58. battles of the Wilderness, Va: the battle of Thursday, May 5, 1864.
From midnight of Tuesday until the dawn of Thursday the fifth, the Army of the Potomac, closely succeeded by that of Burnside
, had been crossing the Rapidan river
, the Second corps of Ely
's, the Fifth and Sixth corps at Germania ford.
The enemy, from their signal station on Clark
's mountain, observed the entire movement — a fact distinctly ascertained by our own signal officers, who deciphered their messages during the day.
The order issued to the Army of the Potomac, Wednesday night--after the crossing of that Army had been effected, and when Burnside
was on the way — directed it to move forward in parallel lines, Hancock
's corps to the vicinity of Shady Grove Church, the Fifth and Sixth corps along the Germania plank-road to Old Wilderness Tavern and beyond.
The Fifth and Second corps were, to connect as soon as possible, throw out strong reconnoissances toward Catharpen run, Todd's Tavern
, and on the Orange Court-house
road; the Sixth corps to preserve a flank communication with the river, where the trains and herds were still crossing, and the whole afterward to “hold itself in readiness to move forward.”
It would seem that this disposition of the Army was intended to be preserved until the trains could cross the river, when all should move on, avoiding a battle in the Wilderness
to the right.
The hope was futile.
The enemy's movement began Wednesday night, and on the following morning Ewell
's whole corps had marched from the direction of Verdiersville
, and was found on our right flank between the Orange Court-house
pike and the river, threatening us at right angles with the Germania plank-road, up which the Sixth corps was then marching.
The forward movement of the Army was checked at once; the Fifth and Sixth corps formed in line of battle along the Germania plank-road, and advanced into the forest on the right, pushing forward a strong line of skirmishers to meet and feel the enemy.
The proposed connection between Hancock
was thus severed, and Hancock
was ordered to diverge up the Brock
road from his march to Shady Grove Church, and immediately join the latter on his left wing, which crossed the Orange Courthouse turnpike
The great danger which menaced us was, that the enemy, by throwing a strong body of troops against our left flank, would obtain possession of this turnpike before Hancock
could come up, cutting our army in two.
The First, Second, and Fourth brigades of Getty
's division of the Sixth corps, were therefore detached and sent in on Warren
's left as a support.
Skirmishing began in the early morning.
Word came in from the cavalry in front that the enemy were still advancing from Verdiersville
and above; that Hill
's corps had driven in our cavalry and were moving down the plank-road in the direction of Parker
's store; that the whole rebel army was doubtless on the march.
, and Sedgwick
held council at Old Wilderness Tavern.
It was decided not to wait for Hancock
, but to attack at
mounted, rode to his command, and ordered an assault.
At eleven o'clock word was sent to General Sedgwick
that skirmishing in front of the Sixth corps was becoming heavy, and that now was the time.
mounted in turn, galloped down the Germania plank-road about a mile, dashed into the forest at the head of his staff, and penetrated to the front just as the firing began to increase.
We follow him.
A moment's halt for consultation — a moment's look around.
Not a far look, nor an inspiring one; for, about, beneath, and overhead, the tangled underbrush, and knotted trunks and ragged foliage of a chapparal consume the spaces into which the eye yearns to penetrate.
Is a battle to be fought here in this labyrinth, are troops to be manoeuvred, are lines of battle to be formed and shifted, are weapons to be used, charges made, the tragedy of a modern combat enacted in this hideous place?
Listen: the clanking music of the skirmish line sounds in the distance; the voice of cannon is deep in the recesses of the woods.
There is a volley at last--General Griffin
's division of the Fifth corps has opened the fight.
“Forward! by the right flank; forward
rings along the lines.
Yonder in front are the gleaming bayonets of our first line of battle; back, just in rear, is the second line, the anxious eyes of the soldiers peering through the trees.
Was it a sadder wind than usual that swept down from the front that moment, bearing the first earnest clangor of the combat?
