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Wilderness, VA

posted Aug 30, 2010, 10:09 AM by Travis Wise   [ updated Aug 30, 2010, 10:09 AM ]

WILDERNESS, VA
MAY 5TH - 7TH, 1864

Wilderness, Va., May 5-7, 1864. Army of the Potomac. On 
March 9, 1864, Maj.-Gen. U. S. Grant was raised to the rank of 
lieutenant-general and placed in command of all the United 
States armies in the field. The interval from that time until 
the 1st of May was spent in planning campaigns, and in 
strengthening, organizing and equipping the several armies in 
the different military districts. Grant remained with the 
Army of the Potomac, which was under the immediate command of 
Maj.-Gen. George G. Meade, and which had for its objective the 
destruction of the Confederate army under command of Gen. 
Robert E. Lee. On May 1, the Army of the Potomac lay along 
the north side of the Rapidan river and was organized as 
follows: The 2nd corps Maj.Gen. W. S. Hancock commanding, was 
composed of four divisions; the 1st commanded by Brig.-Gen. F. 
C. Barlow, the 2nd by Brig.-Gen. John Gibbon, the 3rd by Maj.- 
Gen. D. B. Birney, and the 4th by Brig-Gen. Gershom Mott. The 
5th corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. G. K Warren, consisted of 
four divisions, respectively commanded by Brig Gens. Charles 
Griffin, J. C. Robinson, S. W. Crawford and J. S. Wadsworth. 
The 6th corps under command of Maj.-Gen. John Sedgwick 
included the three divisions commanded by Brig.-Gens. H. G. 
Wright, G. W. Getty and James B. Ricketts. The 9th corps, 
Maj.-Gen. A. E. Burnside commanding, was composed of four 
divisions, each of which was commanded by a brigadier-
general-the 1st by T. G. Stevenson, the 2nd by R B. Potter, 
the 3rd by O. B. Willcox and the 4th by Edward Ferrero. The 
cavalry corps, under command of Maj.-Gen. P. H. Sheridan, 
consisted of three divisions, the 1st commanded by Brig.-Gen. 
T. A. Torbert, the 2nd by Brig.-Gen. G. A. Custer and the 
3rd by Brig-Gen. J. H. Wilson. With the 2nd corps was the 
artillery brigade under Col John C. Tidball; the artillery of 
the 5th corps was in charge of Col. C. S. Wainwright; that of 
the 6th corps under Col. C. H. Tompkins, and the artillery 
reserve, composed of Kitching's, J. A. Tompkins' and Burton's 
brigades, was commanded by Brig.-Gen. Henry J. Hunt. Burnside 
had 14 light and 2 heavy batteries. During the campaign the 
18th corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. W. F. Smith, was 
transferred from the Army of the James to the Army of the 
Potomac. This corps was composed of three divisions, 
commanded by Brig.-Gens. W. T. H. Brooks, Godfrey Weitzel and 
E. W. Hinks, and the cavalry division under Brig-Gen. August 
V. Kautz.

Lee's army-the Army of Northern Virginia-consisted of the 
1st, 2nd and 3rd corps, respectively commanded by Lieut.-Gens. 
James Longstreet, R. S. Ewell and A. P. Hill, and the cavalry 
corps of Maj.-Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. Longstreet's corps 
included the divisions of Kershaw and Field, and the artillery 
brigade under Brig.-Gen. E. P. Alexander. Ewell's corps was 
made up of the divisions of Early, Edward Johnson and Rodes, 
and the artillery brigade of Brig.-Gen. A. L. Long Hill's 
corps was composed of the divisions of R. H. Anderson, Heth 
and Wilcox, and his artillery was commanded by Col. R. L. 
Walker. Stuart's cavalry embraced three divisions, commanded 
by Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee and W. H. F. Lee, and the horse 
artillery under Maj. R. P. Chew. The Union army numbered 
about 120,000 men of all arms, exclusive of Smith's corps. 
Lee's army numbered about 61,000 not including the forces 
under Beauregard on the Petersburg lines and the troops left 
in the defenses of Richmond, about 30,000 in all. Ewell's 
corps was intrenched along the south side of the Rapidan, his 
right resting near Morton's ford a short distance above the 
mouth of Mine run. The upper half of the intrenched line was 
held by Hill's corps, the left extending to Barnett's ford, 
about 5 miles west of the Orange & Alexandria railroad. 
Longstreet's command was at Gordonsville, the junction of the 
Orange & Alexandria and the Virginia Central railroads. Lee's 
headquarters were at Orange Court House, about half way 
between Longstreet and the line along the Rapidan, from which 
point he could easily communicate with his corps commanders, 
and detachments of cavalry watched the various fords and 
bridges along the river.

