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Reminiscences of the campaign of 1864 in Virginia.

By General William F. Perry.

No. 1.

[We are anxious to get material for the history of the campaign of 1864, and are glad to be able to publish this sketch of the battle of the Wilderness, by General Perry, and to have the assurance that he will follow it up by other sketches of the same campaign.]

It was my fortune to command Law's brigade of Field's division, Longstreet's corps, during the greater part of the year 1864--first as its senior colonel, and afterwards as its permanent commander. The report which was made in August of the part taken by my command in the great military operations of May and June, will doubtless never see the light. The copy which I retained was lost during the retreat to Appomattox. The brigade happened on several important occasions to be thrown at critical points where much depended upon its behavior; and under circumstances where no eyes but those of its immediate commander were upon it, it performed deeds that deserve, at least, to be rescued from oblivion. It is from a desire to render, even at this late day, a merited tribute to the [50] highest soldierly qualities uniformly displayed, and in the hope of contributing something not wholly void of interest to the archives of the Southern Historical Society, that these reminiscences have been penned. Writing from memory, after the lapse of fifteen years, I shall not be expected to give details with the accuracy of an official report, or even to recall the names of many of those whose gallantry entitled them to honorable mention.

The following was the composition of the brigade when the campaign began:

The Fourth Alabama regiment, commanded by Colonel P. D. Bowles (afterwards Brigadier-General).

The Fifteenth Alabama, under Colonel William C. Oates.

The Forty-fourth Alabama, under Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Jones.

The Forty-seventh Alabama, under Major J. M. Campbell.

The Forty-eighth Alabama, under Major J. W. Wigginton.

The brigade numbered not exceeding fifteen hundred men rank and file.

Battle of the Wilderness.

When General Grant began his advance from Culpeper, two divisions of General Longstreet's corps, Kershaw's and Field's, were in the neighborhood of Gordonsville, having recently arrived from east Tennessee. The march began on the 4th of May, I believe, about 2 o'clock. After dark on the evening of the 5th the troops went into camp nearly ten miles, as the road ran, from the point on the Plank road at which General A. P. Hill's corps had been engaged that evening. About midnight the men were aroused by marching orders, and the corps moved off, Kershaw's division in front. It was probably 2 o'clock A. M. when my brigade left camp.

The progress made before light was slow. The night was dark, and we seemed to be on a narrow country road. As it grew light the speed of the men was quickened. At sunrise firing was heard in the distance, and about the same time the direction of our march changed almost at a right angle to the left. The distance to the scene of the engagement was now probably about five miles, and it was traversed with the greatest possible speed.

The first visible sign of battle that we encountered was the field hospital, through the depressing scenes of which our line of march lay. We were now on the Orange plank-road, and began to meet the wounded retiring from the field. At first there were few; but [51] soon they came in streams, some borne on litters, some supported by comrades, and others making their way alone. Close behind them were the broken masses of Heth's division, swarming through the woods, heedless of their officers, who were riding in every direction shouting to gain their attention.

The brigades, pressing on with increasing speed, lapped each other, and now in some places filled the road with a double column of march. The only encouraging feature of the situation was the manner in which the men bore up under the depressing influences around them. They were just now rejoining their old comrades and idolized commander, after a separation of eight months. They saw that this reunion had occurred at a crisis when lofty qualities were in demand and great things were to be done; and they rose with the emergency. The stronger the pressure upon them, the greater the rebound and the firmer their resolution seemed to become. They urged the retreating soldiers to reform — come back — and aid them in beating the enemy. In a tone that indicated the belief that such an announcement was of itself sufficient to inspire renewed hope and courage, they informed them that they were “Longstreet's boys,” returned to fight with them under “Old Bob.” Their stern resolution rose into enthusiasm when a retreating soldier shouted, “Courage, boys, Longstreet's men are driving them like sheep.” Kershaw then had reached the field, and gone into action, and they knew well what to expect of him. He had arrived, like De Saix at Marengo, in one of those great crises, which few men are ever called upon to meet twice in a lifetime. Heth was far to the rear; the last battalion of Wilcox had broken just as the head of his column reached the point where stood General Lee, like a pillar of cloud, the only remaining obstacle to stay the surging billows that were steadily rolling onward and now near at hand. At a double quick step, under fire and almost in the face of the foe, that four thousand men form line in the dense woods and attack with such fury that more than thirty thousand veterans recoil before them.

