FIVE FORKS AND THE PURSUIT OF LEE.
BY HORACE PORTER, BREVET BRIGADIER-GENERAL, U. S. A.
MUSIC ON SHERIDAN'S LINE OF BATTLE.
IT was 9 o'clock in the morning of tho 29th of March, 1865. General Grant and the officers of his staff had bidden good-bye to President Lincoln and mounted the passenger car of the special train that was to carry them from City Point to the front, and the signal was given to start ; tho train moved off, Grant's last campaign had begun.
Since 3 o'clock that morning the columns had been in motion and the Union Army and the Army of Northern Virginia were soon locked in a death grapple. The President remained at City Point, where he could be promptly informed of the progress of the movement.
The military railroad connecting headquarters with the camps south of Petersburg was about thirteen miles long, or would have been if it had been constructed on a horizontal plane, but as the portion built by the army was a surface road, up hill and down dale, if the rise and fall had been counted in, its length would have defied all ordinary means of measurement. Its undulations were so striking that a train moving along it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard. The general sat down near the end of the car, drew from his pocket the flint and slowmatch that he always carried, which, unlike a match, never missed fire in a gale of w ind, and was soon wreathed in the smoke of the inevitable cigar. I took a seat near him with several other officers of the staff, and he at once began to talk over his plans in detail. They had been discussed in general terms before starting out from City Point. It was his custom, when commencing a movement in the field, to have his staff-officers understand fully the objects he wished to accomplish, and what each corps of the army was expected to do in different emergencieficers, when sent to distant points of the line, might have a full comprehension of the general's intentions, and so that, when communication with him was impossible or difficult, they might be able to instruct the subordinate commanders intelligently as to the intentions of the general-in-chief.
For a month or more General Grant's chief apprehension had been that the enemy might suddenly pull out, from his intrenchments and fall back into the interior, where he might unite with General Joe Johnston against Sherman and force our army to follow Lee to a great distance from its base.
General Grant had been sleeping with one eye open and one foot out oi bed for many weeks, in the fear that Lee would thus give him the slip.
He did not dare delay his movements against the enemy's right until the roads became dry enough to permit an army to move comfortable-, for fear Lee would himself take advantage of the good roads to start first. Each army, in fact, was making preparations for either a fight or a foot-race-or both. Sheridan, with his cavalry command, had been ordered to move out in the direction of Dinwiddie Court House, and to be ready to strike the enemy's right and rear. It was the intention, as soon as he could take up a good position for this purpose, to reenforce him with a corps of infantry, and cut off Lee's retreat in the direction of Danville, in case we should break through his intrenched lines in front of Petersburg, and force him from his position there.
The weather had been fair for several days, and the roads were getting in good condition for the movement of troops ; that is, as good as could be expected, through a section of country in which the dust in summer was generally so thick that the army could not see where to move, and the mud in winter was so deep that it could not move anywhere. The general, in speaking of what was expected of Sheridan, said : " I had a private talk with Sheridan after I gave him his written instructions at City Point. When he read that part of themhim, in certain contingencies, to proceed south along the Danville railroad and cooperate with Sherman by operating in Joe Johnston's r ear, he looked so unhappy that I said to him, as I followed him out of the tent, that that part of the instructions was put in only as a blind, so that if he did not meet with entire success the people of the