March 31, 1865: Battle of White Oak Road


Realizing that Grant was moving sufficient troops to flank his right, General Lee decided to launch an attack against the troops of the Union V Corps, holding a section of  the White Oak Road and preventing the linking of the Confederate right under Pickett with the rest of Lee’s army.  The Union left was in the air, separated by  three miles from Sheridan’s troopers at Dinwiddie Court House and Lee intended to take full advantage of this fact, massing four brigades to make the attack.

The Confederates routed two Union divisions, chasing them south of Gravelly Run.  At 2:30 PM the Union V Corps counterattacked across Gravelly Run, the attack spearheaded by the First Division of the V Corps.  The spearhead of the spearhead was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s brigade, still led by Chamberlain although he had been seriously wounded at the battle of Lewis Farm on March 29, 1865.  The Union counterattack was successful,  recovering the lost ground and once again breaking the White Oak Road, separating the Confederate right at Five Forks from the rest of the Confederate army.  Union casualties were approximately 1407 to approximately 800 Confederate.


Here is the report of Brigadier General Charles Griffin who command the First Division of the V Corps:


March 31, the division was relieved by the Second Corps, and directed to move to the left and mass upon the ground the Second Division had previously occupied. About 11 a. m., heavy musketry being heard in or front toward the White Oak road, the division was immediately put in motion in the direction of the firing, and had scarcely reached the bank of Gravelly Run when it was met by the Third Division running to the rear in a most demoralized and disorganized condition, soon after followed by the Second Division. The First Division was formed in line of battle along the bank of the run with the utmost difficulty, and two batteries placed in position, when the enemy pursuing our troops were checked and driven back. The command was then pushed across the run, supported by the Second and Third Divisions, and the First brigade, leading, regained the position first taken by the troop in the morning. The enemy demonstrating in his rifle-pits, still in our front, General Chamberlain pushed boldly forward, carrying them in a handsome manner, taking one flag and about 135 prisoners, and gaining possession of the White Oak road. The First and Second Brigades entrenched upon this line, throwing a strong picket-line to the front and across the White Oak road. About an hour after this connection was established by the Second Corps with our right. Soon after 5 p. m. the Third Brigade, under command of General Bartlett, which was in reserve was sent, via the J. Boisseau house, to connect with the cavalry, which appeared to be engaged some miles distant in the direction of Dinwiddie Court-House. The brigade moved some three miles, when it struck a picket-line of the enemy’s some skirmishing occurred, but darkness coming on almost immediately further operations were prevented. This brigade remained in this position until about midnight, when it returned to the vicinity of the line occupied by the First and Second Brigades, in compliance with an order received about 10.30 p m. for the division to withdraw and move down the plank road to Dinwiddie Court-House and report to General Sheridan.

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