Else why, as that wind touched the faces of the men, did such a mournful fervor blend with, but not blight the resolute curves of lips that pride forbade to tremble?
“ Forward I by the right flank; forward!”
again and again repeated far to right and left, until it becomes an echo.
And through a thicket, blind and interminable; over abattis of fallen trees; through swamps, and ditches, and brush-heaps; and once — a glorious breathing-space — across a half acre of open field, the obedient troops move on. How long, and weary, and expectant the struggling march is, with the hollow roar of that fight sounding nearer and nearer in the hot air!
Sometimes the eyes of the men sink to note a by-path in the forest, like that which many a one has travelled in old days to some old spring of home-like memory.
And here is the “birr” of a bullet, like that which startled one who heard it one summer afternoon, when a brother hunter was careless, and fired at a partridge as he stood in range.
The bee-like sounds are thicker on this ridge; in the forest, a little way ahead, there is a crackling, roaring tumult, seasoned with wild cheers.
The Fifth corps has begun the fight in earnest — Griffin
is pressing on. Wadsworth
, and Robinson
, and Crawford
are going in; the latter on the left, supported by Getty
, is advancing toward the enemy at Parker
, who are on the Orange Court-house
road, is the junction of that and the Brock
road, up which, from the direction of Chancellorsville
is advancing to make connection.
is the vital point — that junction; to be held against all odds unto the death, else the army is severed.
To hold the enemy all along the line in check, to prevent his massing any forces in our front upon that point, the Fifth corps is pressing on, and the Sixth corps is about to enter.
Here, marching through the forest with General John Sedgwick
and his officers, between the first and second lines of battle of that grand old corps, which has left its mark in blood on every great battle-field in Virginia
, we can hear but not see the progress of the contest in front and on the left.
We hear that Griffin
, after gallantly charging the enemy, advancing over two lines of works, have met with superior numbers, have fought courageously, but have been pushed back.
The cannon that spake a moment ago are silent.
They were two guns of Captain Winslow
's (Second Massachusetts) battery, the horses of which have been killed, the men of which have been sorely pressed, and which have been spiked and abandoned.
We hear that Crawford
's division of Pennsylvania Reserves, sent forward to Parker
's store to check the surging tide of Hill
's troops, pouring on to attack that junction of two roads on which so much depends, have been hurled back by the same overwhelming pressure that forces Wadsworth
, and that the Seventh Pennsylvania regiment has been captured.
We hear that everywhere the enemy is strongly posted, everywhere; on height, in the dense forest, using occasional open fields in the rear for artillery, but forcing us to attack in positions where the use of our own artillery is impossible.
A cunning and a deceitful foe, knowing of old the splendid aim and discipline of our batteries, now compelled to silence.
The air is stifling, the sun sends its rays down through the jagged limbs of the chapparal around like red hot spears.
This march is long, these bullets from an unseen foe are staining some sleeves and jackets too soon.
On!--for our share of the battle cannot too soon be over.
They are there at last; the bushwhackers, thick as the sprigs and leaves that partly hide their treacherous faces.
As the ponderous battle-line of the Sixth corps swings into level in their front, it sends a volley in greeting that thins those faces even as a wind of autumn rushing through an oak. General Ricketts
is on the left, General Wright
next, General Neill
, of the Second division, whose iron brigade is made up of men who never flinched a desperate strait, holds the right of the line in support.
The fighting — who shall describe it?
Not a thousand men can be seen at once, yet for miles in the front thousands are engaged.
The volleyed thunders of the combat roll among the glens and ravines hoarser and higher than the
voices of an Eastern jungle.
The woods are alive with cries and explosions, and the shrill anvil-clatter of musketry.
One cannon, pitched afar, times the wild tumult like a tolling bell.
The smoke is a shroud about our heroes; there is not wind enough to lift it into a canopy.
And now, out of the concealed and awful scenery where the fight goes on, there come the ruins it has wrought, in shapes borne in blankets and on litters — maimed, tortured, writhing; with eyes dull with the stupor of coming death, or bright with delirious fire.
