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Lee and Grant in the Wilderness.

General C. M. Wilcox.
Of the many officers of distinction in the Union army, to independent and separate commands were intrusted, in the popular opinion of the North, General Grant was regarded as the most successful, and in abilities the ablest; and for services rendered rewarded, both by Congress and the President, in a manner leaving no doubt as to the high appreciation in which they were held. He was promoted to the grade of lieutenant general, and assigned, on the 10th of March, 1864, by President Lincoln, to the command of the armies of the United States. This order placed, subject to his will, more armed men than any general of modern times ever commanded. The object to be accomplished by this law of Congress, and order of the President, concentrating the whole military power of the North in one officer, was the speedy overthrow of the Southern Confederacy, and the subjugation of its people. To effect this, Richmond must be taken; but preliminary to this, the Army of Northern Virginia must be either destroyed or captured. The annihilation of this army, the main support of the. Confederacy, was esteemed by General Grant as his especial privilege, as it was his duty; and to facilitate this, he established his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac; so that, while giving a general supervision to other armies, he could personally control and direct the movements of this particular one, charged, in his opinion, with the highest mission.

The reputation of General Grant, before serving in Virginia, was due mostly to the capture of Fort Donelson and Vicksburg; and while, in a strictly military point of view, neither can be [486] considered as very remarkable, yet each was followed by very decided, solid gains to the North. The first led to the evacuation of Nashville, Tennessee, and transferring the Union forces to the west of the Tennessee river; the last, followed speedily by the surrender of Port Hudson, virtually closed the Mississippi to the Confederacy and cut it in twain. Credit is due to General Grant for knowing where to direct his blows. Battles in which the greatest numbers are engaged, and most brilliant victories won, are not always followed by the best results to the fortunate side. When General Grant was assigned to duty as above stated, the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General Meade, lay in Culpepper county, Virginia, and, confronting it, across the Rapidan, was the Army of Northern Virginia. These armies had, with two exceptions, held the above positions since early in August following the battle of Gettysburg. The first was in October, when General Lee, although much reduced by detaching Longstreet South, crossed the Rapidan and advanced on Meade. The latter retired rapidly, not halting until he had crossed Bull Run. During this retreat of Meade a collision occurred at Bristoe Station between three of Hill's Brigades and the Fifth Corps, in which the former were worsted. General Lee returned to the Rapidan, and Meade to his old camp in Culpepper. The latter part of November (the second exception), Meade crossed the Rapidan below the Confederate right. General Lee changed front immediately, and moved rapidly to meet him. A slight skirmish occurred late in the afternoon. Next morning the Army of Northern Virginia took position in the rear of Mine run. The Union forces confronted it a week, retired at night, hurried back to the Rapidan, and recrossed into Culpepper without a battle but losing prisoners.

During the winter, while on the Rapidan, General Lee's troops --A. P. Hill's Corps — extended up the river as far as Liberty mills, six miles above Orange Court-House; Ewell's Corps on the right, below Clarke's Mountain, which was eight miles from Orange; Longstreet, after his return from East Tennessee, remained near Gordonsville, eight miles in rear. In general, while on the Rapidan, the troops were not regularly and well supplied with good and sufficient rations, nor was their clothing of the best; their morale was, nevertheless, excellent, and when spring came the camp was enlivened by the resuming of military exercises, drills, etc. In April, without any orders being given, there was a sending to the rear, by officers, of extra baggage, and a general but quiet preparation for the coming campaign, soon to be inaugurated early in May. There was at length [487] a little stir among ordnance officers, a more than usual activity among those of the medical department; and finally, May 3d, an order was issued to have, in the language of the camp, “three days cooked rations,” thus putting an end to all suspense. The Rapidan flows within a mile of Orange Court-House, runs little south of east, and empties into the Rappahannock eight miles above Fredericksburg. Two roads, the old pike and plank, connect Orange Court-House and Fredericksburg; they diverge at the Court-House, the first runs between the latter and the Rapidan, somewhat parallel, but at times two and a half miles or more apart; come together near Chancellorsville, soon separate again, but unite within six or seven miles at Tabernacle Church, and from that to Fredericksburg there being but one, the plank road. It would not be uninteresting to know the strength and organization of the two armies on the eve of entering upon this, their final, longest, most active, and laborious campaign. The Army of Northern Virginia numbered, of all arms, fifty thousand; forty-two thousand of this aggregate was infantry, divided into three corps of three divisions each — the three corps commanders and seven of the nine division commanders being West Point graduates. The cavalry commander, the chief engineer, chief of artillery, quartermaster and commissary, were all graduates; the medical director had been a surgeon in the United States Army.