Grant's plan was to cross the Rapidan at the fords below 
the Confederate line of intrenchments move rapidly around 
Lee's right flank and force him either to give battle or 
retire to Richmond. As soon as this movement was well under 
way, Gen. Butler, with the Army of the James, was to advance 
up the James river from Fortress Monroe and attack Richmond 
from the south. The region known as the Wilderness, through 
which the Army of the Potomac was to move, lies between the 
Rapidan the north and the Mattapony on the south. It is about 
12 miles wide from north to south and some 16 miles in extent 
from east to west. Near the center stood the Wilderness 
tavern, 8 miles west of Chancellorsville and 6 miles south of 
Culpeper Mine ford on the Rapidan. A short distance west of 
the tavern the plank road from ermanna ford crossed the Orange 
& Fredericksburg turnpike, and then running southeast for 
about 2 miles intersected the Orange plank road near the 
Hickman farmhouse. The Brock road left the Orange & 
Fredericksburg pike about a mile east of the tavern and ran 
southward to Spottsylvania Court House, via Todd's tavern. 
The first iron furnaces in the United States were established 
in the Wilderness, the original growth of timber had been cut 
off to furnish fuel for the furnaces, and the surface, much 
broken by ravines, ridges and old ore beds, was covered by a 
second growth of pines, scrub-oaks, etc., so dense in places 
that it was impossible to see a man at a distance of 50 yards. 
Between the Orange plank road and the Fredericksburg pike ran 
a little stream called Wilderness run, and north of the latter 
road was Flat run the general direction of both streams being 
northeast toward the Rapidan into which they emptied. On the 
Orange plank road, about 4 miles southwest from the Wilderness 
tavern, was Parker's store.

From the Confederate signal station on Clark's mountain, 
near the right of Ewell's position, the Federal camps could be 
plainly seen. On May 2nd Lee, accompanied by several of his 
generals, made a personal observation, saw the commotion in 
the Union lines, and rightly conjectured that an early 
movement of some kind was in contemplation. He accordingly 
directed his officers to hold their commands in readiness to 
move against the flank of the Federal army whenever the orders 
were given from the signal station. It was on this same day 
that Meade, by Grant's instructions, issued his orders for the 
advance. Knowing that his every movement was observed by the 
enemy, he determined to cross the Rapidan during the night. 
At midnight on the 3rd the 5th and 6th corps, preceded by 
Wilson cavalry division, began crossing at Germanna ford. The 
2nd corps, preceded by Gregg's cavalry, crossed at Ely's ford 
farther down the river. On the evening of the 4th Warren's 
corps went into bivouac near the Wilderness tavern, Sedgwick 
was between Warren and the Rapidan; Hancock was near the 
cross-roads at Chancellorsville and Burnside, with the 9th 
corps, was moving by a forced march from the Rappahannock 
river toward Germanna ford in response to a telegram from 
Grant. Wilson's cavalry covered both the plank road and the 
turnpike west of Warren's camp, the main body of the division 
being at Parker's store and a small force at Robertson's 
tavern on the pike. The orders issued that evening for the 
movements of the army on the 5th would indicate that both 
Grant and Meade believed that Lee would fall back toward 
Richmond upon finding his flank turned by a superior force. 
In this they were mistaken. Lee had outgeneraled Hooker on 
the same ground a year before, and he now decided to make an 
effort at least to drive the Federals back across the Rapidan. 
Therefore, as soon as he learned on the morning of the 4th 
that Meade's advance had crossed the river, Ewell was directed 
to move by the Orange turnpike, Hill by the plank road, and 
Longstreet was ordered to bring up his corps with all possible 
despatch. That night Ewell was bivouacked about 5 miles from 
Warren's camp, Hill was at Verdiersville, about 3 miles in the 
rear of Ewell, and Longstreet was at Brock's bridge, 10 miles 
east of Gordonsville.

