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From the Wilderness to Cold Harbor.

by E. M. Law, Major-General, C. S. A.
On the 2d of May, 1864, a group of officers stood at the Confederate signal station on Clark's Mountain, Virginia, south of the Rapidan, and examined closely through their field-glasses the position of the Federal army then lying north of the river in Culpeper county. The central figure of the group was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, who had requested his corps and division commanders to meet him there. Though some demonstrations had been made in the direction of the upper fords, General Lee expressed the opinion that the Federal army would cross the river at Germanna or Ely's. Thirty-six hours later General Meade's army, General Grant, now commander-in-chief, being with it, commenced its march to the crossings indicated by General Lee.

The Army of the Potomac, which had now commenced its march toward Richmond, was more powerful in numbers than at any previous period of the war. It consisted of three corps: the Second (Hancock's), the Fifth (Warren's), and the Sixth (Sedgwick's); but the Ninth (Burnside's) acted with Meade throughout the campaign. Meade's army was thoroughly equipped, and provided with every appliance of modern warfare. On the other hand, the Army of Northern Virginia had gained little in numbers during the winter just passed, and had never been so scantily supplied with food and clothing. The equipment as to arms was well enough for men who knew how to use them, but commissary and quartermasters' supplies were lamentably deficient. A new pair of shoes or an overcoat was a luxury, and full rations would have astonished the stomachs of Lee's ragged Confederates. But they took their privations cheerfully, and complaints were seldom heard. I recall an instance of one hardy fellow whose trousers were literally “worn to a frazzle” and would no longer adhere to his legs even by dint of the most [119] persistent patching. Unable to buy, beg, or borrow another pair, he wore instead a pair of thin cotton drawers. By nursing these carefully he managed to get through the winter. Before the campaign opened in the spring a small lot of clothing was received, and he was the first man of his regiment to be supplied.

I have often heard expressions of surprise that these ragged, barefooted, half-starved men would fight at all. But the very fact that they remained with their colors through such privations and hardships was sufficient to prove that they would be dangerous foes to encounter upon the line of battle. The morale of the army at this time was excellent, and it moved forward confidently to the grim death-grapple in the wilderness of Spotsylvania with its old enemy, the Army of the Potomac.

General Lee's headquarters were two miles north-east of Orange Court House; of his three corps, Longstreet's was at Gordonsville, Ewell's was on and near the Rapidan, above Mine Run, and Hill's on his left, higher up the stream. When the Federal army was known to be in motion, General Lee prepared to move upon its flank with his whole force as soon as his opponent should clear the river and begin the march southward. The route selected by General Grant led entirely around the right of Lee's position on the river above. Grant's passage of the Rapidan was unopposed, and he struck boldly out on the direct road to Richmond. Two roads lead from Orange Court House down the Rapidan toward Fredericksburg. They follow the general direction of the river, and are almost parallel to each other, the “Old turnpike” nearest the river, and the “Plank road” a short distance

Union troops crossing the Rapidan at Germanna Ford, May 4, 1864. from a sketch made at the time.


The Wilderness from surveys under the direction of Bv't Brig.-Gen. N. Michler, Maj. Of Engineers. 1867

[121] south of it. The route of the Federal army lay directly across these two roads, along the western borders of the famous Wilderness.

About noon on the 4th of May, Ewell's corps was put in motion on and toward the Orange turnpike, while A. P. Hill, with two divisions, moved parallel with him on the Orange Plank road. The two divisions of Longstreet's corps encamped near Gordonsville were ordered to move rapidly across the country and follow Hill on the Plank road. Ewell's corps was the first to find itself in the presence of the enemy. As it advanced along the turnpike on the morning of the 5th, the Federal column was seen crossing it from the direction of Germanna Ford. Ewell promptly formed line of battle across the turnpike, and communicated his position to General Lee, who was on the Plank road with Hill. Ewell was instructed to regulate his movements by the head of Hill's column, whose progress he could tell by the firing in its front, and not to bring on a general engagement until Longstreet should come up. The position of Ewell's troops, so near the flank of the Federal line of march, was anything but favorable to a preservation of the peace, and a collision soon occurred which opened the campaign in earnest.

General Warren, whose corps was passing when Ewell came up, halted, and turning to the right made a vigorous attack upon Edward Johnson's division, posted across the turnpike. J. M. Jones's brigade, which held the road, was driven back in confusion.1 Steuart's brigade was pushed forward to take its place. Rodes's division was thrown in on Johnson's right, south of the road, and the line, thus reestablished, moved forward, reversed the tide of battle, and rolled back the Federal attack. The fighting was severe and bloody while it lasted. At some points the lines were in such close proximity in the thick woods which covered the battle-field that when the Federal troops gave way several hundred of them, unable to retreat without exposure to almost certain death, surrendered themselves as prisoners.

Ewell's entire corps was now up-Johnson's division holding the turnpike, Rodes's division on the right of it, and Early's in reserve. So far Ewell had been engaged only with Warren's corps, but Sedgwick's soon came up from the river and joined Warren on his right. Early's division was sent to meet it. The battle extended in that direction, with steady and determined attacks upon Early's front, until nightfall. The Confederates still clung to their hold on the Federal flank against every effort to dislodge them.

When Warren's corps encountered the head of Ewell's column on the 5th of May, General Meade is reported to have said: “They have left a division to fool us here, while they concentrate and prepare a position on the North Anna.” If the stubborn resistance to Warren's attack did not at once [122] convince him of his mistake, the firing that announced the approach of Hill's corps along the Plank road, very soon afterward, must have opened his eyes to the bold strategy of the Confederate commander. General Lee had deliberately chosen this as his battle-ground. He knew this tangled wilderness well, and appreciated fully the advantages such a field afforded for concealing his great inferiority of force and for neutralizing the superior strength of his antagonist. General Grant's bold movement across the lower fords into the Wilderness, in the execution of his plan to swing past the Confederate army and place himself between it and Richmond, offered the expected opportunity of striking a blow upon his flank while his troops were stretched out on the line of march. The wish for such an opportunity was doubtless in a measure “father to the thought” expressed by General Lee three days before, at the signal station on Clark's Mountain.