The Army of the Potomac was reported by the Secretary of War to be one hundred and forty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-six, composed of three corps, Second, Fifth, and Sixth, to which the Ninth had recently been joined. It is probable that the strength of this army actually present may differ from that given in the Secretary's report — may have been less. Without knowing the strength of the cavalry and artillery, they may be estimated approximatively; and these two arms, together with the overestimate of the War Department, may be stated at twenty thousand, leaving one hundred and twenty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-six for the infantry. The Second and Fifth Corps had each four divisions; the other two, three each. The corps commanders and chiefs-of-staff of this army were graduates of the Academy; most of the division commanders are believed to have been graduates. In addition to superiority of numbers, the Federals were better fed, clothed, armed, and equipped, and had the means of providing for the sick and wounded in a manner the Confederates could not. In all these essentials with them were no deficiencies; their transportation was better, the condition of artillery and cavalry horses was better, as well as the more abundant means of keeping them in that state. General Grant is [488] credited with the following words, and it is believed they expressed his design: “To hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if nothing else,” etc. These words make the impression that General Grant believed he had a serious undertaking on hand, and if his plan did not propose to make a sixty or ninety days affair of it, it certainly did. clearly indicate that his armies were to fight as long as there was a man left, or an armed enemy to oppose. General Grant, after deliberating whether he should cross the Rapidan above General Lee's left or below his right flank, decided upon the latter, which he is reported to have said, would “force him back toward Richmond, somewhere to the north of which he hoped to have a battle.” It will be seen that he had mistaken his adversary. The Army of the Potomac, now directed by General Grant, began to move, twelve A. M., on the 4th of May, for the lower fords of the Rapidan. The Second Corps (Hancock's) being nearest the river, marched to Ely's ford, while Sedgwick's and Warren's (Sixth and Fifth Corps) moved to Germanna ford, six miles above, the last two corps preceded by Wilson's cavalry; and by one P. M. of the 4th, Warren's (Fifth) Corps had crossed on a pontoon bridge, and, continuing his march, halted near the intersection of the old pike and Germanna ford road, and went into bivouac. Sedgwick's (Sixth) Corps crossed later in the afternoon, and camped near the ford. Wilson's cavalry advanced up the old pike to watch any move of the Confederates from that quarter. Hancock, preceded by Gregg's cavalry, crossed at Ely's ford, and by nine A. M. on the 4th, was at Chancellorsville; there went into bivouac, having thrown the cavalry forward toward Todd's Tavern and Fredericksburg.

It is well to observe how accurately posted General Lee was as to the designs of the enemy, whose movement began at twelve A. M., while his own followed in a few hours-commencing at sunup in some cases, and earlier in others. General Lee's troops moved by the right flank; two divisions of Hill's Corps (Heth's and Wilcox's) down the plank road toward Fredericksburg, and bivouacked near dark at Vidierville. Wilcox had made a long march, having been six miles above the Court-House. Ewell's Corps moved on the old pike, and halted for the night near Locust Grove. Anderson's Division, of Hill's Corps, remained behind to guard certain fords on the Rapidan. Longstreet's two divisions moved from Gordonsville, to follow, after reaching the plank road, in the rear of Hill. The army, that had been much separated, for convenience of passing the winter, was now being concentrated as it converged upon the [489] enemy; and all in good spirits, notwithstanding the heavy odds known to be against them. Early in the morning of the 5th, Gregg's cavalry was ordered toward Hamilton's crossing, and the Second Corps moved toward Shady Grove, its right reaching out in the direction of the Fifth Corps, under orders for Parker's store, on the plank road. Warren's (Fifth) Corps moved toward this store, extending his right out in the direction of Sedgwick, at or near the old Wilderness tavern, to which place he was to move as soon as the road was free of other troops. With such orders, it was clear that no immediate encounter with the Confederates was anticipated; their flank being turned, it was probably believed, as before stated, that they would fall back toward Richmond. The different columns of the Union army began to move as ordered. Warren was nearest the Confederates, but he was ignorant of their close proximity; for the cavalry, that had been ordered forward on the old pike the preceding afternoon to observe the approach of the enemy in that direction, had, late in the evening, been recalled, and sent on a scout up the plank road as far as Parker's store. This store was near ten miles from Vidierville. The Confederates were on the march quite as early the morning of the 5th-Ewell on the old pike, Hill continuing on the plank road, Johnson's Division leading the advance, with Ewell and Heth's Division leading with Hill. Hill's troops had advanced beyond Mine run some miles, when several shots were heard far to the right, and soon after others directly in front. This firing was repeated, and at times in vivacity almost equal to an active infantry skirmish. That on the right was believed to be between the cavalry of the two armies on or near the Catharpin road, while that in front was between Kirkland's Brigade, of Heth's Division, and the enemy's cavalry, mostly dismounted. The fire in front occasioned but little delay. A few of the enemy's dead and wounded were seen on the roadside as the troops moved on. Near Parker's store, the flank of the column was struck by a small body of cavalry. They disappeared at once in a dense thicket; but a regiment (Thirty-eighth North Carolina, Colonel Ashford) of Scales' Brigade, Wilcox's Division, remained at this point until the wagons had passed.