During the night Lee sent word to Ewell to "bring on the 
battle now as soon as possible," and ordered Hill to move 
forward at the same time as Ewell. Warren's orders were to 
move at 5 a.m on the 5th to Parker's store and extend his 
right toward the Wilderness tavern to connect with the 6th 
corps. He moved on time, Crawford's division in advance, 
Wadsworth's in the center and Griffin's in the rear. About 7 
o'clock Meade received a despatch from Warren, announcing that 
the Confederates were in some force on the pike about 2 miles 
west of the tavern. Meade hurried to the front and directed 
Warren to attack with his entire corps to develop what part of 
Lee's army was there. Hancock, who was moving to take a 
position on Warren's left, was ordered to halt at Todd's 
tavern and await further orders. Sedgwick was ordered to move 
by a cross-road that left the Germanna road at Spottswood, 
attack any Confederate force he might find in his way, and 
connect with Warren's right on the pike. Grant joined Meade 
soon after these orders were issued and the two generals 
established their headquarters on the knoll around the Lacy 
house, a little west of the Wilderness tavern.

At 8 o'clock Crawford was in a strong position on the 
Chewning farm, where he was directed to halt until Griffin and 
Wadsworth were ready to move against the enemy on the 
turnpike, when he was to send one of his brigades to join in 
the attack. About noon Griffin attacked vigorously striking 
Jones brigade of Johnson's division and driving it back in 
some confusion through the supporting line, after which he 
advanced against Battle's and Doles' brigades of Rodes' 
division. Wright of the 6th corps, was to have moved forward 
on Warren's right, but owing to the dense thickets and the 
uneven surface of the ground, he was unable to connect with 
Griffin's line in time to carry out the original plan of 
attack. As Griffin advanced, his right therefore became 
exposed and Ewell hurled the brigades of Gordon and Daniel 
against his flank forcing Ayres' brigade back across the pike. 
Seeing that his line was in danger of being broken, Griffin 
then gave the order to fall back. In executing this order his 
line was so closely pressed by the Confederates that he was 
compelled to abandon 2 pieces of artillery. Wadsworth, in 
moving forward through the thickets, lost his direction and 
exposed his left flank to Gordon and Daniel, just after they 
had forced Griffin to retire. These two brigades now attacked 
Wadsworth and drove back his left in disorder. The 
Confederates then poured through the gap thus formed and 
struck Dennison's brigade of Robinson's division in the flank 
as it was moving to Wadsworth's support. Pursuant to orders 
Crawford had sent McCandless' brigade to join Wadsworth's 
left, but the latter had begun his advance before McCandless 
could reach the position assigned him. The brigade was moved 
forward, however, in the direction that McCandless supposed 
would bring him into the desired place, and came up just in 
time to be engaged by Gordon's victorious forces after 
Dennison's defeat. A sharp fight ensued, but McCandless was 
greatly outnumbered and was finally forced to withdraw with a 
severe loss in killed and wounded and the capture of several 
hundred of his men. Ewell then reformed his line on the 
ground where he was first attacked and intrenched his 
position. Warren fell back about 300 yards and formed a new 
line with his right resting on the pike.

