Battle of Five Forks
Original Author: Paul D. Philippoteaux
Created: ca. 1885
Medium: Oil on canvas
Publisher: Virginia Historical Society

Battle of Five Forks

This oil painting by the French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux shows Union cavalry, led by their flag-waving commander Philip H. Sheridan, slamming into Confederate defenders at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865. The crucial Union victory helped break the nine-and-a-half-month siege of nearby Petersburg, forcing Confederates to abandon the city and their capital at Richmond.

It was a particularly ignoble day for George E. Pickett, who left his troops poorly positioned for the fight when he left the lines for an infamously long lunch—a shad bake with Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee's nephew. The "food was abundant," the historian Douglas Southall Freeman has written, and "the affair was leisured and deliberate as every feast should be." In the meantime, the battle was lost and Pickett was removed from command. Lee surrendered just eight days later, on April 9.

Philippoteaux was a celebrated artist of battle scenes and noted specialist in cyclorama painting. He is best remembered for his cyclorama, The Battle of Gettysburg, on view at the Gettysburg National Park. The Battle of Five Forks was completed around 1885.