Listen to the hell raging beyond and below; behold this silent, piteous procession, that emerges ceaselessly, and passes on. Into and out of the ordeal of fire; from the pride of the ranks to the suffering of the hospital, these forms have been, and come, and are of no more avail.
Who stands at gaze between a battle and these ghastly effects, and keeps not the banner of the future his mental vision, had better let his thought be still.
For else he does, that cry of the human always evoked by human suffering cannot be kept down in a presence like this.
Two o'clock. In the momentary calm that sinks upon the forest in front we can hear a louder conflict gathering and growing on the left.
has been driven back; there the enemy are pressing in hordes down the turnpike, to gain the junction of the Brock
has advanced and met them.
has come up at last, and Birney
is going in on Getty
are forming on the left of the line, and Gibbon
's division is coming up as a reserve.
The enemy are checked, but their concentration continues.
Troops are sent to the left from the Fifth corps, and by four o'clock General Hancock
is in command of half the army in action.
And now, from left to right the sound of the shock of battle arises anew.
is advancing, Sedgwick
is advancing, Warren
is in partial wait.
Along the left a guttural, oceanic roar prevails, without an interval of rest.
Like a great engine, dealing death, the Second corps and its supports move forward, taking equal death in return.
Companies fall, regiments are thinned, brigades melt away.
Stricken in the head by a bullet, General Alexander Hayes
, commanding the Second brigade of Birney
's division, has rolled from his horse, dead.
is wounded; Colonel Carroll
, commanding the Third brigade of the Second division, is wounded; a host of line officers are stricken low; the enemy fights like a demon, but the fight moves on.
moves on, breaking the enemy's line for a moment, and taking four or five hundred prisoners. There are ripples of disaster on all the line, but they are quickly repaired.
Slowly, for the enemy is stubborn ; slower yet on the extreme right, toward the river, for the enemy there has massed another force, and strives to break our flank.
He finds a rock, and though he checks our advance, though hundreds of soldiers make the obeisance of death before him, he does not come on.
And as the day dies, and the darkness creeps up from the west, although no cheer of victory swells through the Wilderness
from either side, we have accomplished this much at least, with much sore loss: the concentration of our army, the holding of the junction of the Orange Court-house
roads; the turning back of the enemy's right flank from our path toward Richmond
, and the average gain of a half mile of ground.
Battle of Friday, May six.
It will be seen that the battle just partially sketched was a forced battle, consisting for the most part of a series of assaults for the purpose of defending the position obtained Thursday morning, and effecting the junction of the army.
The uncertainty of the situation had prevented the full and combined exertion of our strength, and as Longstreet
had not yet been heard of, it was surmised that the enemy would prove himself in stronger force on the morrow.
During the night the sound of axes and falling trees in our front showed that the foe intended to contest his position on the morrow behind new defences.
Our lines were consolidated and freshly posted, the three corps retaining their respective positions — Warren
in the centre, Sedgwick
on the right, Hancock
on the left, the latter still having the lion's share of troops, gathered from all the corps.
An attack was ordered to be made by the whole army at five o'clock Friday morning, until which time, save slight skirmishing in the night, fighting was suspended, and the troops slept upon their arms, disposed as follows:
On the right of General Sedgwick
's line, nearest the river, were three regiments of General Shaler
's brigade — the Sixty-fifth New York Chasseurs, One Hundred and Twenty-second New York, and Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania; General Seymour
's brigade, of Ricketts
' division, connected on the left.
Next came General Neill
's brigade, composed of the Forty-third, Forty-ninth, and Seventy-seventh New York, the Seventh Maine, and the Sixty-first Pennsylvania volunteers.
Next came Upton
's and Russell
's brigades of the First divison; and last the Second brigade, of the Third division, commanded by Colonel Smith
A second and third line of battle, supporting the centre, was formed of the New Jersey brigade and the Fourth New York heavy artillery.
