No.74. Reports of Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Army Corps.1
NEW YORK, February 21, 1865 .
General GEORGE D. RUGGLES,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Military Division of the Atlantic:
GENERAL: I forward herewith my report of the operations of the Fifth Corps during the 29th, 30th, and 31st of last March. The long time consumed was unavoidable, for I am without any assistance in my work, the War Department being unable to grant me an assistant or even to pay for copying my report. This copy I send you is not very neat, and it is the only I have made. If you have force enough in your office will you not please have a fair copy made for yourself and return this one to me for my own file. I will compare and sign the copy you make if you wish it.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. K. WARREN,
Major Engineers, &c.
The initial movement of the final campaign was made by the Fifth Corps at 3 a. m. on the 29th of March, no other portions of the army moving till 6 . m. The Fifth Corps was at the time composed as follows:
First. The First Division, commanded by Bvt. Major General Charles Griffin, contained 6,547 men. It was divided into three brigades: The Third Brigade was under General J. J. Bartlett, being composed of veteran regiments, and numbered —; the Second Brigade was under General Gregory, and numbered —; the First Brigade was under General J. L. Chamberlain, and numbered —.
Second. The Second Division, Bvt. Major General R. B. Ayres commanding, contained about 3,980 men, divided up as follows: The Maryland Brigade (the Second), — strong, under General Denison; the Third Brigade, — strong, under General Gwyn; and the First Brigade, General Fred. Winthrop commanding, — strong. Both Generals Griffin and Ayres were officers of the regular artillery and graduates of Went Point.
Third. The Third Division, which was 5,260 strong and commanded by Bvt. Major, General S. W. Crawford. It was composed of all the regiments that had belonged to the old First Army Corps prior to its consolidation with the Fifth. This division had been organized for General Crawford by General Meade’s order, after the battle of the Weldon Railroad, where General Crawford’s previous command suffered a heavy loss in prisoners. The three brigades of this division were commanded – the First, — strong, by Colonel Kellogg; the Second, — strong, by General Baxter; the Third, — strong, by General Coulter.
The artillery of the corps consisted of two rifled-gun batteries of four guns each and three light 12-pounder batteries of fourth guns each, the whole under command of Bvt. Brigadier General C. S. Wainwright. The staff of the corps was full of experienced and educated officers: Colonel H. C. Bankhead, inspector-general, and Major William T. Gentry, commissary of musters, were graduates of the Military Academy. Colonel F. T. Locke, the adjutant-general, had held his position form the first organization
of the corps in May, 1862. Colonel A. L. Thomas, chief quartermaster; Colonel D. L. Smith, chief commissary; Dr. T. R. Spencer, medical director; Dr. Charles K. Winne, medical inspector; Captain Malbon, chief ambulance officer, and Captain George B. Halsted, assistant adjutant-general, were all experienced and [of] unquestioned ability in their departments. Major E. B. Cope, my principal aide-de-camp, was a very skillful topographer, an indispensable officer in the column having the advance over a country like that we were upon. Captain James W. Wadsworth, son of the lamented general, and Captain Gordon Winslow, son of the lamented Rev. Gordon Winslow, were my personal aided. Captain W. H. H. Benyaurd, of the regular engineers, was detached from General Meade’s staff to accompany me, and gave most important assistance. Major Van Brocklin, of the Engineer Brigade, with a light pontoon train of canvas boats, also accompanied me. Captain Horrell commanded my escort of about forty mounted men, which constituted the cavalry of the corps.
The map which we possessed of the country into which the Fifth Corps was about to operate, was what was known as the Dinwiddie County map, prepared many years ago, and republished for our use on a scale of one inch to the mile. It gave no topography except the main streams and main roads. The names of the occupants of the houses did not now all correspond to those on the map; some of them, too, had disappeared, and others had been erected in placed not noted. The map contained no distinction of the forest and clearings or swamps, all of which have ever played a most important part in the Virginia campaigns. I give a copy of the map with which we set out* and one on the same scale of the country as we found it.+
The country in which we were to operate was of the forest kind common to Virginia, being well watered by swampy streams. The surface is level and the soil clayey or sandy, and, where these mix together, like quicksand. The soil, after the frosts of winter first leave it, is very light and soft, and hoofs and wheels find but little support.
The following extracts are from the order for the general movement directed by General Meade, dated March 27, but received by me during the afternoon of the 28th:
The following movements of the corps of this army are ordered:
1. At 3 a. m. of the 29th instant the Fifth Army Corps, Major-General Warren commanding, will move to the crossing of Hatcher’s Run at W. Pekins’ house; thence west to the junction of the old stage road and the Vaughan road, and from this point will open communication with the Second Corps on the Vaughan road. this accomplished, the Fifth Corps will be moved to occupy a position in the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court-House.
* * * * * * *
8. The chief engineer Army of the Potomac will detail a pontoon train of about 100 feet of bridge to accompany the Fifth Corps to Hatcher’s Run.
* * * * * * *
10. Each corps will be prepared to move with five four-gun batteries – three smooth-bore and two rifled.
On the receipt of the above the following order was prepared and issued by me:
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 22.
HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
March 28, 1865.
The following will be the order of march to-morrow:
1. At 3 a. m. General Ayres, with his division, will cross Arthur’s Swamp; proceed south, via the Goshen house and B. V. Kelly’s,++ to the stage road; thence along
*See Plate XCIV, Map 8 of the Atlas.
+See Plate XCIV, Map 9 of the Atlas.
++H. W. Shelley’s on map.
train, and that does not cross until after the bridge is laid will mass and park. As soon as the crossing is gained a double bridge will be laid, and General Ayres will proceed (as soon as the two batteries can cross) to the junction of the stage road with the Vaughan road, at Miss Hargrave’s, keeping the column stretched out on the road after crossing, so as to lose no time in so doing.
2. General Ayres’ batteries will be immediately followed by General Griffin’s division.
3. The remaining artillery and entrenching tools will follow General Griffin.
4. General Crawford will follow the artillery.
5. The train designated to accompany the troops and the bridge train not already in use will follow General Crawford’s division, and with these will be sent all the pack animals and servants, and they will not be allowed to accompany the troops.
6. The command in this order will proceed as rapidly as possible, via J. Hargrave’s and J. Kidd’s, to Dinwiddie Court-House, promptly attacking the enemy if found opposing the advance, and keeping well closed up to the front. The troops must by all means be kept in the ranks of their respective companies, and any man may be justifiably shot who leaves without permission from division commander.
7. Headquarters of the corps will be with the advance division.
8. The trains authorized to accompany the corps across Rowanty Creek are – one medical wagon; for each division; ambulance train (one-half the ambulances); ammunition wagons sufficient to carry twenty rounds per man; one wagon for each brigade for sales to officers; forage for one day must be carried in the spring wagons or on the horses.
9. The remaining wagons will be parked under the direction of the corps quartermaster near W. Perkins’, and after the day’s operations are completed, on application at corps headquarters, other supplies can be brought up at night if needed.
10. As a battle is expected the command must be as little encumbered as possible and prepared for action so that nothing will have to be sent to the rear when the fighting begins.
11. The musicians will be left in camp to sound reveille as usual, not at the hour of march, but as sounded under ordinary circumstances. Commanders are requested to give the matter their particular attention. After the usual hour of reveille has been sounded the musicians can join their respective commands.
By command of Major-General Warren:
FRED. T. LOCKE,
Brevet Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.
After the above order was issued the following was received from General Meade’s adjutant-general:
2. Major-General Warren will move at the hour designated, but will not proceed beyond the junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads till notified that Major-General Humphreys is in position, or nearly so. On being so notified Major-General Warren will advance on the Boydton plank road, taking position with his right in connection with General Humphreys and reserving sufficient force to refuse and guard his left. Major-General Warren will also advance skirmishers, well supported; and in case the enemy is found outside his works attack and endeavor to force him back to them. Corps commander are notified the cavalry will be occupied on the left of the Fifth Corps.
About 8.25 p. m. March 28 I also received the following dispatch from General Meade’s chief of staff:
General Humphreys is not certain that he can reach the Quaker road. He is instructed to place his right within supporting distance of General Ord and to form his line and determine his left by his formation of his corps. He is informed that you will probably move up the Quaker road to connect with his left after being informed of his position.
It will be noticed that these two dispatches differ about the road I was to move upon – the once saying the Boydton road, and the other the probability of the Quaker road. As General Humphreys was not to move till 9 a. m. it was obvious that, unless I was greatly impeded by the enemy, I should reach the junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads
much in advance of his getting into position, so as “to determine his left.” I should therefore have to take up a position while waiting his movements. From my previous acquaintance with this locality, gained in the movement made in February, I knew that to get a good position of my troops I should have to extend my left to include a high ridge at H. Hargrave’s. This would place me within half a mile of the Boydton road should I be directed ultimately to move out on the at road, and leave the remainder of my force near the junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads, so as to move up the latter if required to. In obedience to the orders the head of the column (General Ayres’ division) moved out precisely at 3 a. m. The excitement of moving and the necessary preparations kept almost every one from sleeping any of the preceding portion of the night.
At 4.45 a. m. the head of the column reached the crossing of Rowanty Creek. A few shorts were fired by the enemy’s lookouts there, probably as an alarm signal, but no opposition was made to our crossing. the engineers speedily laid a canvas pontoon bridge, and meanwhile the troops were scrambling across on fallen trees by the wrecks of a former ridge. As soon as the bridge was passable for horses I passed over with my escort, and we again began to advance. For the first mile our progress was somewhat impeded by trees which the enemy had cut down, and which were removed as we went along. The roads were dry except in the swampy places.
At 8 a. m. the head of the column reached the junction of the Vaughan and stage roads. This information I communicated to General Humphreys, along the Vaughan road, by Captain Winslow and an escort of ten mounted men. I then went with the troops to superintend the taking up the position required, while awaiting the movements of General Humphreys. At 10.20 I received the following dispatch by Major Jay, written by General Webb at 8.45 a.m.:
Major-General Meade directs you to move up the Quaker road to Gravelly Run crossing. By throwing out parties on your right you will be able to find General Humphreys in the direction of J. Slaughter’s (the most northerly). He is feeling out in that direction.