Early in the morning Wilson left Col. Hammond, with the 
5th N. Y. at Parker's store and pushed on with the rest of his 
command toward the Craig meeting-house. Soon after Wilson's 
departure Hammond became engaged with Hill's advance and 
Crawford threw forward a skirmish line of his infantry to 
support the cavalry. This line soon encountered Kirkland's 
brigade of Heth's division and with Hammond's regiment was 
slowly forced back along the plank road toward the Wilderness 
tavern. Getty's division was hurried forward to the 
intersection of the Brock and Orange plank roads, and a 
despatch was sent to Hancock directing him to move up on the 
Brock road to Getty's support. Getty reached the cross-roads 
just in time to secure that important position, and formed his 
division in two lines of battle at right angles to the plank 
road, Wheaton's brigade in the center, Grant's on the left and 
Eustis' on the right. Hill advanced against this line, but 
received such a galling fire that he speedily retired and for 
the next two hours everything was quiet, except for the almost 
constant firing of the skirmishers. When Hancock received the 
order at 9 a.m. to halt at Todd's tavern his advance was 
already some 2 miles beyond that point, and this caused some 
delay when, two hours later, he was ordered to move to the 
support of Getty. At 2 p.m. Birney's division came up on the 
Brock road and formed on Getty's left in two lines of battle 
along that road. The divisions of Mott and Gibbon followed in 
order, as fast as the narrow road and dense undergrowth would 
permit, and also formed in two lines on the left of Birney. 
Barlow's division, on the extreme left, was thrown forward to 
some high, clear ground, which was the only place along the 
line where artillery could be used to advantage. Here Hancock 
massed all his batteries except Dow's and one section of 
Ricketts', the former of which was placed near Mott's left and 
the latter on the plank road. As fast as the different 
commands fell into position breastworks of logs and earth were 
thrown up. The second line also threw up works in the rear of 
the first, and later a third line was constructed behind the 
divisions of Mott and Birney. Before his troops were in 
position Hancock received orders to attack, and a little after 
3 p.m. Getty was directed to attack at once, without waiting 
for Hancock. During the lull of two hours Hill had been 
industriously pushing his men into position and forming a 
junction with Ewell's right. He was anxiously awaiting and 
expecting the arrival of Longstreet, but that officer had 
delayed his advance, because he was unwilling to take the road 
assigned him by Lee, and waited for permission to select his 
own route. The result was that when darkness fell on the 5th 
he was still miles away from Hill's right.

Although Getty received orders about 3 o'clock to attack 
at once, his advance was delayed an hour, as he was engaged in 
shifting Wheaton's brigade to the right of the plank road to 
make more room for the 2nd corps. At 4:15 he moved forward 
down the plank roads, but had not proceeded more than 300 
yards when he encountered Heth's division. Ricketts' guns had 
advanced with the line of infantry and did good service in 
forcing back the enemy's center, but Hill's line overlapped 
Getty's flanks and the slight advantage gained in the center 
was more than offset by the severe losses on both the right 
and left, where the Federal attacks were repulsed, Grant 
losing nearly 1,000 men, about one-half of his brigade. 
Seeing that Getty had met the enemy in force, Hancock ordered 
Birney's and Mott's divisions to his support, and a little 
later sent Carroll's brigade of Gibbon's division to the right 
of the plank road to support Eustis. About 5:30 the enemy 
charged and forced back the Union line for 50 yards. One of 
Ricketts' guns had to be abandoned on account of the horses 
being killed. Some of the Confederates reached this gun and 
planted their colors on it, but they were driven away before 
they could withdraw it. About the time that this charge was 
made Hancock had completed the formation of his line and 
attacked Hill's right with great vigor, Smyth's "Irish" 
brigade driving back the enemy's line for some distance. In 
his report Hancock says: "The battle raged with great severity 
and obstinacy until 8 p.m. without decided advantage to either 
party." While this was apparently true at the time an hour 
more of daylight would have witnessed Hill's defeat. He had 
extended his lines to the southward to cover the ground that 
had been assigned to Longstreet. This thin line was now 
shattered and disjointed, and had it been severely pressed for 
an hour longer it must inevitably have been broken at some 
point and the whole corps driven from the field. During the 
action Gen. Hays' commanding one of Hancock's brigades, was 
killed; Col. Carroll and Gen. Getty were both severely 
wounded, but neither left the field until the fighting was 
over for the day.

