The Virginia in the Civil War Message Board

Thomas Munford Writes about March 30 & 31 1865

This account can be found in the unpublished manuscript by Thomas Munford, “The Waterloo of the Confederacy” pages 7-14. The manuscript is housed in the Virginia Historical Society.

On 29 March, just at nightfall, Major General Fitz Lee arrived with his division at Sutherland Station on the Southside Railroad. Early next morning, with the rain still coming down in blinding sheets, he marched out by the most direct road to five Forks on route to Dinwiddie courthouse. As we neared five Forks General W. H. Payne’s brigade, being in advance, ran into the United States cavalry, under General Merritt, who, also with general Davies division and General Deven’s brigade, was under orders from Sheridan to occupy five Forks. A sharp contest ensued, and in the first clash of arms General Payne was wounded and had to leave the field. Our whole division was [Page 7 ends] at once dismounted and, after some heavy skirmishing, we pressed the enemy back to the Boisseau house, which was about a mile and a half in the direction of Dinwiddie courthouse. We remained there until night then, leaving a regiment on picket there (at the Boisseau house) we fell back to Hatchers Run convenient to water and about 2 miles to the north of Five Forks.
it was about dark, when General Pickett, with five small brigades of infantry and a battalion of artillery under Lieutenant Colonel W. J. Pegram, with his adjutant, Captain W Gordon McCabe, joined us by the White Oak Road (again see map) , At about the same hour General W.H.F. Lee, and General Rosser with their divisions of cavalry came up also and thus made our entire force about 8000 men of all.arms. General Pickett as ranking major general at once assumed command of the whole force. General Fitz Lee was the head of all the cavalry; I, being the ranking colonel of Fitz Lee’s division, and having been in command of his second brigade since Wickham‘s resignation six months before, was placed in command of Fitz Lee’s division – – a position which I held to the end at Appomattox. Colonel William B. Woolridge of the Fourth Virginia cavalry was given command of the second brigade, and Colonel R.B. Boston of the Fifth Virginia cavalry was given in charge of Payne’s brigade. These changes were of so serious a nature that I feel compelled to say that Major, JD Ferguson, the efficient and distinguished adjutant general of our division, was suffering from an attack of typhoid fever at this time, and his services were particularly missed by the whole division. General Fitz Lee’s staff, of course, went with him; Gneral Wickham’s AAG, Captain Fountain and his aide de camp, Capt John Taylor were assigned elsewhere as Wickham had resigned. Captain [[page 9 ends] PJ Denson Henry Lee and Captain Mort Rogers remained; captain Beverly R. Mason, having succeeded captain Jesse Heath, became the main spring of the commissary department and the life of the command. Major John A. Palmer of the A.Q.M. was splendidly efficient and ably supported by Captain Jack Palmer and Surgeon Lee. My own efficient regimental adjutant, Major John W Tayloe, was on a short leave of absence in Alabama. But I had sergeant major Samuel Griffin of my old regiment, the second Virginia, who had been distinguished on many a field and bore honorable scars, taken on my staff, as acting assistant adjutant general. We organize the staff of couriers from the ranks, and they were men who represented the elite of the division . What they lacked in rank, was made up in patriotism; they were young men of the best families of the south, and honored to serve their country with all the energies of will and intellect. Generally well mounted they made it a point of particular honor to carry out all orders, regardless of time or surroundings, and they were never surpassed by the staff officers of any corps.. Those attached to division headquarters at the close of the war, and who had served continuously under General, Fitz Lee were major JD Ferguson, Major Robert F, Mason, Major William B, Warwick, Major Thomas F Bowie, Dr. Arelie Randolph, Major George Royal, and Aides-de-camps captain Charles Minegarode and Henry C. Lee. Alas, with the single exception of JD Ferguson.

these good Knights are dust
their swords are rust.
Their souls are with the saints we trust.

Other gallant officers, attached to Fitz Lee’s headquarters, viz.: lieutenant Isaac Walke and Captain Henry Bolling sealed with their lives their devotion to the cause. Captain F.W. Dawson was worded at five forks, but fortunately but fortunately recovered. With these stood Major Jim [page 9 ends] Breathed with his superb old battery. As King Louis the 14th said of Marshall Villers, “wherever the guns are playing, he is sure to rise from the earth, and at the very spot, “so it was true of Brevard, and also of chew, and McGregor, P. P. Johnson Solomon, and Carter, who were sustained with glorious courage by there that splendid body of horse artillery.

But we lay that night on hatchers run, content. We had felt the enemy, that day, and he had [the word cringed is crossed out] fallen back at our touch. It was 30 March, and we only waited for the break of day to go at him and “smash them up “ as our beloved chief had commanded.
It was hardly daylight when our picket from the front reported to me that the enemy’s axes could be distinctly heard in the woods beyond, as if he was barricading and preparing to hold his ground. The federals made no attempt to advance when they discovered that my troops still held the road on their front, but when I was ready to move out General Fitz Lee came to the head of my column and gave me instructions to move to the front and get into position. He wished me to hold the road to Dinwiddie courthouse while he would take W. H. F. Lee’s and Rosser’s division, supported by General Pickett’s infantry, and by a concealed route attempt to reach Little Five Forks west of Chamberlains Run. This stream he expected to cross at Fitzgerald‘s and Danse’s Fords, and then turning to the left, he would attack the federal cavalry in flank and rear. I was to attack the enemy in my front as soon as I heard the rattle of Fitz Lee’s guns in sufficient volume to indicate a serious engagement and was to force a junction with his command. After giving this order, General Lee. left me waving his hand as he rode away and adding in a manner not usual with him:

