Ohio Civil War » Civil War A-Z » D » Battle of Dinwiddie Court House

Battle of Dinwiddie Court House

March 31, 1865

The Battle of Dinwiddie Court House took place in Dinwiddie County, Virginia on March 31, 1865, the Appomattox Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert to strike the Confederacy from several directions. Grant would travel with Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; and Major General Franz Sigel would invade western Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee's army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade's flank.

The Union Army of the Potomac relentlessly engaged the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia throughout the spring of 1864. By June, Grant forced Lee to retreat to the Richmond-Petersburg area. Thereafter, both armies entrenched, and a stalemate ensued for the next ten months. During that period, Grant probed Lee's defenses but to no avail. Despite being well entrenched, the Confederate situation grew progressively worse as supplies dwindled. By the spring of 1865, Lee knew that, when the weather allowed, his army must escape the Union stranglehold or be starved into submission.

On March 25, 1865, Lee made one final attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg by ordering forces commanded by Major General John B. Gordon to attack Fort Stedman, a Union fortification in the siege lines surrounding Petersburg. Gordon's pre-dawn attack was successful initially, but blistering Union counterattacks forced the Rebels back inside their lines.

Grant's spring offensive, the Appomattox Campaign, began in late March 1865 when General Philip Sheridan's troops south of Petersburg moved west toward Dinwiddie Court House. Sherman's orders were to threaten or to capture Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, which connected to Petersburg from the southwest. Grant intended cut off supplies coming into Petersburg and to prevent Lee from using the two arteries as avenues of escape from Petersburg.

On March 29, the first battle of the offensive occurred when Major General G.K. Warren's 5th Corps engaged several Confederate brigades commanded by Major General Bushrod Johnson at Lewis's Farm. After a brief but sharp firefight, the Federals gained control of the Boydton Plank Road and forced the Rebels to retreat to their entrenchments along White Oak Road.

On March 29 and 30, heavy rains hampered Sheridan’s advance to Dinwiddie Court House. Lee used the reprieve to his advantage, shifting Major General W.H. Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry divisions and Major General George Pickett’s infantry division to the crossroads of Five Forks, a few miles north of Dinwiddie Court House. On the morning of March 31, the rains stopped. Eager to halt Sheridan before he could concentrate his forces, Pickett decided to attack. Leaving a cavalry detachment to protect Five Forks, Pickett ordered Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry to move south and hit Sheridan's left flank. Pickett's infantry followed closely behind to support the assault.

Lee's cavalry encountered advance units of Sheridan's force at approximately 11 a.m. near rain-swollen Chamberlain Run. Heavy skirmishing took place until Pickett's infantry arrived, and the Rebels forced their way cross the creek around 2 p.m. The combined Confederate force then split the Federals, driving some to the east and others to the south. Sheridan realized that he was in a "critical situation," but he was able to reorganize his soldiers just north of Dinwiddie Court House and stem the Rebel advance. When reinforcements began arriving, Pickett realized that he could not continue the assault, and he withdrew to Five Forks. Lee considered Five Forks to be a strategically vital crossroads because it provided access to the Southside Railroad. Thus, he ordered Pickett to "Hold Five Forks at all hazards. Protect road to Ford's Depot and prevent Union forces from striking the Southside Railroad." Lee's order set the stage for the Battle of Five Forks the next day.

Pickett's battle plan at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House was sound. Although he suffered more casualties (about 760 killed, wounded, and captured/missing) than Sheridan (about 354 killed, wounded, and captured/missing), he succeeded in halting the Federal advance, albeit temporarily. As with so many other battles in the Civil War, the Confederates were undone at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House by the Union’s superior weaponry and manpower.

Among the Ohio units that participated in the battle of Dinwiddie Court House were:

Cavalry units:

2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

Related Entries