But the column of Field was now pressing up, Anderson's Georgia brigade in front. It was deployed on the right of the road, where the enemy were in greatest numbers, and had made greatest progress. Next came Gregg's brigade of Texans, hardly five hundred strong. It was thrown into line in the presence of General Lee on the left of the road. I shall not attempt to describe the scene — rising to the moral sublime — between this brigade and General [52] Lee, or the baptism of fire and of blood that awaited it. Of these history has already taken charge.

Benning's Georgia brigade next arrived, numbering not over one thousand men. It passed over the ground stained by the blood of the heroic Texans. Being a larger brigade, it produced more impression; but its advance exposed its right flank to a deadly tire from the troops south of the road. This checked its progress and inflicted upon it great loss. I soon had occasion to learn, too, that heavy masses were pressing by and beyond its left.

Next came the brigade with which this paper has more immediately to do. I was ordered to form to the left of the road also, in what seemed an old field, containing thirty acres or more. As the column wheeled into line, it passed immediately by a large group of horsemen, consisting chiefly of the corps and division commanders and their officers of the staff. But the central figure of that group — and the central figure of that larger group of famous men which the war between the States brought to the attention of mankind — was General Lee. The conception of his appearance in my mind to this day is that of a grand equestrian statue, of colossal proportions. His countenance, usually so placid and benign, was blazing with martial ardor. The lamb in his nature had given place to the lion, and his spirit seemed transfused through every one who looked upon him. It was impossible not to feel that every man that passed him was, for the time being, a hero. The formation was completed at a double quick step, and the instant that the last company sprung into line the forward movement began.

The open ground in front sloped gradually downward for two or three hundred yards, and then, by an abrupt declivity, it descended to a narrow swamp or morass, which, beginning near the Plank road, extended northward in a direction nearly parallel to my line. Beyond the morass the ground rose with a moderately steep ascent for several hundred yards, and was covered with trees and a scattering undergrowth.

At the command the men moved forward with alacrity, and with increasing speed, to the brow of the steep declivity referred to. Here the center and left regiments found themselves confronted by dense masses of the enemy, some of them across the morass and not fifty yards distant, some crossing it and others still beyond. My front rank fired a volley without halting, and the whole line bounded forward with their characteristic yell. The enemy were [53] evidently taken by surprise. The suddenness of our appearance on the crest, the volley, the yell and the impetuous advance caused them to forget their guns. They returned only a scattering fire and immediately gave way.

While descending the slope, and just before the occurrence mentioned, I became aware, from the direction of the balls which passed, that a force of the enemy had crossed the morass, ascended the heights and occupied a body of woods at the farther limit of the open ground, two hundred yards or more beyond my extreme left. I immediately sent an order to Colonel Oates, commanding the Fifteenth regiment, the largest and one of the best in the brigade, “to change direction in marching” --that is, to wheel his battalion to the left while advancing, so as to face the woods — and to attack furiously. No farther attention was given to the matter until the main line had encountered and routed the enemy, and was crossing the swamp. Feeling then that the utmost importance attached to the success of Colonel Oates' movement, and that the safety of the brigade might be compromised by an advance far to the front, while a force of the enemy — I knew not how large — was upon my flank and rear, I hastened, almost at full speed, to that part of the field, and came in sight just in time to witness the successful execution of one of the most brilliant movements I have ever seen on a battlefield. The order had been received amidst the indescribable clangor of battle. The attention of a line of men over two hundred yards long had been gained; they had been wheeled through an arc of at least sixty degrees, had traversed the intervening open ground, had entered the woods at a charge and were driving its occupants — more than twice their number — in the wildest confusion before them; and but little more than five minutes had elapsed since the giving of the order!

