The battle of the Wilderness.
[from our own Correspondent.]
Army of Northern Virginia.
Battle-field, May 7th, 1864.
Again it becomes my grateful task to chronicle another Confederate victory.
While it cannot be regarded in its military aspects as a decisive battle, since the enemy was neither routed nor driven back across the Rapidan
; yet when we consider the circumstances under which it was fought, the elaborate preparation made by the enemy, the large army of veteran troops with which he advanced, and the common consent with which both sides had come to regard the present campaign as probably the last act of the bloody drama which has convulsed the North American
continent for the last three years, we cannot but look upon it as one of the most important battles of the whole war. The boasted leader of the Federal
army chose his own time and place to deliver battle; he made the attack and was repulsed with heavy losses; his combinations were penetrated and defeated, and his whole movement checkmated, at least for the present.
These are results of great consequence, and for them the country should be grateful to the Giver of all victory, and to the brave army by whose valor they have been achieved.
But let us take up the narrative at the beginning and bring it down to the present time, and thus see what was done and how it was done.
Arriving at Gordonsville
Wednesday, the 4th instant, at one o'clock, and learning that Grant
had crossed the Rapidan
below, at Germanna and Ely's Fords, and was endeavoring to turn Lee
's right flanks, I took hers and pushed on to the point to which both armies seemed to be approaching.
The moment Gen. Lee
ascertained that Grant
had really his base at Culpeper
's and Ewell
's corps were withdrawn from their post.
Plank on the Rapidan
and ordered to advance upon the enemy's line of march, the farmer taking the plank road and the latter the turnpike, both leading from Orange Court House
, who was encamped in the vicinity of Gordonville, ready to move upon any point, was ordered to march down the Catharpia road.
The main body of Grant
's army crossed at Germanna Ford, and took the road leading from thence in the direction of howling Green
, and known in the neighborhood as Brock
's road, by which name I shall speak of it hereafter.
The first object at which he aimed, doubtless, was to reach the point where that road interests the Orange
plank road and turnpike.
These highways run nearly parallel to each other, the distance between them varying from one mile to three miles and more.
There is an unfinished railroad which also runs nearly parallel to the other two roads and extends from Orange
C. H to Fredericksburg
The turnpike lies on the north side or next to the river, the railroad on the south side, and the plank road between the two.
These roads do not cross Brocks
's road, along which Grant
was moving, at right angles, but diagonally, the distance between the points where they cut Brock
's road being as follows: between the railway bed and the plank road about five hundred yards, and between the plank road and turnpike nearly four miles. The enemy's line of battle extended along Brock
's road from the unfinished railroad across the plank road to the turnpike, and was consequently about four miles in length.
is four miles below, on the plank road; and Fredericksburg
about fifteen miles. The surrounding country is very appropriately called the Wilderness
, the people being ignorant, the sail destitute of fertility, the supply of water scant, the ground broken and covered with a dense and almost impenetrable growth of stunted bushes, pines, and black jacks.
It is a blasted region, adjoining the district known as the "poisoned fields of Orange
," and producing but little for the subsistence of either man or beast.
So thick are the woods in some places that it is impossible to distinguish a man, even in the absence of venture, at a distance of fifty paces.
The reader can readily imagine that it would be difficult to select more unfavorable ground for a battle between two great armies it only remains to be added that the battle was fought near the western boundary of Spotsylvania county
, the line of battle being nearly at right angles to a straight line drawn from Fredericksburg
to Orange Court-House
It the reader will keep these points clearly in his mind, and will place a good map before him, he will find but little difficulty in forming a satisfactory conception of the battle.
As has already been stated, Ewell
moved down the turnpike, which is on the left and nearest to the river, and Hill
down the plank road.
passed still further to the South
, and marched down the Catharpin
road, so as to throw his cavalry in front of the head of Grant
's army and retard its march.
