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of the morning of the 5th, a small cavalry affair near the route of Hill's column. The march still, however, continued, until it encountered some dismounted cavalry; but after a moment's pause, brushing those from its way, still went forward. At one o'clock musketry was again heard in front; and, though at first thought to indicate the presence of merely a party of cavalry, proved, after some skirmishing, to have come from a large body of infantry. Kirtland's brigade, of Heth's division, deployed immediately on both sides of the plank-road; and the whole column proceeded to form in line of battle on its flanks; while the sharpshooters of both armies kept up in front a desultory and somewhat languid fire.
Hill's advance followed, on the plank-road, while Ewell's pursued the turnpike. Parallel lines in their general direction, these movements stood at the time of the deployment of Mirt land's brigade, from three to four miles apart. The country intervening, and round about for several miles, is known as the "Wilderness," and having very few "clearings," consists almost wholly of a forest of dense undergrowth. The enemy, apparently bewildered by the character of the site of the approaching conflict, sent out scouts and skirmishers in every direction from his front. Eight or ten of these having strayed in between the column of Hill and that of Ewell, came into an open field in which they might have shot, as he sat with General Hill and other officers on the ground, that idol of the army, General Lee. Those adventurous blue-coats, finding themselves in front of two brigades of Wilcox's division, made a rapid retreat, ignorant, most happily, that a very precious life lay for a moment at the mercy of their rifles.
The interpolation of those skirmishers between his two columns, suggested to General Lee the necessity of opening communications with Ewell. Captain Hotchkiss of the engineers of the Second corps, having come up immediately afterwards, indicated the route for that purpose; and Wilcox's division moving accordingly to the left-having captured two hundred of the enemy on the way-effected, after a march of a mile and a quarter, a junction with Gordon's brigade, on Ewell's extreme right. The line of battle, thus completed, extended from the right of the plank-road through a succession of open fields and dense forest to the left of the turnpike. It presented
a front of six miles; and, with Flat creek in its rear, occupied a very irregular plane along the broken slopes of a broad ridge that rises from the stream known as Wilderness run. The thicket that lay along the whole face of the Confederate array is so impenetrable as to have excluded the use of artillery by the enemy, save only for the breadth of those openings where it is penetrated on the left by the old turnpike, and on the right by the plank-road.
The attack on Ewell having been repulsed, musketry began at half-past two to deepen in volume in front of Hill. Large columns of the enemy, enveloped in clouds of dust, were seen at that time moving up from the rear in the direction of the deafening fire. Possession of the intersection of the plankroad from Germania ford, with that from Orange Court-house, opening, as it would, a favorable line for Federal advance southwardly, was shown, by the enemy's movements, to be about to become the subject of a bloody encounter.
Heth's skirmishers were driven in about three o'clock. They were followed closely by a heavy column that appeared to move forward spiritedly. Firing with great rapidity as it advanced, its musketry, in the ears of a man approaching the field of battle, rolled through the depths of the forest like the roar of mighty waters. Resolute defence on the one hand, and on the other the attack that sought to force its way rather by constant pressure than by dashing enterprise, the struggle in Hill's front continued for two or three hours, unbroken in its terrible monotony by even any disturbance of the rapid regularity with which it added to its masses of grim death or mortal agony.
Heth's division bore, at first, the whole brunt of the Federal onslaught. The heavy columns pressing so obstinately upon its front failed to break its heroic constancy. Thick and fast its men crept to the rear, bleeding, or dropping in the ranks, dead--but still it gave no sign of yielding. One-half of its number of the morning had been placed hors du combat. The weight of the immsense masses hurled against it having excited in Lieutenant-general Hill some fears for its solidity, orders were sent to Wilcox to come up with his division from Ewell's right, at the double-quick. That gallant officer arrived at four o'clock, while the roar of the rifles in front, accompanied by
the thunder of four or five guns on the plank-road, declared the combat to be one of extraordinary fierceness.
Wilcox, guided by the heaviness of the fire, placed his leading brigade in rear of Heth's centre, and deployed it to the right and to the left of the plank-road. The conflict soon afterwards deepening in that direction, he next formed his second brigade, as it arrived upon the field, on the left flank; but had no sooner drawn it up in line of battle than it became exposed to musketry so completely in reverse as to have wounded some of his men in the back. Changing front instantly to the rear, and swinging round his left, he found himself confronted by a Federal line of battle.
Reasoning from the crushing weight of the musketry in Heth's front, Wilcox drew up another of his brigades in that officer's rear, on the right of the plank-road. The hoarse roll of the fire extending subsequently in that direction, he placed his last brigade for the protection of that flank, in extension of Heth's array on the extreme right. Two of Wilcox's brigades lay there in reserve, in rear of the centre, while another occupied each of the two flanks of the line of battle. The terribleness of the Federal musketry at this moment was such that, having torn a section of the trunk utterly to shreds, it actually cut down a white oak-tree having a diameter of eighteen inches.
