The Virginia in the Civil War Message Board

Pickett Falls Back to 5 Forks - the Battle Begins

Pickett Falls Back From Five Forks

As night fell the battle of dinwieddie court house ended. The confederates were bivouacked half a mile north of dinwiddie court house. Five Forks lay 4 3/4 miles in their rear by the Dinwiddie Court House Five Forks road. (Measured by Cotton at warren court of inquiry p. 484) Pickett’s division formed the confederate center with terry’s brigade on the extreme left, next corse’s brigade and finally steaurt’s brigade. Ransom’s two brigades camped along Chamberlain’s Bed, about a mile east of the Pickett and Fitz Lee.
Pickett and Fitz Lee placed their headquarters in a shared camp. They shared the inforamtion they’d been brought and concluded they had to retreat. (Fitz Lee p. 469) At 8 or 9 p.m. General Pickett met with his brigade commanders at his headquarters and told them he had called a halt to his attack because he had received information that a very strong infantry force was coming from that direction of the boydton plank road. Pickett and Lee decided to send the ammunition wagons, ambulances and cannon back right away. Most but not all the wheeled vehicles left about 11 p.m. (Fitz Lee p. 469)

Picket told the commanders to meet later at ransom’s headquarters and determine the order of the withdrawal up the dinwiddie court house five forks road. (Mayo p. 505) Steuart’s brigade would go first, followed by Mayo. (Mayo p. 506) Corse would be third (corse). He would be followed by Wallace and Rutledge. Munford’s division would cover the retreat up Dinwiddie Court House FIve Forks Road. and Rooney Lee and Rosser would retreat up the Scott road. Beale’s Brigade of W.H.F. Lee’s division would cover their retreat up the scott’s road by guarding the fords of Chamberlain’s Bed.

Pickett sent out orders to his subordinates informing them that the retreat was to begin at 4 a.m. (See L. Tiernan Brien to General Beale 2 a.m. April 2, 1865 in Warren Court of Inquiry Vol. 1, p. 54) The march began on schedule. The condition of the Dinwiddie Court House Five Forks road was terrible. It had rained on the night of the 29th, all day and night of the 30th and part of the 31st.. The road was still muddy in some places, but the worst part was that it was no longer a level and smooth surface. On the 30th Devin had followed the road on his reconnaissance to five forks. On the 31st both Sheridan’s and Pickett’s armies had traveled on the road. Wheels from dozens of cannon, ambulances and ordnance wagons had cut ruts in the road. Hundreds of horses had further ruined the road’s surface and the tramp of thousands of feet had completed the job. This made marching very difficult and the wagons, ambulances and cannon could be moved only with great difficulty. By 6 a.m the road was chocked with the slow moving column four and three fourths miles long stretching from Dinwiddie Court Houise to Five Forks. (Chambers p.256 ) Although Pickett’s retreat was fraught with danger the federals did not detect the retreat and the division retired without a fight. Mayo

The trek must have been particularly hard on munford’s cavalry. They had left their horses at five forks and had marched and fought on foot all day on the 31st and now had to walk back to five forks. The command marched in the road in a column of fours. There were frequent halts because of the slow pace of the infantry. Fitz lee and munford’s division left at daylight (5 a.m.) and reached five forks between 8 and 9 a.m. Lee left behind a squadron or two of cavalry to slow the advance of the pursuing federals. (Fitz lee p. 470)
Although the speed of the march was a regular pace, the nearly five mile march was necessarily slow because it began at night and the brigades in the rear at least probably moved at a rate of about one mile an hour. Moreover, time was lost as each brigade switched from line of battle into column.
Terry arrived first at Five Forks about dawn. Mayo arrived at sunrise. (Mayo p. 506) Corse arrived at 9 or 10 a.m. (Corse p. 421)
As Pickett’s infantry brigades arrived they formed on the white oak road in the order in which they arrived. Their primary goal was to protect the road junction at Five Forks. Thus Steuart’s brigade’s occupied the far left of the Confederate line. Its left rested on the southwest corner of syndor field and its right on five forks. Two guns of carpenter’s virginia battery of Braxton’s Battalion II Corps were placed at five forks between steuart and mayo. These two guns were commanded by Lt. William Early. Alongside them was a third gun from the Crenshaw Battery, Pegram’s Battalion III Corps. It. E.G. Hollis commanded this gun. Mayo’s brigade occupied the wooded area between Gilliam field and Five Forks. (The regiment on his far right was actually in the field alongside corse).. Corse held the far right of the infantry line. His line stretched across Gilliam field. mayo Behind Corse were four cannon belonging to Graham’s Petersburg Battery belonging to of McGregor’s Battalion of Horse Artillery On Corse’s right were the remaining three guns from the crenshaw battery commanded by Capt. Thomas Ellet. On Ellet’s right the 5th North Carolina Cavalry was stationed behind breastworks and behind it, mounted were the 2nd and 3rd Noarth Carolina Cavalry. On the right of the 5th NC Cavalry there were four cannon from brown’s battery, McGregor’s Horse Artillery Battalion. On Brown’s left and south of the road Beale’s brigade was stationed, the 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th Virginia Cavalry. Each infantry brigade had one or ore regiments south of the main line acting as skirmishers.
The last of the infantry to arrive was Ransom’s division, probably some time between 11 a.m. and noon. (Chambers p. 257) Once ransom reached the white oak road he marched east to the point where syndor field was behind him and placed his two brigades. Rutledge ’s NC Brigade occupied the left and William Wallace’s the right.
Rooney Lee left Dinwiddie Court House before day and reached five forks at 11 am (Lee p. 531) Lee ordered Beale to picket a branch road that led to five forks with one regiment. He sent Beale with the rest of his command to the camp he had occupied on the night of the 30th. However, shortly after Beale reached his camp, a courier from Lee arrived with orders for him to move to Barringer’s camp. A a bit laater Pickett ordered Lee to dismount one of his b rigades and place it on corse’s right. (Lee page 531) Beale rode to the white oak road, dismounted and formed on Corse’s right. (Beale p. 614) His left rested on the gate of a road leading from the white oak road south to the gilliam house. (Beale p. 615)
Upon reaching five forks fitz lee made his headquarters near the northeast corner of the C. Young and Boisseau on the Ford Road. (Munford p. 6) Munford’s division was in reserve on the ford road, about 400 yards south of Hatcher’s Run. His men ate dinner. Since his wagons were north of the run the supplies were probably brought down to him. Munford 465 He placed munford’s cavalry in reserve on the ford road. Munford made his headquarters near fitz lee. Munford’s 2nd Virginia Cavalry under Col. Cary Breckenridge acting as picket reserve was on the white oak road guarding the Gravely Run Church Roads. The regiment’s videttes patrolled up and down white oak road to keep up a link with Roberts’ brigade. (Munford’s testimony p. 442)

