Battle of Five Forks
April 1, 1865
In the spring of 1865, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had an opportunity to
force Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia out of its
entrenchments at Petersburg by threatening its last supply line, the
South Side Railroad. Grant ordered Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan and his
cavalry to advance on the railroad by way of an important road junction
known as Five Forks. Lee countered this move by ordering Maj. Gen.
George Pickett with his infantry division and cavalry under Thomas Munford, W.H.F. Lee,
and Thomas Rosser to hold the vital crossroads "at all
hazards." After discovering the Confederate force, Sheridan secured infantry support from Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren's Fifth
Corps. After briefly stalling the Union advance on March 31, Pickett withdrew his command to Five Forks and fortified his position. The next day, while Sheridan’s cavalry pinned the Confederates in
position, the Fifth Corps assaulted the Confederate left
flank and rear, turning their position and taking scores of prisoners. Pickett, who was attending a shad bake when the fighting began, was unaware that a battle was underway until it was too late. Sheridan, meanwhile, personally directed the Union attack, often exposing himself to personal danger while rallying the troops. Union Brig. Gen. Frederick Winthrop was killed; “Willie”
Pegram, beloved Confederate artillery officer, was mortally wounded.
Though the Fifth Corps had performed well, Sheridan was nevertheless
dissatisfied Warren's performance during the battle and relieved him of
The resounding Union triumph heralded the end of the stalemate outside Petersburg and set the stage for the breakthrough that followed the next day. On April 2, Lee informed Jefferson Davis that Petersburg and Richmond would have to
be evacuated. Lee surrendered to Grant only seven days later.