To this I sent back by Major Jay the following reply:
I have just received the dispatch by Major Jay. I think my skirmishers are out on the Quaker road as far as Gravelly Run. They had been ordered there, and I’ll see that it is done. My command will be posted as follows: One brigade, with the trains, at the junction of the Vaughan and stage roads; two brigades at the crossing of the Quaker and Vaughan roads; a brigade up the Quaker road; one on the road leading to R. Boisseau; Griffin’s division near Chapel, Scott, and Hargrave. Skirmish lines will be put well out, and as soon as things are in hand I will push out a force to R. Boisseau’s on the plank road. Barringer’s brigade, and perhaps a division of cavalry, passed down the Quaker road to Stony Creek yesterday. No enemy met; a few scouts seen.
At 12 m. I received the following from General Webb, written 11.20 a. m.:
From your last dispatch the major-general commanding would infer that you did not understand his last order by Major Jay. Your disposition to cover your left flank and rear are approved, but this must not prevent your moving your corps up the Quaker road across Gravelly Run, and then facing north, with your right connecting with with General Humphreys. This done, you can make disposition to cover your left, and you will cover and hold the plank road, if possible, with your corps.
I immediately ordered General Griffin’s division up the Quaker road, and sent the following dispatch to General Webb, by Captain Emory, the bearer of the last dispatch received:
I did not understand till Captain Emory came that I was to move my corps up the Quaker road. My dispositions were preliminary to feeling out from my assigned
position here. I have sent my escort out toward R. Boisseau, and they have not yet returned. General Griffin’s division is now moving up the Quaker road, as directed, and I will send Crawford after him and dispose of the troops according to developments and as directed in the dispatch just received.
General Meade himself joined me at the junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads, and we proceeded with the troops north to Gravelly Run. Here we found the bridge broken, and the stream too deep to be easily forded. The skirmish line, however, got over and engaged a small force of the enemy truing to stop our advance, but they were speedily driven back and followed up.
The pioneers of General Griffin’s division commenced at once to construct a bridge, which, in the usual time, they rendered practicable though somewhat difficult for artillery.
During the afternoon Major Van Brocklin added here a pontoon bridge. The north bank of Gravelly Run presented an excellent position for the enemy to dispute the advance up the Quaker road, and breast-works had been thrown up for that purpose. But had they been occupied in force possession of them could have been gained bay flank and rear attack by the Second Corps, a division of which might have soon been disposed for that purpose.
My advance, soon after crossing Gravelly Run, passed the left flank of the Second Corps, which, moving up in extended line through difficult woods, did so more slowly. The resistance of the enemy gradually increased till, in the vicinity of Wilson’s and Arnold’s old saw-mill, between 3 and 4 p. m., his line of battle was met, and a sanguinary encounter took place. The road was found seriously obstructed with fallen trees, but the pioneers labored with energy and a way was soon cleared, and a 12-pounder battery was brought up and opened on the enemy.
Captain Horrell, commanding my escort, was sent out on the road which leaves the Quaker road one mile north of Gravelly Run and goes to the plank road, and engaged the skirmishers on the enemy’s right, and General Crawford was ordered to from behind Captain Horrell’s skirmishers and on General Griffin’s left.
The fire of General Griffin’s division was, however, so effective that the enemy gave way in his front, and the enemy fell back everywhere on his line, leaving about 100 prisoners and the dead and wounded in our hands. Our loss was about 370 killed and wounded; among the former was the lamented Major Maceuen, of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers. The brave General Chamberlain, of Maine, was slightly wounded and his clothes quite riddled with bullets; General Sickel, of Pennsylvania, was also wounded. At the time of writing this, I have not received General Griffin’s report. I, however, quote the following from General Chamberlain’s report of First Brigade, First Division:
On reaching Gravelly Run Major-General Griffin directed me to form my brigade in order of battle and advance against some works which were in sight on the opposite bank. Crossing the run, I sent Major E. A Glenn, commanding second battalion of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, forward with his command as skirmishers,and formed my lines, with Bvt. Brigadier General H. G. Sickel, One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, on the right, and Colonel G. Sniper, One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, on the left of the road. Major Glenn pushed forward vigorously and drove the enemy’s skirmishers out of their works without any difficulty, and succeeded in pushing them through the woods and as far as the Lewis house. The enemy making considerable show of force in the edge of woods beyond. I halted Major Glenn and brought my line of battle up to supporting distance. Here I was directed to halt. In a short time I was ordered by General Griffin to resume the advance. There being at that time no firing of any consequence on the skirmish line
I brought my line of battle up to that point, reformed it on the buildings, re-enforced the skirmishers by a company from the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, and commenced a rapid advance with my whole command. The skirmishers reached the edge of the woods before the firing became at all severe. I was exceedingly anxious that the troops should gain the cover of the woods before receiving the shock of the fire, but the obstacles to be overcome were so great that this could not be fully accomplished, and my men were obliged to gain the woods against a heavy fire. They advanced, however, with great steadiness and drove the enemy from their position and far into the woods. It was not long, however, before another attack was made upon us, evidently by a greatly superior force, and we became completely enveloped in a withering fire. We replies with spirit and persistency, holding our ground, taking rather the defensive at this state of the action. In the course of half an hour my left became so heavily pressed that it gradually gave way, and at last was fairly turned, and driven entirely out of the woods to a direction parallel with the ready by which we advanced. This position could not be held ten minutes, and nothing but the most active exertions of field and staff officers kept the men where they were, the fire all the time being very severe. At this movement, I sent a request for General Gregory, commanding Second Brigade, on my left, to attack the enemy in flank in their newly gained position. I was assured by Major-General Griffin, who was on the line, that if we could hold on five, minutes he could bring up the artillery. Upon this I succeeded in rallying the men, and they once ore gained the woods. Battery B of the Fourth U. S. Artillery now came into position and opened a most effective fire. By this assistance we held the line until the enemy fell heavily upon our right and center, and my men being by this time out of ammunition, many of them absolutely without a cartridge, began to yield ground. Seeing that this was inevitable I dispatched an aide ot General Gregory asking him for a regimen, and at the same time Major-General Griffin ordered up three regiments of the Third Brigade. These regiments came promptly to our assistance. I was at that movement endeavoring to reform my broken line, so as, at all events, to cover the artillery. The line was falling back in front of the Lewis house when Lieutenant-Colonel Doolittle, of the One hundred and eighty-eighth New York came up, gallantly leading his regiment, as also Colonel partridge, Sixteenth Michigan; the One hundred and fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and First Michigan came on in the most handsome and fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and First Michigan came on in the most handsome manner, passing to my front, Brevet Brigadier-General Pearson, of the One hundred and fifty-fifth, grasping his colors and dashing straight against the enemy’s line. The assistance and the admirable service of the artillery compelled the enemy to abandon their position; otherwise I must have been driven entirely from the field.
This action lasted nearly two hours before any support reached us. I need not speak of the severity of the engagement, nor of the conduct of my officers and men, inasmuch as it was all under the eye and direction of the major-general commanding, who shared the dangers, as well as the responsibilities, of that field; but I may be permitted to mention the fact that more than 400 of my men and 18 officers killed and wounded marked our line with too painful destructiveness. Nor can I fail to speak of the steadfast coolness and courage of Brevet Brigadier-General Sickel, whose example and conduct made my efforts needless on that part of the line, until he was borne from the field severely wounded; the unflinching tenacity of Colonel Sniper at this perilous post, and the desperate bravery with which he rallied his men, seizing his colors after it had fallen from the hands of three color-bearers and a captain, and bearing it into the very ranks of the enemy; the fiery courage of Major Glenn, which could scarcely be restrained; and of the heroic spirit of Major Maceuen, who fell dead foremost in the ranks of honor; nor shall I forget to name the young gentlemen of my staff-Lieutenants Walters and Vogel, my personal aides, both painfully wounded, but keeping the field to the last; Lieutenant Mitchell, my adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Fisher, pioneer officer-who rendered me essential aid in the hottest of the fire. Private Kelsey, my orderly, rode upon the enemy’s line and captured, under my own eyes, an officer and five men, and brought them in. Remaining on the field that night and the next day we buried our dead and 130 of the enemy’s, and brought in the wounded of both parties.
General Griffin’s skirmish line was advanced by my order as soon as the enemy gave way, myself accompanying it, and did not stop till it drew the fire of the enemy’s artillery from breast-works about half a mile north of the junction of the Quaker road with the plank road to Boydton. This position of the enemy was then thought by us to be his main line. The One hundred and eighteenth Pennsylvania Volunteers drove the last of the enemy out of the position where the two roads join, but a farther advance could not be made across the large, open field, occupied
General Crawford’s troops, on the left of General Griffin’s, mistook the direction given them, so that neither got up into position till after dark. A farther advance against the enemy could not be made that night, and it was believed we had accomplished what was expected by our instructions.
In different dispatches to General Meade the above facts were reported.
In a dispatch from General Webb, written at 7 p. m., I had the gratification to find the following:
The major-general commanding directs me to congratulate you and General Griffin upon your success to-day.
I communicated a copy of this to General Griffin, who was eminently deserving praise.
During the night in entrenched a brigade and two batteries at J. Stroud’s, the most advanced position we had gained, and placed General Crawford’s division on and facing west from the plank road, his left resting on Gravelly Run, the plank road bridge over it having been destroyed by the enemy. General Ayres was held in reserve and to picket here rear, a measure rendered necessary for the security of our position and trains, which latter might be attacked by the enemy’s cavalry (Barringer’s) that had been reported to have passed south of us.
The following sketch shows the location of the Fifth Corps and the enemy on the night of March 29, 1865-scale one inch per mile.*
*See reduced scale in cut.
During the evening of the 29th the following dispatch was received from General Meade’s assistant adjutant-general-Colonel Ruggles:
Major-General Warren will advance his line at 6 a. m. to-morrow, letting his relight rest over and across the Quaker road and his left extending as far as i consistent with a due covering and guarding of his flank.
Major-General Humphreys will at the same time advance his line, keeping his left connected with Major-General Warren and throwing his right forward as far as Crow’s. The object of this movement is to force the enemy into his line of works and develop the same, and, if he is found out of his line, to give battle. Corps commanders will endeavor to have reserves suitably posted along their lines, and will render each other such mutual support as the exigencies of the hour may demand.
This was succeeded by the following from General Webb, chief of staff, written at 9.20 p. m., received at 11 p. m.:
The major-general commanding directs me to state that from your dispatch he infers that the main points of the order now sent to you have been practically carried out by General Griffin. You will, however, determine this definitely in the morning, and the enemy being driven within hoes works, you will extend your line to the left and will determine the position of his works. General Humphreys will push on, and will do the same in his front. You will develop to your left as far as possible consistent with the instructions to protect your flank.
