The Virginia in the Civil War Message Board

part 1 April 1,1865 Five Forks

On March 29,1865 U.S. Grant launched his eighth offensive at Petersburg. He sent the II and V Army Corps to pin down R.H. Anderson's IV Corps on White Oak Road and sent Sheridan's cavalry to threaten Five Forks. His objective was to force Lee to send a defending force out of his trenches and into the open field where it could be annihilated by Sheridan.

On the afternoon of March 30,1865 R.E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. George Pickett with three of his own brigades and two infantry brigades from Bushrod Johnson's division to Five Forks. Pickett was ordered to attack Phil Sheridan's cavalry at Dinwiddie Courthouse and disperse them. Pickett defeated Sheridan but stopped his attack because the sun was setting. When Gen. G.K Warren and the V Army Corps marched south to aid Sheridan they threatened to cut off Pickett from Five Forks. On the morning of April 1, 1865, Pickett fell back to Five Forks and fortified the position.

Sheridan followed him with the cavalry on the Dinwiddie-five Forks Road while Warren marched toward Five Forks on the Gravely Run Church road.

Sheridan’s battle plan for Five Forks was unique. His cavalry would advance northward from Dinwiddie Court House, deploy in the woods in front of Pickett’s mile long line and by skirmishing, they would hold his small army in place. Meanwhile the infantry of Warren’s V Corps would advance northward up the Gravely run Church Road, deploy at the church and after advancing north would attack the Confederate left flank and roll up their line. As soon as the cavalry heard the guns of the V Corps, they were ordered to assault the Confederate breastworks and carry their line. Sheridan believed that between the flank attack by the infantry and the frontal attack by the dismounted cavalry, he would win the battle.

Sheridan assigned the job of pinning down Pickett’s men to the two cavalry divisions commanded by Wesley Merritt, those of Thomas Devin and George Armstrong Custer. Initially, Custer had only two brigades on the field, a third was in the rear with the wagon train. Custer’s left flank was on the western edge of the forest that marked the eastern boundary of the Gilliam property. His right flank rested on the Scott Road. Col Alexander Pennington‘s 1st brigade was on the right, and Capehart’s 3rd brigade on the left. Gen. Thomas Devin’s division stretched from the Scott Road on its left to the Gravelly Run Church Road on its right. From left to right his brigades were: Col. Charles Fitzhugh’s brigade, the reserve brigade under Col Alfred Gibbs, and Col. Peter Stagg’s Michigan brigade.

I will examine the fight between the four dismounted Yankee cavalry brigades and the confederate infantry.. This fight took place prior to the attack by the fifth Army Corps on the confederate left Flank at 4:15 p.m.