Colonel Oates says, in writing to me: “I learned from prisoners taken that the force I encountered was the Fifteenth New York regiment, that had been stationed at Washington City, and used as heavy siege artillerymen during the greater part of the war, and that they numbered between one thousand and twelve hundred men. I had in the engagement not over four hundred and fifty officers and men. I lost two men killed and eleven wounded. I never did understand how it was that I lost so few. I always attributed it to two things: first, that the troops of the enemy were not veterans — they were unused to battle; and, secondly, the rapidity and boldness of my movement, and the accuracy of the fire of my men.” [54]

Feeling now perfectly secure as to my flank, I sent word to Colonel Oates to rejoin the brigade, and hastened to the main line. I found that the Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth regiments had moved obliquely to the left, where the enemy appeared to be in largest numbers, thus producing a considerable gap between the former and the Forty-seventh on its right. These two regiments had crossed the morass, and were pressing steadily up the hill, firing as they advanced. The two right regiments were not in sight. They had obeyed orders in keeping closed upon the Plank road, and were there hotly engaged, as will be seen hereafter.

On returning to the line, I first struck the Forty-fourth Alabama, the second regiment in size in the brigade. Colonel Jones had been wounded, and the command had devolved upon its youthful Major, George W. Carey. The line was well closed up. The gallantry of Major Carey was very conspicuous, as was usual. His commanding form was in front of the centre of his line, his countenance ablaze, the flag in his left hand, and his long sword waving in his right Moving to the left, I found the Forty-eighth giving evident signs of faltering. Many of the men were leaving the ranks and taking shelter behind the trees. The fire was severe, but the enemy, being a little back of the crest of the hill, sent most of their balls over our heads. At this critical moment the gallant Fifteenth appeared upon the left. Colonel Oates, finding no enemy in his immediate front, swung his regiment round to the right, and delivered a single volley up the line which confronted us, and the work was done. The enemy instantly disappeared, and the heights were carried. I was now solicitous in regard to the Fourth and Forty-seventh regiments, but my horse having been killed under me in rear of the Forty-fourth, I was unable to go to them in person. Captain Terrell, was, however, sent, and reported them in the condition hereafter described by Colonel Bowles. The enemy had been driven back on the right of the road, and the firing had ceased. The long gap in my line had taken care of itself admirably. As the undergrowth was dense, the enemy had probably failed to observe it.

I never had the means of ascertaining the strength of the force which we had encountered. The division of General Wadsworth was there, probably supported by other troops. General Wadsworth himself was killed on the Plank road by the Fourth Alabama. They covered a front of at least a half mile, and consisted of several lines. An officer of Heth's division, Colonel Jones, whom I met [55] by accident after the war, informed me that a number of his wounded were left on the field in the morning, and were borne back after the ground was recovered, and that they all concurred in the statement that six or seven lines of battle had advanced over them, and had been rolled back by a single line of Alabamians. It is possible that the peril of their situation acting upon their imagination magnified the number.

The conduct of the officers and men had been above all praise; but fortune had been very lavish in her favors to us. It was fortunate that the nature of the ground was such that we burst like a thunderclap upon the enemy and turned them into flight, before they had time to inflict any injury, or to see that there were no supporting lines behind us. It was fortunate that the success of Colonel Oates had been so complete in his movement on the extreme left of the enemy; and that the regiments had moved forward in diverging lines, thus extending our front so as to equal that of the opposing force. It was fortunate that, in ascending the hill beyond the swamp, the men had been screened, to a considerable degree, from the enemy's fire by the nature of the ground; and, finally, that the Fifteenth regiment had arrived on the left at the crisis of the engagement, and delivered its decisive blow.

I have been somewhat minute in my account of what the left regiments of my brigade did that morning, because no one else, who had a right to speak, witnessed it; or, so far as I am aware, has ever heard of it to this day. The only accounts I have seen of the battle on the left of the Plank road conveyed the impression that the attacks of Gregg and Benning left little or nothing for Law's brigade to do but to march up and occupy the ground which had been won. No one is to blame for this, for no one knew any better. Those two able men and brave officers were my comrades in arms and my personal friends. They are both sleeping in the tomb, one of them a martyr to the lost cause. I would be among the last on earth to “abate the tithe of a hair” from their merited honor. With their gallant comrades, they accomplished everything that was possible, and still, for the reason that their lines were too short, left untouched and unshaken the greater part of the dense masses that were pressing steadily forward, some of which, themselves unseen, would in a few minutes have been in point blank range of General Lee and “Traveler.”

