- Historic Sites
This Is Victory
The city fathers of Petersburg surrender their rebel town to a war correspondent
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
Before it was fairly light on the morning of March 29th 1865, Meade, Ord and Sheridan had all broken camp, and the army was once more in motion. Sheridan’s cavalry, nine thousand strong reached Dinwiddie before dark, and camped for the night. On the morning of the 31st he held Five Forks, but was obliged to fall back temporarily.
After breakfast on the 29th, Grant and most of the staff left for the front, distant about twenty miles. I remained behind till the middle of the afternoon, and then accompanied by George Alfred Townsend (“Gath”) rode to Gen. Meade’s headquarters for the night. On the 30th, Meade’s and Grant’s headquarters were within a half mile of each other on Gravelly Run, and remained there till Richmond and Petersburg were evacuated on the night of May 2d.
Warren’s Fifth Corps advanced on White Oak road, [Samuel W.] Crawford’s Division leading the attack. It was severely repulsed in the forenoon and driven back in great confusion. While Crawford was attempting to reform and renew the fighting, Gen. Warren rode up white with rage, and without waiting for explanations, commenced the most abusive tirade on Crawford that a mortal ever listened to. He called him every vile name at his command, in the presence of officers and privates, and totally forgot what was due to his self-respect as an officer and a gentleman. Crawford sat on his horse, stolid as a block of marble, and so far as I can remember, did not utter a syllable in reply. When he had emptied his last vial of abuse on Crawford, Warren rode away, and I never saw him afterwards.
That afternoon Sheridan rode to Grant’s headquarters to see about the infantry reinforcements which had been promised him, to retake Five Forks, destroy [George E.] Pickett’s command, and thus completely turn the enemy’s right flank. He had asked for Wright’s Sixth Corps to be sent to his assistance. But Grant had other work laid out for Wright and notified Sheridan that Warren would be sent to him. To this Sheridan had strong objections and came to headquarters to express them.
His plea was that the Sixth Corps had been with his cavalry in the Shenandoah Campaign; officers and men knew and trusted each other; that the Fifth Corps were strangers; and when hard pressed said he had no confidence in Warren, under such circumstances. He would not like to be subordinated to him (Sheridan) and he expected nothing but trouble. Grant explained to him the impossibility of moving Wright so far within the time required, whereas Warren was on our extreme left but a few miles from Five Forks, and was, on every account the suitable one to be detached for that service. Noting Sheridan’s dissatisfied countenance, Grant said: “Gen. Warren will be ordered to report to you for duty,” speaking slowly and emphasizing every word.
Warren was ordered to move to Sheridan’s support on the night of March gist, so as to cooperate with Sheridan by nine o’clock next morning, at the latest. He reported to Sheridan about eleven o’clock in the forenoon of April 1st, but his corps did not arrive on the field, so as to go into battle, till late in the afternoon. All this time Sheridan was waiting, fuming, and fighting. The chances of success were growing fainter hourly. The enemy was changing his position, and might escape unhurt.
To add to this Sheridan’s aides who had been sent to hurry up Warren’s infantry, and lead them into position, claimed to have received scant courtesy on delivering their orders; and when Warren’s Corps finally arrived, instead of moving forward into line as ordered by Sheridan, it was halted until Warren actually rode over the ground to inspect it personally, as if distrusting Sheridan’s judgment, and rebelling against his authority. Warren’s tardy arrival, his apparent unwillingness to render cheerful obedience so incensed Sheridan that he removed him from command on the spot, sent him to the rear to await orders and placed Gen. Griffin, next in rank, in command. The whole corps was rushed into battle and nothing but the lateness of the attack prevented the capture of the entire rebel force.
There is no doubt but his removal from command of the corps with which he had been so long identified, came like a clap of thunder to Gen. Warren. I have reason to know that such a possibility had never entered his mind. He had a good opinion of himself, and so far as such thoughts ever projected themselves into his reflections, considered his position as secure as that of Meade, Sheridan, or even Grant. And for a while afterward, he never seemed to doubt that he would be vindicated, restored to command, and Sheridan be in some manner reprimanded for his action. It was a pitiful chapter in the war; and Gen. Warren was driven to a premature grave, as his friends always believed, by what he felt to be an undeserved punishment. The close of the war turned public attention away from individual cases. Grant, Sheridan, Sherman and others were the popular idols, and many deserving officers and men were overlooked and forgotten.