GRANT, Ulysses S. Autograph letter signed ("U. S. Grant"), to Maj. General E. O. Ord, [Dabneys Mills, Virginia], 1 April 1865. 1½ pages, 8vo, in pencil, silked.
THE APPOMATTOX ENDGAME: SENSING A CONFEDERATE COLLAPSE, GRANT RUSHES ORD TO JOIN PHIL SHERIDAN IN THE PIVOTAL PETERSBURG BREAKOUT
With Sheridan breaking through the Confederate lines at Five Forks, Grant writes this dramatic battlefield order to Ord at Humphrey Station on the evening of 1 April: "I have just heard from Sheridan. He has captured three Brigades of the enemy and is pushing him still. Everything the enemy has will probably be pushed against him. Get your men up and find the enemy and push him if he shows signs of giving way." Here was the breakthrough Grant had so long awaited. After months of static siege at Petersburg, Grant had Sheridan move towards Five Forks on 29 March 1865, telling him that "I intended to close the war right here" (Personal Memoirs, Library of America, 696). The fighting at Five Forks lasted all day on 1 April, and crucial reinforcements from General Warren were slow getting to the battlefield, only a few of his troops actually joined the fighting late in the day. Grant, furious at Warren, wanted to renew Sheridan's attack immediately at daybreak on the 2nd. He told Sheridan to sack Warren and wrote this order for Ord to move up instead. Even now, just eight days before Appomattox, the Union was still suffering from over-cautious generals. "He could see every danger at a glance," Grant wrote of Warren, "before he had encountered it" (702).
Ord proved far more effective. Early on the 2nd he captured the Confederate picket trenches "and the outer works of Petersburg were in the hands of the National troops, never to be wrenched from them again" (704). Ord's men then joined the assaults against Fort Gregg and Fort Whitworth, turning the guns of Fort Gregg against the fleeing rebels. Some 12,000 enemy were taken prisoner and perhaps as many as fifty pieces of artillery. The Union lines, Grant reported to Lincoln that night, were now "intrenched from the Appomattox below Petersburg to the river above...I think the President might come out and pay us a visit to-morrow" (706). Grant ordered the bombardment of Petersburg to start immediately on the following morning, but the rebels had already abandoned the town. Grant's final pursuit of Lee's desperate, fleeing army was underway. It would end, on the morning of 9 April, at Appomattox Courthouse.