Warren, to guard Sedgwick's right flank, and at the same time for his own protection as he moved from Germanna ford, ordered Griffin's Division forward on the old pike, while the remainder of the corps, with Crawford's Division leading, moved on a neighborhood road toward Parkers store. It was not long before Griffin met the Confederates; and as Crawford approached the plank road, he met [490] the cavalry coming to the rear, reporting them advancing on that road also. Reports of General Lee's troops being on each of these two roads having been made, Crawford was ordered to halt, and informed that Griffin and Wadsworth would attack on the old pike. Getty's Division, of the Sixth Corps, took position on the plank road. The historian Swinton states this to have been at 8.20 A. M. Hill's two divisions were at least eight or nine miles from Parker's store at this hour. Ewell's Corps bivouacked the night of the 4th nearer the enemy than Hill had, and, resuming the march early the morning of the 5th, were first to engage the Federals. He had marched eight or nine miles. When the head of his column passed a short distance beyond a road that left the old pike and lead to Germanna ford, the enemy was discovered to be in front. Johnson's Division was formed in line to the left of the old pike, across the road running to Germanna ford, and was the first to receive the attack, made with such force and spirit that Johnson's right brigade (General John M. Jones) was forced back, and General Jones and his aide, Lieutenant Early, in endeavoring to restore order, were both killed. Battle's Brigade, of Rodes' Division, on the right of Jones' Brigade, shared a like fate. Jones' Brigade was believed by its division commander to have been forced back in consequence of the artillery having been changed in position or withdrawn without his knowledge. The other brigades of Johnson's Division held their ground. Early's Division was ordered up, and Gordon's Brigade of this, with Doles', Daniels', and Ramseur's brigades of Rodes' Division-Gordon on the right-advanced and drove the enemy back some distance. Johnson, in the meantime, was fighting heavily and successfully. Quite a number of prisoners and two pieces of artillery were captured.

After the Federals had been driven back there was a pause in the fighting, when Hays' Brigade of Early's Division moved around to the extreme left of Johnson's Division, in order to take part in the general forward movement; the brigade advanced, but, from oversight, was not supported, and was withdrawn. Later, Pegram's Brigade was ordered to the left of Hays, and was assailed with vigor, but repulsed the enemy, inflicting heavy losses. In Ewell's Corps, Brigadier Generals John M. Jones and Leroy A. Stafford were killed, and Brigadier General John Pegram wounded. The Federals had engaged Griffin's and Wadsworth's Divisions, supported by Robinson's Division and McCandless' Brigade, of Crawford's Division-all of Fifth Corps. When Warren's advance up the old pike was arrested, and the reported movement of the [491] Confederates down the plank road had caused Crawford to halt before it was reached, Generals Grant and Meade had (according to Mr. Swinton) just reached the old Wilderness tavern, and each of these generals believed Warren had but a small force in his front, for General Lee's flank having been turned, he could not, in their opinion, have the boldness to assume the offensive. It was under such impressions that Warren received a peremptory order “to brush away the small force in his front” --and thus the battle began. The same historian states that at about nine A. M. General Meade, addressing some officers near him, said: “They have left a division to fool us here, while they concentrate and prepare a position toward the North Anna; and what I want is to prevent those fellows from getting back to Mine run.” If General Meade was correctly quoted, it is evident that Mine run called up disagreeable reminiscences; he had been much criticised in the Northern press-and many think justly — for not attacking the Confederates while in position on that stream the December preceding. But had Generals Grant and Meade so willed, by being a little more active, they could have had the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps, probably ninety thousand infantry, all on Mine run, where it crossed the plank road, by or before sundown on the fourth, and would have been within a short distance of Hill's two divisions and in rear of Ewell's right.

