From the 9 June 1880 issue of The New York Times.

THE BATTLE OF FIVE FORKS

TESTIMONY OF GEN. W. H. F. LEE BEFORE
THE WARREN COURT OF INQUIRY.

The testimony of Gen. William H. F. Lee, son of Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose division formed the cavalry adjunct of Gen. Pickett at the battle of Five Forks, was the principal event of interest before the Warren Court of Inquiry yesterday. The evidence of Gen. Lee completes the story of what was effected in the Confederate front during the battle, with the single exception of the section of works on the left, comprising the angle and return assaulted by Ayres’s division, which was held by the North Carolina brigade under the immediate command of Gen. Ransom, whose version of the fight at that critical point is yet to be given. During the progress of the inquiry, the positions and relative strength of the Confederate forces have been pretty accurately fixed, and the movements and sequences of the battle set forth with proximate certaintly and precision, so that the end of the inquiry is now probably near at hand.

The first witness was Lieut. E. R. Sanborn, of the Twentieth Maine, now a clergyman in Lawrence, Mass. He detailed the movements of Griffin’s division, which was formed for the assault in the rear of Crawford, up to the moment of striking into the woods north of the White Oak Road. In passin through the woods, which were interspersed with dense thickets and cut up with ravines, glades, and small water-courses, his regiment, with another, became separated from the main body, and described a detour that brought them into the open on the north-westerley edge of the Sidnor field. Up to this time they had no serious encounter with the enemy, and, inferring that they had gone too far to the right, they re-formed facing to the south, and struck the rebel works in the rear about half a mile east of the open clearing at Five Forks, and about 120 rods west of the angle captured by Ayres. The rebels were here sheltered by a line of earthworks commanding the southern portion of the Sidnor field, constructed at an agle of about 80 degrees, with the main works protecting the front. They had hot work for a few minutes before the rebel position was carried and the enemy captured. For a few minutes their position was a critical one, for the rebel prisoners, who outnumbered the victors, and had surrendered in panic when assailed in the rear, resumed their arms and prepared to renew the conflict when they saw that they had succumbed to an inferior force. At this critical juncture, Gen. Chamberlain, who had just re-formed his brigade after a hot engagement with the rebels in the Sidnor field, came to the rescue and turned the issue in their favor. These regiments had no more fighting during the day, and finally bivouacked on the ground they had just captured.

Gen. Lee, who was the next witness, commenced his testimony with an account of the engagement with Sheridan’s cavalry, north of Dinwiddie, on the preceding day. His division occupied the rebel right, and lost heavily in Bear Swamp, the passage of which was obstinately disputed by the Federal troops. Gen. Lee could not say at what hour during the night Gen Pickett’s infantry retired from Sheridan’s front. His impression was that the movement was executed a little after midnight. His own division, which held the front and right of the position, retired about sunrise—rather before than after, if his memory was not at fault—and reoccupied their old position at Five Forks about 11 o’clock in the morning. The Federal cavalry hung upon their rear, and annoyed them at intervals as they retired, but did not give them any serious inconvenience. When they arrived at Five Forks the infantry lines were already in position.

Gen. Lee next gave the details of his position and movements during the battle. His force was posted in a strip of woods west of the Gillian field, and covered the extreme right of the Confederate position, connecting with the right of Gen. Corse’s infantry brigade, whose front was protected by three of Pegram’s guns. There was desultory fighting during the afternoon about an old tobacco barn in the margin of the woods, occupied by his men, but no serious assault upon his lines until about 4:30, when a considerable force of Federal cavalry moved round upon his right, for the purpose of flanking his position. Gen. Pickett had just requested him to dismount one of his regiments for the purpose of closing a gap in the lines upon his left. Passing in the rear of the works with two regiments, Gen. Lee met the Federals as they advanced through an open field and an abandoned grave-yard, (marked V on the Colton map,) and repulsed them after a spirited contest. While this movement was being exectued, word was received from Gen. Pickett that the lines were broken, and he was ordered to cover the retreat, which order he executed to the best of his ability, and then withdrew through the woods in a northwesterly direction.