In accordance with the above I issued the following order at 11.20 p. m.:
Division commanders will hold their commands in readiness at 6 a. m. to-morrow either to advance upon the enemy or to repel any attempt upon his part. The order is to advance.
It began to rain during the night, and continued on through out the 30th, sometimes falling heavily. This made the roads and fields almost impracticable for artillery and filled the swamps with water. Heavy details had to be sent back to assist the trains, which were nearly immovable in the mud.
At 5.50 a. m. I sent the following to General Webb:
I have my command all in readiness, but my advance is so far ahead of General Humphreys and in sight of the enemy across the open ground that I do not think it advisable to attempt anything more northward until General Humphreys gets into position on my right. My left, on the plank road, cannot be extended with propriety till I can get some idea of General Sheridan’s movement, and now rests on Gravelly Run, and, if I move, it will in the air. I believe I am now in the best position I can be, unless an assault is intended on the enemy’s lines near the Quaker road. I cannot move forward, and it does not appear a favorable place in front of Griffin.
At 6 a. m. I sent the following to General Humphreys, commanding Second Corps:
I do not think it best to advance any farther till General Miles gets up in position on my right, which, as the woods are difficult, will take some time. A broad, open
To this I received the following reply from General Humphreys:
Your dispatch of 6 a. m. is just received. My third and Second Divisions are moving, but through a dense and most impenetrable swamp, and their progress is necessarily slow. General Miles has orders to keep moving, keeping his connection with you. I have just repeated these orders to him.
At 6 a. m. I also sent the following order to General Griffin, commanding First Division:
Have General Bartlett’s skirmish line feel the enemy in his front and ascertain if they are in the same position as last night, if he had not already determined it, and send me a report in writing.
At 7.30 a. m. I received the following from General Griffin:
Since the fog has lifted a little I find the right of my skirmish line within 150 yards of a complete line of rifle-pits, now held in, as far as developed, the usual force for such a line. I have made a demonstration with my skirmish line, which is in the open field, and am satisfied the position will be hotly contested. I send a diagram of my lines and the lines of the enemy, with the supposed line of advance of the Second Corps. No connection has yet been made with me on my right or left, either by line of battle or skirmish line.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOS. J. BARTLETT,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Brigade.
Since the above was written it has been reported that the Second Corps connects.
I then sent this to General Webb, chief of staff, with the following remarks:
I send the above for your information. General Crawford is in force across a swamp on Griffin’s left. We have a corporal from Johnson’s division, captured this morning on the skirmish line. From the shape of the enemy’s line I think there must be a considerable salient or bend near Dabney’s Mill.
At this time my information was that the enemy held Dabney’s Mill. At 8.30 a. m. I received the following dispatch from General Webb, written, probably, on the receipt of my dispatch to him of 5.50 a. m.:
General Meade does not think you hold as much of the front line as the strength of your command would warrant. He desires to have you make use of both Crawford’s and Ayres’ to develop to the left. he cannot give you any more definite information of General Sheridan’s movements than to state that he is ordered to attack or turn the enemy’s right. You must act independently of Sheridan, and, protecting your flanks, extend to the left as far as possible. If the enemy comes out and turns your left you must attack him. You will be supported with all the available force to be procured.
A. S. WEBB,
Chief of Staff.
Preparations were immediately made to carry out this order “to extend to the left as far as possible,” and General Ayres’ division was moved up to my most advanced position on the left, and reconnoitering parties were sent out to gain a knowledge of the country to my left. This dispatch placed me in much perplexity. I had already stared that I could not extend farther with safety to my remaining in position, and yet this dispatch required me to extend farther; and yet did not define how far, nor for what object. I had no desire but to comply with instructions; but leaving the limit of extension discretionary with me, while being dissatisfied with my use of this discretion and requiring
me to extend farther, and not saying how far now what for, was most embarrassing. The fault of these unlimited extensions were inevitable exposure of the flanks. It was a system that, notwithstanding what we had suffered from it, the orders to the corps commanders constantly required, and the enemy were so aware of this prevailing plan that they constantly provided to attack the flank as soon as we had fairly exposed it, as we were required to do in closing upon the enemy’s entrenchments. These entrenchments, from their artificial strength, enabled the enemy to hold with comparatively weak force, and to detach, notwithstanding his inferiority in numbers, a force to operate on our flank, where a blow could be given with even a small body.
Illustrations of the weakness of our lines from extension and of consequent disastrous swoops of the enemy upon them are numerous through out the war. Our flanks could only be secure, either in moving into position or advancing to attack, by providing a heavy mass of troops at that always threatened point. If the enemy came out and turned my flak it was inevitable that I would have to receive his attack, provided I extended my lines “as far as possible.” I therefore sent the following questions to General Webb, at 8.30 a. m.:
I have just received, your dispatch dated 7.50 a. m. If I extend my line to the left as far as “possible,” using both Crawford and Ayres,” and “the enemy turns my left,” what will I have to attack him with?
I would further remark here that in almost every instance orders from above me so disposed of my troops that they could not be kept together or moved together as General Grant’s report says mine should have moved on the 31st.
At 9 a.m . I received the following dispatch from General Webb, written 8.40 a. m.:
From deserters and prisoners we learn that the enemy’s line runs along the White Oak Ridge road to Boydton plank road; then back on the road to Burgess’ Mill, and then down Hatcher’s Run. Humphreys has possession of Dabney’s Mill. Their picket-line was a rifle-pit and easily taken.
At 9.20 a. m. I sent the following dispatch to General Webb:
Your dispatch of 8.40 a. m. (Numbers 3) just received. The information I have received is of the same effect as that you send me. Two deserters report the line immediately in front of General Griffin as what they think a strong one, with two lines of obstructions in front. They had a large number of negroes to work upon it yesterday. General Crawford is at present making a temporary line near the plank road on which we can reform in case of a reverse after advancing. I will then extend my left as far as practicable.
At 9.55 a. m. I received the following from General Webb, written 9.30 a. m.:
General Meade directs that you send Colonel Walsh to his position at the junction of the old stage and Quaker roads, and directs him to report from that point ot General Macy, provost-marshal-general. He is very anxious to have you cover as much of the front line as possible consistent with the safety of your command, and his idea was that you would put both Griffin and Crawford in front, keeping a portion of each as a reserve, and keeping Ayres to cover you left flank.
At 9.50 a. m. I sent the following to General Webb:
Captain Gillespie has just come from General Sheridan’s headquarters, at Dinwiddie Court-House, on his way to General Grant. He came up the Boydton plank road. When he left Dinwiddie Court-House one division of the cavalry was to move out on the road due north of Dinwiddie, and mass at Boisseau’s, then feel out toward the White Oak road. General Sheridan remains at Dinwiddie with one other division, and the other division is upon Stony Creek, where the Vaughan road crosses. I shall soon send out General Ayres’ division on a reconnaissance from Mrs. Butler’s northwesterly toward S. Dabney’s. He will be in position to develop the enemy’s line, and where I can support him with General Crawford, and where he can co-operate with General Sheridan if he comes within reach.
My idea of the way I should extend my line I have indicated in my dispatch of 9.50. Having my troops all well in hand I can move out Ayres in column to-day as I did Griffin yesterday, and if he meets the enemy give him battle. I can support him, if needed, with nearly the whole corps, and follow up any advantage gained, and if I am worsted I have a good place to reform on. This may seem a little slow, but it is the only way we can keep our troops working together and conduct operations with certainty. The amount of line I can occupy will depend upon the character of the country I develop. The roads and fields are getting too bad for artillery, and I do not believe General Sheridan can operate advantageously. If General Humphreys is able to straighten out his line between my right and the vicinity of the Crow house, he will nearly all day fining out how matters stand. The order about the cavalry reporting to General Macy has been sent out.
Having made all the necessary preparations at 10.30 a. m. I sent the following order to General Ayres by Major-Cope:
I wish you would take your division (with a battery of artillery, if you think it practicable), and move out on a reconnaissance northwest from Mrs. Butler’s, or as near that direction as may be practicable, keeping with your own men a connection with our present picket-line, which must remain as it is. Major Cope, of my staff, will accompany you. If within a mile beyond the plank road your find any enemy drive him back, but do not advance your main force farther than that, unless to procure some obvious advantage gained, till you report to me the result. With your main body thus in good position, protecting your own flanks, advance your skirmishers out as far as prudent to reconnoiter and developed the character of the country and the enemy’s position. A portion of my escort will accompany you. General Merritt’s cavalry division is massed at J. Boisseau’s, and are feeling on the road north from that toward the White Oak road. If you become engaged with a superior force, and can hold on, I will re-enforce you with Crawford’s division as soon as called for.
At 11.15 a. m. the following dispatch was also sent to General Griffin by Colonel Locke, my adjutant-general:
The major-general commanding wishes you to swing around on the left as General Ayres moves out.
At 11.20 a. m. I received the following dispatch from General Humphreys:
My line of battle now extends in a straight line past the Crow house to your right. I have ordered the skirmishers of the two divisions and those on the right of Miles’ division to be advanced and get to Hatcher’s Run if they can. Please let me know if you are going to advance your skirmishers or line of battle, that I may have my movements conform to yours. The enemy’s main line of works on the other side of Hatcher’s Run is in view, the Crow house being 600 or 800 yards distant there.
To this I sent, at 11.20 a. m., the following reply:
My position on the plank road at the junction of the Quaker road cannot be advanced any farther, the enemy being reported strongly entrenched. There may be a little portion of my extreme right, retired last night for want of connection, which can be thrown out if your line can be advanced. Any straightening out in that portion of the lie that General Miles thinks practicable shall be done. I am about sending out a division from the plank road north northwest from Mrs. Butler’s, to reconnoiter and drive back the enemy, and shall follow up any engagement that my take place outside of the enemy’s line of work with early all the corps. Your line must now be very much shorter than it was when first taken up yesterday. Telegraph line is at my headquarters.
At 11.30 a. m. I sent the following to General Webb:
General Ayres is now moving out to extend my line. If he meets more force within a mile than he can dispose of Crawford will go to his support, and I can also use a brigade from Griffin. If the enemy is outside of his line, or comes out, we shall have a considerable fight pretty soon.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
March 30, 1865.
My idea was that we should try to extend our left so as to cross to White Oak road, say at W. Dabney’s, or as near up to the enemy as we can. This would seem to cover all the roads up to Ford’s ready, by which Sheridan might then go and get on the South Side road, and possibly double up the enemy and drive him north of Hatcher’s Run.