General Warren failed “to brush away the small force in his front,” and it was only this failure that corrected the errors into which Generals Grant and Meade had fallen in supposing General Lee would retire toward Richmond without a battle; and after this failure on the part of Warren to carry out his orders, Hancock, who had moved to Shady Grove, was recalled, and ordered to rejoin the other corps, and Sedgwick to take position on the right of Warren. Hancock arrived at three P. M., and formed in double line in front of the Brock road, and began to intrench at once; but before completing the work was ordered to attack the enemy on the plank road, and drive him back to Parker's store. It will be seen that Hancock, like Warren, failed in carrying out his orders. There was some interval, near two and a half hours, between the fighting on the old pike and that on the plank road. Artillery and musketry had been heard on the former and ceased, leaving the result not satisfactorily known; but as the firing had receded in Ewell's front, the inference was that he had the better of Warren. There was no communication between Hill's two divisions on the plank road and Ewell's Corps on the old pike, and the intervening distance was uncertain. The head of Hill's column had been brought to a halt a little [492] before three P. M. The Federals were known to be in great strength in the immediate vicinity. General Lee felt some uneasiness at the separation of these two corps. Heth's Division took position in line of battle across the plank road, and Wilcox was ordered to go with his division through the woods in the direction of the old pike and open communication with Ewell. Ten or fifteen minutes before this order to Wilcox was given, a line of the enemy's skirmishers came out into an open space of several acres, within less than two hundred yards of Generals Lee, Hill, and Heth. Seeing these officers and the soldiers near by, they retired at once into the wood without firing. These skirmishers had come from the direction in which Wilcox had to move.

Wilcox's move through the dense woods was slow for the first half mile; then came afield of that width, and about a house, several hundred yards distant in front, in this field, a party of the enemy was seen. One of his (Wilcox's) regiments was ordered forward at a run, and captured twenty or thirty, several officers being of the number. Two of Wilcox's Brigades (McGowan's and Scales') were left in the woods, near the the fence of the field, and reported by him to General Lee. From the house there was a good view of the old Wilderness tavern; the Federals could be seen about it. This was also reported, and Wilcox passed on with his brigades in quest of Ewell's right; crossed, a short distance beyond the house, Wilderness run; rose up in a field beyond, and into woods to the front and left, five or six hundred yards, his two brigades were ordered; but in a second field, and to the right of these woods, Gordon's Brigade, the right of Ewell's Corps, was found. Wilcox had hardly spoken to General Gordon when volleys of musketry were heard in the woods. He rode rapidly to rejoin his brigades, but near the woods met a courier from General Lee, bringing orders for him to return with all possible speed to the plank road, as Heth was attacked-the enemy known to be in heavy force. The two brigades were recalled at once, and returned with a little over three hundred prisoners. The musketry was heard in considerable volume on the plank road, and as Wilcox recrossed the open field, the enemy could be seen moving toward this road; his two brigades left near the field had been recalled, and when he arrived on the field of battle one of them (McGowan's) had already been ordered in, and the other (Scales') soon followed — the former across the road at right angles, the latter to the right of it, where the firing then seemed heaviest. The troops engaged could not be seen, the rattle of musketry alone indicating where the struggle was severest, and the points to which the reinforcing [493] brigades should be sent. A third brigade (Thomas', of Wilcox's Division) was ordered on the left of the road to take position on the left of Heth, and fought in line nearly parallel to the road. The enemy were in the rear of the left of Heth. Thomas did not get into position on his left. The fourth and last brigade of Wilcox's (Lane's) went in on the right of the road and extreme right of the line, the musketry now raging furiously on the entire front. Wilcox rode forward down the road, found that McGowan's Brigade had swept like a gale through the woods, driving back all before it, and was much in advance of our lines, both on the right and left. It was deemed prudent to recall it to the main line. The firing, and of the severest kind, continued till after dark, and then slackened till eight, and soon after died out. The two divisions had held their ground, and captured a few prisoners. No artillery was used on this road by the Confederates; two pieces, believed to have been used by the Federals, were passed over in the road by McGowan's Brigade.