Soon after Ewell became engaged on the Old turnpike, A. P. Hill's advance struck the Federal outposts on the Plank road at Parker's store, on the outskirts of the Wilderness. These were driven in and followed up to their line of battle, which was so posted as to cover the junction of the Plank

Brevet Major-General Alexander S. Webb, wounded at Spotsylvania. From a photograph.

road with the Stevensburg and Brock roads, on which the Federal army was moving toward Spotsylvania. The fight began between Getty's division of the Sixth Corps and Heth's division, which was leading A. P. Hill's column. Hancock's corps, which was already on the march for Spotsylvania. by way of Chancellorsville, was at once recalled, and at 4 o'clock in the afternoon was ordered to drive Hill “out of the Wilderness.” Cadmus Wilcox's division went to Heth's support, and Poague's battalion of artillery took position in a little clearing on the north side of the Plank road, in rear of the Confederate infantry. But there was little use for artillery on such a field. After the battle was fairly joined in the thickets in front, its fire might do as much damage to friend as to foe; so it was silent. It was a desperate struggle between the infantry of the two armies, on a field whose physical aspects were as grim and forbidding as the struggle itself. It was a battle of brigades and regiments rather than of corps and divisions. Officers could not see the whole length of their commands, and could tell whether the troops on their right and left were driving or being driven only by the sound of the firing. It was a fight at close quarters too, for as night came on, in those tangled thickets of stunted pine, sweet-gum, scrub-oak, and cedar, the approach of the opposing lines could be discerned only by the noise of their passage through the underbrush or the flashing of their guns. The usually silent Wilderness had suddenly become alive [123]

Confederate line waiting orders in the Wilderness.

with the angry flashing and heavy roar of the musketry, mingled with the yells of the combatants as they swayed to and fro in the gloomy thickets. Among the killed were General Alexander Hays, of Hancock's corps, and General J. M. Jones, of Ewell's.

When the battle closed at 8 o'clock, General Lee sent an order to Longstreet to make a night march, so as to arrive upon the field at daylight the next morning. The latter moved at 1 A. M. of the 6th, but it was already daylight when he reached the Plank road at Parker's store, three miles in rear of Hill's battle-field.2 During the night the movements of troops and preparations for battle could be heard on the Federal line, in front of Heth's and Wilcox's divisions, which had so far sustained themselves against every attack by six divisions under General Hancock. But Heth's and Wilcox's men were thoroughly worn out. Their lines were ragged and irregular, with wide intervals, and in some places fronting in different directions. In the expectation that they would be relieved during the night, no effort was made to rearrange and strengthen them to meet the storm that was brewing.

As soon as it was light enough to see what little could be seen in that dark forest, Hancock's troops swept forward to the attack. The blow fell with greatest force upon Wilcox's troops south of the Orange Plank road. They made what front they could and renewed the fight, until, the attacking column overlapping the right wing, it gave way, and the whole line “rolled up” from the right and retired in disorder along the Plank road as far as the position of Poague's artillery, which now opened upon the attacking force. [124] The Federals pressed their advantage and were soon abreast of the artillery on the opposite side, their bullets flying across the road among the guns where General Lee himself stood. For a while matters looked very serious for the Confederates. General Lee, after sending a messenger to hasten the march of Longstreet's troops and another to prepare the trains for a movement to the rear, was assisting in rallying the disordered troops and directing the fire of the artillery, when the head of Longstreet's corps appeared in double column, swinging down the Orange Plank road at a trot. In perfect order, ranks well closed, and no stragglers, those splendid troops came on, regardless of the confusion on every side, pushing their steady way onward like “a river in the sea” of confused and troubled human waves around them. Kershaw's division took the right of the road, and, coming into line under a heavy fire, moved obliquely to the right (south) to meet the Federal left, which had “swung round” in that direction. The Federals were checked in their sweeping advance and thrown back upon their front line of breastworks, where they made a stubborn stand. But Kershaw, urged on by Longstreet, charged with his whole command, swept his front, and captured the works.

Nearly at the same moment Field's division took the left of the road, with Gregg's brigade in front, Benning's behind it, Law's next, and Jenkins's following. As the Texans in the front line swept past the batteries where General Lee was standing, they gave a rousing cheer for “Marse Robert,” who spurred his horse forward and followed them in the charge. When the men became aware that he was “going in” with them, they called loudly to him to go back. “We won't go on unless you go back,” was the general cry. One of the men dropped to the rear, and taking the bridle turned the general's horse around, while General Gregg came up and urged him to do as the

Capture of a part of the burning Union breastworks on the Brock road on the afternoon of May 6. from a sketch made at the time.

[125] men wished. At that moment a member of his staff (Colonel Venable) directed his attention to General Longstreet, whom he had been looking for, and who was sitting on his horse near the Orange Plank road. With evident disappointment General Lee turned off and joined General Longstreet.

The ground over which Field's troops were advancing was open for a short distance, and fringed on its farther edge with scattered pines, beyond which began the Wilderness. The Federals [Webb's brigade of Hancock's corps] were advancing through the pines with apparently resistless force, when

Brigadier-General Micah Jenkins, C. S. A., killed May 6, 86. from Tintype.

Gregg's eight hundred Texans, regardless of numbers, flanks, or supports, dashed directly upon them. There was a terrific crash, mingled with wild yells, which settled down into a steady roar of musketry. In less than ten minutes one-half of that devoted eight hundred were lying upon the field dead or wounded; but they had delivered a staggering blow and broken the force of the Federal advance. Benning's and Law's brigades came promptly to their support, and the whole swept forward together. The tide was flowing the other way. It ebbed and flowed many times that day, strewing the Wilderness with human wrecks. Law's brigade captured a line of log breastworks in its front, but had held them only a few moments when their former owners [Webb's brigade] came back to claim them. The Federals were driven back to a second line several hundred yards beyond, which was also taken. This advanced position was attacked in front and on the right from across the Orange Plank road, and Law's Alabamians “advanced backward” without standing on the order of their going, until they reached the first line of logs, now in their rear. As their friends in blue still insisted on claiming their property and were advancing to take it, they were met by a counter-charge and again driven beyond the second line. This was held against a determined attack, in which the Federal General Wadsworth was shot from his horse as he rode up close to the right of the line on the Plank road. The position again becoming untenable by reason of the movements of. Federal troops on their right, Law's men retired a second time to the works they had first captured. And so, for more than two hours, the storm of battle swept to and fro, in some places passing several times over the same ground, and settling down at length almost where it had begun the day before.

