The Thirty-eighth Virginia (Steuart’s Brigade) at Battle of Five Forks.
By Colonel GEORGE K. GRIGGS.1
The regiment with the division was relived from the trenches on the night of the 4th of March,1865, and proceeded on cars to Farmville, Virginia, on the 10th to intercept the forces under General Phil. Sheridan, of the United States army. The regiment remained in the vicinity of Farmville until the 13th, when it left for Richmond.
Arriving on the 14th, it proceeded to Atlee’s station, and continued to follow after Sheridan until he crossed to the south of James river, when, on the 26th of March, the regiment proceeded to Battery 45, south of Petersburg, and threw up fortifications, but left on the 30th to meet Sheridan again, who was approaching from Dinwiddie Courthouse, acting as rear guard for the division. It continued to skirmish with the enemy during the day, and bivouacked at night at Five Forks. The division moved on the 30th at 8 A. M., and engaged the enemy about 2 P. M., driving him until dark stopped operations. The regiment did not become actively engaged. The enemy bringing up a heavy force of infantry at night the command commenced falling back at 4 1/2 A. M. on the 1st of April: halting at Five Forks, it proceeded to throw up rifle-pits. The enemy attacked in the evening, first with cavalry, but finally bringing his infantry into action. Every front attack was successfully repulsed, but with Pickett’s and Johnson’s divisions of infantry and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, to oppose thirty-five thousand infantry and all of Sheridan’s cavalry, the contest was too unequal. Early in the action Colonel Griggs (with the Thirty-eighth) was ordered from his brigade, and to go to the left of Brigadier-General Ransom which he did at a double quick. Finding no troops but a few cavalrymen, who left to join (they said) their command, he deployed his regiment into single file, and opened a destructive fire upon the enemy, who were marching in view, to the rear of their line of battle, in three columns to our left. Colonel Griggs dispatched a courier to brigade and division headquarters to report this movement of the enemy, and continued to deploy his regiment and fire upon the enemy, and kept his front in check; but there being no troops on his left, the enemy’s column soon passed to the rear of his line and opened upon his front and rear. Many of the men having expended all their ammunition, and the enemy rapidly closing all means of escape, the few men left were ordered to retire. After cutting through the lines of the enemy, Colonel Griggs reported in person to General Pickett the condition he was in. The general replied, “He knew it, but could not help it – had done all he could.” The regiment fought odds of about ten to one, in full view of the enemy, where each private could see for himself the odds against him. Yet there seemed no unusual excitement or fear among them, and some were seen to club their muskets after they had fired their last round of ammunition.
Editor’s Note: I do not have hard copies of all of the volumes of the Southern Historical Society Papers. Ken Perdue was kind enough to proofread this article to make sure it appears as it originally did. Ken was also kind enough to point me to the Google Books link for Volume 16, a volume I had not yet found at Google Books.
- Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 16, Pages 230-231 ↩