FIVE FORKS TOUR
June 5, 2004
The Pickett Society sponsored a two-pronged event on June 5th. National Park
Service Ranger, Tracy Chernault, visited with our group as we enjoyed
a delicious luncheon buffet at Longstreet’s Deli in Petersburg. Afterward,
Ranger Chernault led us on a mini tour of Petersburg during which he
pointed out several Pickett related landmarks. Five Forks Battlefield
in Dinwiddie County was our final and most significant exploration that
George Pickett knew for days prior to receiving his March 29th order to move his men that he was about to be ordered out. Some excerpts from military telegrams follow: “March 7, 1865, Your dispatch received. I have also received a dispatch from Gen. Lee. Shall I move at once to Richmond? G. E. Pickett — March 10, 1865, Two Brigades of Pickett’s Division are at Manchester waiting to join him. If you are attacked send for them. R. E. Lee - March 19, 1865, Troops are about starting. Will put them in position indicated. G. E. Pickett — March 21, 1865, The General desires that Pickett’s Division be sent by rail. W. H. Taylor.”
The 10 mile drive from Petersburg to the battlefield took our group just a few minutes, but on March 29, 1865, it took about 24 hours for Gen. Pickett and his men to cover the same distance due to heavy rain, muddy roads and the dark of night. Pickett and part of his division began the journey near Swift Creek, north of Petersburg. Upon reaching Petersburg, as ordered, they boarded a train to Sutherland, an outpost three miles northeast of Five Forks. The rail bed and tracks were in such disrepair that the train moved very slowly.
Once at Sutherland, Pickett and his men marched the remaining miles to Five Forks. By this time, exhaustion was a foremost problem, along with Yankee cavalry that harassed the rear units of the Confederates during the entire march.
The army’s exhaustion was not Pickett’s only problem. He had orders to hold Five Forks at all costs. Securing that intersection of five roads would keep open the rail line, thereby sustaining hope that Lee’s army might receive supplies. But Pickett’s men were overwhelmingly outnumbered. The position to which Pickett and his partial division were sent was not a continuation of the defensive line around Petersburg, but an exposed, singular and solitary one. Pickett wished to defend from higher ground along Hatcher’s Run 1 miles north of Five Forks, but his orders specified a defense at the intersection and Pickett inferred from those orders that he would be receiving reinforcements, however, none were ever dispatched.
Gen. Pickett and the Confederates prevailed against Sheridan’s troops in the muddy Battle of Dinwiddie Courthouse March 31, 1865. Upon returning to the intersection of Five Forks as daylight was fading, Pickett ordered his men to create breast works the length of one mile in an east-west direction along White Oak Road; there were not enough Confederates to defend a longer line. At the eastern end, he ordered a trench dug in a 300 foot length at a right angle to White Oak Road.
|Society Chairman Dwight Wood (left) caused laughter inside the Five Forks visitors’ center as he described the stuffed horse on exhibit there. A new visitors’ center is scheduled for construction next year.||The angle of return on the eastern end of the Confederates’ one mile trench is 25’ to the left. Ranger Chernault pointed out that the area was more heavily wooded during the April 1, 1865 battle.|
The following day after 4:00 P.M., Sheridan attacked from the south and east along a two mile front. The Confederates were overrun and flanked quickly by vastly superior numbers of union forces with the entire battle being over within two hours.
|Tracy Chernault (far left) explains to the group that Eppa Hunton’s brigade did not engage in battle but remained at this site, the intersection of White Oak and Claiburne Roads, during the Five Forks engagement||Longstreet’s Deli has a new area for private groups and the food is still delicious. (L to R) Clay Pickett, Bert Zbar, Tracy Chernault, Bobbie Childress, Dan Paterson and Kim Owen, co-author of the new book "The War of Confederate Capt. Henry T. Owen."|
Ranger Chernault shared some research results:
|This is the site of one of the most famous lunches ever prepared, Gen. Rosser’s shad bake. It has been said that Gen. Pickett was entitled to have lunch, but he should have told a subordinate where he would be. We learned that a courier rode to Gen. Pickett as the Federal army approached the intersection at Five Forks. How did the rider know where to find Gen. Pickett?|