About 10 o'clock it was ascertained that the Federal left flank rested only a short distance south of the Orange Plank road, which offered a favorable opportunity for a turning movement in that quarter. General Longstreet at once moved Mahone's, Wofford's, Anderson's, and Davis's brigades, the whole under General Mahone, around this end of the Federal line. Forming at right angles to it, they attacked in flank and rear, while a general advance [126] was made in front. So far the fight had been one of anvil and hammer. But this first display of tactics at once changed the face of the field. The Federal left wing was rolled up in confusion toward the Plank road and then back upon the Brock road.

This partial victory had been a comparatively easy one. The signs of demoralization and even panic among the troops of Hancock's left wing, who had been hurled back by Mahone's flank attack, were too plain to be mistaken by the Confederates, who believed that Chancellorsville was about to be repeated. General Longstreet rode forward and prepared to press his advantage. Jenkins's fresh brigade was moved forward on the Plank road to renew the attack, supported by Kershaw's division, while the flanking column was to come into position on its right. The latter were now in line south of the road and almost parallel to it. Longstreet and Kershaw rode with General Jenkins at the head of his brigade as it pressed forward, when suddenly the quiet that had reigned for some moments was broken by a few scattering shots on the north of the road, which were answered by a volley from Mahone's line on the south side. The firing in their front, and the appearance of troops on the road whom they failed to recognize as friends through the intervening timber, had drawn a single volley, which lost to them all the fruits of the splendid work they had just done. General Jenkins was killed and Longstreet seriously wounded by our own men. The troops who were following them faced quickly toward the firing and were about to return it; but when General Kershaw called out, “They are friends!” every musket was lowered, and the men dropped upon the ground to avoid the fire.

The head of the attack had fallen, and for a time the movements of the Confederates were paralyzed. Lee came forward and directed the dispositions for a new attack, but the change of commanders after the fall of Longstreet, and the resumption of the thread of operations, occasioned a delay of several hours, and then the tide had turned, and we received only hard knocks instead of victory. When at 4 o'clock an attack was made upon the Federal line along the Brock road, it was found strongly fortified and stubbornly defended. The log breastworks had taken fire during the battle, and at one point separated the combatants by a wall of fire and smoke which neither could pass. Part of Field's division captured the works in their front, but were forced to relinquish them for want of support. Meanwhile Burnside's corps, which had reenforced Hancock during the day, made a vigorous attack on the north of the Orange Plank road. Law's (Alabama) and Perry's (Florida) brigades were being forced back, when, Heth's division coming to their assistance, they assumed the offensive, driving Burnside's troops beyond the extensive line of breastworks constructed previous to their advance.

The battles fought by Ewell on the Old turnpike and by A. P. Hill on the Plank road, on the 5th of May, were entirely distinct, no connected line existing between them. Connection was established with Ewell's right by Wilcox's division, after it had been relieved by Longstreet's troops on the morning of the 6th. While the battle was in progress on the Orange Plank road, on the 6th, an unsuccessful attempt was made to turn Ewell's left next the river, [127]

Breastworks of Hancock's Corps on the Brock road-morning of May 7. from a sketch made at the time.

and heavy assaults were made upon the line of Early's division. So persistent were these attacks on the front of Pegram's brigade, that other troops were brought up to its support, but the men rejected the offer of assistance.

Late in the day General Ewell ordered a movement against the Federal right wing, similar to that by which Longstreet had “doubled up” Hancock's left in the morning. Two brigades, under General John B. Gordon, moved out of their works at sunset, and lapping the right of Sedgwick's corps [the Sixth] made a sudden and determined attack upon it.3 Taken by surprise, the Federals were driven from a large portion of their works with the loss of six hundred prisoners,--among them Generals Seymour and Shaler. Night closed the contest, and with it the battle of the Wilderness.

When Lee's army appeared on the flank of the Federal line of march on the 5th of May, General Grant had at once faced his adversary and endeavored to push him out of the way. Grant's strongest efforts had been directed to forcing back the Confederate advance on the Orange Plank road, which, if successful, would have enabled him to complete his plan of “swinging past” that army and placing himself between it and Richmond. On the other hand, Lee's principal effort had been to strike the head of Grant's [128] column a crushing blow where it crossed the Plank road, in order to force it from its route and throw it in confusion back into the Wilderness. Both attempts had failed. What advantages had been gained by the two days fighting remained with the Confederates. They held a position nearer the Federal line of march than when the battle began, and had inflicted losses incomparably heavier than they had themselves sustained. Both sides were now strongly intrenched, and neither could well afford to attack. And so the 7th of May was spent in skirmishing, each waiting to see what the other would do. That night the race for Spotsylvania began. General Lee had been informed by “Jeb” Stuart of the movement of the Federal trains southward during the afternoon. After dark the noise of moving columns along the Brock road could be heard, and it was at once responded to by a similar movement on the part of Lee. The armies moved in parallel columns separated only by a short interval. Longstreet's corps (now commanded by R, H. Anderson) marched all night and arrived at Spotsylvania at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 8th, where the ball was already in motion. Stuart had thrown his cavalry across the Brock road to check the Federal advance, and as the Federal cavalry had failed to dislodge him, Warren's corps had been pushed forward to clear the way. Kershaw's, Humphreys's, and Law's brigades were at once sent to Stuart's assistance. The head of Warren's column was forced back and immediately commenced intrenching. Spotsylvania Court House was found occupied by Federal cavalry and artillery,! which retired without a fight. The Confederates had won the race.

The troops on both sides were now rapidly arriving. Sedgwick's corps. joined Warren's, and in the afternoon was thrown heavily against Anderson's. right wing, which, assisted by the timely arrival of Ewell's corps, repulsed the attack with great slaughter. Hill's corps (now under command of General Early) did not arrive until the next morning, May 9th. General Lee's. line now covered Spotsylvania Court House, with its left (Longstreet's corps) resting on the Po River, a small stream which flows on the south-west;; Ewell's corps. in the center, north of the Court House, and Hill's on the right, crossing the Fredericksburg road. These positions were generally maintained during the battles that followed, though brigades and divisions were often detached from their proper commands and sent to other parts of the field to meet pressing emergencies.

