DEBATE: Was Sheridan Justified in Relieving Warren at Five Forks?

by Brett Schulte on April 1, 2015

Over at the Siege of Petersburg Online today, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Five Forks, James F. Epperson and I (Brett Schulte) debate the following question:

Was Sheridan’s relief of Warren at Five Forks justified?

BattleOfFiveForksPaulDPhilippoteaux

The Battle of Five Forks: Painting by Paul D. Philippoteaux

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular controversy, I’ll try not to take my side in the debate 🙂 and give you a brief impartial description here. On the afternoon of April 1, 1865, after a victory in the Battle of Five Forks, Phil Sheridan relieved Fifth Corps commander Gouverneur K. Warren from his command, replacing him with division commander Charles Griffin. That Griffin was ranked by fellow division commander Crawford and shouldn’t have legally been allowed to take command is another topic for another post.  Sheridan (and Grant) believed Sheridan had the authority to relieve Warren based on a message Sheridan had received from Ulysses S. Grant earlier in the day.  An argument can (and has) been made that Grant didn’t have the authority in the first place to even pass on to Sheridan, but that too is another topic for another day.  In any event, near the end of the Battle of Five Forks, Frederick T. Locke, Warren’s Chief of Staff, galloped up to Sheridan to report on the Fifth Corps’ achievements during the fight.  Sheridan snapped back, “Tell General Warren, by God!  I say he was not at the front!”  Locke, mortified, replied, “Must I tell him that sir?”  Sheridan answered in the affirmative, and the authority Grant had given Sheridan had been used.   In the debate, Jim and I go over the specifics of this event in as much detail as 2,000 words (1,000 apiece) allows.  Our arguments are fully footnoted and should allow the careful reader a chance to explore some of the primary sources available.

Read and Comment!

The full debate, split into two parts, appears in the following posts at The Siege of Petersburg Online (links will work once the posts go live on the afternoon of April 1, 2015):

Note: Please click the links above, read through the debate, and comment on post 2 only. If you like what we’ve put together or disagree with our conclusions, please let us know!  Further debate on this topic is encouraged.  And as always, please like and share our content on Facebook and retweet us on Twitter!


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