On the plank road Heth's and Wilcox's divisions, eight brigades, about thirteen thousand muskets, fought. Of these eight brigades, four were from North Carolina, one from South Carolina, one from Georgia and Mississippi each, one made up of Virginia and Tennessee troops. Contending against these on the Union side were, first, Getty's Division, Sixth Corps, soon reinforced by Birney's and Mott's Divisions, of the Second Corps; next, and before five P. M., Carroll's and Owen's Brigades, of Gibbon's Division, Second Corps; following these were two brigades of Barlow's Division, Second Corps; late in the afternoon Wadsworth's Division and Baxter's Brigade, of Robinson's Division, Fifth Corps. The statement made as to Federal troops engaged on the two roads, and throughout the two days collision, is taken mostly from Swinton's “History of the army of the Potomac.” General Lee's infantry was composed of nine divisions; one (Pickett's) was absent below Richmond, and not included in the estimate of forty-two thousand for the infantry. This would give an average, therefore, of five thousand two hundred and fifty to each one of the eight divisions with General Lee. Wilcox's and Heth's were in excess of this average, the division of the former having seven thousand two hundred muskets present. In Ewell's Corps were two of the weakest divisions, Early's and Johnson's. Rodes' Division of this corps was the strongest in the army; but one brigade of this, Johnson's, was absent in North Carolina. Hoke's Brigade, of Early's Division, was also absent at Hanover Junction. Three of the eight divisions of infantry were absent on the 5th-Anderson's, of Hill's Corps, and two of Longstreet's. [494] There was less than twenty-six thousand Confederate infantry present at the first day's battle. If our estimate of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac be correct, ninety thousand of these were present on this day. Ewell had about eleven thousand muskets; opposed to these were Griffin's and Wadsworth's Divisions, Fifth Corps, supported by Robinson's Division and McCandless' Brigade, of Crawford's Division, of the same corps. It has been seen that Heth's Division alone received, on the plank road, the first attack, and bore the brunt of it till the arrival of Wilcox's brigades (McGowan's and Scales'), to be soon followed by Thomas' and Lane's Brigades, and that these reinforcing brigades were sent in on such points as were believed to be most sorely pressed, or where they could be best used. When the battle closed Wilcox was in front, and his line much disjointed-one brigade had fought nearly parallel to the road.

The historian Swinton, referring to this contest on the plank road, after it had been going on an hour or two, says: “The heavy firing borne to the ears of Generals Grant and Meade, at the old Wilderness tavern, attested the severity of the conflict that was going on at this important junction of roads (old pike and Brock roads). It was judged that the pressure on Hancock might be relieved by sending a force from Warren's Corps to strike through the forest southward, and fall upon the flank and rear of Hill.” As there was about one and a half miles between Ewell and Hill, and fully a half mile of this an open field, in full view of the old field, and bald hill near the old Wilderness tavern, and as there was not a skirmish line, nor a piece of artillery, or even a vidette in this space, this move, or one, on Ewell's right flank, might have been made at any time during the battle; and the chances were that it could have been made successfully if directed with ordinary skill and courage; in fact, with the supposed preponderance of numbers present on the Union side, both Ewell and Hill could have been attacked in flank and rear at the same time.: About nine o'clock General Wilcox, from a partial examination made under difficulties-thick woods and darkness of the night-but mainly from reports of his officers, learned that his line was very irregular and much broken and required to be re-arranged. He repaired to General Lee's tent, intending to report the condition of his front, and to suggest that a skirmish line be left where the front then was, the troops be retired a short distance, and the line rectified. General Lee, at the time, was not over two hundred yards from the point General Wilcox had fixed for his own headquarters during the night, and was not over four hundred yards from where the battle had been [495] fought. As General Wilcox entered the tent, General Lee remarked that he had made a complimentary report of the conduct of the two divisions on the plank road, and that he had received a note (holding it in his hand) from General Anderson, stating that he would bivouac at Vidierville for the night; but, he continued, “he has been instructed to move forward; he and Longstreet will be up, and the two divisions that have been so actively engaged will be relieved before day.” General Wilcox, hearing this, made no suggestions about the line, as he was to be relieved before day. The failure to rearrange his line and the delay in the arrival of the three rear divisions, was near proving fatal to the Confederates.