In the afternoon some heavy skirmishing took place on the 
Federal right. About 5 p.m. Ricketts' 2nd brigade, under the 
command of Brig.-Gen. Truman Seymour, who had relieved Col. B. 
F. Smith that morning, Neill's brigade of Getty's division, 
and part of Wrights's 1st brigade, under Col. W. H. Penrose, 
attacked the Confederate brigades of Hays and Pegram in a 
strongly intrenched position on the ridge south of net run. 
Pegram placed some artillery on his left, the fire from which 
enfiladed Neill's line, forcing him and Penrose to retire from 
the field with considerable loss. Seymour continued the 
contest until dark, but was unable to dislodge the enemy from 
his position. The Federal loss in killed and wounded was 
heavy on this part of the field, Col. Keifer, commanding 
Seymour's first line, being severely wounded. On the other 
side Gen. Pegram was wounded and compelled to leave the field. 

While these different infantry engagements were going on 
the cavalry was not idle. At the Craig meeting-house 
Chapman's brigade of Wilson's division encountered Rosser's 
brigade of Hampton's cavalry and drove it back about 2 miles. 
Rosser was then strongly reinforced and Chapman fell back on 
the 1st brigade at the junction of the Parker's store and 
Catharpin roads. Soon after this Wilson ordered his whole 
command to Todd's tavern, where he had been directed by 
Sheridan to meet Gregg's division. On the way to Todd's he 
was closely pressed by the Confederate cavalry. Gregg arrived 
at the tavern about the same time as Wilson, when the two 
divisions immediately assumed the offensive and drove the 
enemy beyond Corbin's bridge across the Po river.

Immediately after the fighting ceased on the 5th, 
Hancock, Warren and Sedgwick received orders to attack at 5 
o'clock the next morning. Burnside, then in the vicinity of 
Germanna ford, was instructed to march at 2 a.m., with 
Stevenson's, Potter's and Willcox's divisions, and be in 
position to join in the general advance at the hour 
designated. From prisoners captured during the day it was 
learned that Longstreet was hourly expected and Hancock was 
notified to keep a close watch on his left. Barlow's 
division, with all the artillery of the 2nd corps, was 
therefore placed in position to protect the left flank and a 
strong skirmish line was thrown out on the Brock road. The 
Federal attack was anticipated by the enemy, who began firing 
on both the left and right a few minutes before 5 o'clock. 
Soon after the firing commenced, Hancock attacked in two 
lines, extending across the plank road, Getty's division, with 
Eustis on the right, Wheaton in the center and Grant on the 
left, supporting the divisions of Mott and Birney, the latter 
being in command of Hancock's right wing. The Confederates 
were pushed back about a mile and a half from the cross-roads 
when Wadsworth's division came sweeping in from the right, 
which threw the enemy into confusion and resulted in the 
capture of several hundred prisoners. The whole line then 
pressed on after the almost routed enemy for nearly a mile 
farther; Lee's trains and headquarters were in full view and 
the battle was nearly won, when a heavy artillery fire was 
opened on the Union lines from Poague's batteries masked in 
the shrubbery on the south side of the road, and it was 
learned that one of Longstreet's divisions had finally 
connected with Hill's right. In the impetuous advance 
Hancock's line had become somewhat disordered and he ordered a 
halt to readjust his lines before engaging the fresh troops. 
Getty had been wounded during the action and turned over the 
command of the division to Wheaton. He was now relieved by 
Webb's brigade of Gibbon's division and formed his command 
along the original line of battle on the Brock road. At 7 
a.m. Gibbon, commanding the left wing, was directed to attack 
the Confederate right with Barlow's division, but owing to the 
expected attack by Longstreet the order was but partially 
carried out. Frank's brigade only was thrown forward to feel 
the enemy's position and after some sharp fighting it 
connected with Mott's left. About 8 o'clock Stevenson's 
division of Burnside's corps reported to Hancock. Burnside, 
with his 2nd and 3rd divisions, had been expected to move by a 
cross-toad toward Parker's store, on Birney's right, and 
attack simultaneously with the rest of the line. About the 
time of Stevenson's arrival at the Brock road, Hancock 
received word from Meade that Burnside had then pushed forward 
nearly to the store and was ready to attack. This information 
proved to be erroneous and was in a measure contributory to 
the disaster that overtook Hancock later in the day. Burnside 
was delayed by a lack of definite information regarding the 
ground over which he was to move and the dense thickets he 
encountered, so that it was 2 p.m. before his attack was 
commenced. A few minutes before 9 o'clock Birney, Mott and 
Wadsworth, with part of Stevenson's division and three 
brigades of Gibbon's, resumed the attack along the plank road 
and were soon furiously engaged with the enemy. Just previous 
to this, rapid firing was heard in the direction of Todd's 
tavern, which Hancock supposed to be the threatened flank 
attack by Longstreet, and this caused him to send Brooke's 
brigade of Barlow's division out on the Brock road to occupy a 
line of breastworks there to hold Longstreet in check. 
Leasure's brigade of the 9th corps and Eustis' of the 6th were 
held in readiness to support Barlow. As a matter of fact 
Longstreet was at that moment in Hancock's front, the firing 
at Todd's being an engagement between Sheridan and the 
Confederate cavalry. In his report Hancock says: "The 
arrangements made on my extreme left to receive Longstreet 
prevented me from pushing my success at the time when Gen. 
Birney was driving Hill on the plank road."