But I seem to have forgotten the noble old Fourth and its younger companion, the Forty-seventh. I did not see them during the engagement, [56] but, fortunately, have before me an account of the fiery ordeal through which they passed, written by Colonel Bowles, the gallant commander of the Fourth. I give it in his own language, making some unimportant abridgments.

After describing the formation of the line in the open field and in the presence of General Lee, he says: “Soon after entering the woods, my skirmish line encountered the enemy and opened fire. The main line soon came up, and I ordered a charge. The men advanced firing. After going about one hundred yards, we came upon the enemy's advanced line of works, made of logs. Here my men fired about ten rounds, when the enemy ceased firing and advanced upon me. We met them with a counter charge, Major Campbell following with the Forty-seventh. We advanced two hundred yards or more through a hailstorm of lead, and found ourselves on a second line of logs. The Plank road was in view all the time. We had been here but a short time when it became evident that the enemy south of the Plank road had passed our right flank, and a heavy fire from that direction was soon opened. About the same time Lieutenant-Colonel Scruggs came to me and reported that the Forty-seventh had given way, and that the enemy were pressing by my left flank also. I immediately ordered a retreat. The enemy saw it and advanced rapidly, delivering a severe fire. We reached the first line of works referred to above, and my men were quickly reformed, the Forty-seventh taking position on my left. The enemy had reformed also, and were evidently preparing to advance upon us. I resolved to anticipate them, and ordered the Fourth and Forty-seventh to charge. They obeyed with as much gallantry as soldiers ever displayed on the battlefield. The enemy gave way, and we again found ourselves on the advanced line of works. About this time a Federal officer came up the road within a few steps of my right, and was shot from his horse. It proved to be General Wadsworth, of the United States regulars. Soon afterwards the Twentieth Georgia regiment moved up and formed in rear of my right, parallel to the road. It was hardly in position before the enemy, just across the road and in full view, opened a deadly fire upon it and drove it away. By this time my ranks were terribly thinned. The position was evidently untenable, owing to the presence of the enemy upon the right. I therefore ordered a retreat, and fell back to the first line of works. Here I was soon afterwards joined by the Forty-seventh Alabama and the Twentieth Georgia regiments, which had reformed farther to the rear. Shortly afterwards [57] General Field approached and said: ‘this is all of my command that I can find.’ I was soon afterwards ordered to the left, passed General Perrin's brigade of Alabamians forming line on the crest, and rejoined you with the Fifteenth, Forty-fourth and the Forty-eighth. In this engagement and that which followed late in the evening, I lost considerably over half my men, among them Major W. M. Robbins wounded.”

This graphic account of Colonel Bowles explains the severe loss of the Texas and Georgia brigades on the same ground, and the impossibility of holding an advanced position on the Plank road until the Federal troops on the south of it had been driven back.

On gaining the crest with my center and left regiments, I sent a staff officer to General Lee with instructions to say that I had driven back several lines of the enemy, and had carried the heights beyond the swamp; but that in the event of an attack, which I thought probable, we should be outflanked and enveloped. I was guilty of the irregularity of reporting directly to the Commander-in-Chief, because I did not know where General Field was to be found, and was communicating knowledge that I thought General Lee ought to have at once. Word was brought back that I should shortly be relieved. Judging from this reply that General Lee supposed that my command had exhausted its strength and needed to be withdrawn, and knowing well that he would have need of every soldier at the front who could fire a gun, I sent Captain L. R. Terrell, Assistant Adjutant-General, to say that the men had supplied themselves with ammunition from the boxes of the enemy, that they were still able to do good fighting, and that I only needed to have my flanks protected.