The cross-examination by Major Gardner elicited no material facts in addition to those which appeared in response to direct questions from Mr. Stickney. Gen. Lee did not recollect how many pieces of artillery he had there that day, nor whether Ford’s Station, on the Southside Railroad, was the first station they arrived at on their retreat. He had no recollection of any order issued by Gen. Robert E. Lee, directing Pickett to retire across the stream from Sheridan’s front, in consequence of the advance of the Fifth Corps. He did not see Gen. Corse after he went to repel the Federal movement on the right, and did not know whether he had any severe fighting in the Gillian field about sunset, nor whether he reformed his lines at right angles to the works in making the last stand against the advance of the Fifth Corps, described by previous witnesses. His impression was that the Federal movement on his right was executed before 5 o’clock P.M., but he had no means of fixing the time with precision.

Major George M. Laughlin, of Gen. Griffin’s staff, the next witness, remembered Bartlett’s brigade being sent down in the direction of Dinwiddie Court-house to the support of Gen. Sheridan on the day preceding the battle of Five Forks. The witness described the position of Gen. Bartlett’s command after these dispositions had been made; he remained with Gen. Bartlett about an hour, and returned to Gen. Griffin’s head-quarters about 9 o’clock in the evening. His recollection of the formation of the lines for the assault on the rebel left at Five Forks was not very distinct. His first clear memory of the movement was that, after passing through the woods, they came out into an open space. He was riding with Griffin near the centre of the division. They had advanced but a little distance when Gen. Griffin directed him to ride over to the left, with instructions to accompany the troops, and to keep Crawford in sight. Not seeing Crawford anywhere, the witness became anxious as to the situation of the flank of his own division, and returned to the centre and reported to Griffin, who ordered the division to wheel to the left and connect with Crawford. Witness then joined his own regiment—the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania—and was with it when the fighting commenced. Major Laughlin pointed out on the map the point where the engagement began. His regiment came out of the woods on the north-west corner of the Sidnor field, and the first thing he saw was a severe battle raging upon his left, in the southern portion of the clearing. The command had become considerably broken in passing through the woods, and he commenced to re-form his lines facing to the south toward the rebel works. He had always supposed that it was the fighting at the return of the works where Ayres was engaged, which he saw when they came out of the woods; but the map showed a strip of timber-land intervening between him and the angle, and if that was correct, it could not have been Ayres’s troops that were engaged in the southern portion of the open. The fighting was very desperate. The rebels turned upon his troops as they advanced south, but failed to make any impression upon his lines. The witness was unable to identify the Union troops whom he saw engaged in the Sidnor field while he was re-forming his men.

While advancing southward upon the rear of the rebel works, the witness came upon Gen. Chamberlain and assisted him in re-forming his men, together with some scattered Union troops that were without a commander. While they were thus engaged in the rear of the works, Gen. Sheridan rode up and joined them. The witness (in answer to questions from Mr. Stickney) recalled the conversation that passed between Gen. Sheridan and Gen. Chamberlain. His impression was that Sheridan came through an opening in the works. He recollected the episode very particularly, because previous to that time he had never seen Sheridan, and he was a little curious about his personal appearance.

Counsel for Sheridan interposed an objection to this course of questioning, unless counsel for Gen. Warren proposed to prove something about the movements of the Fifth Corps by it. The court saw no reason why the witness should not answer, and he continued: “The first thing I heard Gen. Sheridan say, as I remember it, was, ‘By —, I want to see Generals at the front; that’s what I’m here for!’ A wounded soldier passed the spot at that moment, going to the rear. He had been hit in the hand, and held up his bleeding fingers to Gen. Sheridan. ‘Oh, you’re not seriously hurt!’ said the General, ‘pick up your musket, and return to your place.’ “

Major Gardner—I insist upon being informed what all this leads to; it certainly has no bearing on the operations of the Fifth Corps.

Mr. Stickney—Possibly not; but it is certainly as relevant as the account of the fighting at Dinwiddie Court-house, which you have been at such pains to bring out. What the purpose of the question is may be explained in a word. It is proved that Sheridan placed Griffin in command by oral order during the action. The purpose is to find out when and where this took place—to fix the hour.

Major Gardner—Oh, nobody denies that such was the fact; the witnesses have all remembered it.

Mr. Stickney—On the contrary, Gen. Sheridan did not remember it at all.

The court decided that the question was proper, and the witness said he was not personally present at any interview between Gen. Sheridan and Gen. Griffin. He was informed when he joined his superior officer that Gen. Griffin had been placed in command.

The testimony of M. Porter Snell, First Lieutenant of the United State Colored Volunteers, and aide-de-camp to Gen. Crawford, which was unimportant, closed the day’s session. The inquiry will be resumed at 11 o’clock to-day, when evidence will be taken tending to fix the position and part taken by Crawford in battle.