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Chapter 32: battles of the Wilderness.

On the morning of the 5th, Ewell's corps was put in motion, my division bringing up the rear. A short distance from the Old Wilderness Tavern, and just in advance of the place where a road diverges to the left from the old Stone Pike to the Germana Ford road, the enemy, in heavy force, was encountered, and Jones' brigade, of Johnson's division, and Battle's brigade, of Rodes' division, were driven back in some confusion. My division was ordered up, and formed across the pike, Gordon's brigade being on the right of the road. This brigade, as soon as it was brought into line, was ordered forward, and advanced through a dense pine thicket in gallant style. In conjunction with Daniel's, Doles' and Ramseur's brigades, of Rodes' division, it drove the enemy back with heavy loss, capturing several hundred prisoners, and gaining a commanding position on the right. Johnson, at the same time, was heavily engaged in his front, his division being on the left of the pike and extending across the road to the Germana Ford road, which has been mentioned. After the enemy had been repulsed, Hays' brigade was sent to Johnson's left, in order to participate in a forward movement; and it did move forward some half a mile or so, encountering the enemy in force; but from some mistake, not meeting with the expected co-operation, except from one regiment of Jones' brigade (the 25th Virginia), the most of which was captured, it was drawn back to Johnson's line, and took position on his left.

Pegram's brigade was subsequently sent to take position on Hays' left; and, just before night, a very heavy attack was made on its front, which was repulsed with severe loss to the enemy. In this affair, General Pegram received a severe wound in the leg, which disabled him for the field for some months. [347]

During the afternoon there was heavy skirmishing along the whole line, several attempts having been made by the enemy, without success, to regain the position from which he had been driven; and the fighting extended to General Lee's right on the Plank road. Gordon occupied the position which he had gained, on the right, until after dark, when he was withdrawn to the extreme left, and his place occupied by part of Rodes' division.

The troops encountered, in the beginning of the fight, consisted of the 5th corps, under Warren; but other troops were brought to his assistance. At the close of the day, Ewell's corps had captured over a thousand prisonels, besides inflicting on the enemy very heavy losses in killed and wounded. Two pieces of artillery had been abandoned by the enemy, just in front of the point at which Johnson's right and Rodes' left joined, and were subsequently secured by our troops.

After the withdrawal of Gordon's brigade from the right, the whole of my division was on the left of the road diverging from the pike, in extension of Johnson's line. All of my brigades had behaved handsomely; and Gordon's advance, at the time of the confusion in the beginning of the fight, was made with great energy and dispatch, and was just in time to prevent a serious disaster.

Early on the morning of the 6th, the fighting was resumed, and a very heavy attack was made on the front occupied by Pegram's brigade (now under the command of Colonel Hoffman of the 31st Virginia Regiment); but it was handsomely repulsed, as were several subsequent attacks on the same point.

These attacks were so persistent, that two regiments of Johnson's division were moved to the rear of Pegram's brigade, for the purpose of supporting it; and when an offer was made to relieve it, under the apprehension that its ammunition might be exhausted, the men of that gallant brigade begged that they might be allowed to retain [348] their position, stating that they were getting along very well indeed and wanted no help.

During the morning, the fact was communicated to General Ewell, by our cavalry scouts, that a column of the enemy's infantry was moving between our left and the river, with the apparent purpose of turning our left flank; and information was also received that Burnside's corps had crossed the river, and was in rear of the enemy's right. I received directions to watch this column, and take steps to prevent its getting to our rear; and Johnston's brigade, of Rodes' division, which had just arrived from Hanover Junction, was sent to me for that purpose. This brigade, with some artillery, was put in position, some distance to my left, so as to command some by-roads coming in from the river. In the meantime General Gordon had sent out a scouting party on foot, which discovered what was supposed to be the enemy's right flank resting in the woods, in front of my division; and, during my absence while posting Johnston's brigade, he reported the fact to General Ewell, and suggested the propriety of attacking this flank of the enemy with his brigade, which was not engaged. On my return, the subject was mentioned to me by General Ewell, and I stated to him the danger and risk of making the attack under the circumstances, as a column was threatening our left flank and Burnside's corps was in rear of the enemy's flank, on which the attack was suggested. General Ewell concurred with me in this opinion, and the impolicy of the attempt at that time was obvious, as we had no reserves, and, if it failed, and the enemy showed any enterprise, a serious disaster would befall, not only our corps, but General Lee's whole army. In the afternoon, when the column threatening our left had been withdrawn, and it had been ascertained that Burnside had gone to Grant's left, on account of the heavy fighting on that flank, at my suggestion, General Ewell ordered the movement which Gordon had proposed. I determined to make it with Gordon's brigade supported by Johnston's and to follow [349] it up, if successful, with the rest of my division. Gordon's brigade was accordingly formed in line near the edge of the woods in which the enemy's right rested, and Johnston's in the rear, with orders to follow Gordon and obey his orders.

