On April 1, 1865 Grant ordered the capture of Lee's last supply line - the South Side Railroad that connected Petersburg to Lynchburg. The Union advanced toward the railroad through a crossroads known as Five Forks. Under orders to defend the South Side Railroad, Confederate Gen. Pickett's Army marched to Five Forks and dug in, constructing a nearly 2-mile long earthwork along White Oak Road where they waited for the advance of the Union Army along Dinwiddie Road.

Often called the 'Waterloo of the Confederacy,' Pickett's Army was outnumbered and outmaneuvered by a Union Army that attacked simultaneously from all directions. The Confederate line - nicknamed 'The Angle' after a sharp bend in the earthworks intended to protect the left flank - collapsed after a surprise attack by Union Gen. Warren's Fifth Corp. Meanwhile, Union Gen. Sheridan's cavalry attacked the remaining entrenched Confederates while Maj. Gen. Custer's cavalry attacked the Confederate right flank and encircled the Confederate line from the rear. Union Gen. Crawford's victory actually started out as a wrong turn. By accident, his division advanced too far north and missed the Confederate line. To recover, Crawford swung around and attacked the Confederate line from the rear, blocking their escape and sweeping them into Pickett's troops that were being pinned by Union cavalry.

The harrowing defeat at Five Forks forced Robert E. Lee to order the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, the following day. The remnants of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia then began a retreat from Petersburg toward the last stop on a long and tragic journey - Appomattox.

Visiting the Five Forks Battlefield

Your best bet to tour Five Forks is to start at the Five Forks Battlefield unit at Petersburg National Battlefield Park. Here there is a staffed park office featuring tours, talks, a film, exhibits and a book shop. Five Forks publishes a self-guided driving tour with interpretive signs as well as multi-use equestrian, hiking, and biking trails.

Visit Civil War Trust for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: The fall of Five Forks was a major humiliation for Confederate Gen. Pickett who, at the time of the battle, was enjoying a shad bake at nearby Hatcher's Run and was unaware of the Union attack against his leaderless troops.

five forks battlefield trails

Five Forks Battlefield has nearly 8 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.

five forks battlefield visitor center

Five Forks Battlefield visitor center is staffed by National Park Service Rangers and offers tours, talks, special events, a film, exhibits, bookstore and gift shop.