On March 31, 1865 General Pickett, commander of the Confederate forces at Five Forks had launched an attack on Sheridan’s troopers driving them south to just north of Dinwiddie Court House. However, his left flank being threatened by troops of the V Corps arriving to reinforce Sheridan, Pickett retreated to Five Forks. Sheridan followed the retreating Pickett, and launched an attack on the Confederate breastworks at 1:00 PM on April 1, with two divisions of dismounted Union cavalry, armed with Sharps repeating rifles. This intense fire pinned down the Confederates while the infantry of the V Corps massed to attack the Confederate left. At 4:15 the attack went in , overcoming a stubborn Confederate defense. Sheridan removed General Warren from command of the V Corps on the grounds of being dilatory in arranging the attack of the V Corps, a decision which was ruled unfounded by an Army court of inquiry in 1883. Confederate casualties were almost 3,000 many of them prisoners, and Union casualties were 830. The Confederate right had now been turned, and largely obliterated, and the Southside Railroad lay exposed to the Union. Richmond and Petersburg could no longer be held.
Here is Sheridan’s report of the battle:
Five Forks, White Oak Road, April 2, 1865.
GENERAL: I have the honor to make the following report of our operations of yesterday:
At daylight yesterday morning I moved out with all the cavalry against the enemy’s infantry in front of Dinwiddie Court-House. On our advance they fell back rapidly in line of battle. This sudden withdrawal was in part due to the advance of Ayres’ division of the Fifth Corps from the Boydton plank road. General Ayres was unable to get into the enemy’s rear in time to attack as expected owing to the darkness and bad roads, but his movement was sufficient to turn the enemy from the Five Forks road and force him to cross Chamberlain’s Bed. Custer’s and Devin’s division of cavalry, under General Merritt, followed up the enemy with a gallantry that I have never seen exceeded, charging their infantry and driving them from two lines of works, capturing prisoners from Pickett’s and Johnson’s infantry divisions as well as from the enemy’s cavalry. The enemy made a last stand at the five Forks behind a strong line of earth-works along the White Oak road. After forcing them to this position I directed General Merritt to push his dismounted cavalry well up to the enemy’s works and drive in their skirmishers and make the enemy believe that our main attack would be made on their right flank. In the meanwhile I had ordered up the Fifth Corps to within a mile of the File Forks on the Dinwiddie Court-House road for the purpose of attacking the enemy’s left flank and rear. Between 4 and 5 o’clock, in accordance with these dispositions, the Fifth Corps moved out across the White Oak road, swinging round to the left as they advanced, and struck the enemy in flank and rear. Simultaneously with this attack the cavalry assaulted the enemy’s works in front in compliance with my orders to General Merritt, and the result of this combined movement was the compete rout of the enemy with the loss of 5 pieces of artillery and caissons, a number of their wagons and ambulances, and I think at least 5,000 prisoners and several battle-flags. Gregg’s brigade, of General Crook’s cavalry division, operated upon our extreme left, skirmishing with the enemy’s cavalry. The two other brigades of this division remained in the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court-House guarding the trains and the crossings of Stony Creek. I ordered General Mackenzie’s division of cavalry, which
reported to me in the morning, to the White Oak road by the way of J. Boisseau’s house, with instructions to advance in the direction of Five Forks. When the Fifth Corps reached the White Oak road General Mackenzie joined their right and in the attack swept round over the Ford’s Church road, cutting off this avenue of retreat to the enemy. After the enemy broke our cavalry pursued them for six miles down the White Oak road.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
P. H. SHERIDAN,