U. S. GRANT,
This dispatch is forwarded to you for you information simply. Your dispatch has been received. The commanding general sees no reason for any change in his previous orders to you. He has no information of General Sheridan’s movements beyond the general statement that General S. is to turn the enemy’s right.
ALEX. S. WEBB,
It did seem to me that on General Meade’s receiving this dispatch he should have signified to me whether or not I was to extend my left so as to cross the White Oak road; if not, how far I should extend it; for in this latter case I should not be carrying out General Grant’s expectations. Had I been in communication with General Grant I should certainly have solicited from his some definite information on this point. But General Meade so far differed in judgment with me that he did not think a movement for a specific object which might be impracticable did not require any modification of instructions, arriving at n apparent consummation. It seemed to me all the difference imaginable. I therefore, at 12 m., addressed the following dispatch to General Webb:
I received your dispatch inclosing one from General Grant, in which you say “the commanding general seem no reason to change his previous orders.” Your instructions have never said definitely how far I was expected to extend, nor the object desired. General Grant’s is definite on both points, and if I am to attempt that myself at all hazards I dont’s shrink from it. General Humphreys can, perhaps, extend farther to the left, if required. Common experience requires that I should extend my left toward the White Oak road with strong force and precaution against an attack from the enemy. I am very glad to know the object and extent of my farther movement to the left. I have seen General Sheridan. He has ordered a division to move north to the White Oak road, which greatly simplifies my movement.
The receiving of dispatches and giving necessary orders had kept me almost continuously engaged at my headquarters so that I had no opportunity to examine the condition of affairs personally along my front.
I now went up the Quaker road to where General Griffin’s advance was, and arrived there just as his skirmish line was advancing, that of the enemy having fallen back. What this act on their part was due to I am not aware, of, but think it probable that the advance of General Humphreys’ skirmish line some distance to my right had made the position of those in front of General Griffin untenable. Finding by personal examination that our line of battle could be now advanced across the open field to a good position, and also open the direct road to Dabney’s Miss, it was directed to move forward. General Miles’ division, of the Second Corps, also moved forward, connecting with my
right. During this movement the enemy opened with artillery from some breast-works near the Burgess house. It was for some time uncertain whether this was on the north or south side of Hatcher’s Run, but reconnaissances which we made and prisoners taken showed it to be at the junction of the plank road with the White Oak road.
I went out on our picket-line, after it had been advanced, to see the enemy’s breast-works, and found these were well located and constructed and defend by infantry and artillery, wherever the trees enabled us to see them. The timber had been well slashed to give effect to their fire, and where the fallen trees did not obstruct the ground abatis had been laid. It rained very hard during these operations.
While occupied in the above manner, I sent, at 12,40 p. m., the following:
I have just received notice from General Humphreys that deserters inform him that Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions left Petersburg this morning, and are now in the lines this side of Hatcher’s Run. P. S.-Prisoners just captured (four of them) in front of First Division picket-line report that they understood that two of the divisions that came down were Heth’s and Pickett’s.
About 1.20 p. m. I received the following dispatch from General Webb, written at 1 p. m.:
In view of the information received from the cavalry, and of the state of the weather, General Meade directs more to state you are not to shorten any line you may have developed, but you will push that well up to the enemy, and, having entrenched, you will await orders. your dispatches of 12.40 is received.
At 1.20 p. m. I received from General Webb the following from Colonel E. S. Parker, on Lieutenant-General Grant’s staff, written 12.45 p. m.:
The lieutenant just in from General Merritt’s with dispatches from Sheridan. Merritt says that the reconnaissance sent out from near Boisseau’s encountered the enemy in considerable force. They went to about two miles of the Five Forks; found the enemy occupying the road. Those going north proceeded to about a mile of the White Oak road, and found the road also occupied by the enemy. Nearly all the forces met these cavalry. All the roads leading toward the White Oak road are covered by the enemy. No engagement reported.
At 2.30 p. m. I sent the following report to General Webb-the first paragraph relating to General Griffin’s front; the latter, to General Ayres, from I had just heard:
I have advanced my line of battle to cover the junction of the Dabney Mill road with the plank road, and made a heavy advance with my skirmisher. The enemy opened with artillery from a fort near Burgess’ Tavern, and also from a point near T. Pentecoast’s. General Ayres’ advance is near S. Dabney’s, meeting that far with no opposition. From his advanced point he saw infantry moving west on the White Oak road. Soon as our attack began near the plank road there was a movement of their troops back toward Burgess’ Mill. The reports about their late movements are a little uncertain. I have received the report of General Merritt’s operations. His skirmishers could be heard due west from J. Stroud’s.
At 3.15 p. m. I sent the following to General Webb:
We have captured one officer of Pickett’s division near S. Dabney’s. He was in charge of a guard to the train that was passing west. I was mistaken about Griffin’s firing causing these troops to return; they have all gone on. Cannot General Humphreys extend a little more to the left, and let me have Griffin’s division to move out with, as well as Ayres and Crawford? I am already advanced as far as I think it would be prudent to take up a continuous line. The cavalry skirmishing is now heard southwest from Dabney’s.
At 4 p. m. I again addressed General Webb on the same subject, as follows:
General Ayres’ advance now sees the White Oak road near W. Dabney’s for three quarters of a mile. There is a difficult swamp between the plank road and that
place. I have now a continuous entrenched line from my right across Griffin’s front, and along the plank road nearly down the Gravelly Run. If General Humphreys can take charge of Griffin’s front, about 500 yards west of plank road, with the return down it, I can take my corps and block the White Oak road.
At about 4.30 p. m. the enemy made an advance against General Griffin’s skirmishers, and forced them back on Griffin’s left; but his attack was not made in much force, and was quickly driven back, and we took a few prisoners. This was probably a mere reconnaissance by the enemy to ascertain our position. The prisoners taken were perfectly raw, drafted men from North Carolina.
At 4.50 p. m. I sent the following to General Webb:
A portion of Wilcox’s division made a demonstration against Griffin about twenty minutes ago, and were easily driven back in to their lines. We took a few prisoners-broken-down men lately forced in to the service. They don’t know much, but think Johnson’s division moved to their right when they came down this morning. General Heth is here, but they do not think this division is. They think Heth commands the corps, and Hill all the defenses south of the James.
When the above was received by General Webb, he, at 7.20 p. m., sent the following, which I received at 7.30 p. m.:
Your dispatch dated 5 p. m. had just been received. Please find out and telegraph, if possible, what brigades of Wilcox’s are in your front. What grounds have those men for thinking more of his brigades than their own are there?
At 8.15, having obtained full information, I sent the following in answer to the above:
General Griffin has taken no prisoners to-day, except from Scales’ brigade. One of them, Thirty-fourth North Carolina, states his brigade was led by Major Norman [Norment]. There are four brigades in Wilcox’s division, commanded by General Scales, Colonels Howe [Hyman], Gallaway, and Stowe. They left the works in front of our signal toward at 3 o’clock this morning. Thinks all the brigades of his division were present to-day, but is not sure. General Wilcox is absent on leave.
I have quoted the last two dispatches out of the order of time, so that they may all appear here together, relating to the same subject. While still with General Griffin’s division, I, at about 5.30 p. m., received the following copy of a dispatch from Lieutenant-General Grant to General Meade; the hour it was written not stated:
GRAVELLY CREEK, March 30, 1865.
General Merritt met the enemy’s cavalry at J. Boisseau’s and drove him on the right and left roads, and pushed on himself, driving the enemy, and now occupies the White Oak road at Vie Forks, and also where the right-hand branch intersects it. Merritt lost 150 men wounded.
U. S. GRANT,
Having given General Griffin instructions to endeavor to find out everything possible in his front, and to make a dash with his skirmishers and their supports, and try to develop any weak points of the enemy, so that we might be prepared for any order during the night to make a grand assault at daybreak, I set out personally to visit the advance position of General Ayres in the daylight that yet remained. I found that he had been unable with propriety to move his artillery and headquarters farther than the swampy branch of Gravelly Run, as this stream was flooded and difficult to cross; that the ground was very soft and muddy, and the road along which his advance was made was nearly all the way through woods, affording but little chance for observation; that his picket-line was advanced nearly up to the White Oak road;
and that no opposition had compelled them to stop short of it. I then gave directions to the officer in charge of the pickets to have them advanced at sunset, and then rode back to my headquarters, which I reached some time after dark.
The only casualties reported to-day were 3 men killed and 9 wounded in the First Division, and 1 man killed in the artillery-a total of 13.
The following sketch shows the location of the troops at the close of the day, March 30, 1865:
The whereabouts of Pickett’s division that we had seen to pass along the White Oak road going west was explained by the following:
At 11 p. m. I received the following dispatches by telegraph from General Webb:
The accompanying dispatch from Major-General Sheridan is sent for your information. In consequence of the state of affairs here reported, it will be necessary General Ayres should be put on his guard, and that he should be re-enforced without delay, as the enemy may attack him at daylight. As General Humphreys will hold the right and relieve General Griffin, it is presumed that Crawford can be sent to Ayres’ support, if not there now. Acknowledge receipt of this.
The following at the same time:
General Humphreys has been ordered to relieve General Griffin with General Miles and one brigade of General Mott’s division-in all, 10,000 men-and is directed to hold the plank road and General Griffin’s line. Griffin relieved, you will support General Ayres in his position, and strengthen yourself at this point. You will hold your corps ready to attack and await further orders.
CAVALRY DIVISION, March 30, 1865-7 p. m.
Pickett’s division is developed along the White Oak, its right at Five Forks, and extending toward Petersburg. After the small force at Five Forks was driven back, no attempt was made to follow me, and the enemy did not appear to be in strong force there. Pickett’s division is on the White Oak road, his right extending as far as Five Forks. Prisoners report the enemy’s cavalry concentrated at Five Forks. I have, however, no positive information of this. General Merritt pickets nearly up to the White Oak road, and is encamped at J. Boisseau’s house.
About 11 p. m. I also received the following dispatch from General Griffin:
I regret to say that I have been unable to form any definite opinion as to the practicability of an assault the enemy’s works. My skirmish line was unable to press forward, as they encountered a skirmish line of the enemy in superior numbers, and to-morrow things may be changed.
At 11 p. m. I informed General Webb of the contents of General Griffin’s dispatch in the following, which also acknowledged the receipt of his dispatch, as requested:
Your dispatch referring to General Ayres being re-enforced and dispatch of General Sheridan’s received. General Griffin reports that he has been unable to form any definite opinion as to the practicability of making an assault.
