Petersburg National Battlefield | FIVE FORKS BATTLEFIELD

Cannon at the Five Forks intersection, Petersburg National Battlefield

Cannon at the Five Forks intersection, Petersburg National Battlefield

Throughout the entire Siege of Petersburg from mid-June 1864 through April 2, 1865, the Union army had been gradually moving westward in an attempt to capture roads and railroads that carried supplies to Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s army in Petersburg. The westward movement forced Lee to continually extend his defensive positions around the city, thinning the number of men who could defend any given yard. By the end of March 1865, the line stretched all the way to Five Forks, a major intersection where five roads came together nearly 20 miles from Petersburg. If the Union army could break through the Confederate right flank at Five Forks, it could sever Lee’s last supply line: the South Side Railroad.

Fighting in the area commenced on March 29, 1865, at the Lewis Farm on Quaker Road, still a good bit east of Five Forks. The battle ended with the Confederates being driven back to their stronghold on White Oak Road. Union troops took control of the Quaker Road-Boydton Plank Road intersection, cutting one more Confederate supply line. Later that afternoon, General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry division occupied the intersection at Boydton Plank Road and Dinwiddie Court House Road (Dinwiddie, Virginia) without a fight. This is about five miles southwest of the Quaker-Boydton Plank intersection. With these positions in Union hands, General Ulysses S. Grant decided to launch a major attack as soon as more troops reached the area.

Fighting continued on the 30th despite heavy rain, but Lee and Grant spent most of the day positioning men for a larger battle once the rain stopped. One such movement resulted in a division of Union infantry under the command of General Romeyn Ayres moving quite close to the Confederate line along White Oak Road near Boydton Road later that night—closer than Ayres realized. This position left a gap between Ayres and Sheridan’s cavalry near Dinwiddie.

On the morning of the 31st, realizing the position of Ayres’ infantry division, Lee launched an attack from White Oak Road (Battle of White Oak Road) with only four brigades of men against Ayres and a division of infantry under the command of General Samuel Crawford that had come to fill the gap. Despite being outnumbered, the Confederates had initial success in pushing back both divisions. However, once reinforcements arrived that afternoon, Union troops proceeded to not only regain the lost ground, but to also drive the Confederates off White Oak Road at their far right flank, forcing them to fall back towards Petersburg. This cut off Confederate soldiers five miles farther west where White Oak Road came together with three other roads at the Five Forks intersection. These men were under the command of General George Pickett, of Pickett’s Charge fame.

At the same time the Battle of White Oak Road was taking place, Pickett’s infantry along with a division of cavalry under the command of General Fitzhugh Lee (nephew of Robert E. Lee) had moved south to attack Union positions near Dinwiddie where Sheridan had previously seized the Boydton Plank-Dinwiddie Court House intersection. The Confederates were actually winning the battle, but after finding out that he had been cut off from the Confederate army to the east, and with Union reinforcements arriving as night approached, Pickett had no choice but to fall back to Five Forks later that night. This set up a major fight for the intersection the next day, April 1st.

The Battle of Five Forks ended in a Confederate defeat, and after subsequent fighting on the morning and afternoon of April 2nd, Lee began evacuating Petersburg that night by crossing the Appomattox River. He joined up with soldiers from Richmond (which was also abandoned) and headed west in an attempt to get around the Union left flank so that he could then take his army south into North Carolina. However, Grant caught up with him a week later at Appomattox, Virginia, and the two armies clashed for the last time. Lee surrendered on April 9th.

The Five Forks Battlefield unit of Petersburg National Battlefield preserves a few areas where the last major battle of the Siege of Petersburg took place. There are five stops on a battlefield driving tour, though all there is at each stop are wayside exhibits detailing the events that took place in the area. There are no remnants of Civil War earthworks like there are in the Eastern and Western front units of the park. There are, however, many trails that are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. See the following web pages here on National Park Planner for information on all the attraction in the Five Forks Battlefield unit:

Five Forks Battlefield Driving Tour

Five Forks Battlefield Trails

Five Forks Battlefield Visitor Contact Station

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Last updated on March 29, 2023
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