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TitleThe passing of the armies : an account of the final campaign of the Army of the Potomac, based upon personal reminiscences of the Fifth Army Corps
File Size2.1 MB
Total Pages227
Table of Contents
                            Front Cover
Biographical Note
I. The Situation
II. The Overture
III. The White Oak Road
IV. Five Forks
V. The Week Of Flying Fights
VI. Appomattox
VII. The Return Of The Army
VIII. The Encampment
IX. The Last Review
X. Sherman’s Army
XI. The Disbandment
Document Text Contents
Page 113

under Munford was over a thousand yards east of Pickett’s left at the beginning
and during the day was pressed around his rear so as to reach his troops after
their lines had all been broken. And as for Rosser’s cavalry they were at no time
011 the field. We know now that General Lee afterwards wrote General Wade
Hampton in these words: “Had you been at Five Forks with your cavalry the
disaster would not have befallen my army.” Nor does it appear that General
Anderson, commanding General Lee’s reserves in this quarter, knew anything of
the pressing need of them at Five Forks until all was over.
1 General Hunton, before the Warren Court, placed the numbers of these three brigades, when they

attacked us the day before, first at seven thousand five hundred, but was induced by the effect of cross
examination afterwards to reduce this to five thousand. , pp. 629 and 630.
2 Private correspondence of Confederate officers present gives some curious details as to a shad dinner

on the north side of Hatcher’s Run.
So there are some other generals beside Warren who helped Sheridan to his

fame at Five Forks.
So much for the tactics of that battle. In spite of errors it was a great victory.

It was Sheridan’s battle. The glory of it is his. With his cavalry there was no
error nor failure. Their action was not less than magnificent; the central thought
carried into every brilliant act;—a picture to satisfy any point of view, idealist or

As to the strategic merits of the battle, a few reflections may be permitted.
Undoubtedly, as things were, it was an important battle. But our isolated position
there invited fresh attack; and we only escaped it by the blundering or over-
cautious course of the forces sent out by Lee from the Claiborne front that
afternoon, and which in Sheridan’s solicitude we were pushed out to meet that
night. Then, too, we were much farther off from the Petersburg front, and the
opportunity for concerted action with the other corps in the line for general
assault. And finally, we were in no more advantageous position now than we
should have been if we had turned the Claiborne flank of the enemy’s
entrenchments, and cut the Southside Road at Sutherland’s the day before.1
Indeed, the very first thing we did the next morning after Five Forks was to
move back to turn this same flank on the Claiborne Road and gain possession of
Sutherland’s. But Miles had taken care of this, as we might have done before
him. Only Lee had now got a day’s start of us, the head of his column well out
on its retreat, necessitated not by Five Forks alone but by gallant work along our
whole confronting line,—which might have been done the day before, and saved
the long task of racing day and night, of toils and tribulations and losses
recorded and unrecorded, which brought fame to Appomattox, and the end of
deeds rewarded and unrewarded.

Page 114

1 serial 95, p. 1264.
A study of this battle shows vexing provocations, but does not show

satisfactory reasons for the removal of General Warren from command of the
Fifth Corps. The fact is that much of the dissatisfaction with him was of longer
standing. We recall the incident that General Sheridan did not wish to have the
Fifth Corps with him at the start1; also the suggestion by General Grant that
Sheridan might have occasion to remove him, and the authority to do so2; then
the keen disappointments of the Dinwiddie overture the day before, and the
exasperation at Warren’s not reporting to Sheridan that night.3 We recall General
Griffin’s remark in the morning that something like this would happen before the
day was through.4 We recur also to the complaints earlier noticed.5 There was an
unfavorable judgment of Warren’s manner of handling a corps; an
uncomfortable sense of certain intellectual peculiarities of his; a dislike of his
self-centered manner and temperament and habit generally, and his rather
injudicious way of expressing his opinion on tender topics. There was a variety
of antagonism towards General Warren stored up and accumulating in General
Sheridan’s mind, and the tension of a heated moment brought the catastrophe.
1 The right of the enemy’s entrenchments on the Claiborne Road after they were driven in on the

afternoon of March 31st was by no means strongly held. Testimony of General Hun ton,
, p. 629.

No one can doubt General Sheridan’s “right” to remove Warren; but whether
he was right in doing so is another question, and one involving many elements. It
is necessary that a chief commander, who is under grave responsibilities, should
have the power to control and even displace the subordinates on whom he
depends for the execution of his plans. Nor is it to be expected that he can
properly be held to give strict account of action so taken, or be called upon to
analyze his motives and justify himself by reasons to be passed upon by others.
In this case, there are many subjective reasons—influences acting on the mind of
General Sheridan himself and not easily made known to others, impressions
from accounts of previous action, the appearance of things at the moment, and
his state of mind in consequence—which go to strengthen the favorable
presumption accorded to his act. But as to the essential equity of it, the moral
justification of it, opinions will be governed by knowledge of facts, and these
extending beyond the incidents or accidents of this field.
1 See paper on the White Oak Road, vol. i., of this series, p. 230.
2 p. 246.
3 pp. 244-45.

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