Battle of Five Forks
The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, around the road junction of Five Forks, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, during the end of the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (sometimes called the Siege of Petersburg) and in the beginning stage of the Appomattox Campaign near the conclusion of the American Civil War. A mobile task force of combined infantry, artillery and cavalry from the Union Army commanded by Major General Philip Sheridan defeated a Confederate States Army combined task force from the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Major General George E. Pickett. The Union force inflicted over 1,000 casualties on the Confederates and took between 2,400 and 4,000 prisoners while seizing Five Forks, the key to control of the South Side Railroad (sometimes shown as Southside Railroad), a vital Confederate supply line to, and retreat line from, Petersburg.The battle was immediately preceded by two battles on March 31, 1865. At the Battle of White Oak Road, infantry of the Union Army's V Corps of the Army of the Potomac pushed back the main line of Confederate defenses on the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia southwest of Petersburg. The V Corps blocked two important roads as well as taking a better position for an attack on the Confederate line. At the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan's cavalry tactically lost a battle to Pickett's combined force but had fewer casualties and averted being dispersed or forced to retreat from the area. At nightfall, Sheridan's troopers still held a defensive line 0.75 miles (1.21 km) north of Dinwiddie Court House.On the night of the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House at about 10:00 p.m., V Corps infantry began to arrive near the battlefield to reinforce Sheridan's cavalry. This threat caused Pickett to retreat about 6 miles (9.7 km) to a modestly fortified line about 1.75 miles (2.82 km) in length approximately half on either side of the junction of White Oak Road, Scott Road and Dinwiddie Court House Road at Five Forks. Pickett's orders from General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, were to defend Five Forks ""at all hazards"" (costs) because of its strategic importance as the key to a supply line and evacuation route.At Five Forks at the beginning of the Union attack about 1:00 p.m., Sheridan hit the front and right flank of the Confederate line with small arms fire from mostly dismounted cavalry troopers of Brigadier General Thomas Devin's and Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer's divisions from mostly wooded positions just outside the Confederate breastworks. This fire pinned down the Confederates while the massed V Corps of infantry, commanded by Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, after about two hours to organize, attacked the Confederate left flank.With Sheridan fretting about the amount of remaining daylight and his cavalry possibly running out of ammunition, the V Corps attacked about 4:15 p.m. Pickett and cavalry commander Major General Fitzhugh Lee were having a late shad bake lunch about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the main Confederate line along White Oak Road in part because they thought Sheridan was unlikely to be organized for an attack that late in the day. An acoustic shadow in the thick woods and heavy, humid atmospheric conditions prevented them from hearing the opening stage of the battle. Pickett and Lee had not told any of the next ranking officers of their absence and that those subordinates, in particular Major General W.H.F. ""Rooney"" Lee, were temporarily in charge.Because of bad information and lack of reconnaissance, two of the Union divisions in the infantry attack did not hit the short Confederate left flank which was about 800 yards (730 m) west of its supposed location, but their movement by chance helped them to roll up the Confederate line by coming at it from the end and rear. The first division in the attack under Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres alone overran the short right angled line on the left side of the Confederate main line. Sheridan's personal leadership helped encourage and focus the men. Brigadier General Charles Griffin's division recovered from overshooting the Confederate left and helped roll up additional improvised Confederate defense lines. Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Samuel Crawford's division swept across north of the main battle but then closed off Ford's Road, swept down to Five Forks and helped disperse the last line of Confederate infantry resistance. The Union cavalry was somewhat less successful as much of the Confederate cavalry escaped while much of the Confederate infantry became casualties or prisoners. Due to more apparent than real lack of speed, enthusiasm and leadership, as well as some past grudges and a personality conflict, Sheridan unfairly relieved Warren of command of V Corps when the successful battle concluded. The Union Army held Five Forks and the road to the South Side Railroad at the end of the battle. Grant ordered an attack all along the line at Petersburg for the next day.Pickett's loss at Five Forks along with the Union breakthrough of the defenses of Petersburg the next day at the Third Battle of Petersburg forced General Lee to abandon his entrenchments and fortifications around Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and to begin the retreat that led to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865.