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[443] The forces of Hill and Longstreet — the latter having arrived at this time — were massed in a grand attack, intended to envelop Hancock on both flanks. Of the details of the fighting that ensued I know but little. The brigade of Colonel Frank, on the extreme left, was broken, and fell back precipitately. The pressure was so great along the whole line of the command thus assaulted that it was also broken in several places. Portions of the front line retreated in disorder. Officers who commanded there, commanded in some instances troops not their own, and of whose fighting qualities they knew nothing — those officers did their best, but could not stem panic. General Wadsworth, galloping, appealing, commanding, fell from his horse in the front of the battle, deserted by more than half his troops. As gallant a brigadier-general as commands in the Army of the Potomac, finding himself at last alone, with the remains of one true regiment still standing to its work, looked around disgusted, grief-stricken, and in anger, and told that regiment to “run like sheep.” The enemy came on and on.

Two divisions of Burnside's corps under Park and Wilcox, were marched up and put in on the left of Warren, and General Stevenson's division subsequently marched in, connecting with Birney on Hancock's right. By this means the effort of the enemy to pierce our centre was stayed, our line of battle was made secure behind the intrenchments from which we had advanced in the morning, and the enemy were forced to fall back in turn.

There was a lull in the battle; a regathering of armies. The persistent enemy did not give up their purpose; they were marshalling menacing battalions in front of the Second corps and Burnside. They meant to attack again.

It came, at half-past 4 o'clock; and our left wing, which had advanced, regaining some of its ground after the disaster of the forenoon, was again pushed back nearly to the Brock road. The shock of the assault stove in the brigades of General Stevenson, and forced the divisions on his left temporarily out of the breastworks, which were set on fire. A portion of General Gibbon's troops swung to the right and formed in rear; the line was at last restored along the whole length, and the enemy again flung back with immense slaughter. The left and centre of the army thus having attacked and been attacked throughout the day, stood firm at last — the field and forest floor before it and around it strewn with its and the enemy's dead, and throbbing with its wounded. It had taken in the course of the day many prisoners ; it held a larger part of the field than that occupied in the morning; its losses were severe.

A sullen silence now for a little while, if silence that may be called which is stabbed at slow intervals by the sound of cannon that will never be still. Sink, sun; fall, shadows; come night, and shroud these horrors that the day has wrought! These dead that cannot be buried need some mantle to cover them. These shattered lives, crying for help from every glen and field, and roadside — hide them from those to whom it is enough to hear their despairing struggles!

The camp-fires are lighted, the darkness gathers apace; the battle, we hope, is over.

No I whatever we may hope, the enemy does not will it. If one could watch where none can watch, in the gloom of the Wilderness, he would see now a dark column, stealing out on the right from the breastworks of the foe, diverging through the forest around our right flank toward the river, silently turning that flank, creeping slowly into its rear, and actually putting up a slight breastwork between it and our unsuspecting front line, that part immediately exposed being the troops of Seymour and Shaler, where they were at the commencement of the day's battle. He would see this flanking line of the enemy lying in wait, while another and stronger column, emerging from the same breastwork it had vacated, formed, preparatory to an attack. All this between six and seven o'clock P. M., in the darkness, and while our men were engaged upon their own breastwork by the light of blinding fires.

Down this last column comes, breaking — the stillness with yells, and sending a volley calculated to make each individual hair upon the heads of the devoted troops of Shaler and Seymour, erect itself to a perpendicular. The charge is resistless; Seymour's line is doubled up, rolled over, and carried away in an instant; that of Shaler fares not much better. These are troops not of the old Sixth corps; some of them Milroy's men, but who have nevertheless borne themselves gallantly in the two days fighting. Taken prisoners, flying, finding the rebel line in their rear, turning back to seek some other way, amid the storm of bullets, a few finding their way out at last and reaching the Germania plank-road a mile in rear, they are a parlous sight.

And now is seen General John Sedgwick and the gallant young officers upon his staff plunging about in the midst of this melee, and building up order out of the ruin. That presence of the grand old commander — his hat off, his bridle dropped, a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other — is like an incarnate rebuke to these fugitives — an assurance of safety preventing further panic. The enemy come on, raging over the ruins of this route, but to no further conquest. For there is a line of steel which cannot be broken — Neill's magnificent brigade. Against it, as a billow against a rock, the exultant massess of the enemy fall and break, and are thrown back, and retire, while the column in flank, under some strange spell which has kept it quiescent through all, sneaks into the forest toward the river, and is seen alike no more.

But the panic appeased in front is not over in the rear. Down to the plank-road through the woods, dismay in their faces and unutterable

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Shaler (3)
T. Seymour (3)
T. H. Stevenson (2)
John L. Hancock (2)
A. E. Burnside (2)
Wilcox (1)
G. K. Warren (1)
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