The other brigades, of Ricketts
' and Getty
's division, were still detached, and acting with the Fifth and Second corps.
's command was still reduced to the two divisions of Crawford
and a brigade of Robinson
's, General Wadsworth
being under command of Hancock
The lines formed by the two commands of Generals Warren
stretched from near the river, through the forest, across the road
leading to Locust Grove
, to within half a mile of the Orange Court-house
Across this road, and far to the left, the troops led by Hancock
were disposed--Colonel Carroll
's and General Hayes
' (now Colonel Crocker
's) brigades on the right, and Generals Ward
's and Owen
's brigades on the left of the thoroughfare.
The three brigades of General Getty
's division of the Sixth corps, commanded by Generals Eustis
, and Grant
, were in support.
's division, of the Second corps, adjoined on the left — the whole left of this line being under command of Birney
The divisions of Generals Gibbon
formed the left of the line, under command of Gibbon
Our cavalry were operating still further on the left, and the left flank of the army was, for the first time, in a position strongly supported by artillery.
At precisely twenty minutes before five o'clock, Friday morning, the enemy anticipated and took from us the opening honors of the intended attack, by throwing themselves, with considerable impetus, against our left and left centre.
They were repulsed and driven back by the Sixth corps, which accomplished the work in time to join the advance movement begun at five o'clock by most of the army.
The right of Hancock
's forces, swinging on the left like a pivot, pushed on in advance of Griffin
, leaving a gap there.
The flank thus exposed was at once supported by General Wadsworth
's division and the brigade of General Webb
in time to repulse an effort of the enemy against it. At eleven o'clock the determined fighting of Hancock
's troops had won a mile and a half of ground, part of which was open in their front, charged and taken a portion of the enemy's line of rifle-pits, together with several hundred prisoners, and were still fighting, lacking ammunition.
Meanwhile, the Sixth corps was thundering in the forest below, with musketry and a few scattered cannon.
The enemy's artillery was not silent; it began early to play bass above the infernal falsetto of musketry that drowned the fair sounds and songs of early morning.
A battle fought upon the field, seen from some height, or even watched from the midst of its own danger, has a conspicuous sublimity which dulls the sense of horror.
Carry the same fight into the depth of a jungle; watch it or listen to it, if you can, without a ghastly thrill.
There, in the depths of those ravines, under the shadows of those trees, entangled in that brushwood, is no pomp of war, no fluttering of banners in an unhindered breeze, no solid tramp of marching battalions, no splendid strategy of the fields Napoleon
loved to fight on. There a Saturnalia, gloomy, hideous, desperate, rages confined.
That metallic, hollow rack of musketry is like the clanking of great chains about the damned; that sullen yell of the enemy, a fiendish protest and defiance.
How the hours lag; now each minute is freighted with a burden that the days would have groaned to bear in other times!
Still the sad, shuddering procession, emerging out of the smoke and tumult and passing on. Still the appealing eyes and clenched hands and quivering limbs of human creatures, worse than helpless, whose fighting is over.
The paths are full of them; the woods are thick with them; the forest seems to take up the slow movement, and move with them, like giants hovering over the funeral of Liliputians.
Piled in ambulances, they move on further yet, while the torture of battle plies on below, making more victims.
Here and there, beside some path, you shall see a heaped blanket, labelled by some thoughtful bearer with the name the corpse beneath it bore in life; here and there you shall come across a group of men bending over one wounded past help, and dying an agonized death.
And often — too often — the shameful spectacle of one bearing a weapon, unhurt, pallid and fear-stricken, flits through an opening toward the rear and is gone.
You shall meet with soldiers in groups of one, or two, or three, hidden in some thicket or, coolly making coffee by the roadside.
And hearing the roar of the battle below, and seeing the bloody trails of the battle behind, it shall be a glad thing to see these men hunted by officers back with curses to the ranks, to share the dangers of their nobler comrades.
About this battle there is a horrible fascination.
It is like a maelstrom.