Colonel Locke, my adjutant-general, at 11 p. m. March 30, issued the following order:
General Ayres will re-enforce his advance at daylight to-morrow morning with his whole division. General Crawford will hold his command ready to follow General Ayres. General Griffin, as soon as relieved by General Humphreys’ troops, will move down the Boydton plank road to where General Ayres now is.
It will be seen now that General Crawford was still in position on the Boydton plank road, as I had wished to use him where necessity might require, either to the right or left. The point at which General Ayres’ headquarters were was the point designated for Griffin’s division. I directed the advance of General Ayres to be re-enforced at daybreak, as it could not well be done in the night without a great consumption of time and loss of rest to the men; and, beside that, non account of the darkness and bad road, and want of knowledge of the position, the troops would not be in as good order to meet an attack at daybreak as if fresh and moving up to the point. No attack at daybreak was made by the enemy, nor any attack ordered for me to make, as intimated might be in General Webb’s dispatch of 11 p. m.
At 12.10 a. m. the following dispatch was received from General Webb, time of writing not given:
General Griffin will be relieved as soon as possible. General Humphreys will be instructed to report to you when the division starts.
And at the same time the following from General Humphreys:
I am directed to relieve General Griffin with Miles’ division, and take up the line now held Griffin, and take up the return on Boydton plank road. I am to send a brigade from Mott’s division to support the left of the line after Griffin leaves. I have given the necessary orders to carry this out as soon as possible. Can you send me some description of the position held by Griffin, indicated in the instructions I have received, as above stated?
To this last Colonel Locke, adjutant-general, sent the following reply, at 12.25 a. m. March 31:
In reply to your dispatch of 12 p. m. General Warren having retired, I have the honor to state that General Griffin occupies a line of works from the left of your
line on the Boydton plank road, running one-fourth a mile west, then refused to the rear until it again strikes the plank road near the junction of the Quaker road, from thence south on the plank road a few hundred yards. The left of his picket-line rests near a large branch of Gravelly Run.
At 6.10 a. m. March 31 the following dispatch was received from General Ayres, written at an hour not named:
I have the honor to request that the line of pickets now extending to the Dabney house may be relieved by other troops as soon as my division take up it snow position. I would relieve them by other troops of this division, but those troops new on are so well tired out (having been on picket at the last position on the Vaughan road) that I can’t expect much service from them to-day, and the effective force of the division would thus be reduced.
The following directions were consequently sent at 7 a. m. to General Crawford:
Withdraw all your pickets south of those established by General Ayres; then move with your whole division and mass it by a horse occupied by a colored man; then replace General Ayres’ pickets from left of General Humphreys up to a point north of negro house. Make your headquarters at that house. Leave the pioneers of two brigades to begin to make a bridge across the stream for the passage of artillery. Major Cope will go with you and assist you in carrying out this order.
Instructions were also sent to General Crawford to support General Ayres, and it was my intention to go in person to superintend operations at the point as soon as the giving and receiving instructions necessary for the operations of the day would permit. On this morning, as on the preceding one, the dispatches received and orders rendered thereby necessary to be issued retained me at the vicinity of the telegraph office till nearly 9 a.m.
At 7.35 a. m. the following dispatch was received from General Webb, per U. S. military telegraph, written at 7.30 a. m. March 31, 1865:
The general commanding desires you to report the position of your troops this a. m.
In answer to which the following was sent:
General Griffin’s troops will be massed near Mrs. Butler’s General Ayres’ near S. Dabney’s; General Crawford 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 that runs south from the White Oak Ridge, joining the main 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 to work on it. I will send you a sketch.
Finding myself still delayed in going to General Ayres position, the following dispatch was sent to him at 8.15 a. m. March 31:
During the night I received a dispatch, of which the inclosed is a copy. I infer from that that the small force of General Merritt which gained the White Oak road fell back again a short distance. The point called Five Forks, alluded to, is on the White Oak road, about four miles due west from S. Dabney’s. You must, therefore, have your dispositions made to look out for any force coming against your left flank from the west, as well as from the north. General Crawford is to mass at the negro house in a field which you passed on your way out, and Griffin is where you camped last night. I send you a tracing.
At 8.40 a. m. I received the following dispatch from General Webb, written 8.25 a. m.:
There is firing along Humphreys’ front. The major-general commanding desires you be ready to send your reserve, if it should be called for, to support Humphreys. There will be no movement of troops to-day.
Your dispatch of 8.25 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 could 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 Humphreys’ line at any time, or threaten to do so, I shall not wait for orders to assist him if can.
At 8.50 a. m. the following was received from General Humphreys, written 7.40 a. m.:
Please let me know where you right will rest, that I may connect with you, General Miles has already relieved General Griffin, and I find a vacant space on his left.
At 8.55 a. m. the following order was received from General Meade’s headquarters, and the necessary orders consequent upon it were given to the chief of artillery, chief quartermaster, and chief commissary:
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 every one authorized to accompany them. The empty supply wagons will be sent to the rear, to be refiled at the railroad terminus. The chief engineer and corps commanders will use every exertion to make practicable the roads to the rear, and communicating with their several commands.
At 9 a. m. the following dispatch was sent to General Humphreys in reply to his:
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 with the line refused. I had a portion of Griffin and a battery stationed at Stroud’s for support. I don’t think your left could be turned, even if I moved away, without your having full information; but as my troops now are, I could move Griffin right turn your flank along with my artillery. I shall work hard all day to get the road through the woods in order.
At 9.40 a. m.,from information received, I sent the following dispatch:
Chief of Staff:
I have just received report from Generally Ayres that the enemy have their pickets still this 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 deemed essentially necessary to the safety of our position, and only rendered the more so by the suspension of a further movement of troops, as this pause would give time to the enemy to gain a knowledge of our force and position. And in order that the troops might gain rest while operations were suspended a greater distance would be required between our picket-line and line of battle to give the latter time to fully get under arms so soon as any pressure of the advancing enemy showed itself at the advance posts. To prevent any relaxation of vigilance till our position should be made secure, I gave no notice to my command of the order suspending movements. General Webb on receiving the above-quoted dispatch sent me the following, written 10.30 a. m.:
Your dispatch giving Ayres’ position is received. General Meade directs that should you determine by your reconnaissance that you can get possession of and hold the White Oak road you to do so, notwithstanding the order to suspend operations to-day.
General Winthrop, with his brigade, of General Ayres’ division, advanced about 10.30 a. m. and was repulsed, and simultaneously an attack with had been preparing against General Ayres was made by the enemy in heavy force, both from the north and west, and he was forced back. General Ayres and General Crawford did all that was in their power to stay the enemy. I hastened toward the point of attack, but on arriving near General Crawford’s division it was also being forced back, and all our efforts to hold the men in the woods were unavailing. I am unable to give a more detailed account of this affair, not having reports of it from General Ayres and General Crawford. I then directed the formation of General Griffin’s divisions along the branch of Gravelly Run, with Mink’s battery on his right. General Crawford’s and General Ayres’ divisions formed behind and in this line, and
Sever fighting at the creek now ensued and the advance of the enemy completely checked.
I had early in these occurrences sent word of them to General Humphreys, on my right. He at once ordered up General Miles’ division on my right, and a brigade of this advance gallantly against the enemy, but was at first driven back.
The temporary result of this attack by the enemy was such as different portions of our army had experienced on many former occasions in taking up new and extended lines, but our loss was not great, and was probably quite equaled by the enemy.
The prospect of fighting the enemy outside of his breast-works, instead of having to assail him behind his defenses and through his obstructions, was one sufficiently animating to our hopes to more than compensate for the partial reverse we had sustained, and preparations were at once instituted for an advance with the whole corps.
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 follow 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’ division (a brigade of it) afterwarded 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 gong to send forward a brigade, supported by all I can get of Crawford and Ayres, 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 corps available, took place a little after the time specified above.
General Humphreys’ division, under General Miles, also advanced against the enemy about the same period on our right, but his movement was not made in close connection with mine. While my corps was moving the following dispatch, written 2.50 p. m., was received from General Webb:
The following is received from General Humphreys:
“From the prisoners taken it is apparent that the left of Pickett’s division is opposite the center of Miles. An advance of the Fifth Corps, swinging round, must necessarily take Pickett on his right flank. Pickett is the right of their lines.
“A. A. H.,
Since Miles is already well forward from your right flank the general commanding considers that that must be secure. Miles is ordered to take the enemy’s works, supported by his own corps. You will see the necessity of moving as soon as possible.
This dispatch evidently implied a want of promptness in my movements, and yet my troops had been urged and moved as fast as possible. The information about Pickett’s division was erroneous, and was worse than useless to me. According to subsequent information his division was at the time some three or four miles away driving General Sheridan. Nor did Miles assault the enemy’s breast-works as the dispatch led me to infer he would. General Chamberlain’s brigade led my advance, and finding the opposition less than we expected, General Crawford’s division was brought to my right, so as to be in sup-
port there, as we approached the White Oak road, the direction of our movements being such as to present that flank first to the enemy’s position along the road. I quote the following from General Chamberlain’s report:
I was desired by General Griffin to regain the field which these troops had yielded. My men forded a stream nearly waist deep, formed in two lines, Major Glenn having the advance, and pushed the enemy steadily before them. Major-General Ayres’ division supported me on the left en echelon by brigade, the skirmishers of the First Division, in charge of General Pearson, in their front. We advanced in this way a mile or more into the edge of the field it was desired to retake. Up to this time we had been opposed by only a skirmish line, but quite a heavy fire now met us, and a line of battle could be plainly seen in the opposite edge of the woods, and in a line of breast-works in the open field, in force at least equal to our own. I was now ordered by Major-General Warren to haled and take the defensive. My first line had now gained a slight crest in the open field, where they were subjected to a severe fire from the works in front and from the woods on each flank. As it appeared that the enemy’s position might be carried with no greater loss than it would cost us merely to hold our ground, and the men were eager to charge over the field, I reported this to General Griffin and received permission to renew the attack. My command was brought into line ad put in motion. A severe oblique fire on my right, to together with the artillery which now opened from the enemy’s works, caused the One hundred and ninety-eighth to waver for a moment. I then requested General Gregory, who reported to me with his brigade, to move rapidly into the woods on or right by battalion en echelon by the left, so as to break this flank attack, and possibly to turn the enemy’s left at the same moment that I should charge the works directly in front at a run. This plan was so handsomely executed by all that the result was completely successful. The woods and the work were carried, with several prisoners and one battle-flag, and the line advanced some 300 yards across the White Oak road.