South of the plank road and nearly parallel to it was the 
unfinished Gordonsville & Fredericksburg railroad. About 10 
o'clock Longstreet sent Gen. Mahone with four brigades to move 
along the line of this railroad and gain Hancock's flank and 
rear, while the brigades of Law, Gregg and Benning engaged the 
Federals in front. Mahone first encountered Frank's brigade, 
which had nearly exhausted its ammunition and was therefore 
compelled to retire before the vehement flank attack. He then 
struck the left of Mott's division, which in turn was forced 
back in some confusion. Heroic efforts were made to rally the 
men and reform the line along the plank road by throwing back 
the left, but the troops had been engaged all morning under a 
heavy fire in the dense forest and their formation was too 
irregular for such a movement. At Birney's suggestion the 
whole line was then withdrawn and reestablished in the 
breastworks along the Brock road. When Longstreet saw that 
Mahone's attack was successful he ordered a general advance 
along the plank road, hoping to crush Hancock's line. 
Mahone's men, upon seeing the head of the Confederate column, 
mistook it for a fresh body of Union troops and fired a 
volley, killing Gen. Jenkins and wounding Longstreet. Lee 
then assumed command of his right wing in person and ordered 
the attack to be postponed, although the Confederate line was 
then within a short distance of the Union works. About half 
an hour before Mahone struck the left of Hancock's line 
Cutler's brigade of Wadsworth's division was driven back to 
the open ground near the Lacy house, but Birney sent two 
brigades and recovered the lost ground, though at considerable 
loss. During this part of the battle Gen. Wadsworth was 
mortally and Gen. Baxter severely wounded.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all was comparatively quiet along 
Hancock's front. About 2 o'clock Robinson's 1st brigade, 
under Col. Lyle, and two regiments of heavy artillery reported 
to Hancock and were massed near the cross-roads in reserve. 
At this time Burnside made an assault on the enemy's line near 
the Tapp house, north of the plank road, and drove it back in 
disorder, but part of Heth's division and Wofford's brigade of 
Kershaw's came up as reinforcements and regained all the lost 
ground. At 3 p.m. Hancock and Burnside both received orders 
to attack at 6 o'clock. They were not permitted to wait until 
that hour, however, for at 4:15 the enemy advanced against 
Hancock in force, pressing up to the edge of the abatis, less 
than 100 yards from the first line of works, where they halted 
and opened a fierce fire of musketry. This was continued for 
half an hour, during which time the Union line held firm. 
Then a portion of Mott's division and Ward's brigade of 
Birney's gave way. Concerning this break, Hancock says in his 
report: "The confusion and disorganization among a portion of 
the troops of Mott's and Birney's divisions on this occasion 
was greatly increased, if not originated, by the front line of 
breastworks having taken fire a short time before the enemy 
made his attack, the flames having been communicated to it 
from the forest in front (the battle-ground of the morning), 
which had been burning for some hours. The breastworks on 
this portion of my line were constructed entirely of logs, and 
at the critical moment of the enemy's advance were a mass of 
flames which it was impossible at that time to subdue, the 
fire extending for many hundred paces to the right and left. 
The intense heat and smoke, which was driven by the wind 
directly into the faces of the men, prevented them on portions 
of the line from firing over the parapet, and at some points 
compelled them to abandon the line."