By ten P. M. all was quiet; occasionally a man that had been sent to the rear on some errand, would be seen returning to the front. It seemed almost impossible to realize that so fierce a battle had been fought and terminating only two hours before, or that so many armed men were lying almost within reach,1 ready to spring forward at early dawn to renew the bloody work. The night was clear and cloudless, but with the tall forest trees and thick underwood nothing could be seen save the road along which the wounded were now no longer borne. A line had been determined in the early hours of the night on which it would be suggested the newly arrived troops should form; but twelve, two, three o'clock came, and half-past 3, and no reinforcements. An order was then sent to the rear for the pioneers to come to the front with axes, spades, etc., to fell trees and construct works. It was daylight before they came, and the enemy was found to be too close to permit their use. Clear daylight had come, but no reinforcing divisions. The struggle was renewed early in the morning of the 6th by Ewell striking the enemy on his extreme right flank (Seymour's Brigade), and involving the whole of the right two divisions, Wright's and Rickett's, of the Sixth Corps. This attack was followed soon by Hancock advancing a heavy force on the plank road. On this the Confederates were in no condition either to advance or resist an attack. Wilcox, in front, was in an irregular and broken line; Heth's men had slept closer in rear, without regard to order. The corps commander had informed General Heth that the two divisions would be relieved before day, [496] and hence this unfortunate condition of affairs at this critical moment. The tree-tops were already tinged with the early rays of the rising sun, but the enemy lay quiet; at length the sun itself was seen between the boughs and foliage of the heavy forest, and on the plank road the Confederates, eager to catch at straws in their unprepared state, began to have hopes that the Federals would not advance but these were soon dispelled. A few shots were heard on Wilcox's right, and the firing extended rapidly along to the left, to the road and across this, and around to his extreme left, which was considerably in rear of his line on the right of the road. The musketry increased rapidly in volume, and was soon of the heaviest, kind.

Heth's men hurried to the rear, preparatory to re-forming line; the badly formed line of Wilcox received, unaided, this powerful column, which soon enveloped its flank. The fighting was severe as long as it lasted. Swinton says of it, “an hour's severe fighting.”

While the firing was severe on the flank, a dense mass of Federals poured into the road from the thickets on either side, and the Confederates began to yield. Wilcox rode back rapidly to General Lee, found him where he had been the night before, and reported the condition of his command. His response was, “Longstreet must be here; go bring him up.” Galloping to the road, the head of his corps, Kershaw's Division was met, and ordered to file at once to the right and get into line as quickly as possible, for fear his division would be forced back on it while forming. Less than a brigade had left the road when Longstreet in person arrived. He was informed where General Lee would be found-within one hundred and fifty yards. In the open space-old field — where General Lee's tent was at 9 P. M., and where he reappeared so early in the morning, was artillery-one or two batteries — on a gentle swell of the surface, in front descending and open for several hundred yards; the enemy were not within one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards of these guns. When Wilcox's men had fallen to the rear sufficiently to enable the guns to be used, they were directed into the woods, obliquely across the plank road; the enemy on the road could not see the guns. Wilcox's men, while Kershaw was uncovering the plank road, and before Fields' Division formed on the left of it, filed off the plank road and took position a half mile to the left, between Ewell's right and the troops on the plank road, filling up in part this long intervening unoccupied space. Later, Heth's Division took position on his right.

An extract will be made from Swinton, as he is often quoted, and, as far as my information goes, is in general quite accurate; in [497] the extract will be found errors, but it would appear that he is hardly responsible for them. Page 430 he says: “General Lee began the action by striking Grant's right flank, and some little while before the time ordered by Grant for renewal of the battle;” and again he says: “But as the left was the point at which, by common consent, the fiercest dispute took place, I shall, first of all, set forth the sequence of events on that flank. When, at 5 A. M., Hancock opened his attack by an advance of his two right divisions under Birney, together with Getty's command (Owen's and Carroll's Brigades, Gibbon's Division, supporting), and pushed forward on the right and left of the Orange plank road, the onset was made with such vigor, and Lee was yet so weak on that flank, owing to the non-arrival of Longstreet, that for a time it seemed as though a great victory would be snatched. At the same time Hancock opened a direct attack, Wadsworth's Division (Fifth Corps) assailed his flank, took up the action and fought its way across that part of the Second Corps posted on the right of the plank road. The combined attack overpowered the Confederates, and after an hour's severe contest the whole hostile front was carried, and Hill's Divisions under Wilcox and Heth were driven for a mile and a half through the woods, under heavy loss, and back to the trains, and artillery, and Confederate headquarters.” This author, in a note at the bottom of page 431, says: “I use no stronger language than that employed by General Longstreet in a description he gave the writer of the situation of affairs at the moment of his arrival.” This combined attack of great strength was met by Wilcox's Division alone; it was followed by the enemy less than three hundred yards, filed out of the road to the left before it had reached the point where Kershaw's Division was then getting into line on the right, and moved over to the left as before explained. Had it been forced back one and a half miles it would have run over Longstreet's command marching by the flank. It was not possible for General Longstreet, reaching the field at the time he did, to have known from what point and how far Wilcox's troops had been forced back. The telegram of General Lee explaining this affair, he never saw, and may never have even heard of it at the time. It was as follows: “Heth's and Wilcox's Divisions, in the act of being relieved, were attacked by the enemy and thrown into some confusion.”

