The Appomattox Campaign began on March 29, 1865, with Grant moving the V and II corps to the west to outflank Lee’s lines, while Sheridan and his troopers were sent south to rip up the rail lines linking Petersburg and Richmond to what remained of the Confederacy. Lee, with that preternatural sixth sense he seemed to often possess regarding the intentions of his enemies, had moved his cavalry, along with infantry under Major General George Pickett to the west to beat off Union attempts to outflank his army.
The first Union objective was to cut the Boydton Plank Road. After crossing Gravelley Run stream, the leading brigade of the first division of the V corps ran into Confederate fortifications. The brigade was led by Brigadier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic officer who had commanded the 20th Maine during its stand on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. In a fierce action of several hours duration, Chamberlain held his position only falling back as Union reinforcements arrived. The reinforcements caused the Confederates to retreat to their White Oak Line. Union casualties were 381 to 371 Confederate.
Late in the afternoon Sheridan’s cavalry occupied Dinwiddie Court House without opposition. The end of the day saw the vital, for the Confederates, Boydton Plank Road cut in two locations, and the Confederate right dangerously exposed. Here is Chamberlain’s account of the fighting:
Report of Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade.
CAMP OF FIRST DIVISION, FIFTH CORPS,
April 24, 1865.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders just received, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the First Brigade of this division from the 29th of March to the 9th of April 1865:
The brigade broke camp on the morning of the 29th ultimo and marched at 6 a. m., bay way of Arthur’s Swamp and the old stage road and Vaughan road, toward Dinwiddie Court-House; turning to our right, we went into position near the Chappell house. Soon after this we returned to the Vaughan road and moved up the Quaker road in a northerly direction. On reaching Gravelly Run Major-General Griffin directed me to form my brigade in order of battle and advance against some works which were in sight on the opposite bank. Crossing the run, I sent Major E. A. Glenn, commanding the second battalion of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, forward with his command as skirmishers, and formed my lines, with Bvt. Brigadier General H. G. Sickel, One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania, on the right, and Colonel G. Sniper, One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, on the left of the road. Major Gleen pushed forward vigorously and drove the enemy’s skirmishers out of their works without any difficutly, and succeeded in pressing them thrugh the woods and as far as th elewis house. The enemy making considerable show of force in the edge of woods beyond, I halted Major Glenn and brought my line of battle up to supporting distance. Here i was directed to halt. In a short time I was ordered by General Griffin to resume the advance. There being at that time no firing of any consequence on the skirmish line I brought my line of battle up to that point, reformed it on the buildings, re-enforced the skirmishers by a company from the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, and commenced a rapid advance with my whole command. The skirmishers reached the edge of woods before the firing became at all severe. I was exceedingly anxious that the troops should gain the cover of the woods before receiving the shock of the fire, but th obstacles to be overcome were so great that this could not be fully accomplished, and my men were obliged to gain the woods against a heavy fire. They advanced, however, with great steadiness and drove the enemy from their position and far into the woods. It was not long, however, before another attack was made upon us, evidently by a greatly superior force, and we became completely enveloped in a withering fire. We replied with spirit and persistency, holding our ground, taking rather the defensive at this stage of the action. In the course of half an hour my left became so heavily pressed that it gradually gave way, and at last was fairly turned, and driven entirely out of the woods to a direction parallel with the road by which we advanced. This position couldn’t be held ten minutes, and nothing but the most active exertions of field and staff officers kept the men where they were, the fire all the time being very severe. At this moment I sent a request for General Gregory, commanding Second Brigade, on my left, to attack the enemy in flank in their newly gained position. I was assured by Major-General Griffin, who was on the line, that if we would hold on five minutes he could bring up the artillery. Upon this I succeeded in rallying the men, and they once more gained the woods. Battery B of the Fourth U. S. Artillery now came into position and opened a most effective fire. By this assistance we held our line until the enemy fell heavily upon our right and center, and my men being by this time out of ammunition, many of them absolutely without a cartridge, began to yield ground. Seeing that this was inevitable I dispatched an aide to General Gregory asking him for a regiment, and at the same time Major-General Griffin ordered up three regiments of the Third Brigade. These regiments came promptly to our assistance. I was at that movement endeavoring to reform my broken line, so as, at all events, to cover the artillery. The line was falling back in front of the Lewis house when Lieutenant-Colonel Doolittle, of the One hundred and eighty-eighth New York, came up, gallantry leading his regiment, as also Colonel Partridge, Sixteenth Michigan; the One hundred and fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and First Michigan came on in the most handsome manner, passing to my front, Brevet Brigadier-General Pearson, of the One hundred and fifty-fifth, grasping his color and dashing straight against the enemy’s line. This assistance and the admirable service of the artillery compelled the enemy to abandon their position; otherwise I must have been driven entirely from the field.
This action lasted nearly two hours before any support reached us. I need not speak of the severity of the engagement, nor of the conduct of my officers and men, inasmuch as it was all under the eye and direction the fact that more than 400 of my men and 18 officers killed and wounded marked our line with too painful destructiveness. Nor can I fail to speak of the steadfast coolness and courage of Brevet Brigadier-General Sickel, whose example and conduct made my efforts needless in that port of the line, until he was borne from the field severely wounded; the unflinching tenacity of Colonel Sniper at his perilous post, and the desperate bravery with which he rallied his men, seizing his color after it had fallen from the hands of three color-bearers and a captain, and bearing it into the very ranks of the enemy; the fiery courage of Major Glenn, which could scarcely be restrained; and of the heroic spirit of Major Maceuen, who fell dead foremost in the ranks of honor; nor shall I forget to name the young gentlemen of my staff- Lieutenants Walters and Vogel, my personal aides, both painfully wounded, but keeping the field ot the last; Lieutenant Mitchell, my adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Fisher, pioneer officer-who rendered me essential aid in the hottest of the fire. Private Kelsey, my orderly, rode upon the enemy’s line and captured, under my own eyes, an officer and five men, and brought them in.
Remaining on the ground that night and the next day, we buried our dead and 130 of the enemy’s, and brought in the wounded of both parties.