March 31

This Day in History

Civil War

Mar 31, 1865:

North and South skirmish near Dinwiddie Court House

On this day in 1865, the final offensive of the Army of the Potomac gathers steam when Union General Philip Sheridan moves against the left flank of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia near Dinwiddie Court House. The limited action set the stage for the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, on April 1.

This engagement took place at the end of the Petersburg, Virginia, line. For 10 months, the Union had laid siege to Lee's army at Petersburg, but the trenches stretched all the way to Richmond, some 25 miles to the north. Lee's thinning army attacked Fort Stedman on March 25 in a futile attempt to break the siege, but the Union line held. On March 29, General Ulysses S. Grant, General-in-Chief of the Union Army and the field commander around Petersburg, began moving his men past the western end of Lee's line.

Torrential rains almost delayed the move. Grant planned to send Sheridan against the Confederates on March 31, but called off the operation. Sheridan would not be denied a chance to fight, though. "I am ready to strike out tomorrow and go to smashing things!" he told his officers. They encouraged him to meet with Grant, who consented to begin the move. Near Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan advanced but was driven back by General George Pickett's division. Pickett was alerted to the Union advance, and during the night of March 31, he pulled his men back to Five Forks. This set the stage for a major strike by Sheridan on April 1, when the Yankees crushed the Rebel flank and forced Lee to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg.

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