After Wilcox was forced back, the enemy did not press forward, as it was believed he would, but made a halt, probably to rectify alignments, no doubt much broken. At all events, this was the supposition; but, whatever the cause — whether real or imaginaryit [498] afforded ample time for Anderson to arrive, and for Longstreet to form, and when Hancock renewed the advance, he was repulsed. It was about nine A. M. when the advance was resumed, according to Mr. Swinton, “to meet a bitter opposition, and, although furious fighting took place, he gained nothing.” After this checking of Hancock, there was a lull in the contest for an hour or more; when, a little after twelve M., Longstreet moved forward, attacked Hancock's left, and drove it back (Mott's Division and a brigade of another division) in the wildest confusion. The whole line, as far as the plank road, was forced back, and re-formed on the line from which it had advanced in the morning. In this fight General Wadsworth was mortally wounded. He lived two or three days. On the right of the road, the Confederate left, General Longstreet was severely wounded, and Brigadier General Jenkins killed-these two by our own fire on the right of the road. There was now a suspension of hostilities till four P. M., when the Confederates advanced again-this time against Hancock in his first position of the morning. His left was driven back, and his intrenchments carried, the troops forced from them retiring in great disorder toward Chancellorsville. The Confederates were much disintegrated and too weak to hold what had been gained, and were driven out. The contest now ended on the plank road, the two lines being (on the plank road) where each was when the battle began. Nothing had been gained by the enemy; his losses had far exceeded those of the Confederates The battle of the 6th closed with Ewell making a second attack on the right flank and rear of the Union army. This was made by Gordon's Brigade, of Early's Division, and Johnson's Brigade, of Rodes' Division. These brigades, Gordon's leading, struck the Federals (Rickett's Division) on its right flank, doubling it up and causing great confusion. At the same time, Pegram's Brigade, of Early's Division, advanced and attacked in front. A large number of prisoners were captured; among these were two general officers, Seymour and Shaler. This ended the struggle of the day. On this flank it had commenced, as has been seen, early in the morning; but the main battle on the 5th was on the plank road. With the Confederates, there were more troops engaged on the plank road (Kershaw's, Fields', and Anderson's divisions) on the 6th, and less on the old pike. It was the same with the Federals. On the Union side, early in the morning, on the plank road, there was the same force as on the previous evening; but after Wilcox was forced back, Getty's Division was held in the rear, and Stephenson's Division, of the Ninth Corps, thrown forward. Leasure's Brigade, of the [499]

Ninth Corps, was also engaged. On the pile, early in the morning of the 6th, were Rickett's and Wright's Divisions, Sixth Corps; in the afternoon, Rickett's and the greater part of the Sixth Corps; Burnside's Corps (Ninth), with the exception of Stephenson's Division and Leasure's Brigade, not engaged. A body of troops, on the 6th, appeared in front of Wilcox's Division, then between Ewell and the Confederates, on the plank road; a few shots from a battery was all that was used against them. They were supposed to be of the Ninth Corps.