You feel it sucking you in, and you go nearer to see men fall like those you have seen fallen.
Down through the break, underneath the edges of the smoke, where the bullets are thick and the trunks of trees, like the ranks of men, sway and fall with the smiting of shells, you have a little view of the courage and the carnage of this fight.
There are the enemy, retreated to the breastworks — a ragged pile of fallen trees and heaped — up earth — hiding their heads, spitting lead and flame.
Here is the Sixth corps--what you can see of it — plunging on, firing continually, tumbling over branches and limbs, sinking waist deep in swamps, fighting with its might and bleeding at at every pore.
The troops of the First division, under Wright
, are martyred for a time in a ravine swept by musketry in front, and by a cross-fire of artillery from right and left.
The few guns that we have posted to the left have funeral voices for our enemy on the ridge, perishing beneath their fire in scores.
The ridge is taken, the division breathes once more, but on come the enemy, an avalanche of greater numbers, pushing us back.
Not much headway can be made in a place like this against positions like these, and although at eleven o'clock, when a lull drops upon the field, not more than half a mile of ground has been gained, and the enemy's works are not taken.
Before noon, the gap still existing between Hancock
's advanced line and the left of Warren
's was made the opportunity of the enemy.
was expected, but Burnside
's troops were not in position.
They were on the way.
The forces of Hill
— the latter having arrived at this time — were massed in a grand attack, intended to envelop Hancock
on both flanks.
Of the details of the fighting that ensued I know but little.
The brigade of Colonel Frank
, on the extreme left, was broken, and fell back precipitately.
The pressure was so great along the whole line of the command thus assaulted that it was also broken in several places.
Portions of the front line retreated in disorder.
Officers who commanded there, commanded in some instances troops not their own, and of whose fighting qualities they knew nothing — those officers did their best, but could not stem panic.
, galloping, appealing, commanding, fell from his horse in the front of the battle, deserted by more than half his troops.
As gallant a brigadier-general as commands in the Army of the Potomac, finding himself at last alone, with the remains of one true regiment still standing to its work, looked around disgusted, grief-stricken, and in anger, and told that regiment to “run like sheep.”
The enemy came on and on.
Two divisions of Burnside
's corps under Park
, were marched up and put in on the left of Warren
, and General Stevenson
's division subsequently marched in, connecting with Birney
By this means the effort of the enemy to pierce our centre was stayed, our line of battle was made secure behind the intrenchments from which we had advanced in the morning, and the enemy were forced to fall back in turn.
There was a lull in the battle; a regathering of armies.
The persistent enemy did not give up their purpose; they were marshalling menacing battalions in front of the Second corps and Burnside
They meant to attack again.
It came, at half-past 4 o'clock; and our left wing, which had advanced, regaining some of its ground after the disaster of the forenoon, was again pushed back nearly to the Brock
The shock of the assault stove in the brigades of General Stevenson
, and forced the divisions on his left temporarily out of the breastworks, which were set on fire.
A portion of General Gibbon
's troops swung to the right and formed in rear; the line was at last restored along the whole length, and the enemy again flung back with immense slaughter.
The left and centre of the army thus having attacked and been attacked throughout the day, stood firm at last — the field and forest floor before it and around it strewn with its and the enemy's dead, and throbbing with its wounded.
It had taken in the course of the day many prisoners ; it held a larger part of the field than that occupied in the morning; its losses were severe.
A sullen silence now for a little while, if silence that may be called which is stabbed at slow intervals by the sound of cannon that will never be still.
Sink, sun; fall, shadows; come night, and shroud these horrors that the day has wrought!
These dead that cannot be buried need some mantle to cover them.
These shattered lives, crying for help from every glen and field, and roadside — hide them from those to whom it is enough to hear
their despairing struggles!
The camp-fires are lighted, the darkness gathers apace; the battle, we hope, is over.