In momentary expectation of an attack, I continued to occupy my extended line, until a staff officer of General Perrin, of Anderson's division, reported to me for advice as to where his command should be established. It was placed in position next to the road, my line contracting and moving to the left, to give room. It was then that the Fourth and Forty-seventh were sent for to rejoin their comrades. General Perrin's brigade barely had time to complete its formation before the expected attack came. The firing was heavy for a short time, especially toward the right; but the enemy were soon repulsed, and made no farther effort at this point during the day. A Florida brigade, of Anderson's division, now arrived, and I received orders to drop to the rear of the two and act as a support. The three brigades mentioned constituted from this time forward the only troops on the left of the road. [58]

General Lee's line was now thoroughly established, and the ground lost in the early morning had been completely recovered. The forces as they arrived on the field had been handled with consummate skill, and right nobly had they responded to the demands upon them. Language can hardly do justice to their conduct. They had arrived in the midst of confusion and apparent disaster. Their lines had been formed under fire, and in the very presence of the enemy moving forward in dense array and perfect order. Such had been the urgency of the crisis that single brigades, and sometimes regiments, as their formation was completed in succession, assailed the foe with almost resistless fury. And now, within less than two hours from the time that the head of their column had reached the field, two small divisions, numbering in all nine thousand men, had met and rolled back in confusion eight full divisions of the enemy, constituting one-half of General Grant's vast army!1 I do not think a parallel can be found in the history of modern warfare.

It was now nearly nine o'clock in the morning. The great struggle was still to come. The Federal lines were some distance in front of the Brock road, the most direct route to Spotsylvania Courthouse and to Richmond. They had even taken the precaution to construct upon it a triple line of fortifications. Situated as the armies were, it was the obvious policy of each commander to double back the wing of the opposing force. The success of General Grant would have opened an unobstructed road to Richmond, and might have been decisive of the campaign. That of General Lee might have ended as did the battle of Chancellorsville a year before. It would at least have interposed his army between General Grant and his objective point. The arrival of Longstreet's corps and Anderson's division defeated the plan of Grant, and threw him on the defensive. The effort of General Lee was still to come. The plan of attack was made known by officers of the staff to the brigade commanders on the left. It was to throw a force upon the flank and rear of Hancock, and at the same time advance our right and assail his front, so as to roll up and press back his entire left wing towards Fredericksburg. Instructions were also given that the left brigades conform their movements to those of the troops on their right, holding back, however, so as to constitute a sort of movable pivot upon which the whole line might wheel. It is evident that the successful execution of such a movement [59] would not only have disposed of Hancock for the day, but would have thrown a powerful force perpendicular to General Grant's centre and right wing, already confronted by General Ewell.

There is a lull all along the line. It is the ominous stillness that precedes the tornado. Three brigadas under Mahone — a dangerous man — are already in position for the flank attack, whose spectre seems to have been haunting Hancock from the beginning. No wonder, it was so near Chancellorsville. A yell and a volley announce the opening of the tragedy. The din of battle rolls eastward; the enemy are giving way. It is a moment pregnant with momentous results, and to those of us not engaged one of intense anxiety. The left brigades begin to move forward. Already they have made considerable progress; and still eastward roll the fiery billows of war. Can it be possible that we are on the eve of a great victory? But the fire begins to slacken; the advance movement ceases. What can be the cause? Has that single line of attack expended its strength? Oh, for a fresh division, to be hurled upon that shattered, reeling flank! But no; there are no reserves. Heth has not yet reorganized, and Wilcox has moved far to the left to open communication with Ewell. The firing ceases, and the victory, almost won, slips from our grasp.

When Hancock's left had been shattered and driven back, General Longstreet conceived the design of attacking the right flank, also, of the Federal forces south of the Plank road. Their entire line had been so disorganized as to render the success of such an attack almost a certainty. He was riding down the road in company with General Jenkins, at the head of his splendid brigade — the largest in Field's division, and one of the largest in the army — and had almost reached the point where the blow was to be struck. But the evil genius of the South is still hovering over those desolate woods. We almost seem to be struggling against destiny itself. Another needless mistake, like that which a year before, almost on the same ground, had cast “ominous conjecture” upon the success of our cause, now strikes him down upon whom, for the time, every thing depends. General Longstreet is dangerously wounded, and General Jenkins is killed. The command of the corps and that of the brigade devolve respectively upon General Anderson and Colonel Bratton, who, unacquainted doubtless with the situation, and ignorant of the plan to be executed, can of course do nothing.