The losses in Heth's division had become so heavy that Wilcox's brigades in reserve were moved at about half-past five to the front. McGowan's South Carolinians thus brought into action, their gallant chief, impatient of delay, leaped his horse over a rank that had lain down to let his men pass. Spurring forward, waving his sword as he went, he was followed by his brigade with a cheer; and plunging immediately into the depths of the conflict, drove back the enemy by his impetuous dash for several hundred yards. Wilcox, seeing the Federal lines on each side of the breadth of that charge of the fiery South Carolinians stand firm, became apprehensive for their safety, and, ordering them at once to fall back, placed them in the position assigned them in the array of battle. The murderous conflict raged in fierce monotony until night closed over the Confederate line in the position it had originally taken. The prisoners captured included men from
the Sixth, the Second, and the Fifth corps; and this fact points to the supposition that the gallant divisions of Heth and Wilcox actually held at bay, from three o'clock until half-past seven, three corps of the Federal army.
Heth's division was ordered during the night of the 5th to go to the rear as a reserve. Lane's, Scales's, McCowan's, and Thomas's brigades, constituting the division of General Wilcox-occupied the front. Videttes were sent out, but ventured only a short distance from the line of battle. The two armies lay, indeed, so close to each other throughout the night as to be within easy ear-shot. A small stream on the Confederate left constituted their mutual supply of water, and was so near both that men from either side going out to fill their canteens from it were very often captured by some from the other. Colonel Baldwin, of the First Massachusetts regiment, more thirsty than prudent, became in that way a tenant of Libby prison.
Longstreet's corps, it will be recollected, lay, on the 3d, thirteen miles southwest of the position on the Rapidan. Ordered forward by General Lee, it marched from the neighborhood of Gordonsville on the morning of the 4th. On the night of the 5th it halted within twelve miles of the field of the battle of that day. Intending to follow a road known as the Catharpen, with a view to a movement upon the enemy's left flank, it became necessary, under the rapid developments of Grant's masses of attack, to call it to the support of the front. Its intrepid chief, informed after midnight of the danger of Hill's corps, was ordered to move up to the plank-road, with the view of meeting the renewal of the shock of the Fifth upon the right. Breaking up his bivouac, Longstreet commenced his march about 2 o'clock in the morning to the field of battle.
General Lee concluding, reasonably, that a feint upon the left would occupy sufficient time to delay the attack on the right until the arrival and deployment of Longstreet's men, regarded the state of things, on the dawn of the 6th, without alarm. Wilcox had, however, looked anxiously throughout the night for the coming of the divisions of Anderson and Field; and, disappointed in the delay of their arrival, began at daybreak to cover his front by an abattis of felled trees. The men employed for that purpose were immediately fired
upon by the enemy's skirmishers; and, in the next moment, rushed to their rifles, before the advance of an attack in heavy column. The Federals had spent the night in securing good positions for their onslaught of the morning; and, coming now in great force from points threatening Heth's and Wilcox's envelopment, forced the gallant divisions of those officers to waver. Shattered in strength by the terrible struggle of the day before, and having already maintained a resistance for three-quarters of an hour against numbers absolutely crushing, they finally gave way. Continuing at first a desultory fire as they retreated, the right wing, south of the plank-road, broke into disorder, and finally fled in confusion before the enemy's overwhelming columns.
Wilcox, seeing his lines shattered hopelessly, rushed back to report to General Hill. The Federalists pressed forward so vigorously that he had but arrived at that point, when he looked back, to behold his disordered ranks surging already within one hundred and fifty yards of the position of General Lee. The head of McLaw's fine division of Longstreet's corps came up immediately, under the command of Brigadier-general Kershaw, and so out-spoken was the augury of victory in its flashing eyes, that its appearance bound up at once the wounded spirits of Heth and Wilcox, as they writhed in the presence of General Lee, under a reverse which that officer declared, during the day, had illuminated their previous struggle with unflinching constancy.
Apprehension was for a moment entertained that the rapid movement and heavy fire of the enemy's advance would prevent the deployment of the approaching colums in line. Kershaw's own brigade of South Carolinians and Humphrey's brigade of Mississippians, having the advance of Longstreet's corps, had the honor to be first to form. Drawing up across the plank-road-thus covering the trains, the artillery, and the shattered retreat of Heth and Wilcox-they at once checked the enemy's advance, in the teeth of a fire in which they stood firm, as though it were a storm of mere hail. Their resistance, it was, however, feared at the time, could not be maintained for many minutes. Their front swept by a tempest of bullets, they were threatened, on their right flank, with envelopment. Their heroic firmness triumphed, however; for the ring of