This is the first of a two part study of Warrens V Corps and Its Fight in the Gilliam Field and north of the field
In Part 1 I will describe how the three brigade of Crawford‘s division, fifth army corps, deployed as they embarked upon the last leg of their journey to Five Forks. In Part 2 I will describe the Union westward attack against the Confederates on the western edge of the Gilliam Field and against the Confederates who occupied Corse’s earthworks north of the White Oak Road.
As Crawford’s division advanced south along the Ford Road en route for Five Forks this is the how it was deployed: In the front line Coulter’s brigade occupied the left and Baxter’s brigade was on the right. Kellogg’s brigade followed in their rear
Coulter’s brigade was slowed by Confederate firing, so Baxter forged ahead and left Coulter’s right flank unguarded. (Warren Court pp. 556-557 Testimony of Capt. Samuel K. Herr) .
As Baxter’s Brigade marched south Crawford’s staff officer Capt. Samuel P. Herr who was on the far right of the brigade spied Confederates marching northward about 400 yards to the west. Their objective seemed to be the ground opposite Baxter’s right flank. He realized they would soon be able to enfilade the brigade’s flank. He rode up to Crawford and explained the approaching danger. He asked Crawford, “Had not we better throw back that part of the line? We will get an enfilading fire” Crawford replied, “Yes, do that at once.” (Warren Court p 577. Testimony of Crawford) Herr returned to Baxter’s Brigade and delivered Crawford’s orders to Col. Tilden, 16th Maine to form a line facing west towards the Confederate line There are no accounts of what happened next but presumably the 16th Maine was fired upon and returned the fire.
Warren then ordered Crawford to take Baxter’s brigade and move west while still north of the road. (Warren Court p. 1387 Albert Stickney, “The Facts As To the Battle of Five Forks” and Warren Court p. 577 Testimony of Samuel W. Crawford)
The Confederates that Herr and Crawford spotted belonged to Montgomery Corse’s Brigade. They were heading towards a newly erected earthwork at the western of his intrenchments and perpendicular to them. It was 60 or 70 yards in length and projected northward at right angles to his main line. Herr and Crawford may not have spotted the “return” because of intervening trees and foliage but they did spot the Confederate infantry. (Warren Court p. 423. Testimony of Montgomery Corse) (Warren Court Capt. Samuel P. Herr’s testimony
According to Capt. James P. Mead of Crawford's staff, Coulter's brigade was separated from the rest of the division and without support when it entered the C Young field clearing on the Ford Road. Here it was struck by a severe fire from the west. (Warren Court p. 393 Testimony of Capt. James P. Mead Crawford’s staff)
The testimony of Major Richard Esmond, (assistant adjutant general of Coulter’s brigade, Crawford‘s division) states when it received such a heavy fire from the west that to escape the fire the brigade crossed the white oak road, climbed over the vacated Confederate breastworks and ended up in the northeastern corner of Gilliam Field. (Warren Court pp. 360-361 Testimony of Maj. Richard Esmond)
According to Col. John A. Kellogg his 1st brigade was also marching south down the Ford Rod towards Five Forks and had almost reached the White Oak Road when it was hit by a severe fire from the Confederates to the west which enfiladed his right flank. His men crossed the Confederate breastworks and entered the Gilliam Field. (Warren Court pp. 220-221 Testimony of Kellogg)
to summarize, to escape the Confederate fire from the western end of the Gilliam field the brigades of Kellogg and Coulter advanced across the White Oak Road to the southside, crossed the confederate entrenchments and took cover among the trees at the northeast corner of the Gilliam field.
Meanwhile just short of the White Oak Road Warren encountered Capt. Lord and the 1st US Cavalry which was riding towards him up the Ford Road with the goal of cutting off Confederate fugitives. Warren informed Lord that there were no fugitives on the Ford road and directed Lord to file to the left. Lord thus advanced westward while north of the White Oak Road. (For the identity of the cavary encountered by Warren see Report of Colonel Alfred Gibbs OR volume 46 part one page 1128)
Next Warren ordered Crawford to change front again, this time to the right, and to march to the sound of the firing in order to again take the enemy in the flank and rear. (Warren Court of Inquiry p. 752 Warren testimony) Crawford began advancing westward toward the Confederate line north of the road. (William H. Powell: The Fifth Army Corps page 807, .Warren Court of Inquiry p. 752 Warren testimony Warren Court p. 1387 Albert Stickney, “The Facts As To the Battle of Five Forks” and warren court of inquiry pages 576 and 577 Crawford’s Testimony)
Warren and Stickney disagree about which came first, Warren’s order to Lord and his order to Crawford. Warren says he sent Lord first and Crawford after him. Stickney says Warren sent Crawford first and Lord after him. I believe Warren sent Lord first because Beale’s cavalry encountered Lord and drove him back. This could not have happened if Crawford had advanced first.
When Warren reached the White Oak Road, he observed he had arrived at what he later learned was the northeast corner the Gilliam Field. Along the east side of the field and directly in front of him, there was a long line of woods stretching southward from the White Oak Road. A large force of Union infantrymen had taken refuge among the trees. They were assailed by rifle fire from a similar line of woods that lined the west boundary of the Gilliam property. Warren crossed the road and entered the woods in order to rally these infantrymen. (Warren Court p. 1387 Albert Stickney, “The Facts As To the Battle of Five Forks” Warren Court of Inquiry p. 732 Warren testimony)