My loss in this action was not more than 75, but it included some of my best officers and men.
It would be unjust not to mention the services of Major Glenn and colonel Sniper in this affair, whose bravery and energy I relied upon for the successful execution of my plans. I would also express my obligations to General Gregory for his quick comprehension of my wished, and for his efficient aid.; I may be permitted also to mention the gallantry of Captain Folder, assistant adjutant-general of division, who rode into the hottest fire to bring my orders, having his horse killed under him in doing so, and who by his conduct and bearing showed an example worthy of all praise.
During the night we buried our dead and cared for our wounded, and bivouacked in the line.
The temporary halt was necessitated by the threatening attitude the enemy’s position exhibited, as above described by General Chamberlain, and in order to get the remainder of the corps up and well in hand for a weighty assault. This having been effected, the order to advance was given, with the result as described in the quotation from General Chamberlain’s report.
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 breast-works. The prisoners report General Lee here to-day, and also that their breast-works 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 this advance, capturing nearly the entire Fifty-sixth Virginia Regiment with its flag.
With the elation due to our success, I thought we might be able to carry the enemy’s breast-works at once, and thus force in their right flank and carry all their line south of Hatcher’s Run. I at once commenced a personal reconnaissance for this purpose, and superintended personally the advance of our skirmishers to gain points of observation. We thus drew a very severe fire from the line, particularly of artillery. The examination showed me that the enemy’s defenses were as complete and as well located as any I had ever been opposed to.
About 5 p. m. March 31 I received, while on the White Oak road, the following from General Webb, chief of staff, written 4.30 p. m.:
Secure your position and protect as well as possible you 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 and not fire into his advance.
The rattle of musketry could now be heard southwest 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., 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 that 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 Devin’s-being engaged. The firing seems to recede from me toward Dinwiddie Court-House. 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 Court-House.
About 6.30 p. m. I received the following from General Webb:
A staff officer of General Merritt has made a report that the enemy had 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 had 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 Brevet-Brigadier-General Pearson there with three regiments of infantry of Brevet Major-General Bartlett’s brigade to support it.
I therefore sent the following dispatch to General Webb at 6.30 p. m., which explains what I did:
I have ordered General Pearson, with three regiments that are now on the plank road, right down toward Dinwiddie Court-House. I will left Bartlett work and report result, as it is too late to stop him.
It was then nearly dark. Having reconnoitered the enemy’s breast-works 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 breast-work for two miles east along the White Oak road. If they are well manned they cannot be carried. I m within 200 yards of where they turn ff northward from the White Oak road.
I then gave directions to secure the position we had gained, by entrenching, 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 headquartered were distant four miles and a half, near where the Vaughan road crosses Hatcher’s Run; General Grant’s were near Dabney’s Mills, about four miles from me; General Sheridan’s at Danwiddie Court House distant five miles and a half, and separated from me by a stream not fordable for infantry, where it crossed the boydton plank road, and the brigade broken down.
At 8 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 Court-House by strong force of cavalry, supported by infantry. This leaves your rear and that of the Second Corps on the Boydton plank road open, and will require great vigilance on your part. If you have sent the brigade down the 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 Court-House. It seems to me the enemy cannot remain between me and Dinwiddie Court-House 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 Court-House?
At 8.40 p. m. I received by telegraph the following from General Webb, marked “confidential,” written 8.30 p. m.:
The probability is that we will have to contract our lines to-might. You will be required to hold, if possible, the Boydton plank road, and to Gravelly Run; Humphreys 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 Sheridan from the threatening attitude 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 Court-House 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 re-enforce 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 that should be made use of.
The following is the report of casualties in Fifth Army Corps March 31, 1865:
My desire to retain the position we had gained after so much hard fighting, and which I considered under the circumstances so advantageous to us, was not accomplished, and orders came to fall back.
At 9.17 p. m. I received the following by telegraph dispatch, 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
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 entrenchments 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 to Dinwiddie Court-House, and report to General Sheridan.
IV. Captain Horrell, with the 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 commander sin executing this movement, which is ordered by General Meade, will take care to see that none of their pickets or any portion of the troops are left behind.
VI. General Ayres and General Crawford will have their troops under arms at daylight, 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.:
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 withdraw 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, engineers) to examine it as soon as your first order was received. He now reports it not fordable for infantry. It requires a span of forty feet to complete the bridge, and the stream 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 his picket-line in front of the enemy, and if he over first, the others, pending it, had to relieve his 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, being in my rear, as I forced the enemy on the White Oak road, that it should remain so. Even the dispatch this evening from General Meade, which I received at 8 p. m. (previously given), would have justified me in destroying it had it yet been standing intact.
I had no pontoons with me now. The supply with which I had 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. I directed a house to be torn to pieces to supply materials. 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 anyone 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 10.50 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 in rear, who is between him and Dinwiddie Court-House. General Sheridan reports his position as north of Dinwiddie Court-House, 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. Boisseau’s, on the Boydton plank road (see 1-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. Boisseau’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 crossing of Gravelly Run was still not received. That I did not overestimate the effect of this dispatch when it should reach, is proved by General Meade’s dispatch, written 11.45 p. m. 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. Brook’s, occupied our approach to it. The condition of affairs here is given by Major Cope in his report, as follows:
About 5 p. m. you directed me to lead General Bartlett’s brigade, by direct road, if possible, toward the sound of firing in the direction of Dinwiddie Court-House, and attack the enemy in the rear. I immediately reported to General Bartlett, who had hi 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 this wood road that ran in the right direction. We followed it one mile through this wood, over rolling ground, crossing three branches of Gravelly Run. At the south edge of this timber and in open ground on hill stands Doctor — ‘s house, and here our skirmishers became engaged with the enemy’s pickets. The ground slopes from here to Gravelly Run, and is open in front 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 Court-House to the White Oak road. General Bartlett established a line of pickets along Gravelly Ruin, crossing this road. He also kept vedettes out on his right watching this road and other approaches in the rear. It was mace after dark when he had made the proper disposition of his troops, and then we 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 much hear them chopping, moving wagons, and talking.
In addition to this the enemy held a 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 an 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 be each division in changing their relative places I determined to send General Ayres’ division instead of General Griffin’s, as it greatly simplified and expedited the operations 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 11 p. m., issued the following order:
I. General Ayres, instead of halting his command as directed in his last order (see mine on p. , will proceeded down the plank road to Dinwiddie Court-House and report to General Sheridan. He will send a staff officer to report here when the head of the column arrives.
II. General Crawford and General Griffin will mass their divisions at the point where this order reaches them, and report their position by the officer that brings it. A change of plank makes this change of order necessary.
I not here, a little out of the order of time, that I did not learn the position of General Crawford and General Griffin till 1 a. m., and so difficult had it began 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 from them to fall back to the plank road, 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 and 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 could only arouse each man by shaking him. The obstacles to over-come in carrying out so many orders and changes of orders in the darkness of a stormy, starless night, when the moon had set, requires a statement of them in detail.
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 officer capable of taking an order to General Bartlett’s brigade, and he was sent. I had sent Major Gentry to ascertain General Bartlett’s position, but he, taking the White Oak road, found the enemy holding the junction of it with the one General Bartlett was on, and he 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, the following available, all the others being engaged in their appropriate departments: Colonel Bankhead, Major Gentry, Major Cope, Captain Benyaurd, Captain Wadsworth, 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 I would be placed in to countermand those orders before the officers sent out with the first orders returned. 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 in, 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 letters 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 12 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 Wister. 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 road north from J. Boisseau’s. I have now orders to move against the force that attacked Sheridan, and shall send all the force I have to move there, or wherever the firing of battle near us may indicate.
At 1 a. m. I received reports from my officers who had returned from carrying my orders of 11 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 re-enforcements, 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 re-enforced 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 re-enforcing 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 determine, I felt much anxiety about what to do. The night was far advanced. The distance to Dinwiddie Court-House 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 8 a. m. By that time they could be of no use in holding Dinwiddie Court-House.
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 and General Sheridan, which might be of great importance. If General Sheridan retired by the Vaughan road the rear and right flank of General Humphreys would be left exposed, as stated in General Meade’s dispatch, received by me 8 p. m. (already given here). To send the 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 1st 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 absent 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 had certainly re-enforced General Sheridan. The men of the two divisions were gaining, while waiting the result, a little of that rest they stood so much in need of on this their fought night of almost continual deprivation of it, and we had but a short distance to move before reaching the enemy near J. Boisseau’s. Having determined this, at 1.20 a. 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 2.05 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 Court-House. 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. Boisseau’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 3 a. m.:
I am holding in front of Dinwiddie Court-House, on the road leading to Five Forks, for three-fourths 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 across Chamberlain’s run or bed. I understand you have a division at J. Boisseau’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 daylight; if so, have this division attack instantly and in full force. Attack at daylight anyway, 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 suppositions state of affairs given above promised most brilliant results if true, but it was not. The enemy occupied the position at J. Boisseau’s on the preceding night, and instead of my having a division there, the nearest to it I had was Bartlett’s brigade, three-fourths 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 retired, to have to fight a battle in order to get across Gravelly Run to J. Boisseau’s, and if the enemy had designed to stay we undoubtedly must have done so. I so anticipated in my instructions to General Griffin, who, about 5 a. m., left his position near the enemy on the White Oak road and moved directly and rapidly across the country to Crump’s. He found the enemy had left the crossing of the run open, and he moved on to J.; Boisseau’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 this breast-works, as I confidently expected he would
as soon as he discovered our movements. 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 change that had been made in the night. General Griffin’s march having bee unmolested I did not reach him until he had met our cavalry. I then ascertained that General Ayres’ division was massed about half a mile south of us, near J. M. Brook’s. It will be remembered that General Ayres began to move back from the White Oak road by an order from me, sent at 9.35 p. m., and which was the first intimation of sending 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 Court-House. Before arriving there it was met by a staff officer of General Sheridan’s, with instructions to turn off on a road leading west into a road leading from Dinwiddie Court-House to the White Oak road (i. e., from R. Boisseau’s to J. M. Brooks’) and come upon the left and rear of the enemy, who was facing General Sheridan’s command, near Dinwiddie Court-House. 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 this brigade and stream were not known when the expectations were formed, but they should have been, as the route was used for communications between General Grant and General Sheridan the two preceding days. But let us suppose the two divisions that General Grant directed to be moved by J. Boisseau’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 use,d 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 bugles nor drums could be sided to sound calls or arouse the men. No general could make plans based on greater rapidity of execution than here allowed, and our experience 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. Adding these two hours would make it at least 12 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 2 a. m. I had then to cross the stream and strike the rear of the enemy attacking General Sheridan, enumerated by him as follows:
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. This force is too strong for us.