No I whatever we may hope, the enemy does not will it. If one could watch where none can watch, in the gloom of the Wilderness
, he would see now a dark column, stealing out on the right from the breastworks of the foe, diverging through the forest around our right flank toward the river, silently turning that flank, creeping slowly into its rear, and actually putting up a slight breastwork between it and our unsuspecting front line, that part immediately exposed being the troops of Seymour
, where they were at the commencement of the day's battle.
He would see this flanking line of the enemy lying in wait, while another and stronger column, emerging from the same breastwork it had vacated, formed, preparatory to an attack.
All this between six and seven o'clock P. M., in the darkness, and while our men were engaged upon their own breastwork by the light of blinding fires.
Down this last column comes, breaking — the stillness with yells, and sending a volley calculated to make each individual hair upon the heads of the devoted troops of Shaler
, erect itself to a perpendicular.
The charge is resistless; Seymour
's line is doubled up, rolled over, and carried away in an instant; that of Shaler
fares not much better.
These are troops not of the old Sixth corps; some of them Milroy
's men, but who have nevertheless borne themselves gallantly in the two days fighting.
Taken prisoners, flying, finding the rebel line in their rear, turning back to seek some other way, amid the storm of bullets, a few finding their way out at last and reaching the Germania plank-road a mile in rear, they are a parlous sight.
And now is seen General John Sedgwick
and the gallant young officers upon his staff plunging about in the midst of this melee, and building up order out of the ruin.
That presence of the grand old commander — his hat off, his bridle dropped, a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other — is like an incarnate rebuke to these fugitives — an assurance of safety preventing further panic.
The enemy come on, raging over the ruins of this route, but to no further conquest.
For there is a line of steel which cannot be broken — Neill
's magnificent brigade.
Against it, as a billow against a rock, the exultant massess of the enemy fall and break, and are thrown back, and retire, while the column in flank, under some strange spell which has kept it quiescent through all, sneaks into the forest toward the river, and is seen alike no more.
But the panic appeased in front is not over in the rear.
Down to the plank-road through the woods, dismay in their faces and unutterable
speed in their legs, the fugutives of the fray are still pursued by threatening echoes.
The road becomes populous with them; their tales of horror infuse a contagious uncertainty among officers and orderlies, galloping to front and rear.
The ponderous rumor of countless hordes of rebels pouring around our right flank and already coming up the road is swung from mouth to mouth, until it smites the ears of the teamsters of the Sixth corps wagon train, parked near Wilderness Tavern.
Was ever a panic like this that lays hold on the souls of these teamsters, and causes an abandonment of suppers and hot coffee, cooking over a hundred fires, and sets the lungs of stalwart men to cursing, and their hands to cruelly plying whips, and the heels of a host of mules, and the wheels of a hundred lumbering wagons rattling and clattering, heaven knows where!
There are some men who see through all this easily enough, and have the truth out of it in a few moments' time.
Away down the plank-road, right in the faces of the fugitives coming out of the woods, a bonfire has been lighted.
A band behind it is playing “Yankee Doodle
,” and the stampeders are then called upon to rally.
In less than half an hour quite a company is got together by this means, and got back to the ranks of the Sixth corps, again firm, advanced, and unmolested, in the Wilderness
This break might have been a severe thing had the enemy been fully aware of his advantages, but he evidently was not, as he did not push them; as it was, Generals Shaler
, with the greater part of their commands, were taken prisoners.
In the afternoon, previous to the evening on which this misfortune occurred, a number of colored regiments, of General Ferrero
's command, belonging to Burnside
's corps, were sent into the woods in rear of, and between the right of the Sixth corps and the river.
What those troops were doing, or where they were, when the flank movement of the enemy above described was in progress, I cannot tell.
Saturday and the night march.
What had been gained in the two days of battle and bloodshed just closed?
Something, on the first day, certainly, after granting that the fight was forced upon us from the first.
We had concentrated our army; we had repulsed the attempt of the foe to pierce our centre; we had held our own ground, and something more.
We held our ground on the second day, and a little more.
