforts, and in every trial proved it, in the words of its noble chief, “regardless of any other consideration than the vital one of destroying the Army of Northern Virginia.”


  1. McClellan, Carswell. Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan (St. Paul: Press of W. L. Banning, Jr.: 1889), pp. 56-77
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