It does not fall within the scope of this paper to give an account [60] of the events on the south of the road farther than they were connected with the movements of my own command. The report of General Hancock, however, although the uglier features of his situation are doubtless toned down, proves how near we were to a great victory. He says that Frank's brigade was swept away; that Mott's division was thrown into confusion; that he endeavored to restore order, and reform his line of battle by throwing back his left, so as to rest it upon the Brock road; that he was unable to effect this, owing to the partial disorganization of the troops; and finally that it was thought advisable to withdraw the troops and reform in the breastworks. But for the misfortune to Longstreet, it is probable he would have had a lively time reforming. Mr. Swinton, as quoted by Mr. Leigh Robinson, writes: “It seemed indeed that irretrievable disaster was upon us; but in the very torrent and tempest of the attack, it suddenly ceased, and all was still.” And again: “But in the very fury and tempest of the Confederate onset, the advance was of a sudden stayed by a cause at the moment unknown. This afterwards proved to have been the fall of the head of the attack.”

The three brigades on the left now remained inactive for several hours. There were no troops in communication with General Perry's left. There was a gap — I know not how wide — between him and the troops of General Wilcox, sent in that direction after the arrival of Longstreet's corps. Though not charged with the care of this exposed flank, I felt solicitude enough in regard to it to send an officer with a squad of men to act as videttes. This occurred, I suppose, about twelve o'clock. Some time afterwards, information was received which strengthened my apprehensions, and caused me to send Colonel Oates in that direction with his own and the Forty-eighth Alabama regiment. After three o'clock, I received information which induced the belief that a formidable attack from that quarter was impending. I communicated to General Lee the information I had received, and began to move the remainder of my brigade in that direction. Unfortunately a staff officer, at this juncture, approached and informed me that a general advance would begin in a few moments, and instructed me to keep well closed upon the brigades in front. This was the attack upon the enemy's breastworks in the evening, in which our comrades in arms, Jenkins' brigade, bore so conspicuous a part. This order caused me to hesitate in considerable perplexity as to what I ought to do. At length, the indications growing more threatening toward the left, I [61] resolved, without regard to orders, to make the movement before contemplated. I found Colonel Oates with his two regiments facing the enemy, and protected by a pile of logs. His line was nearly at right angles to that of General Perry, who, I was surprised to see, had not changed his front. His left was projecting toward the enemy, a hundred yards or more beyond Colonel Oates. The skirmishers were already firing. There was a gap between Colonel Oates' right and General Perry's line. This was hastily filled with the Fourth Alabama, now hardly one hundred strong, and the other two regiments were hurried to the left of the Forty-eighth. The position was a strong one. I had no fear in regard to an attack in front, but felt sure that the line was too short to meet the advancing force. Captain L. R. Terrell was sent in haste to General Lee to explain the situation and ask for help, and I hastened to General Perry to induce him to change his front, so as to bring his brigade in alignment with mine. This would have doubled the front presented to the enemy, and extended me far enough to the left to give my flank the protection of the swamp, which has been frequently mentioned. It would probably have thrown one battalion across and down it, so as to deliver a flank fire upon the enemy as they advanced upon our front. General Perry readily consented. Five minutes time was sufficient for the movement, but even that was denied us. Before the movement could be begun, the storm burst upon us with the greatest fury. The part of the Florida brigade which projected to the front, melted away, the men falling in promiscuously with mine. The fire of the enemy was returned with the greatest spirit, and the soldiers exhibited a sort of exultant confidence — a feeling which I was far from sharing with them. They seemed anxious to charge the enemy. An advance movement was actually begun without orders at one time by the Fifteenth, and at another, I believe, by the Forty-fourth. Captain Terrell returned with the tidings that reinforcements would soon arrive; but would they be in time? The ammunition of the men began to be exhausted. The direction of the firing to the left indicated that my worst apprehensions were likely to be soon realized. I hastened thither, and arrived in time to find the Forty-seventh doubling back and the enemy pouring round its flank. I endeavored to steady and reform it with its front so changed as to, face them, but they were too near at hand and their momentum was too great. Nothing was left us but an inglorious retreat, executed in the shortest possible time and without regard to order. [62] It was the first time since its organization, and, until it folded its colors forever at Appomattox, it was the last, that the brigade ever was broken on the battlefield.