No engagement of importance took place on the 9th, which was spent in intrenching the lines and preparing places of refuge from the impending storm. But the 10th was “a field-day.” Early in the morning it was found that Hancock's corps had crossed the Po above the point where the Confederate left rested, had reached the Shady Grove road, and was threatening our rear, as well as the trains which were in that direction on the Old Court House road leading to Louisa Court House. General Early was ordered from the right with Mahone's and Heth's divisions, and, moving rapidly to the threatened quarter, attacked Hancock's rear division as it was about to recross the Po — driving it, with severe loss, through the burning woods in its rear, back across the river. [129]

Meanwhile General Grant was not idle elsewhere. He had commenced his efforts to break through the lines confronting him. The first assault was made upon Field's division of Longstreet's corps and met with a complete and bloody repulse. Again at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the blue columns pressed forward to the attack, and were sent back torn and bleeding, leaving the ground covered with their dead and wounded. Anticipating a renewal of the assaults, many of our men went out in front of their breastworks, and, gathering up the muskets and cartridge-boxes of the dead and wounded, brought them in and distributed them along the line. If they did not have repeating-rifles, they had a very good substitute-several loaded ones to each man. They had no reserves, and knew that if they could not sufficiently reduce the number of their assailants to equalize matters somewhat before they reached the works, these might become untenable against such heavy and determined attacks.

A lull of several hours succeeded the failure of the second attack, but it was only a breathing spell preparatory to the culminating effort of the day. Near sunset our skirmishers were driven in and the heavy, dark lines of attack came into view, one after another, first in quick time, then in a trot, and then with a rush toward the works. The front lines dissolved before the pitiless storm that met them, but those in the rear pressed forward, and over their dead and dying comrades reached that portion of the works held by the Texas brigade. These gallant fellows, now reduced to a mere handful by their losses in the Wilderness, stood manfully to their work. Their line was bent backward by the pressure, but they continued the fight in rear of the works with bayonets and clubbed muskets. Fortunately for them, Anderson's brigade had cleared its own front, and a portion of it turned upon the flank of their assailants, who were driven out, leaving many dead and wounded inside the works.

While this attack was in progress on Field's line, another, quite as determined, was made farther to the right, in front of Rodes's division of Ewell's corps. Doles's brigade was broken and swept out of its works with the loss of three hundred prisoners. But as the attacking force poured through the gap thus made, Daniel's brigade on one side and Steuart's on the other drew back from their lines and fell upon its flanks, while Battle's and Johnston's brigades were hurried up from the left and thrown across its front. Assailed on three sides at once, the Federals were forced back to the works, and over them, whereupon they broke in disorderly retreat to their own lines.

The next day was rainy and disagreeable, and no serious fighting took place. There were movements, however, along the Federal lines during the day that indicated a withdrawal from the front of Longstreet's corps. Late in the afternoon, under the impression that General Grant had actually begun another flanking movement, General Lee ordered that all the artillery on the left and center that was “difficult of access” should be withdrawn from the lines, and that everything should be in readiness to move during the night if necessary. Under this order, General Long, Ewell's chief of artillery, removed all but two batteries from the line of General Edward [130]

McCool's in 1884. McCool's Farm-House, within the “bloody angle,” Spotsylvania. From a War-time photograph.

Johnson's division, for the reason given, that they were “difficult of access.” Johnson's division held an elevated point somewhat advanced from the general line, and known as “the salient” [or “Bloody angle” ; see map], the breastworks there making a considerable angle, with its point toward the enemy. This point had been held because it was a good position for artillery, and if occupied by the enemy would command portions of our line. Such projections on a defensive line are always dangerous if held by infantry alone, as an attack upon the point of the angle can only be met by a diverging fire; or if attacked on either face, the troops holding the other face, unless protected by traverses or by works in rear (as were some of the Confederates), are more exposed than those on the side attacked. But with sufficient artillery, so posted as to sweep the sides of the angle, such a position may be very strong. To provide against contingencies, a second line had been laid off and partly constructed a short distance in rear, so as to cut off this salient.

After the artillery had been withdrawn on the night of the 11th, General Johnson discovered that the enemy was concentrating in his front, and, convinced that he would be attacked in the morning, requested the immediate return of the artillery that had been taken away. The men in the trenches were kept on the alert all night and were ready for the attack, when at dawn on the morning of the 12th a dense column emerged from the pines half a mile in the front of the salient and rushed to the attack. They came on, to use General Johnson's words, “in great disorder, with a narrow front, but extending back as far as I could see.” Page's battalion of artillery, which had been ordered back to the trenches at 4 o'clock in the morning, was [131]

Spotsylvania from surveys made under the direction of Bvt Brig.-Gen. M. Michler. Maj. Of Engineers. 1867.

[132] just arriving and was not in position to fire upon the attacking column, which offered so fair a mark for artillery. The guns came only in time to be captured. The infantry in the salient fought as long as fighting was of any use; but deprived of the assistance of the artillery, which constituted the chief strength of the position, they could do little to check the onward rush of the Federal column, which soon overran the salient, capturing General Johnson himself, 20 pieces of artillery, and 2800 men-almost his entire division. The whole thing happened so quickly that the extent of the disaster could not be realized at once. Hancock's troops, who made the assault, had recovered their formation, and, extending their lines across the works on both sides of the salient had resumed their

Spotsylvania Court House.

advance, when Lane's brigade. of Hill's corps, which was immediately on the right of the captured works, rapidly drew back to the unfinished line in rear, and poured a galling fire upon Hancock's left wing, which checked its advance and threw it back with severe loss. General Gordon, whose division (Early's) was in reserve and under orders

Spotsylvania Tavern, near the Court House. Both from War-time Photographs.