His troopers did their duty well, especially Rosser
's brigade, of Hampton
's division, and forced the Federal
cavalry, which was marching up the road by which he was advancing, back into Brock
's road, with considerable loss in men and horses.
had thrown his cavalry up the turnpike, plank road and Catharpin road, in the vain hope that he might be able to interpose a screen between himself and the Confederates
, and thus both protect and conceal his movements.
was not slow in penetrating his designs, and immediately sprung upon his flank like a tiger upon the side of an ox. Ewell
pushed rapidly down the turnpike and plank roads, encountered and drove in the cavalry and infantry supports which had been thrown forward to block up these highways, and compelled the whole army to halt and defend itself.
in the meantime had reached Brock
's road, in front of the enemy, and thus opposed another obstacle to his further advance.
It is not known that Grant
specially directed to give battle here, but he saw the danger of his position and immediately formed into line of battle and advanced nearly two miles to meet the threatened attack.
This, it will be seen hereafter, was that saved him from a most disastrous defeat, stage it gave him time to send his trains to the rear and throw up strong entrenchments, parallel with and in front of the road by which he had been marching, and behind which he might rally his troops in the event they were beaten bast.
This was Thursday, the 5th, one year and one day after the great battle of Chancellorsville
It was about four in the afternoon when the two armies encountered each other Grant
attacked heavily and repeatedly along the whole line, and especially on our right, which he showed a disposition to turn, and thus place himself between Lee
's army and Richmond
, but in every instance he was repulsed with heavy loss.
He was persistent, however, in his efforts to break our lines, and continued his assaults until night.
His last advance against Hill
's front was made just before dark, and was handsomely repulsed by Wilena's and Heth
His final attack upon Ewell
was made after night against that part of the line held by Edward Johnson
Here, too, he was beaten back, leaving many dead and wounded on the ground.
During these operations Ewell
captured 2,000 prisoners, nearly all of whom were taken by Gordon
's Georgia brigade and Hays
, both of whom behaved with distinguished gallantly.
had not yet reached the ground.--Leaving Gordonsville
at 4 o'clock Wednesday afternoon, he marched fifteen miles that night.
The next day he marched down the Catharpin
road (so called from a run which it crosses) seventeen miles, his orders being to strike Brock
's road at a point south of the unfinished railroad.
He halted during the afternoon within eight miles of the battle-field; but owing to the peculiar condition of the atmosphere, and the density of the forest, he
could not hear the guns of Hill
, and was not aware the battle had commenced until the receipt of a dispatch from Gen. Lee
at midnight, ordering him to come over to the plank road to the assistance of Hill
His corps was put in motion immediately, and reached the field Friday morning soon after sunrise.
's troops were aware of the approach of Longstreet
's corps, and that it would take their place in the line.
They had a hard fight the previous evening and rested but little that night, and when the head of McLaws
's division (now commanded by that model soldier, Brig. Gen. Kershaw
,) came in sight, they relaxed somewhat their vigilance and were preparing to withdraw, when they were attacked in front with great fury by a very heavy force.
Under these untoward circumstances Wilcox
's and Heth
's divisions, which had done so well the evening before, were thrown into confusion and gave way, just as Kershaw
double-quicked it to the front in column.
The latter succeeded in throwing three regiments of his old brigade, commanded by Col. Hinnegan
, into line while Wilcox
's and Heth
's men were falling back over his troops, and with this small, but heroic band, he confronted the heavy masses of the enemy now flushed with the hope of an easy victory and pressing rapidly forward.
These regiments suffered severely, but they maintained their ground until the remainder of the division could be got into some sort of line under the terrible fire to which it was exposed.
witnessed the unfortunate and unexpected confusion and withdrawal of the divisions of Wilcox
, in both of which he had reposed so much confidence, and which had behaved so handsomely on former occasions, and tears rushed into his eyes.
He at once placed himself at the head of Gregg
's Texan brigade, Fields
's division, formerly Hood
's, and prepared to lead it in person.
The heroes of the Lone Star
who had made the circuit of the Confederacy
, remonstrated against such an unnecessary exposure of his life — a life so important and precious to the Confederacy
and to all friends of liberty throughout the world.