To join General Sheridan by midnight on this route I then had to capture or destroy whatever of this force was between me and General Sheridan. Any expectation 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 10 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 the following dispatch of General Meade to General Grant, dated 6 a. m. April 1, that General Sheridan himself must have been aware of this withdrawal of the enemy early in the night:
The officer send to Sheridan returned between 2 a. m. and 3 a. m. without any written communication, but giving General S[heridan], as 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 until just now. Should this prove true, Warren will be at or near Dinwiddie soon with his whole corps and will require further orders.
Now, the officer that brought General Meade this information from General Sheridan, “between 2 and 3 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 12 and 1, 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 11 and 12. This conclusion confirms the report that deserters gave me in the morning, and the completeness of the withdrawal further strains it.
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 6 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 in a report of progress.
At 9.30 a. m. I sent the following to General Webb, as directed:
I reached the crossing of Gravelly-Run early this morning and met General Sheridan there. We are massed at that point by his order. I did not meet General Sheridan personally; General Griffin, leading the column, saw him. If we remain in this vicinity we can get rations up by the Boydton plank road; we were unable, except in part, to replenish yesterday. The enemy did not follow with a single man when we left the White Oak road this morning.
It was a matter of wonder at the time, and has been ever since, how the enemy permitted our thus withdrawing without following us up to see the way we took, even if it had been with only a regiment. He would thus early have gained the knowledge that our infantry was moving toward his detached force, under General Pickett, which we beat so badly toward evening. General Lee could then have re-enforced his detached troops or timely warned them to withdraw. I kept my skirmish line halted a long while after my advance set out in the morning, so as to cover the movement as late as possible, and deployed my escort to fall back on the Boydton plank road and delude any pursuing force, if possible, into the belief that we had all retired in that direction. It was a want of vigilance that was most rare on their part and betokened that apathy which results from a hopelessness as to the use of further resistance.
The following dispatch from Colonel Locke to General Webb, written 11 a. m. April 1, describes an achievement which deserves mention, and which seems alike indicative of the sinking spirits of the Confederates:
I have the honor to send the following report:
Captain B. C. Clement, with one sergeant and thirteen men of the Sixteenth North Carolina Cavalry, Roberts’ brigade, Lee’s division, have just been received. They were captured this morning by three men of the First Division sharpshooters, Major Jacklin commanding. These three ma went through the lines of the Second Corps to find the First Division (which had moved early this morning from its former position), and after passing around the picket-line of the Second Corps came upon these men in two squads and captured them. The names of the captors are W. M. Cronkite, A. McCrory, and William Stubel, all of the Sixteenth Michigan Veteran Volunteers detailed as sharpshooters. The horses of the prisoners were brought in with them. Our escort being short of horses they have been retained here. The prisoners will be sent up at once.
P. S.-General Warren being absent at the front, I send the above.
The battle of Five Forks, in the evening, was the last serious engagement of the Fifth Corps. I have made the report of this to Colonel Bowers, headquarters armies of the United States.*
The operations of my command, just recounted, were of a most wearying and sanguinary character. The order to move at 3 a. m. on March 29 was of the deepest moment to everyone. The arrangements to be made and the excitement of the hopes and fears of the campaign kept all from sleeping that night. We were moving during all the 29th, and the day closed with a sharp and successful engagement. The night brought rain, and much destroyed the opportunity of the men to rest. Continuous operations throughout the heavy rains of March 30 resulted in much extension of our lines, with new entrenchments to build, and closer contact with eh defenses into which the enemy was driven. Another rainy night, with the ground now soaking wet, allowed of little sleep, except to this overpowered with weariness. Movements early commenced on the morning of March 31 were succeeded by a fierce engagement and heavy losses, resulting in the defeat of the enemy and a still closer investor of his defenses, and the wresting from him of the use of the White Oak ridge. Disasters to our cavalry corps compelled my men to move to its succor during the night, many of them moving the whole night through. All this was done in a section of country quite new to us, where swamps and heavy forests abounded, and yet I can testify it was done as cheerfully and promptly as it was possible for us to do.
As usual we lost heavily in battle, but the enemy suffered more, and on every occasion the conflict closed with ourselves the masters of the field. The following is the aggregate loss from March 29 to 31, inclusive: Killed, 183; wounded, 1,206; missing, 492; aggregate, 1,881.
It is not in my power to speak in adequate terms of those who did their duty. Many of them endeavor to recapitulate when I have finished all the detailed reports.
At present I will but make my acknowledgements of the faithful service of my command in general, and of my division commanders and staff officers, whose names, rank, and positions I have at the commencement of this report.
G. K. WARREN,
Late Major-General Volunteers, Commanding Fifth Army Corps.
*See p. 828.
Colonel T. S. BOWERS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Hdqrs. Armies of the United States:
COLONEL: I respectfully forward herewith my report of the battle of Five Forks. I beg you will excuse any want of neatness in the copy, as I have no one to assist me, and I send it as it is to prevent any further delay.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. K. WARREN,
Major Engineers, &c.
NEW YORK, December 1, 1865.
SIR: I respectfully submit this report and map of the operations of the Fifth Army Corps at the battle of Five Forks.*
About 9 a. m. April 1 (having effected a junction with General Sheridan at about 7 a. m.) I received the following order from General Meade:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 1, 1865-6 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.
ALEX. S. WEBB,
Brevet Major-General and Chief of Staff.
In compliance with the above, I served under General Sheridan during that day and until the winning of the victory at Five Forks in the evening. At 7 p. m. I received from him the following:
CAVALRY HEADQUARTERS, Numbers —.
April 1, 1865.
Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Army Corps, is relieved from duty, and will report at once for orders to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding Armies of the United States.
By command of Major-General Sheridan:
JAS. W. FORSYTH,
Brevet Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.
In consequence of this order I address this report to you. General Sheridan gave no reason for this order of his, but I at once set out to obey it, reaching General Grant about midnight. The next morning I was assigned another command. Deeming, by the comments of the public prints, that the removing of me from the command of the Fifth Corps at the close of an eventful battle was, in the ignorance and misrepresentation concerning it, causing me an injury in the estimation of my countrymen, I requested a full investigation of it in a communication to you, written on April 22. In the rapid sequence of important events this communication remained enacted upon till May 6, at which time it was disapproved as being “impossible at this time to give the court and witnesses necessary to an investigation.” I had a few days previous been appointed to the command of the Department of Mississippi, which, it was given me to believe, was regarded as an evidence of confidence in me, removing any unfavorable inferences to be drawn in the taking of me from the command of the Fifth Corps. That this was fully satisfactory to my feelings it could not be said; but the war was ended in Virginia, while yet the Confederate flag and forces kept the field in the department assigned me, and this made the change of com-
*For map see Plate LXVI, Map 11 of the Atlas.
mand at that time acceptable. The surrender, however, of all the organized troops of the enemy in the limits of my new command took place while on my way to it, and my military operations there were confined to capturing the few still defiant fugitives on their way to Texas and Mexico. The war being closed, duty no longer required me in the field. Wearied as I was with long and continuous service, I felt unable to endure the summer climate of Mississippi. To request to be relieved would place me with the “Unemployed generals” whose resignations had been solicited by the War Department order of May 1. I therefore tendered my resignation, and it was accepted.
The report of General Sheridan concerning the battle of Five Forks, dated May 16, I first saw in the official Army and Navy Gazette of June 13. In this he states his reasons for relieving me from command of the Fifth Corps. That he should have given his reason for this removal was to be expected, but I cannot but think it an additional hardship tome that these should have been given to the public, without my first having a chance to explain or justify my conduct on the points in question, especially as I had sought n every way to arrive at these reasons and to submit my conduct to the severest scrutiny. In justice I but ask that this report shall be given the same publicity.
The order of General Meade in the morning of April 1, to save under General Sheridan, gave me much satisfaction at the time of its receipt. I was then completely ignorant of his having a preference for another corps, or the slightest objection to myself. I had never seared with him before. When I met him at about 11 a. m. his manner was greatly and cordial. After talking with me a short tie at the place where I found him (during which time he was occasionally receiving reports from his cavalry commanders) he mounted and rode off to the front. At 1 p. m. on officer brought me an order to bring up the infantry. I at once dispatched Colonel (now brevet brigadier-general) H. C. Bankhead to give the orders to the division commanders to bring up their commands, specifying the relative order in which I though they could move the most rapidly. 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 Sheridan explained to me the state of affairs and what his plan was for me to do. This I entered upon most cordially. He had placed a staff officer back on the road to mark the point where my command was to turn off. I then rode back to mark the point indicated, turned up the road (which led by Gravelly Run Church), and examined the ground, using my escort to picket the front I was to take up, so as to prevent the enemy discovering the presence of the infantry. General Sheridan’s order was to form the whole corps before advancing, so that all of it should move simultaneously. He specially stated that the formation was to be oblique to the road, with the relight advanced, with two divisions in front, and the third in reserve behind the right division. The number of lines and consequent extend 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 center 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 Craw-
ford, my right; and General Griffin, my reserve, behind the right. In moving they were instructed to keep closed 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 Gwyn’s brigade on his right. This last brigade was formed in three lines, instead of two, as the regiments could not be well disposed in two lines. General Winthrop’s brigade General Ayres formed as his reserve. General Crawford formed hi saline 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 1,000 yards. The casualties of battle of the three preceding days, together with the loss of those who had given out from weariness or safe absent on detached duty, had probably reduced our effective force at least 1,000 men in each division below that with which we set out on the 28th, so that we had then present about 12,000 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 admit, to explain it to the brigade commanders.
APRIL 1-3 p. m.
The following is the movement now about to be executed:
The line will move forward as formed till it reaches the White Oak road, when it will swing round to the left perpendicular to the White Oak road. General Merritt’s and General Custer’s cavalry will charge the enemy’s line as soon as the infantry get engaged. The cavalry is on the left of the infantry, except Mackenzie’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 its right in 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 indicted 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 center.” This is a mistake. His order was to form it in rear of the right. The line was to be formed “obliquely
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 the apprehension that the 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 4 p. m., but that I was ready to move at once with whatever was at hand if he directed, and I 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 tend to impair confidence in the proposed operations. When everything possible is being done, it is important to have the men think that 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, commanding Second Division:
General Bankhead writes, under date of June 27:
SIR: In reply to your letter of the 17th instant, received the 25th, I have the honor to state that I was with you April 1, at the time you received some instructions from General Sheridan through one of his staff officers. As to the nature of the order 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 order 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 farther off to the right), by one of your aides, either Major Cope or Captain Wadsworth. The orders were obeyed promptly, and the troops l 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 and Assistant Inspector-General.
