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stayed, but not till Warren's left had been driven a full mile. It was now the Federal turn to attack. Miles passed by Warren's rear and, opening on the enemy's flank, drove him back. Grant moved his headquarters to the Boydton plank, ordered Warren and Humphreys to push the attack, and sent word to Sheridan to keep the enemy busy in his front, or to attack if opportunity offered. Warren moved, supported by Miles, over the ground he had lost and, driving the enemy behind his entrenchments, secured a foothold on the White Oak road.
Lee had not only been moving infantry to his right to relieve it, but had organized an immense cavalry force under Pickett and given it the support of two infantry divisions, for the purpose of overwhelming Sheridan. On this same day, March 31st, it was moving toward Dinwiddie.
Sheridan pushed Merritt's and Crook's commands out to meet it, leaving Custer to guard the rear and the roads connecting with Meade. The Confederates attacked at ten o'clock, with cavalry. Their charge upon Crook was made with fearful earnestness, but was gallantly repulsed with a loss to them of five hundred men. Pickett withdrew and then massed for an attack on Merritt's line. He forced back Davies' brigade, and detached it from its command. It fought its way to the rear, and there reformed. Pickett became too intent on his advantage and exposed his flank, which Sheridan attacked with Gibbes' and Gregg's forces. This relieved Merritt. The Federal lines now fell back in good order, fighting dismounted, before great odds of combined cavalry and infantry, till they reached the slight breastworks they had previously thrown up in front of Dinwiddie.
Sheridan informed Grant of his position, of the strong force in his front, and that his losses had been four hundred and fifty men killed and wounded. Grant instantly determined to convert Sheridan's defensive into an offensive attitude. He ordered
Warren to draw in his left to the Boydton plank, and send a division down the road to Sheridan's aid. The move was most important, for the Confederates were outside of their fortifications, and would be struck in flank. Warren suggested the taking of his entire corps along, and Grant assented, but the movement must be completed by morning. Warren was cautious and slow. His aggressive vigor was not equal to quick emergencies, though brave in action and splendid in field movement, where time could be given and the spaces were not too contracted. Grant grew anxious and urgent. He spent the whole night in hearing from Meade, Sheridan, and Warren, and in issuing stirring orders how to co-operate for attack, and what to do in case Sheridan had to fall back in the morning. Still Warren was delaying, and the suspense became almost unendurable. Daylight of April ist was on, and only Ayres' division was sufficiently advanced to be of assistance to Sheridan. He, however, decided to advance, with the hope that Warren would be along soon. He did so, and Pickett's entire force fell back in the direction of Five Forks, followed by Merritt and Crook. Ayres met the pursuing cavalry two miles up the Boydton road, but Pickett had slipped out in time to avoid the infantry blow on his flank, and made himself secure behind the entrenchments at Five Forks.
Sheridan learned that Griffin's division of the Fifth was close behind Ayres', and that Crawford's division might be expected
Grant had placed the entire corps under his (Sheridan's) orders. He, therefore, halted the advance divisions where they were on the Boydton road, with orders to wait till Crawford came up, and then to be prepared to take the roads leading off the Boydton plank toward Five Forks (so named from the intersection of five main roads there). None knew better than Sheridan the advantage of Five Forks to Lee, and none shared to a greater extent Grant's desire to capture this place. When Grant had said to Sheridan, “I mean to end the business right
here,” some such point as Five Forks must have instinctively flashed across both their minds. At any rate, it was now a key to a situation which involved the fate of the Confederate army. It was right under the Southside railroad, would command that road and all the rearward of Petersburg, would give Grant the line of the Appomattox, would force Lee to the north of that river, and perhaps even the James, with still more precarious communications westward. It seldom occurs in warfare that a place so unimportant in itself becomes so conspicious and pivotal. The fortune of Lee, the fate of his army, the future of the Confederacy, hung upon the possession of a cross-road centre that had never before been honored with even so much as a spot upon the map. Grant's superb leadership, untiring zeal, and constancy of purpose, had centralized the war so that the field of action which was, a year before, as wide as the continent, was now reduced to a single point, and the result of four years of sacrifice, hung upon the issue of a battle for a country village.
FIVE FORKS AND SURRENDER.
T the end of Chapter XVIII. we saw Pickett's combined
infantry and cavalry force fall back (April ist) from Dinwiddie to Five Forks. This was necessary in order to avoid an attack on their left flank by Warren, who was ordered to move by the Boydton plank-road to Dinwiddie and to Sheridan's support. Warren came tardily and Pickett escaped the contemplated blow on his left. It will be remembered that the Fisth Corps (Warren's) was placed at Sheridan's entire disposal. When he met Ayres' division coming and found that Griffin and Crawford were following, he halted them where they were on the Boydton plank and left the entire corps under orders to take the side roads toward Five Forks when called.
Sheridan then pursued Pickett till he brought up within the fortifications at Five Forks which were, by this time, very strong and well manned. The restless and audacious cavalryman now conceived a scheme by which he hoped to make the place his own. It was past noon, and all effort must be prompt. He had discovered that the Five Forks fortifications stopped a mile east of the place and then turned northward. This left a gap between them and the Petersburg defences. He hurried Mackenzie with one thousand eight hundred troopers beyond this gap to check any reinforcements Lee might send. Then dashing to his centre and left, he established Merritt well in front of the enemy's works, which extended about two miles, with Five Forks just back of their
centre, and gave him orders to make a vigorous feint on Pickett's right centre, as if to turn his right. Whirling again to the right he ordered Warren, who at noon reported to him in person, to move up his corps upon the enemy's left, and attack. Warren worked all too deliberately for the impatient Sheridan. It was five o'clock before he was up and in position, and already Merritt was vigorously engaged on the enemy's front and right.' Mackenzie's mission eastward on the White Oak road had proved most timely. He had met a strong reinforcement coming out from Petersburg and, falling upon it, had driven it back. Warren formed with Crawford on the right, Ayres on the left and Griffin in support. The direct object of assault was the angle in the Confederate fortifications, where they turned off and ran northward. This was to be taken and destroyed before the troops holding it could be reinforced by those from the right and opposite Merritt. Ayres and Crawford moved briskly to the attack over miry, difficult ground. Sheridan and his staff rode between their skirmishers and regular lines. Ayres was received with a heavy fire before he reached the White Oak road. His left wavered, and in shifting his front to keep his lines straight his right lost its connection with Crawford. Two regiments broke entirely, but Sheridan rode into the midst of the faltering troops and re-established the columns.
Merritt heard the firing and made his assault on the enemy's front and right more direct and furious. Crawford had crossed the White Oak road and gotten too far north to be of service in the onset upon the angle. Ayres therefore had to bear the brunt of it. Griffin had unfortunately followed Crawford with his supporting division. It was a critical moment, and Sheridan sent for Warren, who was with Crawford. He did not come promptly; and Sheridan, full of the enthusiasm of battle, rode everywhere among Ayres' men, steadying the lines and inspiring prompt and daring action. Seeing a flag fall, he