He replied that he must win this battle at every hazard — that he must whip the fight.
, who had not yet moved from their tracks, answered that they could whip the fight without his leading them, and would do it. In the meantime appeals were made by several officers to Longstreet
as the only person who could probably dissuade Gen. Lee
from so rash a proceeding.
He went immediately to Gen. Lee
and begged him to restrain himself, and not to think of exposing himself and the cause which he had so much at heart to such terrible chances.
, too, finally gave him to understand, in the most respectful and affectionate manner, that they would obey any order he might give, provided he remained behind, but that they would not budge an inch if he led them.
was at length prevailed upon to desist from the hazardous undertaking, and right gloriously did the heroic Texans
redeem their pledge.
has, by the unanimous voice of the army, won his spurs and Major General
He has ever proved himself equal to the occasion, however critical, but yesterday he displayed a degree of skill.
energy, and intrepidity that elicited the admiration of all who witnessed of have heard of his performance.
When he and Fields, another officer who behaved with great judgment and gallantry, at length got into position under these difficult circumstances, with their old leader, Longstreet
, to guide and direct them, it would have done you good to have seen how they and their officers and men pressed forward with shouts that rent the skies, and finally repulsed the immense numbers that crowded down upon them with terrible slaughter.
They saved the day, which for nearly two hours trembled in doubt, and were at length enabled to assume the offensive.
It was evidently Grant
's object to turn our right wing, and if he had succeeded it is impossible to say what might not have been the result.
On the left we were equally successful.
An attempt was made to pierce that part of Ewell
's line which was held by Pegram
's brigade, but it was signally defeated.
You will regret to hear that Gen. Pegram
was severely wounded, and that Brig. Generals Jones
, of Va, and Stafford
, of La, were killed the evening before.
With this exception, the left wing was not required to take any further part in the heavy fighting of the day, the enemy's almost exclusive attention being given to our right.
About 11 o'clock Longstreet
was ordered to move upon the enemy's left flank, and if possible dislodge him from the railroad cut and the plank road, and drive him back upon Brock
The brigades selected for this movement were G. T. Anderson
's and leaking's of Fields
's division; Mahone
's and Davis
's of R. F. Anderson
's division, and Wofford
's and perhaps two others of Kershaw
's division, but lately arrived, having been left at Orange Court House
to guard against any demonstration upon our rear.
The flank movement was completely successful the enemy was taken by surprise and driven back from the railroad cut across the plank road with heavy loss, a portion of his troops retreating rapidly down the plank road to Brock
's Virginia brigade, of Anderson
's division, ran over the 4th United States infantry, a regiment which boasted that it had never been broken before.
The plank road being clear, Longstreet
advanced down it at the head of Jenkins
's brigade, and had hardly gone a half of a mile when he was fired upon by Mahone
's brigade, which was drawn up in the dense weeds parallel to the road, and not more than seventy-five paces from it. Mahone
was waiting there in catch such of the enemy as might have been out off up the road, and when Jenkins
's brigade arrived opposite to him his men, being unable to distinguish one man from another through the woods, very naturally concluded it was a body of the enemy retiring, and opened fire upon their friends, killing eight or ten and wounding several others.
, of Kershaw
's staff, was killed instantly, the intrepid Gen. Jenkins
, of South Carolina
, received a mortal wound in the head, from which he died in a few hours afterwards, and Gen. Longstreet
was shot in the neck.
The bail struck him in front on the right of the larynx passing under the skin, carrying away a part of the spine of the scapula, and coming out behind the right shoulder.
The wound is severe, but is not considered mortal, the only danger apprehended being from secondary hemorrhage.
Should be survive ten or twelve days and tire crated artery not become involved, it is the opinion, of Dr. Cullen
, his medical director, that be will be able to return to the field in a few weeks.
He has lost the temporary use of his right arm, what surgeons call the conical plexus of nerves being injured.