“Farewell, we will meet again in the Paradise of the faithful – – or somewhere else more convenient and handy. “
The battle did not begin open in earnest for many hours, and I, knowing that the whole of Sheridan’s Cavalry was in my front, regarded Fitz Lee’s orders as a little bilious. However, after some slight skirmishing, I dismounted my men, and took position, ready to attack as soon as I heard the expected firing; but, we waited long and anxiously for the sound of those promised guns. Hour after hour passed, and the day was far spent before we heard anything that could be called severe firing. The Federals, indeed, seemed to have anticipated such a move upon the part of Pickett and General Lee for before our troops reached the fords, they had not only occupied them, but were prepared to defend them. At last, however, the artillery guns of the gallant Pegram began to belch their thunderous valleys, and I realized that the time had come for us to move in.

The sound of the bugle from my headquarters was echoed in turn by each regimental bugle along my line. The second brigade took the advance, as Payne’s had done the day before, and the whole division nobly responded to the bugle’s call. Among my gallant officers were such heroes as captain Connelly, Litchfield, and Billmire of the First Virginia; Captains James Breckinridge and William Steptoe of the second Virginia; Captains John Lamb, and J.B. Jones of the third Virginia; captain Joe Hobson of the famous Powhatan troop; captain Alex Payne of the black horse, and Captain Billy Hill and Lieutenant John a Holman of the Culpepper troop of the fourth cavalry acting as sharpshooters with their squadrons dismounted. I had as fine a body of practiced rifleman, as could be found in the army and Payne’s brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Grimsley acquitted itself with its accustomed splendid dash. [page 11 ends]
With the first clear cry of the bugles my brave fellows dashed forward with the “rebel” yell firing steadily and surely. In a very short while we had “gotten a move“ on those other fellows in front of us. The country in front was broken, crossed with branches and ravines, and very swampy in places. It was patched with briars and bamboo, clustered with alder thickets and stumps of stunted old sealed pines. Owing to such obstructions, we could see but a short distance in front, and the order was given to press obliquely to the right in the direction of the sound of Pickett’s guns. This was done, but owing to the rugged face of the country it was about as difficult to keep alignment as it would be to keep in touch a number of greasy ivory balls on the billiard table. My line necessarily became somewhat disconnected, but it penetrated obliquely in between the troops of the federal cavalry under Generals Devin and Davies, isolated them from their support and compelled them to retreat in the direction of the Boydton plank Road, leading to Dinwiddie courthouse, which we passed on my left. At the same time, the third Virginia regiment connected with our infantry on our right rear, into an open field, where the enemies horse artillery had greatly annoyed us. General Fitz Lee in his report has this to say of the fight:
“Munford, in command of my old division, held our lines in front of the enemy’s position, whilst the remaining two divisions of cavalry, proceeding the infantry, moved by concealed road to turn and attack the enemy flank. A Short stream strongly defended at its crossing, presented an unexpected obstacle to the sudden attack contemplated. It was finally carried however with loss W.H.F. Lee’s and Rosser’s divisions. Munford, attacking about the same time, also successfully carry [page 12ends] the temporary works, throwing up in his front, and by a gallant, advance again united his command with the other divisions. Darkness put an end to any further advance.“
This ended the second day’s fight.

let that pass… When the battle in Scots Fields was over instead of Sheridan being around in the right of Robert E, Lee’s army – – as that as Grant had planned – – we were ten miles is rear in General Grant’s left with Sheridan calling loudly for help!

Right here, in the face of victory, came the first rift in the[ page 13 ends] In the chain of things that should have been. We stopped! General Pickett wrote in his official report:

“The enemy was severely punished half an hour more of daylight, and we could have gotten the courthouse. “

This, of course, is mere conjecture – – but why did we halt? We had Sheridan in full retreat. He had been driven three or 4 miles almost at a headlong run and General Pickett’s orders from General R.E. Lee, as stated by Fitz Lee “to drive him out and break him up.” It was a golden opportunity; an opportunity egregiously lost as the records will show. I believe that, as I believe now, that it could’ve been done. The order from our beloved commander was to attack Sheridan and drive him away from Dinwiddie courthouse. General Pickett’s excuse is “half an hour more of daylight” Every step, Pickett advanced meant just that much ground Sheridan had to abandon; and he was now [the word squealing is crossed out] crying loudly for help – – which could not possibly have reached him in time to be of any use to him. If General Pickett had only pressed forward and kept pressing forward! He was sent there for attacking. But he stopped and coliberated; he hesitated, waiting for daylight, and the opportunity was lost. That proper officer – – of whom General Longstreet has written, but whose name he has not had not called – – was not there to meet the occasion. [Page 14 ends]

This account can be found in the unpublished manuscript by Thomas Munford, “The Waterloo of the Confederacy” pages 7-14. The manuscript is housed in the Virginia Historical Society.