Upon reaching five forks General Pickett called his comaanders together at the Five Forks in the rear of Lt. Early’s three guns, pulled out a map, showed them where they were, then gave directions to strengthen the position as well as they could; With the exception of 100 or 200 yards of light breastworks erected by the cavalry on the evening of March 30th, there were no intrenchments. (Wood) Pickett’s and Ransom’s men immediately set to work building breastworks of logs, fence rails and dirt and finished in an hour and a half or two hours. Mayo
ransom’s brigade was the last to reach five forks, arriving at noon. The 24th NC Inf covered their retirement and, reaching within a short distance of five forks, spotted union cavalry and called for help. The 49th was sent to reinforce them. Chambers put his entire regiment on a skirmish line and checked the federals. Meanwhile the brigade formed a line and began intrenching. The 24th held the extreme left, next the 56th, then 25th, 49th and 35th. (Sketch 49th regiment p. 145) The brigade’s skirmishers and sharpshooters were placed under command of Lt.. Roulhac of the 49th and connected with Munford’ s cavalry on their left.
Lt. Roulhac made several reports of the approach of the V Corps, probably to rutledge, but he did nothing. Finally, adjutant McGhee of ransom’s staff rode to the front and directed roulhac to turn over the skirmishers to Lt. Bowers and report directly to ransom and tell him what he had seen. Ransom did nothing but ordered Roulhac to find general pickett and report the condition of affairs. (49th skietch p. 146) 56th sketch)
Upon the approach of ayres, Col. Clarke of the 24th threw his regiment back at right angles and the 25th North Carolina joined him. Lt. Col. Luke and his 56th North Carolina continued to occupy the breastworks and to oppose the cavalry. Soon Ayres men crossed the return and overwhelmed and captured the 24th and hit the left flank and rear of the 56th North Carolina. (49th sketch p. 146 and 56th sketch p. 397)
the 35th nc lost half its men as prisoners and Lt. Col. J.T. Johnson was wounded and disabled for life. (Sketch p. 626
the 24th nc had lost very heavily at stedman and had been reduced to a "Handful" commanded by a captain. This remnant was captured. (24th sketch p. 290)
the 25th NC escaped through a small "loop hole" in the union lines after attacking several times the federals who were closing in. As they left they fired one last volley. (Sketch 25th regiment vol. 2 p. 301)
one of ransom’s staff officers informed Lt. Robert t. faucett of company D, 56th NC that the brigade was being surrounded by federals. About 30 minutes later at about 5 p.m. a federal force approached the rear of the 56th NC from the north. A branch and hedge prevented the north carolinians from seeing them approach until they were within fifty yards. The 56th kept firing until the federals were within 10 or 20 feet. One of their color bearers fell within 10 feet of Lt. Robert t. fawcett of company D. At this point the 56th superiors ordered the regiment to surrender. One of the officers stated after the war that they could have fired another volley, but that the regiment would have been massacred, so close were the federals. (56th vol. 3 p. 398) (Fawcett to Perham)
Capt. Henry A. Chambers of the 49th urged Col. McAfee and Col. Rutledge to pull some regiments out of line and form a new line at right angles to the works in order to stop the federals. Both men were afraid to act without orders and did nothing. (Chambers) Finally McAfee was wounded and that made chambers the regimental commander. After ordering Capt. J.C. Grier of Company F to remain in the earthworks facing south with the two right companies, Chambers marched his remaining eight companies obliquely to the rear and formed at a right angle to the works on the edge of syndor field. They fired on the federals moving down the works towards them and then were confronted with federals from the north and from the west. This latter group had come from the north, performed a right wheel, and thus came up in rear of the 49th. The federals closed with the confederates and men fought each other with clubbed muskets. Chambers was shot in the head but staggered through the only gap left in the Federal encirclement and escaped along with a few of the regiment. The others were captured.
during the battle ransom and his staff occupied a position in the center of rutledge’s brigade. when ransom realized the federals were advancing on his rear he attacked northwards with one of his regiments and he and his staff broke through. The regiment which may have been the 25th NC was repulsed and captured.
Col. Benbow commanding wallace’s brigade, gave him one of his regiments, all he could spare. In the last stage of the fight Benbow sent a second regiment and Steuart sent wood’s 14th va. Inf. (Sketch 49th regiment p. 146 and

