Diary of Orrin Brown—April 1, 1865


Battle of Five Forks, 1865Diary of Orrin Brown, Goldsboro, North Carolina

Saturday–April 1st

We have had a most a beautifull day clear and warm with a gentle S. E. breeze. I wrote a good long letter to Henry Smith today, also one home and some cotton yarn home by mail. There is a detail made out of our regt today as Cattle guards to be gone from the regt. a month 5 men two corporals and a Sargent out of our company. We had a dress parade at 5 PM, read 5 Chapts. today.

Battle of Five Forks

On 1 April 1865, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan‘s cavalry and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren‘s V Corps defeated Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett‘s infantry and Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee‘s cavalry in a decisive battle southwest of Petersburg in Dinwiddie County, Virginia.

On 24 March, Grant had issued orders for an offensive against Richmond and Petersburg.  Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s cavalry were to cut the remaining Confederate rail lines in a flanking movement extending the Union right.  The idea was to pull Lee out of his entrenchments, and also to prevent a Confederate retreat West.  Lee was already thinking along these lines, and was making plans to fall back and join Gen. Johnston in North Carolina for a united stand.

Sheridan moved south and west early on 29 March with the V Corps (Warren) and II Corps (Humphreys) in support along the Boydton Plank Road.  The Battle of Lewis’ Farm opened the Appomattox Campaign.  Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, a hero of Gettsyburg, in Warren’s lead brigade engaged Confederate Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson’s infantry corp on the Quaker Road, winning the day while being wounded in the process.  Sheridan quickly occupied Dinwiddie Court House, although a steady rain that afternoon and the next day kept both armies mostly off the roads.  On the 31st, in continuing rain, Gen. Lee ordered Johnson against Union lines on the White Oak Road, which was initially successful but later pushed by back Chamberlain and others in the V Corps.  At the same time, Sheridan sent cavalry north from Dinwiddie Court House towards the road junction at Five Forks, only to be thrown back in defeat by Fitzhugh Lee.  Still the Rebels could not dislodge the Federal troops; Sheridan and Warren held their lines.

Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett had orders from Gen. Lee to hold Five Forks at all costs.  About 1pm on the 1st of April, dismounted cavalry under Grig. Gen. Thomas Devin and Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer pinned down Pickett’s front and right flank.  Warren’s V Corps infantry then massed for attack on the Confederate left flank.  Sheridan and Warren did not get along—the morning of the 1st Gen. Grant had given Sheridan permission to replace Warren, disliking his cautious reputation—and communication suffered as preparations across the wooded, broken ground dragged through the afternoon.  About 4pm, the V Corps began their advance, yet faulty reconnaissance sent two divisions about 800 yards around the Confederate lines.  While Sheridan led one division against the lines, which quickly collapsed once engaged, Warren was coordinating from the rear, searching for his wayward troops.  Conflicting orders were missed in the heat of battle, and Sheridan relieved Warren of command, although the later had achieved his part of the victory.  Estimates of casualties differ, but typically are in the range of 600-800 Union casualties, and 600 killed and wounded and 4,500 prisoners for the Confederates.

Sheridan promoted Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin in command of the V Corps.  Warren resigned his commission as general of volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as major in the Corps of Engineers.  Sheridan would go on to a distinguished career, first on the Great Plains and then succeeding Gen. Sherman as Commanding General of the U.S. Army.  Years later, after Grant’s presidency, President Rutherford B. Hayes convened a Court of Inquiry which found that Sheridan’s removal of Warren was unjustified.  However, the finding was not published until after Warren’s death in 1882.


Thank you for following Pvt. Orrin Brown of the 14th Michigan Infantry on his march with Gen. Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas.




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1 Response to Diary of Orrin Brown—April 1, 1865

  1. Pingback: Diary of Orrin Brown—April 2, 1865 -JC Shepard(dot)com

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