I posted my adjutant general, Major John W. Daniel, with a courier, in a position to be communicated with by Gordon, so as to inform me of the success attending the movement, and enable me to put in the other brigades at the right time. As soon as Gordon started, which was a very short time before sunset, I rode to my line and threw forward Pegram's brigade in a position to move when required. In the meantime Gordon had become engaged, and, while Pegram's brigade was being formed in line, I saw some of Gordon's men coming back in confusion, and Colonel Evans, of the 31st Georgia Regiment, endeavoring to rally them. Colonel Evans informed me that his regiment which was on Gordon's right had struck the enemy's breastworks and had given way. I immediately ordered Pegram's brigade forward and directed Colonel Evans to guide it. Its advance was through a dense thicket of underbrush, but it crossed the road running through Johnson's line, and struck the enemy's works, and one of the regiments, the 13th Virginia, under Colonel Terrill, got possession of part of the line, when Colonel Hoffman ordered the brigade to retire, as it was getting dark, and there was much confusion produced by the difficulties of advance. Gordon had struck the enemy's right flank behind breastworks, and a part of his brigade was thrown into disorder. In going through the woods, Johnston had obliqued too much and passed to Gordon's left, getting in rear of the enemy.

Major Daniel, not hearing from Gordon, had endeavored to get to him, when, finding the condition of things, he attempted to lead one of Pegram's regiments to his assistance, and was shot down while behaving with great gallantry, receiving a wound in the leg which has permanently disabled him. Notwithstanding the confusion [350] in part of his brigade, Gordon succeeded in throwing the enemy's right flank into great confusion, capturing two brigadier generals (Seymour and Shaler), and several hundred prisoners, all of the 6th corps, under Sedgwick. The advance of Pegram's brigade, and the demonstration of Johnston's brigade in the rear, where it encountered a part of the enemy's force and captured some prisoners, contributed materially to the result. It was fortunate, however, that darkness came to close this affair, as the enemy, if he had been able to discover the disorder on our side, might have brought up fresh troops and availed himself of our condition. As it was, doubtless, the lateness of the hour caused him to be surprised, and the approaching darkness increased the confusion in his ranks, as he could not see the strength of the attacking force, and probably imagined it to be much more formidable than it really was. All of the brigades engaged in the attack were drawn back, and formed on a new line in front of the old one, and obliquely to it.

At light on the morning of the 7th, an advance was made, which disclosed the fact that the enemy had given up his line of works in front of my whole line and a good portion of Johnston's. Between the lines a large number of his dead had been left, and at his breastworks, a large number of muskets and knapsacks had been abandoned, and there was every indication of great confusion. It was not till then that we ascertained the full extent of the success attending the movement of the evening before. The enemy had entirely abandoned the left side of the road, across which Johnston's line extended, and my division and a part of his were thrown forward, occupying a part of the abandoned works on the right of the road, and leaving all those on the left in our rear. This rendered our line straight, the left having been previously thrown back, making a curve.

During the day there was some skirmishing, but no serious fighting in my front. The loss in my division during the fighting in the Wilderness was comparatively light. [351]

On the morning of the 8th, it was discovered that the enemy was leaving our front and moving towards Spottsylvania Court-House. General Lee's army was also put in motion, Ewell's corps moving along the line occupied by our troops on the day before, until it reached the Plank road, where it struck across to Shady Grove, which is on the road from Orange Court-House to Spottsylvania Court-House.

On reaching the Plank road, I received through General A. P. Hill, who was sick and unable to remain on duty, an order from General Lee, transferring Hays' brigade from my division to Johnson's, in order that it might be consolidated with another Louisiana brigade in that division, whose brigadier general had been killed in the Wilderness, and Johnston's brigade from Rodes' division to mine; and assigning me to the temporary command of Hill's corps, which was still in position across the Plank road, and was to bring up the rear. I accordingly turned over the command of my division to Gordon, the senior brigadier left with it, and assumed command of Hill's corps.1

1 Grant says General Lee had the advantage of position. As the latter had to move from his lines on the Rapidan and attack Grant in the Wilderness, how happened it that he was enabled to get the advantage of position, after the two days fighting? He also says that General Lee was enabled to reach Spottsylvania Court-House first, because he had the shorter line. The fact is, that, as the two armies lay in their positions at the Wilderness, their lines were parallel to the road to Spottsylvania Court-House. Grant had the possession of the direct road to that place, and he had the start. General Lee had to move on the circuitous route by Shady Grove, and he was enabled to arrive there first with part of his infantry, because his cavalry held Grant's advance in check for nearly an entire day.

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