The position held Lt. Col. Hilary Hudson’s 26th SC was in a grove of old pine trees, behind which were the brigade’s ambulances and wagons. For several days there had been rumors in the ranks that federal spies were among them. This led a a sad accident. Adjutant McGhee rode into the pine thicket to join the 26th and was mistaken for a federal scout. "Shoot the federal spy" and half a dozen bullets struck him and knocked him off his horse dead. (Wandering p. 229)
Lt. Col. Culp of the 17th sc and lt. Col. Hilsary hudson of the 26 th SC figured the battle was lost and retreated from their position by the right flank. Just then Gen Ransom rode up hat in hand on a fine bay horse and called for volunteers to return and beat back the federals Hudson gave orders to his regiment to charge, but in the confusion only two companies obeyed. They regained their lines only to become the target for federals in their front and rear. Hudson fell, hit in the chest. (Wandering p. 231)
Mayo rode to the headquarters of Hutter, commanding 11th Va. Inf and complained that there were no pickets in front of his brigade. Hutter urged him to send some so mayo told him to select one company and cover not only his own front but half the brigade front as outposts. Hutter selected capt. Laneby and his company B for the job. Worried about Lasenby hutter rode to the front and encountered one of lasenby’s men leading a prisoner, a mounted cavalryman who said he belonged to Merritt’s cavalry. Huttere ordered the prisoner to be brought to Mayo. Soon after there was firing on lasenby’s front, so hutter knew he was engaged with the enemy. The firing soon ceased but there was no report from Lasenby. Presently Lt. Clarence Haden of Company B came in and reported that lasenby and the entire company had been captured. Hutter sent mayo a message informing him, but did not receive a reply. Instead he was ordered to march his regiment down the line of works and report to Gen. Ransom.
On the march hutter encountered Lt. Will Early, commanding a section of artillery. Early told hutter the federals were driving them, but that he had a good position and would the federals grape and canister when they came into sight. After travelingabout a quarter of a mile Hutter found ransom and gave him his name and rank. Ransom asked, "What command have you, colonel?": Hutter replied, "The largest and best regiment in the army." Ransom replied, "I want a division." Pointing to the rear ransom told hutter, "You march here and strike him wherever you find him. If possible hold him until I join you."
Moving rapidly through the dense pines, Hutter spotted the union flag. The federals were marching by the flank across the confederate rear. Hutter sent three couriers with orders to report to either ransom, steuart or mayo that the federals were in their rear in large numbers, that he would engage them at once, and they should march to the sound of his guns to reinforce him. Since the enemy were between the confederates and their trains he recommended facing the division north and cuttiong their way out. He never received a reply..
After a time Hutter encountered the 3rd virginia cavalry under Capt. Jones. Hutter explained his orders and the two officers decided to place the 3rd virginia cavalry on the right and the 114th virginia infantry on the left. (Hubbard) They encountered federals marching "by the flank" which means heading west. Hutter determined to stop them and contineud to fire. It worked. The frederals turned and headed south towards him. Hutter spread out his line to cover as long a front as possible, butt was forced to march backwards, south, towards the white oak road. He was still expecting Pickett’s division to come up the white oak road to his relief.
Hutter was therefore shocked when he hard one of his men call out "Oh, I surrender." The man was ten or twenty paces to the rear. Turning around Hutter saw dismounted Union cavalry had seized the white oak road line and were in and about the works that he had expected to find occupied by Pickett’s men.
Hutter called for his horse and mounted him. He informed his men that he’d just been released from a union prisoner and did not intend to go back. He advised them to surrender. He lay flat on his horse and galloped to the left, down the line, trying to escape. He saw one of his companies get through, just before he got there, but the gap closed. Riding bakc to his men he ordered a surrender. The federals in his rear were dismounted cavalry under pennington and in his front were infantry under chamberlain. Some of pennington’s cavalry made a dash for the colors of the 3rd. The color sergeant, Hickok, drew his pitol and asked, "What did you say colonel?" Hutter repeated his instructions but by then Hickok had been shot down. Fortunately, he survived.