But the promised reinforcement came. It was not in time to save us from a great mortification; but it was in time to retrieve the disaster. It was Wofford's brigade of Kershaw's division. It swooped down upon the enemy in the midst of their exultation and confusion, and swept them away like chaff. I was hardly near enough, and was too busily engaged in reforming my men, to witness the achievement, and only knew that the enemy disappeared like an apparition, and subsequently learned the cause. The Florida brigade had narrowly escaped capture by falling back precipitately with my own. General Perry was severely wounded, and never rejoined his command.

Shortly after my brigade was reformed, General Heth moved up with a part, at least, of his division, and the two commands advanced together over the ground which had been the scene of our discomfiture, and far beyond. The extended lines of breastworks which the enemy had constructed, and various other indications, proved that the attack upon our flank had been made with a heavy force. They were troops of Burnside's corps, probably one or both of the divisions with which he had reinforced Hancock the night before. Considering their numbers, their effort has always seemed to me a feeble one. They had been preparing for the attack several hours, had stopped to fortify, and then advanced slowly and timidly upon the exposed flank of a small force. When their attack came, they were held in check a long while by twelve hundred men, and were finally driven away by a single brigade. But they were gone. Profound silence reigned in those deep woods, which had so lately echoed with the thunder of battle. Night had come; the roar of the strife had ceased on the right. The forged thunder-bolt, aimed by a master's hand, still remained to be delivered from Ewell's left, to close the first act of the bloody drama of 1864, and to consign the battle of the Wilderness to history.

When the Muse of history shall have done her complete work, the conflict on the Orange plank-road that day will be set down as one of the most remarkable in the annals of warfare. Fifteen thousand men, half exhausted by a rapid march, press the head of their column upon a field already occupied by fifty thousand veterans, completely organized, ably commanded and drawn up in [63] dense array and perfect order. Nine thousand of them form line in the face of the foe at 7 o'clock, immediately assume the offensive, and roll back that mighty host a fourth of a mile in an hour. Pausing to recover breath, to adjust their lines, and to await the arrival of their comrades, they again attack at 9 o'clock, and again press back the foe, disorganized and shattered, to “reform behind their breastworks.” Cheated out of a complete victory by the fall of their leader, they pause to recover their exhausted strength. At 4 o'clock they summon their energies for a final assault upon that triple line of fortifications. The result serves to indicate how easy the victory would have been at 9 o'clock, before time had been allowed to reform. Let an eye witness, the correspondent of the New York World, tell the story: “Mott's division fell back in confusion; Stevenson's division gave way confusedly, compelling the left center to fall back some distance. One of its regiments was captured almost in a body. There was imminent danger of a general break. * * Stragglers for the first time streamed to the rear in large numbers, choking the roads, and causing a panic by their stampede. It was even reported at headquarters that the enemy had broken entirely through.” 2

But again capricious Fortune snatches the victory from their grasp. Neither a Jackson nor a Longstreet is there to seize the critical moment, and by a general advance to overwhelm the foe, now tottering on the verge of ruin. The assailing force is not supported. They reach the limit of endurance; their progress ceases. At length, assailed in flank, they sullenly retire.

And now, after the almost superhuman exertions which they have put forth, those frowning lines still confront them; that coveted prize, the road to Richmond, is still in possession of the foe. The victory which they have gained becomes a shadow in their grasp; but the glory which they have won neither disaster nor overthrow, nor years of humiliation and suffering, nor time itself, can ever dim. Many a day of toil and night of watching, many a weary march and tempest of fire, still await those grim and ragged veterans; but they have taught the world a lesson that will not soon be forgotten, and have lighted up the gloom of that dark forest with a radiance that will abide so long as heroism awakens a glow of admiration in the hearts of men.

W. F. Perry. Glenndale, Kentucky.

1 His own corps of four divisions, two divisions of Burnside's corps, and two of Warren's

2 Quoted by Mr. Leigh Robinson.

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