to support any part of the line about the salient, hastened to throw it in front of the advancing Federal column. As the division was about to charge, General Lee rode up and joined. General Gordon, evidently intending to go forward with him. Gordon remonstrated, and the men, seeing his intention, cried out, “General Lee to the rear!” which was taken up all along the line. One of the men respectfully but firmly took hold of the general's bridle and led his horse to the rear, and the charge went on. The two moving lines met in the rear of the captured works, and after a fierce struggle in the woods the Federals were forced back to the base of the salient. But Gordon's division did not cover their whole front. On the left of the salient, where Rodes's division had connected with Johnson's, the attack was still pressed with great determination. General Rodes drew out Ramseur's brigade from the left of his line (a portion of Kershaw's division taking its place), and sent it to relieve the pressure on his right and restore the line between himself and Gordon. Ramseur swept the trenches the whole length of his brigade, but did not fill the gap, and his right was exposed to a terrible fire from the works still held by the enemy. Three brigades from Hill's corps were ordered up. Perrin's, which was the first to [133] arrive, rushed forward through a fearful fire and recovered a part of the line on Gordon's left. General Perrin fell dead from his horse just as he reached the works. General Daniel had been killed, and Ramseur painfully wounded, though remaining in the trenches with his men. Rodes's right being still hard pressed, Harris's (Mississippi) and McGowan's (South Carolina) brigades were ordered forward and rushed through the blinding storm into the works on Ramseur's right. The Federals still held the greater part of the salient, and though the Confederates were unable to drive them out, the Federals could get no farther. Hancock's corps, which had made the attack, had been reenforced by Russell's and Wheaton's divisions of the Sixth Corps and one-half of Warren's corps, as the battle progressed. Artillery had been brought up on both sides, the Confederates using every piece that could be made available upon the salient. Before 10 o'clock General Lee had put in every man that could be spared for the restoration of his broken center. It then became a matter of endurance with the men themselves. All day long and until far into the night the battle raged with unceasing fury, in the space covered by the salient and the adjacent works. Every attempt to advance on either side was met and repelled from the other. The hostile battle-flags waved over different portions of the same works, while the men fought like fiends for their possession. [See “Hand-to-hand fighting at Spotsylvania,” to follow.]

Views of Confederate intrenchments at Spotsylvania. From War-time Photographs.

During the day diversions were made on both sides, to relieve the pressure in the center. An attack upon Anderson's (Longstreet's) corps by Wright's [134] Sixth Corps (Sedgwick having been killed on the 9th) was severely repulsed, while, on the other side of the salient, General Early, who was moving with a part of Hill's corps to strike the flank of the Federal force engaged there, met and defeated Burnside's corps, which was advancing at the same time to attack Early's works.

while the battle was raging at the salient, a portion of Gordon's division was busily engaged in constructing in rear of the old line of intrenchments a new and shorter one, to which Ewell's corps retired before daylight on the 13th. Never was respite more welcome than the five days of comparative rest that followed the terrible battle of the 12th to our wearied men, who had been marching and fighting almost without intermission since the 4th of May. Their comfort was materially enhanced, too, by the supply of coffee, sugar, and other luxuries to which they had long been strangers, obtained from the haversacks of the Federal dead. It was astonishing into what close places a hungry Confederate would go to get something to eat. Men would some-times go out under a severe fire, in the hope of finding a full haversack. It may seem a small matter to the readers of war history; but to the makers of it who were in the trenches, or on the march, or engaged in battle night and day for weeks without intermission, the supply of the one article of coffee, furnished by the Army of the Potomac to the Army of Northern Virginia, was not a small matter, but did as much as any other material agency to sustain the spirits and bodily energies of the men, in a campaign that taxed both to their utmost limit. Old haversacks gave place to better ones, and tin cups now dangled from the accouterments of the Confederates, who at every rest on the march or interval of quiet on the lines could be seen gathered around small fires, preparing the coveted beverage.

In the interval from the 12th to the 18th our army was gradually moving east to meet corresponding movements on the other side. Longstreet's corps was shifted from the left to the extreme right, beyond the Fredericksburg road. Ewell's corps still held the works in rear of the famous salient, when on the morning of the 18th a last effort was made to force the lines of Spotsylvania at the only point where previous efforts had met with even partial success. This was destined to a more signal failure than any of the others. Under the fire of thirty pieces of artillery, which swept all the approaches to Ewell's line, the attacking force4 was broken and driven back in disorder before it came well within reach of the muskets of the infantry. After the failure of this attack, the “sidling” movement, as the men expressed it, again began, and on the afternoon of the 19th Ewell's corps was thrown round the Federal left wing to ascertain the extent of this movement. After a severe engagement, which lasted until night, Ewell withdrew, having lost about nine hundred men in the action. This seemed a heavy price to pay for information that might have been otherwise obtained, but the enemy had suffered more severely, and General Grant was delayed in his turning movement for twenty-four hours. He however got the start in the race for the [135] North Anna; Hancock's corps, leading off on the night of the 20th, was followed rapidly by the remainder of his army.

On the morning of the 21st Ewell's corps moved from the left to the right of our line, and later on the same day it was pushed southward on the Telegraph road, closely followed by Longstreet's corps.5 A. P. Hill brought up the rear that night, after a sharp “brush” with the Sixth Corps, which was in the act of retiring from its lines. Lee had the inside track this time, as the Telegraph road on which he moved was the direct route, while Grant had to swing round on the arc of a circle of which this was the chord. About noon on the 22d the head of our column reached the North Anna, and that night Lee's army lay on the south side of the river. We had won the second heat and secured a good night's rest besides, when the Federal army appeared on the other side in the forenoon of the 23d.

Warren's corps crossed the river that afternoon without opposition at Jericho Ford, four miles above the Chesterfield bridge on the Telegraph road; but as it moved out from the river it met Cadmus Wilcox's division of Hill's corps, and a severe but indecisive engagement ensued, the confronting lines intrenching as usual. Meanwhile a small earth-work, that had been built the year before, covering the approaches to the bridge on the Telegraph road and now held by a small detachment from Kershaw's division, was attacked and carried by troops in of Hancock's corps, the Confederates at retiring across the river with the loss of a few prisoners.

Confederate trenches at Chesterfield bridge on the North Anna, half a mile above the Railroad bridge. [see map, next Page.] from a War-time photograph.