Yet the field was the same, in fact; the vast extent of the Wilderness
was still behind our enemy.
The headquarters of the army, established Thursday morning in a grove of pines near Old Wilderness Tavern, on the Germania plank-road, had not been moved.
We had captured some prisoners certainly--two or three thousand, I believe; the enemy had suffered very greatly from our fire.
Our own losses were estimated at about twelve thousand--fifteen hundred killed, eight thousand wounded, and the remainder prisoners and missing.
It is doubtful — I say this cautiously, for I do not know — whether the losses of the enemy were quite equal to our own. They fought more than we did behind intrenchments, and used a little, though that was more, artillery than we could bring to bear.
The fact seems that there was not much gained, nor much to be gained on either side by fighting on such ground.
It was irreverently said by an officer that “both armies appeared to be bumping; bumping, to see which could bump the hardest!”
appears to have made up his mind much after this fashion; and, having failed to accomplish the object sought on our flank, he concluded to remain quiescent.
did not choose to take the offensive.
Our right and right-centre had been ordered round, in anticipation of another flank attack during the previous night, and the right now crossed the Germania plank-road about half way between Old Wilderness Tavern and what is called the Spottswood House
, facing obliquely toward the river.
It was strongly supported by the whole of the artillery of the Sixth corps, posted on heights in the centre, and on rising ground in the rear.
Heavy artillery duelling began in the early morning, and was continued at intervals, with occasional musketry skirmishing, during the day. About noon a rather vigorous demonstration was made against our centre, and repelled by a portion of the Fifth corps, and a battery which obtained position in the woods.
Reconnoissances in the afternoon discovered that the main body of the enemy had fallen back some distance.
The news of Torbert
's successful engagement with Fitz Hugh Lee
's cavalry at Todd
's tavern, and the general success of our cavalry in clearing all roads to the front and left, was refreshingly told during the day.
mounted one of his splendid horses at headquarters and made a partial tour along the lines.
and his staff, weary with incessant marching and fighting, lounged under some bushes by the Germania plank-road side.
rode up. General Sedgwick
went out to meet him.
“ Don't get up, General; I just came down for a little visit — that is all I”
had a taking way with him when he chose — a straightforward way, appropriate to the men he met. The two commanders sat down by the road and talked a quiet talk.
The day grew hotter; the bristling lines of battle stretching through the woods, and across the road, and up the slope behind them, seethed and shimmered in the sultry, dusty air.
No serious work would be done that day, if all the signs were true.
remounted, rode to headquarters in the pine grove up the road, threw himself down against a tree, and began to drowse.
A drowsy and a curious scene: The Lieutenant-General
here, at the foot of a tree, one leg of his trowsers slipped above his boots, his hands limp, his coat in confusion, his sword equipments, sprawling on the ground; not even the weight of sleep erasing that persistent expression of the lip which held a constant promise of something to be done.
And there at the foot of another tree, is General Meade
--a military hat, with the rim turned down about his ears, tapping a scabbard with his fingers, and gazing abstractedly into the depths of the earth through eye-glasses that should become historic.
, Chief of Staff
--a spectacled, iron-gray, middle-aged officer, of a pleasant smile and manner, who wears his trowsers below after the manner of leggins, and is in all things independent and serene, paces yonder to and fro. That rather thick-set officer, with closely trimmed whiskers, and the kindest of eyes, who never betrays a harsh impatience to any comer, is Adjutant-General Williams
. General Hunt
, Chief of Artillery
, a hearty-faced, frank-handed man, whose black hair and whiskers have the least touch of time, lounges at the foot of another tree, holding lazy converse with one or two members of his staff.
, Chief Quartermaster
of the army, than whom no more imperturbable, efficient or courteous presence is here, plays idly and smilingly with a riding-whip, tossing a telling word or two hither and thither.
Staff officers and orderlies, and horses, thickly strew the grove.
The sunlight streams in, a little breeze begins to sigh, a little thought of peace has come, perhaps, to the minds of these men overladen with thoughts of war.