The following is from General Crawford, dated July 17:
GENERAL: In reply to your communication of June 17, 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 receipt of the order, and that, in my opinion, on unnecessary time was lost from that time till they were formed as you directed.
S. W. CRAWFORD,
The following is from General Griffin, dated June 26:
GENERAL: In reply to your communication of the 17th instant, in reference to the movement of the First Division just prior to the battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, I have to state I was in command of that division on that day, and, about 2 p. m.,
received, through Colonel Bankhead, corps inspector, and 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 up 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 wee to form on, remarking is substance that you wished me to be a expeditions as possible. The order wad executed at once, and I then reported in person to you. In my opinion the division was formed without any halting or unnecessary delay.
The following is from General Ayres, dated June 24:
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 17th instant, last evening, asking an official statement concerning the movement of the Fifth Corps on the 1st of April, from the position where it was massed to that where the lines of battle were formed previous to the attack. I do not know at that 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 will closed up on the troop song rout. On arriving near the position where the lines where 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 expeditions. 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,
In view of this testimony it is 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 presupposes, in order that the general who so 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 should be a mistake in this, the chief merit belongs to those exertions and arrangements by which this mistake is corrected or in the new dispositions which the occasion demands as requisite and which are not impracticable. But this calculation as to the potion of the left flank of the enemy’s line was faulty, and to a very serious exigent, considering that he 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 eh ground over which we were moving.
After the forward movement began a few minutes brought us to the White Oak road, distant about 1,000 yards. There we found the advance of General Mackenzie’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 thirst 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 bet in advance of General Crawford’s, owing to the greater distance the latter had to move, and exposed the former to being 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 on the open field, because it was one where my staff officers, send 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 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 taught I did not exert myself to inspire confidence in the troops that broke under a not very severe fire. There was not 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 that 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, this fire 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 until 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 right [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 proceeding:
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 [Sydnor] house toward Hatcher’s Run. You come 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 [Sydnor] 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:
Advancing through a wood into an opening, the skirmishers engaged those of the enemy, pushing them back. Soon after crossing the White Oak road, fining 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, fining its right flank in the air (I must confess that I experienced anxiety also on this account), portions of it were very unsteady,
*See Plate LXVI, Map 11 of the Atlas.
+So corrected by General Warren, in letter to Adjutant-General of the Army, February 24, 1866.
but subsequently moved up and bore their part in 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 overfed by a strong breast-work, screened behind a dense undergrowth of pine and about 100 yards in length. This breast-work my troops charged and took at the bayonet’s point, capturing in carrying it over 1,000 prisoners and several battle-flags. Halting there a short time by General Sheridan’s order, till it was apparent the enemy were giving way generally, I pushed forward rapidly, holding my men in hand and marching steadily in line of battle.
I have italicized “halting there, &c.,” because it shows that General Sheridan modified his own order not to halt. No order to haled 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 the “air.” Had the line gradually swung round General Crawford would have been on his right, but as it was the change had the momentary effect to leave General Crawford “in echelon” in rear of General Ayres’ right. It happened also that the right of General Ayres became exposed to a fire from the enemy across the open field around Sidney’s [Sydnor’s]. General Crawford’s left encountered the same fire as it came up on General Ayres’ right, and the effect was to cause the 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 beside. I will now extract from General Crawford’s report. After giving a copy of the order of attack that I had furnished him with (see p. 8*), 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 orders 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 in my rear, was brought toy fill the grape between me and 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 upon my center and left flank a vary 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, [were] 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 in echelon. I advanced at once and captured a battery of four guns and the battle-flags of the Thirty-second Virginia Infantry. We then changed direction and advanced again in a southwest 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 vedettes, 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
*See Crawford’s report, p. 880.
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 moved against the enemy at “double-quick,” taking his breast-works and 1,500 prisoners. As stated by General Crawford I came up with his division near B. Boisseau’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.
NOTE.-General Sheridan’s report states that he directed General Mackenzie 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 Mackenzie 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.
I at once directed his line to swing round to face southward, as we had now closed up the outlets for the enemy’s escape northward, and 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 their arms. Three guns of the captured battery were found on the road where they had been stopped in their attempt to escape northward. 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 farther, but to file to their left and proceed in the direction General Crawford had taken. I then passed down the Ford road, reached the forks and turned to the right along the White Oak road. The troop 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 the left flank near the position F, while they yet maintained there line 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. Every where 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, and 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
*See Plate LXVI, Map 11 of the Atlas.
Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Army Corps, is relieved from duty, and will report at once for orders to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding Armies of the United States.
The Fifth Corps in this battle captured 3,244 men, with their arms, 11 regimental colors, and 1 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.
The conduct of my command, officers and men, in these last four days’ operations was characterized by unqualified obedience to orders and resolve to do their duty as it was required of them. Their exertions are deserving of highest commendation.
If it be not too invidious to mention the names of a few where many deserve to be, I will here speak of my division commanders ad of my staff, as these were immediately subordinate to me. Bvt. Major General S. W. Crawford commanded my Third Division, Bvt. Major General Charles Griffin my First Division, and Bvt. Major General R. B. Ayres my Second Division, and performed their duties bravely and ably, meeting the varying requirements of their commands on the battle-field with judgment and energy, and always striving to carry out the orders they received, according as the nature of the ground and dispositions of the enemy’s forces permitted or required. My staff did not fail me in one instance, in the multifarious, arduous, and dangerous duties of their positions. The following is an enumerations of them: Bvt. Brigadier General C. S. Wainwright, chief of artillery; Colonel H. C. Bankhead, inspector-general; Colonel F. Locke, adjutant-general; Colonel A. J. Thomas, chief quartermaster; Colonel D. L. Smith, chief commissary of subsistence; of Surg. T. Rush Spencer, medical director; of Major William T. Gentry, U. S. Army, commissary of musters; Dr. Charles K. Winnie, U. S. Army medical inspector; Captain George B. Halsted, assistant adjutant-general. My aides-de-camp were: Major E. B. Cope, Captain James W. Wadsworth, and Captain Gordon Winslow, and in the operations herein reported Captain William H. H. Benyaurd, U. S. Engineers. Captain Napoleon J. Horrell, Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, one of the most brave and energetic of officers, commanded my personal escort, consisting of about forty men.
In nearly every one of the numerous battles we have had with the enemy, my command had to lament the loss of some of its bravest and best, and the battle of Five Forks was not an exception to our former experience. Bvt. Brigadier General Frederick Winthrop, colonel of the Fifth New York Volunteers, commanding First Brigade, Second Division, was mortally wounded at the head of his command while making a successful assault. His conduct had always been distinguished for gallantry of action and coolness of thought, and no one carried with him more of the confidence and inspiration that sustains a command in trying scenes. His countrymen have lost no one of their soldiers who more deserves a lasting place in their memory.
In this battle I claim to have done my duty myself, and I believe a perusal of this report and of those of my subordinates will show that the opinion of General Sheridan, that I did not exert myself as he thought I should, must have arisen from some misapprehension or misconception of my efforts. His implied charge of neglect, in stating that I failed to reach Dinwiddie Court-House by midnight, as expected, the lieutenant-general must now know is unjust, for it was impossible for my troops to get there before daybreak. I trust, therefore, that I may
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. K. WARREN,
Late Major-General of Volunteers, Commanding Fifth Army Corps.
Colonel T. S. BOWERS,
Asst. Adjt. General, Headquarters Armies of the United States.
PETERSBURG, April 13, 1865.
GENERAL: I beg leave to submit statement of the operations of the Fifth Army Corps on April 1, 1865, at the battle of Five Forks, as seen by me.
About 8 o’clock on the morning of the 1st I started out from headquarters to join you on the White Oak road, near the Dabney house. I reached there t 8.30 a. m. and found the troops in motion. They marched in a southwest direction, and in one mile came to the Dinwiddie Court-House road, near Doctor Boisseau’s; then proceeded down this road to its junction with Ford’s road. This point was reached by the First and Third Division about 9.30. The Second Division had come up by the Boydton plank road the night before, and was massed half a mile beyond. The cavalry was passing on Ford’s road toward Five Forks. About 12 o’clock the corps was ordered to move in the direction of the Five Forks, the First Division leading, followed by the Third, then came the Second. In two miles and a half the head of the lumen turned to the regiment and ordered to the vicinity of Gravelly Run Church. The troops were then formed in the following order: The Third Division on the right of the road leading north by the church and crossing the White Oak road, the Second Division of the left, and the First in reserve. There each division commander was furnished with a plan and written explanation of the movement about to be made. About 4 o’clock, all being ready, the lie was ordered to advance. In one-fourth of a mile it crossed the White Oak road, wheeled to the left perpendicular to the road. This movement brought the First and Third Division in the woods, and as the line advanced they went too much to the right ad lost the connection with the Second division. After the line had passed through the open fields to the edge of timber, the Second Division became engaged with the enemy’s skirmishers. You sent me to General Griffin with an order to bring his division toward the White Oak road, by the left flank, in order to be in better supporting distance of the Second, 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 burned 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 [Sydnor] 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. This part of the enemy’s line where you were had been carried by the Second Division, and you sent me again to General Griffin with the information and with an order to push forward as fast as possible. He had already reached the Sidney [Sydnor] house and was pushing forward across the field. I delivered your order and gave him the direction
to advance, which was about west. Bartlett’s brigade struck the enemy on the flank behind their works and drove them steadily before him. Crawford’s division had gone into the woods on the extreme right. It soon reached the Ford road north of Five Forks. Wheeling and advancing south the came up in rear of the enemy’s line, at the same time cutting off their retreat in this direction, and capturing wagons, artillery, and a large number of prisoners. The enemy, finding themselves pressed in front, flank, and rear, made but a feeble resistance. The line then swept on down the enemy’s works, carrying everything before it, capturing prisoners by hundreds. The brigades that had been in reserve followed up by the flank on the White Oak road. I joined you again at the Five Forks, and remained with you through the evening. The enemy having been driven out of their entire line of works, two miles long, were followed up until dark, and the troops were withdrawn to the large fields at Willisbury house, where they encamped for the night.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. B. COPE,
Major and Aide-de-Camp.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 796-838 ↩