soldiers, during all this campaign, never fought from behind breastworks, or had breastworks to fall back to when defeated.
Concealed by a dense forest of pines, of young growth, extending to the right and left from the turnpike, with skirmishers in advance, Heth
's division, strengthened on both flanks, but especially on the left to keep touch with Ewell
, and with Poague
's battalion of artillery in the roadway, awaited Hancock
's attack, which was in preparation but a few hundred yards in advance.
Shortly after reaching the scene of conflict, at about half past 4, Hancock
's waiting division with portions of Gibbon
's and Owens
', and four Federal divisions, with other troops in reserve, advanced to engage with Hill
A furious combat followed, in which the contending lines met each other, face to face.
's men, crouching behind their slight breastworks, sheltered themselves as best they could, as a storm of Federal bullets, cutting off the tops of the dense growth in front, sped to the Confederate
line, which met the Federal
advance with deliberate aim and drove it back, although held to its work by a strong line of bayonets in its rear.
The battle continued until after nightfall, and the darkness was lighted up by the flashes of the opposing musketry and artillery.
Nearly half of Grant
's army took part in this attempt to drive Hill
's two divisions from safeguarding Lee
To relieve the pressure of the unequal combat, Lee
to assume the offensive, drive the Federals
from his front, take possession of the Germanna road, and cut Grant
's line of communication.
promptly sent two brigades to attack Sedgwick
's center, followed by a supporting force; but Sedgwick
was found too well protected, by a heavy breastwork of logs, for a successful assault, so Ewell
merely held him in combat.
Not content with merely holding his position on the right, Lee
ordered a counterstroke from Hill
's center and captured a Federal battery, but lost it when forced back by a vigorous Federal repulse, which Hancock
followed up with repeated and desperate but unsuccessful assaults on Hill
, on the extreme right, drove back the charges of Sheridan
After this first day of Wilderness
battle was over, Lee
telegraphed to Richmond
, ‘By the blessing of God we maintained our position ’