Such was the battle of the Wilderness. The impression has been made that the Federals attacked the Confederates in a position carefully selected. The latter had no advantage of position, as it has been seen that the two armies fought where they met. On the plank road, the Confederates had no cover, save that of the woods, until the 7th; the battle ceased on the 6th. And this was common to the two armies. It was different on this road with the Federals. On the old pike, the Federals were covered by works; the Confederates, if at all, slightly so. It would have shown but little enterprise on the part of the former, with their superiority of numbers, to have allowed the latter to intrench in their immediate presence. It has been seen that the Confederates acted — on the offensive in the battle as often as the Federals. If the latter attacked on the old pike and the plank road on the 5th, and renewed the attack on the morning of the 6th on the latter, the Confederates began the battle of the 6th by attacking the enemy's right; and on the plank road, Longstreet made a vigorous attack, and in the midst of success was wounded seriously. Later in the day, the attack was renewed on the plank road, and intrenchments carried; and yet later, the Federal right attacked. The battle of the Wilderness was a Confederate victory. General Grant had crossed the Rapidan below the right flank of General Lee, and purposed to pass through the Wilderness toward Gordonsville, and down the railroad to Richmond. He hoped to have a battle to the north of Richmond, after having made his way through the Wilderness. General Meade was fearful the North Anna-would be reached by the Confederates and fortified, and was also anxious lest they would get back to Mine run, ten miles in rear of where the Wilderness battle was fought. Having fought two days, General Grant left General Lee's front in the night of the 7th, and moved off by his left flank, and not in the direction proposed.

About nine A. M. on the 5th of May, Generals Grant and Meade rode up to the old Wilderness tavern; this was the first [500] appearance of the former in what is called the Wilderness by citizens of Orange and Spottsylvania counties, Virginia. He was, personally, wholly ignorant of this section of Virginia, with its peculiar features. That he was not familiar with its topography, the following extract from his official report of this battle will show: “Early on the 5th, the advance, the Fifth Corps, Major General G. K. Warren commanding, met the enemy outside his intrenchments near Mine run.” And after giving details of the battle, says: “On-the morning of the 7th, reconnoissances showed that the enemy had fallen behind his intrenched line, with pickets to the front, covering a part of the battle-field.” Mine run, at the date of the battle of the Wilderness, was well known North as the place where Generals Lee and Meade confronted each other for a week the winter previous, and it is also well known that the latter retired without a battle, and upon the grounds that the Mine run line was one of strength. General Grant's statement that the enemy were met outside his intrenchments near Mine run carries with it the inference that it was in the immediate vicinity of this intrenched position that General Lee was met; and the further statement, “reconnoissances made on the morning of the 7th showed they had fallen behind their intrenched line, with pickets covering a part of the battle-field,” makes the impression that General Lee had sought the protection of the Mine run line. General Meade and the Army of the Potomac knew Mine run was ten or twelve miles in rear of the Wilderness battle-field; he and his army had passed an entire week near this run, made generally known to the country by his army retiring from it without fighting. The country about and near it was as well known to his army as to that commanded by General Lee; the Ninth Corps only were strangers in this section of Virginia.

Again, General Grant in his report, says: “From this” (General Lee having fallen behind his intrenched line, and Mine run being supposed to be the line) “it was evident to my mind that the two days fighting had satisfied him of his inability to further maintain the contest in the open field, notwithstanding his advantage in position, and he would await an attack behind his works.” And the inference legitimately drawn is, that it was an indisposition on his part to attack General Lee in this (Mine run) position, which had been regarded by General Meade as too formidable to assail, that made him hesitate and finally abandon General Lee's front, leaving scores of his dead unburied, and move off, not in the direction of Richmond, With the view, no doubt, of drawing General Lee out of this strong — Mine run line. Of the casualties of the two armies, those [501] of the Confederates are not known to the writer with sufficient accuracy to venture a statement; but those of the Army of the Potomac can be ascertained by referring to the report of the Surgeon General of the army; they are there given in detail, and it will be seen, upon examination, that the losses on the 5th and 6th of May-killed, wounded, and missing-when added, amount to thirty-seven thousand seven hundred and thirty-seven; and if to this prisoners be added, the entire loss to the Union side was over forty thousand. With losses so appalling in his first two days collision with the Army of Northern Virginia, and believing his adversary to be under cover of the impregnable Mine run lines, General Grant abandoned the Wilderness and uncovered General Lee's front by moving off by his left flank, commencing the march soon after nightfall of the 7th.

1 At an early hour of the night, after the battle was over, Colonel Baldwin, of the First Massachusetts Regiment, stepped a short distance to the front to get a drink of water from a stream quite near, and found himself in the midst of Confederates, and was made a prisoner. Colonel Davidson, Seventh North Carolina Regiment, became a prisoner to the Union forces in the same manner, and near the same place.

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