He was carried to the rear this morning, and was doing remarkably well when he left.
called to see him just before he was moved, and when he bade him farewell and came out of the tent where his great Lieutenant
lay, his eyes were filled with tears.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Jackson
received his death wound just twelve months ago only four miles from the spot where his companion in arms fell, and just after he had completed a successful flank movement, and under almost precisely the some circumstances.
Heaven grant that Lee
may not lose his left arm now, as he lost his right arm then!
had just been congratulated by Gen. Lee
, Gen. Kershaw
, and others, upon the complete success of his attack upon the flank of the enemy, and he was sweeping down the plank road to pluck the rich fruits of his victory, then almost within his grasp, when he was struck down by his own friends.
The delay of an hour which ensued gave the enemy time to escape back behind his entrenchments on the Brocks
The command of the corps then devolved upon Major Gen. Fields
, and to-day it was turned over to Major Gen. Anderson
, of Hills corps, who had been reporting to Longstreet
after his arrival, and who formerly belonged to the corps.
The enemy had thus been repulsed along our whole line, and left many dead and wounded in our hands.
In many places his dead appeared to be five or six times as numerous as our own. Our loss was not so heavy as at first reported, and will not exceed 5,000, of whom not more than 500 were killed.
Most of the wounds were comparatively slight, owing to the protection afforded by the trees and brushes.
The enemy's loss cannot be much less than 15,000, inclusive of prisoners.
The unfavorable character of the ground and the thick chaparral prevented both sides from using artillery, only a few guns being put in position.
Among all the killed, no truer or braver knight ever fell in defence of the liberties of his country than the gallant and accomplished Col. Nance
, of South Carolina
; and no harder fighter or more perfect gentleman ever received a wound on the field of battle than Gen. Benning
, of Georgia
The one has gone to the rest of the true soldier; let us pray that the other may long be spared to the country he has served with so much modesty and courage.
Major Gen. Wadsworth
, of the Federal
army, received a mortal wound in the head, and is now in one of our hospitals.
Brig. Gen. Hays
, of the same army, was killed.
At half-past 4 o'clock Gen. Lee
determined to feel of the enemy and ascertain his position on Brock
On the right, where I had my position, the brigades of Kershaw
, and Wefford, of Kershaw
's division; Anderson
, and Law, of Fields
's division, and Mahone
, of Anderson
's division, moved forward in the form of the letter V, with the sharp point towards the enemy.
G. T. Anderson
, known in the corps as "Tiger Anderson
," formed the apex of the line, and succeeded in reaching the enemy's entrenchments, two of his men falling within the works.
On the left Ewell
was equally successful.
The result of the attack or reconnaissance was the discovery that Grant
had been driven back a mile and a half, that he had thrown up a strong line of entrenchments in front of Brock
's road, and that his left wing rested upon a deep cut in the railroad, along which he had posted a force that effectually protected it. His position is therefore a strong one, being rendered the more so by the dense woods through which his line runs.
's position is equally satisfactory.
Last night Gordon
, of Early
's division, threw his brigade around an exposed point in the enemy's lines; and took Brig. Gens Seymour
, of Queen Fond memory, and Shaler
, and about 500 men prisoners Seymour
admits that Grant
has been whipped, and that the Federal
army will continue to be whipped until their ports are closed and the troupes reduced to "parched corn and beans like the rebels," He says Grant
drinks too much liquor, and that the war on the part of the North
is conducted as if it were a matter of frolic and compact.
Our lines were withdrawn a few hundred yards last night, and from the enemy's immediate front, for the purpose of improving their position.
Not understanding exactly what the movement meant, Grant
advanced with heavy force this morning at half-past 10 o'clock, but he seen discovered where the Confederate
troops were, He was
driven back with ease, and now at sunset is cowering behind his entrenchments in the Wilderness.
His troops have not done as well as they did under McClellan
, or even Hooker
The Confederates, on the contrary, never fought better--Gen. Lee
had caused it to be circulated among them some days ago that they must not think of defeat as possible; it was a thing not to be even dreamed of. Nobly have his invincible regions responded to the call of their great chief.
Oh, that we may ever have such a leader and such an army!