As soon as Mott's men gave way the Confederates advanced 
And, some of them reached the breastworks and planted their 
colors thereon. But their victory was of short duration, for 
Carroll's brigade moved by the left flank, advancing at the 
double-quick with fixed bayonets, and drove the enemy back 
with heavy loss in killed and wounded, some of the dead being 
afterward found inside the works. Dow's battery, one section 
of which was near the plank road and the others in the second 
line near Mott's left, did good service in firing on the 
enemy, both during his advance and retreat. After the repulse 
of the Confederates by Carroll, Lee withdrew his troops from 
the contest, and there was no more fighting along the Brock 
road that day, the order for the attack being countermanded 
because Hancock's men were almost out of ammunition and it was 
too late to replenish the supply. When Burnside heard the 
firing in Hancock's front he advanced against the enemy before 
him, but his attacks were isolated and unsupported and the 
only important result attained was to prevent Heth and Wilcox 
from moving to Lee's support

When the attack began in the morning Wright's division 
vigorously assaulted Early's intrenchments in his front, but 
was repulsed with heavy loss. A second attack met with no 
better success, and as the withdrawal of Burnside's corps had 
left Sedgwick's right exposed he was ordered to intrench his 
position and act on the defensive. Warren's attacks on Ewell 
were also unsuccessful, as the enemy's lines here had been 
strengthened during the night and several pieces of artillery 
added. During the day Sedgwick was reinforced by Shaler's 
brigade, which had been guarding the trains, and Johnston's 
brigade was sent to Early. Both sides were thus reinforced 
and some sharp fighting occurred during the afternoon, the 
attacks of Warren and Sedgwick serving to keep Lee from 
concentrating his entire force against Hancock. Just before 
sunset Gordon's brigade, supported by Johnston's, made an 
attack on Sedgwick's right flank, while Pegram engaged the 
Federals in front. Shaler's brigade was engaged in building 
breastworks and the sudden descent of the enemy threw it into 
confusion, rolling it back on Seymour's brigade, which also 
fell into some disorder. Seymour and Shaler, with several 
hundred of their men, were captured. Johnston passed to the 
left of Gordon and gained Wright's rear, where he captured a 
few prisoners. Wright promptly restored order among the 
troops and repulsed the attack of Johnston. Gordon's men were 
thrown into confusion and Early ordered both brigades to 
withdraw. In his Memoir Early says of this flank attack: "It 
was fortunate, however, that darkness came to close this 
affair, as the enemy, if he had been able to discover the 
disorder on our side, might have brought up fresh troops and 
availed himself of our condition." This flank attack of 
Early's was the last important event in the day's contest, 
and, in fact, closed the battle of the Wilderness, for when 
Federal pickets and skirmishing parties were sent out the next 
morning no trace of the enemy could be discovered on the field 
of the day before. The Army of Northern Virginia had retired 
to its line of intrenchments and the redoubtable Lee had 
evidently abandoned his offensive campaign.

The Union loss in the battle of the Wilderness was 2,246 
killed 12,037 wounded and 3,383 captured or missing. No doubt 
many of the wounded were burned to death or suffocated in the 
fire that raged through the woods on Hancock's front. 
Concerning the enemy's casualties Badeau, in his Military 
History of U. S. Grant, says: "The losses of Lee no human 
being can tell. No official report of them exists, if any was 
ever made, and no statement that has been put forth in regard 
to them has any foundation but a guess. It seems however, 
fair to presume that as Lee fought outside of his works as 
often as Grant, and was as often repelled, the slaughter of 
the rebels equalled that in the national army. The grey coats 
lay as thick as the blue next day, when the national scouts 
pushed out over the entire battle-field and could discover no 
living enemy "

Source: The Union Army, vol. 6

Source Information:

Historical Data Systems, comp. American Civil War Battle Summaries [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: MyFamily.com, Inc., 1999. Original data: Data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA from the following list of works. Copyright 1997-2000

 

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