Not long I For war is in all the land, and the news of it outside of this little scene of the greatest struggle, is presently brought by a messenger — the Assistant Secretary of War
, just from the North
As the Lieutenant-General
, after proper greeting, hears the news of Sherman
's and Butler
's movement, ordered just previous to the march, his face wears just the faintest complaisant smile.
“We shall have a little thunder elsewhere presently,” he thinks.
There is the cannonade again, right in our front!
And here they come, one by one, the vilest missiles ever hurled against a foe. There can be on earth no more unearthly sound than the suppressed, vindictive scream of an approaching bombshell.
Standing in the forest, when you cannot see it, but can only hear it, the noise of its coming is a hideous threat.
It may be death giving you a wild warning ere it strikes; it may be that it comes to strike the companion beside you low out of life; to make some spot of ground near, where a group is standing, a place of disfigured shapes and appalling cries.
The first shell of the cannonade strikes with a somewhat startling nearness, bursting just beside the grove where headquarters are lounging, killing an orderly, and wounding his horse.
Headquarters do not move; the shells recede, two or three fall or burst in the air without damage, but finally one plunges into a mess of artillerymen, on a hillside behind the grove, demolishing the dinner between them, and wounding three or four men. A sort of radiating skedaddle prevails from that spot on the instant, and even a line of infantry drawn up on the crest of a hill is seen to slightly waver.
It is difficult for troops to stand quiet under such a fire.
They feel too much at an enemy's mercy.
They would rather be in a position to give back blow for blow.
This is only an episode.
The day wears on, and before night there are signs of something to be done.
At dusk of this day, Saturday, the seventh instant, an order was issued for the whole army to move toward Spottsylvania Court-house, via Todd
The Fifth corps marched in advance, the Sixth-corps next, Hancock
The Sixth corps marched on the Chancellorsville
road, reaching Piney Branch Church toward the latter part of Sunday forenoon.
Soon after dark, Saturday evening, a subdued and impressive murmur began to rise from the encampments of the army.
A strong picket line was pushed to the front, and an appearance of strength was kept up along the whole line.
The fires burned brightly, and at a distance, upon the wooded hillsides, looked like the lights of a city.
Standing upon an eminence at the junction of the Germania, Chancellorsville
, and Orange Court-house
roads, along which the tramp of soldiers and the rumble of wagon trains made a smothered din, one could almost imagine himself peering down through the darkness on the streets of a metropolis in peace.
Back in the forest, from the hospitals, from the fields, from the roadside, the wounded were being gathered in ambulances for the long night-journey.
That part of the army not on the move was slumbering by its fires, waiting for the signal.
A cheer in front of the junction of the Fifth and Sixth corps, followed by a crackle of musketry, broke in upon this slumber.
The enemy felt of our position, got badly hurt in the process, and retired.
The march went on. All through the night, hurrying, hurrying; for there was danger that the enemy be marching too. The privilege .of rank on that march was to sleep a little by the roadside, while rank and file moved on. Down from the backs of horses into dusky thickets a general and his staff occasionally descended, to slumber sweetly for an hour, and then move forward.
The root of a tree, the rut of a road, was a comforting pillow; blessed was the slightest billow of sleep, after the work past, and before the work of the morrow.
The morning came, misty and dull; but it was not long before the sun burnt the fog out of the air and set the earth a simmering.
And then: I do not speak of the sufferings of men and horses, unhurt and able to tramp, even though each step was heavy with a weight like lead.
I only think, but forbear to tell minutely, of the pangs of the hundreds of wounded, rocked and
racked along those parched roads — some of necessity abandoned for the present along the road-sides!
Nothing better could be done than was done for these men. I am sure that there was no willing neglect.
They could not be left in quiet hospitals while the army moved on; they must move on with it, or be abandoned.
Yet every man who rode past that long and suffering procession, felt the hope of victory in his heart rivalled by a deep wish that these sufferers might first reach a quiet haven.