It did not seem to be General Lee's purpose to offer any serious resistance to Grant's passage of the river at the points selected. His lines had been retired from it at both these points, but touched it at Ox Ford, a point intermediate between them. Hancock's corps, having secured the Chesterfield bridge, crossed over on the morning of the 24th, and, extending down the river, moved out until it came upon Longstreet's and Ewell's corps in position and ready for battle. The Sixth Corps (General Wright) crossed at Jericho Mill and joined Warren. The two wings of Grant's army were safely across the river, but there was no connection between them. Lee had only thrown back his flanks and let them in on either side, while he held the river between; and when General Grant attempted to throw his center, under Burnside, across between the ford and the bridge, it was very severely handled and failed to get a foothold on the south side. A detachment from [136]

Ox Ford is otherwise known as Anderson bridge and Ford. Anderson's Station is Verdon, and the ch. Cady house is J. Anderson's.

Warren's corps was sent down on the south side to help Burnside across,6 but was attacked by Mahone's division, and driven back with heavy loss, narrowly escaping capture. General Grant found himself in what may be called a military dilemma. He had cut his army in two by running it upon the point of a wedge. He could not break the point, which rested upon the river, and the attempt to force it out of place by striking on its sides must of necessity be made without much concert of action between the two wings of his army, neither of which could reenforce the other without crossing the river twice; while his opponent could readily transfer his troops, as needed, from one wing to the other, across the narrow space between them.

The next two days were consumed by General Grant in fruitless attempts to find a vulnerable point in our lines. The skirmishers were very active, often forcing their way close up to our works. The line of my brigade crossed the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroad. It was an exposed point, and the men stationed there, after building their log breastwork, leant their [137] muskets against it and moved out on one side, to avoid the constant fire that was directed upon it. As I was passing that point on one occasion, the men called to me, “Stoop!” At the same moment I received a more forcible admonition from the whiz of a minie-ball close to my head. Turning quickly, I caught a glimpse of something blue disappearing behind a pile of earth that had been thrown out from the railroad cut some distance in front. Taking one of the muskets leaning against the works I waited for the reappearance of my friend in blue, who had taken such an unfair advantage of me. He soon appeared, rising cautiously behind his earth-work, and we both fired at the same moment, neither shot taking effect. This time my friend didn't “hedge,” but commenced reloading rapidly, thinking., I suppose, that I would have to do the same. But he was mistaken; for, taking up another musket, I fired at once, with a result at which both of us were equally surprised, he probably at my being able to load so quickly, and I at hitting the mark. He was found there, wounded, when my skirmishers were pushed forward.

On the morning of May 27th General Grant's army had disappeared from our front. During the night it had “folded its tents like the Arab and as quietly stolen away,” on its fourth turning movement since the opening of the campaign. The Army of the Potomac was already on its march for the Pamunkey River at Hanovertown, where the leading corps crossed on the morning of the 27th. Lee moved at once to head off his adversary, whose column was now eight miles nearer Richmond than he was. In the

Jericho Mills — Union Engineer Corps at work. From a War-time photograph.

[138] afternoon of the 28th, after one of the severest cavalry engagements of the war, in which Hampton and Fitz Lee opposed the advance of Sheridan at Hawes's Shop, the infantry of both armies came up and again confronted each other along the Totopotomoy. Here the Confederate position was found too strong to be attacked in front with any prospect of success, and again the “sidling” movements began — this time toward Cold Harbor.

Sheridan's cavalry had taken possession of Cold Harbor on the 31st, and had been promptly followed up by two corps of infantry.7 Longstreet's and a part of Hill's corps, with Hoke's and Breckinridge's divisions,8 were thrown across their front. The fighting began on the Cold Harbor line, late in the afternoon of the 1st of June, by a heavy attack upon the divisions of Hoke and Kershaw. Clingman's brigade on Hoke's left gave way, and Wofford's on Kershaw's right, being turned, was also forced back; but the further progress of the attack was checked and the line partly restored before night. By the morning of the 2d of June the opposing lines had settled down close to each other, and everything promised a repetition of the scenes at Spotsylvania.

Three corps of Grant's army (General W. F. Smith's Eighteenth Corps having arrived from Drewry's Bluff) now confronted the Confederate right wing at Cold Harbor, while the other two looked after Early's (Ewell's) corps near Bethesda Church. In the afternoon of June 2d, General Early, perceiving a movement that indicated a withdrawal of the Federal force in his front, attacked Burnside's corps while it was in motion, striking also the flank of Warren's corps, and capturing several hundred prisoners. This was accomplished with small loss, and had the effect of preventing the cooperation of these two corps in the attack at Cold Harbor the next day.

Early in the morning of the 2d I was ordered to move with my own and Anderson's brigades, of Field's division, “to reenforce the line on the right,” exercising my own discretion as to the point where assistance was most needed. After putting the troops in motion I rode along the line, making a personal inspection as I went. Pickett's division, the first on our right, held a strong position along the skirt of a wood, with open fields in front, and needed no strengthening. The left of Kershaw's division, which was the next in order, was equally strong; but on calling at General Kershaw's quarters I was informed of the particulars of the attack upon his own and Hoke's divisions the evening before, and requested by him to place my troops as a support to his right wing, which had been thrown back by the attack. On examining the line I found it bent sharply back at almost a right angle, the point of which rested upon a body of heavy woods. The works were in open ground and were ill-adapted to resist an attack. The right face of the angle ran along a slope, with a small marshy stream behind and higher ground in front. The works had evidently been built just where the troops found. themselves at the close of the fight the previous evening. [139]

The Pennsyivania Reserves resisting a Confederate attack near the Bethesda Church, June 2. from a sketch made at the time.

Convinced that under such assaults as we had sustained at Spotsylvania our line would be broken at that point, I proposed to cut off the angle by building a new line across its base, which would throw the marshy ground in our front and give us a clear sweep across it with our fire from the slope on the other side. This would not only strengthen but shorten the line considerably, and I proposed to General Kershaw to build and occupy it with my two brigades that night.

