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Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2, the whole line was engaged in fierce and bloody contest.
On the afternoon of the 31st, Sheridan advanced to Five Forks, the key to the whole rebel line, and about eight miles from Dinwiddie Court House. The position was altogether too strong to be ridden over, and Sheridan was forced back: but he dismounted the troopers, placed them behind some slight breastworks, left his horses to the care of a few mounted men, and received the enemy with such a deadly fire from his carabines, that they gave way; and night soon after compelled a cessation of the fight.
Grant, learning of Sheridan's situation, sent down a division of the Second Corps (Warren's) to his support; and at daylight the battle was renewed.
Sheridan, mounted on his splendid black horse, Rienzi, so famed in the poem entitled "Sheridan's Ride," accompanied by his staff, with his beautiful headquarter-flag, rode up and down the lines, directing the formation of his troops. He seemed the incarnation of enthusiasm, yet entirely self-possessed.
When giving an important order to an officer on the field, he had a way of leaning over the neck of his horse, and, as though there were plenty of time, repeating his directions slowly, as if hammering every word into his memory in a particular place.
The troops moved into battle magnificently, but with the air and tread of men conscious of coming victory. The enemy were steadily pressed back to their works. Here the cavalry held the front; while the infantry, charging in flank and rear, rushed over the intrenchments with irresistible power; Ayres's division taking
in a few moments a thousand prisoners, and Griffin's fifteen hundred more. The enemy fled toward the west, but were charged and pursued with relentless vigor until long after dark. The battle of Five Forks was won, the victory was complete. Between five and six thousand prisoners were taken, and all their artillery.
The action was in every respect one of the most brilliant, as it was one of the most important, in the war. Sheridan masked the movements of his infantry behind his lines of cavalry. His bugles sounded as if for a charge on the right; while his real blow was delivered. with invincible impetuosity on the enemy's left. The infantry were moved as if to attack the front; when suddenly they were wheeled, and hurled with the force of an avalanche upon the astounded enemy in their rear. Large bodies of infantry and cavalry were handled on the field with the skill of a master, and as easily as the pawns on a chess-board.
Gen. Grant thought it possible the enemy might leave their lines in the darkness of the night, concentrate against Sheridan, and force him out of his position. He therefore at once ordered the batteries to open fire along the whole line; and a terrific bombardment ensued, which was continued until four o'clock in the morning. All night long, the darkness blazed with the bursting of thousands of shells, and the heavens resounded with the thunders of the heavy guns. It was the majestic prelude to the last great battle of the Rebellion. It was a swelling anthem which celebrated the approaching death of the gigantic conspiracy.
Gen. Grant's plans were made known only as he
issued his orders. His reserve as to his intended movements was the same to those around his headquarters as to the enemy. That night it was telegraphed north that Sheridan was to make a raid to Burkesville; that the army were to move toward the South-side Railroad: but such plans never existed in the mind of the commander of our armies.
At daylight, Sunday morning, April 2, Gen. Grant ordered an assault by Parke, Wright, and Ord, who held our intrenchments from the Appomattox to Hatcher's Run.
Parke, with the old Ninth Corps, was opposite the strongest portion of the rebel works; but in a few moments they had with a shout carried the outer line of defences, and taken twenty-seven guns and several hundred prisoners.
Wright, with the Sixth Corps, advanced at the signal in gallant style, sweeping every thing before them to the Boydton Plank-road, capturing guns, flags, and several thousand prisoners.
Ord, with the Second Corps, had overcome every difficulty, and carried the lines near Hatcher's Run, and was marching to unite with Wright, and move towards Petersburg.
At this time, Gen. Grant, who had left his headquarters at Dabney's Mills to overlook the movements at another point, rode hurriedly along the lines. The old Army of the Potomac had welcomed many commanders with loud cheers and bright hopes who were to lead them to Richmond; but their hopes had died in their hearts, and their cheers on their lips. Their days of cheering and sanguine confidence were
But now they saw that the old cry, Richmond!" was to be realized in the fulness and splendor of long-sought victory. The man and the hour at last had come.
As Gen. Grant passed, they now greeted him with exultant and grateful shouts. Wild huzzas rang out from all sides. He lifted his hat, acknowledging the salute, but trotted rapidly on. The soldiers were evidently in magnificent spirits.
Lee was now being pressed back into the inner works immediately around Petersburg. The murderous fire of the Union cannon, and the line of glittering bayonets, were encircling the rebel army, from the Appomattox on the right to the Appomattox on the left.
Gen. A. P. Hill now led a desperate charge, to save, if possible, the waning fortunes of the enemy. The attack was made with the reckless and impetuous valor of the Southern soldiers. It was the last grand attack of Lee's army, and was inspired by such determined bravery, that our men were re-enforced at the point of attack; but they were met by indomitable heroism, and repulsed with terrible slaughter. Gen. Hill was killed. He was among the ablest and most daring of the rebel generals, and his division one of the most renowned in the Southern armies. The words, "Hill's division," were the last sounds murmured by Stonewall Jackson as his wandering mind seemed watching the tide of battle on some hard-fought field.
Large fires were now seen to be burning in Petersburg; and the signal-officers on the towers soon reported that Gen. Lee was in full retreat, in three columns, across the Appomattox River.
CAPTURE OF RICHMOND.
URING the day, President Lincoln was at City Point, at Gen. Grant's headquarters, and from time to time sent despatches of the advancing tide of victories to the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, by whom they were telegraphed to the Northern and Western cities, everywhere rejoicing the hearts of loyal men. At the same time, Jefferson Davis was attending morning service at St. Paul's Church in Richmond. At eleven o'clock, an orderly entered, walked up the aisle, and handed Mr. Davis a despatch, which read as follows:
แ "My lines are broken in three places. Richmond must be evacuated this evening. "R. E. LEE."
The intense anxiety prevailing among the people of Richmond was depicted in the countenances of the audience. He read it in silence, and went immediately out. The Confederate president was deposed.
It was a still Sabbath day in spring. The city was held by the rebel forces. No proclamation was made; no Union flags were in sight; no Federal guns were heard but the news, in some way, unaccountably flew through the air, as news of great events sometimes will.