In last week’s post, we left Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan’s cavalry corps on the evening of March 31, 1865, having just suffered defeat at the hands of Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett. The Federal troopers were arrayed in a defensive perimeter a short distance north and west of Dinwiddie Courthouse, Virginia. Pickett withdrew several miles northward to a key crossroads known as Five Forks. His men dug in with orders from Gen. Lee himself to “hold Five Forks at all hazard.” But Lee could not send any reinforcements to Pickett because the rest of the Union army, including the Men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, were in close contact with the entrenched Confederates, and would know immediately if Lee weakened any part of his line.
Grant had also placed Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren’s Fifth Corps, who were astride White Oak Road about six miles east of Five Forks, under Sheridan’s command. On April 1, Sheridan ordered Warren to advance his infantry westward along White Oak Road, while Sheridan’s cavalry advanced on Pickett’s position from the south. Heavy rains that had swept the Petersburg area the last few days of March ended, but the roads were still muddy. Movement was so slow that Warren’s men weren’t ready to attack until about 4 p.m.
This great map from the Civil War Trust shows the results of the battle, a major defeat for Pickett’s force of infantry and cavalry. While Sheridan pressed nearly the entire length of the Confederate line with his cavalry, Warren drove hard against the eastern flank. The battle was over quickly, and Pickett, who was a couple of miles north enjoying a fine fish dinner beside Hatcher’s Run, lost nearly a third of his command, most of them prisoners.
Lee’s western force was shattered. The way lay open for Sheridan to march up Ford’s Road and cut the South Side Railroad. Gen. Lee wired President Davis that Richmond and Petersburg must be abandoned immediately.
Despite the great victory, Sheridan relieved Warren and placed Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin in command of the Fifth Corps. About nine o’clock that evening, Gen. Grant issued an order that sounded the final death knell for the Confederacy: “I have ordered a general assault along the lines.”