Meanwhile the enemy was evidently concentrating in the woods in front, and every indication pointed to an early attack. Nothing could be done upon the contemplated line during the day, and we waited anxiously the coming of night. The day passed without an attack. I was as well satisfied that it would come at dawn the next morning as if I had seen General Meade's order directing it. That no mistake should be made in the location of the works, I procured a hatchet, and accompanied by two members of my staff, each with an armful of stakes, went out after dark, located the line, and drove every stake upon it. The troops were formed on it at once, and before morning the works were finished. Artillery was placed at both ends of the new line, abreast of the infantry. General Kershaw then withdrew that portion of his division which occupied the salient, the men having leveled the works as far as possible before leaving them.

Our troops were under arms and waiting, when with the misty light of early morning the scattering fire of our pickets, who now occupied the abandoned works in the angle, announced the beginning of the attack. As the assaulting column swept over the old works a loud cheer was given, and it rushed on into the marshy ground in the angle. Its front covered little more than the line of my own brigade of less than a thousand men; but line followed line until the space inclosed by the old salient became a mass of writhing humanity, upon which our artillery and musketry played with cruel effect. I had taken position on the slope in rear of the line and was carefully noting the firing of the men, which soon became so heavy that I feared they [140]

Cold Harbor. From Surveys under the direction of Bvt Brig.-Gen. N. Michler. Maj. Of Engineers, and Bvt Lieut.-Col. P. S. Michie, Capt. Of Engineers. 1867.

[141] would exhaust the cartridges in their boxes before the attack ceased. Sending an order for a supply of ammunition to be brought into the lines, I went down to the trenches to regulate the firing. On my way I met a man, belonging to the 15th Alabama regiment of my brigade, running to the rear through the storm of bullets that swept the hill. He had left his hat behind in his retreat, was crying like a big baby, and was the bloodiest man I ever saw. “Oh, General,” he blubbered out, “I am dead! I am killed! Look at this!” showing his wound. He was a broad, fat-faced fellow, and a minie-ball had passed through his cheek and the fleshy part of his neck, letting a large amount of blood. Finding it was only a flesh-wound, I told him to go on; he was not hurt. He

The Tavern at New Cold Harbor, Hanover County, Virginia, as it appeared in 1864, not long after General Grant's change of position.

looked at me doubtfully for a second as if questioning my veracity or my surgical knowledge, I don't know which; then, as if satisfied with my diagnosis, he broke into a broad laugh, and, the tears still running down his cheeks, trotted off, the happiest man I saw that day.

On reaching the trenches, I found the men in fine spirits, laughing and talking as they fired. There, too, I could see more plainly the terrible havoc made in the ranks of the assaulting column. I had seen the dreadful carnage in front of Marye's Hill at Fredericksburg, and on the “old railroad cut” which Jackson's men held at the Second Manassas; but I had seen nothing to exceed this. It was not war; it was murder. When the fight ended, more than a thousand men lay in front of our works either killed or too badly wounded to leave the field.9 Among them were some who were not hurt, but remained among the dead and wounded rather than take the chances of going back under that merciless fire. Most of these came in and surrendered during the day, but were fired on in some instances by their own men (who still held a position close in our front) to prevent them from doing so. The loss in my command was fifteen or twenty, most of them wounded about the head and shoulders, myself among the number. Our artillery was handled superbly during the action. Major Hamilton, chief of artillery of Kershaw's division, not only cooperated with energy in strengthening our line on the night of June 2d, but directed the fire of his guns with great skill during the attack on the 3d, reaching not only the front of the attacking force, but its flanks also, as well as those of the supporting troops.

While we were busy with the Eighteenth Corps on the center of the general line, the sounds of battle could be heard both on the right and left, and we [142] knew from long use what that meant. It was a general advance of Grant's whole army. Early's corps below Bethesda Church was attacked without success. On our right, where the line extended toward the Chickahominy, it was broken at one point, but at once restored by Finegan's (Florida) brigade, with heavy loss to Hancock's troops who were attacking there. The result of the action in the center, which has been described, presents a fair picture of the result along the entire line — a grand advance, a desperate struggle, a bloody and crushing repulse. Before 8 o'clock A. M. on the 3d of June the battle of Cold Harbor was over, and with it Grant's “overland campaign” against Richmond.

When General Grant was appointed to the command of the Union armies and established his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, we of the Army of Northern Virginia knew very little about his character and capacity as a commander. Even “old army” officers, who were supposed to know all about any one who had ever been in the army before the war, seemed to know as little as anybody else. The opinion was pretty freely expressed, however, that his Western laurels would wither in the climate of Virginia. His name was associated with Shiloh, where it was believed that he had been outgeneraled and badly beaten by Albert Sidney Johnston, and saved by Buell. The capture of Vicksburg and the battle of Chattanooga, which gave him a brilliant reputation at the North, we re believed by the Confederates to be due more to the weakness of the forces opposed to him and the bad generalship of their commanders than to any great ability on his part.

Extreme right of the Confederate line, Cold Harbor. From a War-time photograph.

That he was bold and aggressive, we all knew, but we believed that it was the boldness and aggressiveness that arise from the consciousness of strength, as he had generally managed to fight his battles with the advantage of largely superior numbers. That this policy of force would be pursued when he took command in Virginia, we had no doubt; but we were not prepared for the unparalleled stubbornness and tenacity with which he persisted in his attacks under the fearful losses which his army sustained at the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania. General Grant's method of conducting the campaign was frequently discussed among the Confederates, and the universal verdict was that he was no strategist and that he relied almost entirely upon the brute force of numbers for success. Such a policy is not characteristic of a high order of generalship, and seldom wins unless the odds are overwhelmingly [143] on the side of the assailant. It failed in this instance, as shown by the result at Cold Harbor, which necessitated an entire change in the plan of campaign. What a part at least of his own men thought about General Grant's methods was shown by the fact that many of the prisoners taken during the campaign complained bitterly of the “useless butchery” to which they were subjected, some going so far as to prophesy the destruction of their army. “He fights!” was the pithy reply of President Lincoln to a deputation of influential politicians who urged his removal from the command of the army. These two words embody perfectly the Confederate idea of General Grant at that time. If, as the medieval chroniclers tell us, Charles cartel (the Hammer) gained that title by a seven days continuous battle with the Saracens at Tours, General Grant certainly entitled himself to a like distinction by his thirty days campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor.

General Lee held so completely the admiration and confidence of his men that his conduct of a campaign was rarely criticised. Few points present themselves in his campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor upon which criticism can lay hold, when all the circumstances are considered. His plan of striking the flank of Grant's army as it passed through the Wilderness is above criticism. Fault can be found only with its execution. The two divisions of Longstreet at Gordonsville, and Anderson's division of Hill's corps left on the Upper Rapidan, were too widely separated from the rest of the army, and, as the event proved, should have been in supporting distance of A. P. Hill on the Orange Plank road on the afternoon of the 5th of May. That Lee did not strike Grant a damaging blow when he had him at such disadvantage on the North Anna may seem strange to those who had witnessed his bold aggressiveness at the Wilderness and on other fields. He was ill and confined to his tent at the time; but, as showing his purpose had he been able to keep the saddle, he was heard to say, as he lay prostrated by sickness, “We must strike them a blow; we must never let them pass us again.” 10 Whatever General Lee did, his men thought it the best that could be done under the circumstances. Their feeling toward him is well illustrated by the remark of a “ragged rebel” who took off his hat to the general as he was passing and received a like courteous salute in return: “God bless Marse Robert! I wish he was emperor of this country and I was his carriage-driver.”

The results of the “overland campaign” against Richmond, in 1864, cannot be gauged simply by the fact that Grant's army found itself within a few miles of the Confederate capital when it ended. It might have gotten there in a much shorter time and without any fighting at all. Indeed, one Federal army under General Butler was already there, threatening Richmond, which was considered by the Confederates much more secure after the arrival of the armies of Lee and Grant than it had been before. Nor can these results be measured only by the losses of the opposing armies on the battle-field, except as they affected the morale of armies themselves; for their losses were about proportional to their relative strength. So far as the Confederates were concerned, it would be idle to deny that they (as well as General Lee [144] himself) were disappointed at the result of their efforts in the Wilderness on the 5th and 6th of May, and that General Grant's constant “hammering” with his largely superior force had, to a certain extent, a depressing effect upon both officers and men. “It's no use killing these fellows; a half-dozen take the place of every one we kill,” was a common remark in our army. We knew that our resources of men were exhausted, and that the vastly greater resources of the Federal Government, if brought fully to bear, even in this costly kind of warfare, must wear us out in the end. The question with us (and one often asked at the time) was, “How long will the people of the North, and the army itself, stand it?” We heard much about the demoralization of Grant's army, and of the mutterings of discontent at home with the conduct of the campaign, and we verily believed that their patience would soon come to an end.

So far as the fighting qualities of our men were concerned, they were little if at all impaired by the terrible strain that had been put upon them. Had General Lee so ordered, they would have attacked the Federal army, after the battle of Cold Harbor, with the same courage, though perhaps more quiet, that they had displayed on entering the campaign thirty days before. The Army of Northern Virginia was so well seasoned and tempered that, like the famous Toledo blade, it could be bent back and doubled upon itself, and then spring again into perfect shape.

It may justly be said of both armies that in this terrible thirty days struggle their courage and endurance was superb. Both met “foemen worthy of their steel,” and battles were fought such as could only have occurred between men of kindred race, and nowhere else than in America.

A Rabbit in a Confederate camp.


Second day of the battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864--view toward Parker's Store, from the Lacy House, the headquarters of Grant, Meade, and Warren. From a sketch made at the time.

1 Major Jed. Hotchkiss, Topographical Engineer of the Confederate Second Corps, who witnessed this movement and mapped it at the time, writes to the editors:

The attack was made by Jones, not by Warren. Early in the day Jones drove the Federal flanking videttes back very near Wilderness Run; then, having developed the Federal march, Jones fell back about two miles, and took position where the Flat Run road, from the Germanna road, intersects the old turnpike, but keeping his skirmishers engaged. It was not until afternoon that Warren turned his right and drove him back about one-quarter mile; Battle's brigade of Rodes's division, which was in support, then moved forward, but was confused by Jones's retreating men and also forced back; then Gordon's brigade, of Early's division, which had been formed facing south-east, its left on the turnpike, advanced and drove back the Federal advance and reestablished the line as first held by Jones.

2 The right of Ewells corps formed a junction with the left of A. P. Hill's at a point about half-way between Parker's store and the Orange turnpike on the afternoon of the 5th.--editors.

3 In this movement General Early was in command, and all of his division shared in the attack except Johnston's brigade, which was to the west of Flat Run. The Confederate brigades confronting Sedgwick on the east of the run were Gordon's, Pegram's, and Hays's. Gordon, on the left, began the movement against Sedgwick's right, and Hays and Pegram followed up the attack. According to General A. A. Humphreys ( “The Virginia campaign of 1864 and 1865.” New York: Charles Scribner's Sons), “General Early drew back his brigades and formed a new line in front of his old. During the night an entirely new line was taken up by the Sixth Corps, its front and right thrown back — a change which the right of the Fifth Corps conformed to.”--editors.

4 The attacking column consisted of the Second and Sixth corps, the Second Corps leading.--editors.

5 Swinton and others state that.Longstreet moved on the night of the 20th, followed by Ewell. This is an error.--E. M. L.

6 Crittenden's division of Burnside's corps forded the river on the 24th at Quarles's Mill, between Ox Ford and Jericho Mill, and connected with Warren's left. Potter's division of this corps was with Hancock, leaving only one division, O. B. Willcox's, at Ox Ford.--editors.

7 The Sixth and Eighteenth corps reached Cold Harbor on the 1st of June.--editors.

8 Breckinridge came from the Valley and joined Lee's army at the North Anna [Hanover Junction] with about 2700 men. Hoke had just arrived from Petersburg. Pickett's division, which had been serving in the Department of North Carolina, had also joined its corps at the North Anna.--E. M. L.

9 From the close range of the artillery and musketry, there must have been a much greater proportion of these than usual. I estimated the whole loss of the Eighteenth Corps, which made the attack, at between 4000 and 5000.--E. M. L. [The “Official records” show that the losses of that corps at Cold Harbor aggregated 3019.--editors.]

10 Statement of Colonel Venable of General Lee's staff.--E. M. L.

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