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THE CONFEDERATES MOVE TO MEET THE NATIONALS.
might pass The Wilderness, using it for a mask, and, by advancing rapidly on Gordonsville, take a position in the rear of the Army of Northern Virginia. For this purpose Sheridan was directed to move with the cavalry divisions of Gregg and Torbert against the Confederate cavalry, in the direction of Hamilton's Crossing, near Fredericksburg, and, at the same time, Wilson's division was ordered to move to Craig's Meeting-House, on the Catharpin road, and to send out from that point detachments upon other highways to watch the foe. Hancock was directed to move to Shady Grove Church, and extend his right toward the Fifth Corps, at Parker's store, while Warren, marching to the latter place, should extend his right toward the Sixth Corps,
at the Old Wilderness Tavern, to
in the morning of the 5th.* May, 1864.
Preparations for it had not been unobserved by the Confederates, who were standing on the defensive, with heavy forces at points, en echelon, between the Rapid Anna and Gordonsville, and were exceedingly vigilant. Lee's scouts, in the thickets of The Wilderness, and his signal officers on the lofty summit of Clark's Mountain, had carefully watched the movements of the Na
tionals, and when these had fairly developed Grant's intentions, the Confederate commander, with singular boldness and skill, changed his front, and proceeded to foil his antagonist. From Lee's center, near Orange Court-House, about twenty miles from the prescribed line of march of the Nationals, two roads running eastwardly, almost parallel to each other, penetrated and passed through The Wilderness. One (the more northerly) was an old turnpike, the other a plank road. Along these, when, on the 4th, the Army of the Potomac was passing the Rapid Anna and moving southward, a large portion of the Army of Northern Virginia was moving, leaving behind them the strong defenses on Mine Run as a place of refuge in the event of disaster. In two columns the Confederates were pressing along these roads, to confront the Nationals before they should reach the intersection of these highways with that from Germania Ford, and compel them to fight while in that wooded, tangled, and, to the latter, unknown region, so familiar to the former, where cavalry and artillery would be almost useless, and where the clouds of sharp-shooters belonging to Lee’s army might ply their deadly vocation almost with impunity. General R. S. Ewell was leading the more northerly column along the turnpike, and A. P. Hill the other along the plank road; and that night Ewell's advance division, under Edward Johnson, bivouacked within three miles of the Old Wilderness Tavern, at the junction of the Orange turnpike with the Germania Ford road, near which Warren's corps was reposing. Neither party suspected the close proximity of the other.
| This is from a fine photograph, from life, by Rockwood, of New York City.
WARREN'S ADVANCE ATTACKED.
Warren was nearest the foe in the prescribed order of advance, and, early on the morning of the 5th,' he had thrown out the division
May, 1564. of Griffin on the turnpike, to watch in that direction, and prevent any interference with the march of Sedgwick's corps following the Fifth from the ford; while Crawford's division, forming Warren's advance, was set in motion along a wood-road toward Parker's store, near which Johnson had bivouacked. These movements were scarcely begun, when the foe was felt. Griffin's skirmishers on the turnpike were driven in, and some of Crawford's horsemen out on the plank road now came galloping back, with word that the Confederates were in front in strong force. Crawford sent forward a reconnoitering party of cavalry, which soon became warmly engaged, and asked for help, when he sent to their aid the Pennsylvania Bucktails, who reached the front in time to meet an attack of a Confederate infantry force which had arrived. The force in front of Crawford composed Hill's column, and that which attacked Griffin's skirmishers was the van of Ewell's column.
Such was the condition of affairs when, at near eight o'clock in the morning, Grant and Meade came up from the ford, and took a
May 5. position beneath the shadow of pine trees by the road-side, not far from The Wilderness Tavern. They could not at first believe that Lee had been guilty of the rashness of sending the bulk of his army five or six miles in front of his intrenchments to attack his foe, already in strong force on his flank, and it was supposed that the assailing columns were only parts of a strong rearguard covering Lee's retreat. They were soon undeceived; but not fully, until after a battle was begun, and developed the fact that the bulk of Lee's army was there with the intention of fighting. With the impression that it was only his rear-guard, dispositions to sweep it away and seize the intrenchments on Mine Run were made. Perceiving that the heavier
GRANT'S HEAD-QUARTERS IN THE WILDERNESS." portion of the Confederates seemed to be on the turnpike, Crawford was directed to suspend operations on the plank road, while Griffin, with General Wadsworth's division on his left, and Robinson's division as a support, should attack the foe on their front. Crawford sent McCandless, with his brigade, to act on the left of Wadsworth, and then, with the remainder of his division, he withdrew, sharply followed.
1 From a sketch made by the author, in June, 1866.
BATTLE IN THE WILDERNESS BEGUN.
Preparations were now made for the attack. The ground on which the struggle was to occur—a struggle not anticipated by the National leadersexhibited a little oasis in The Wilderness. Looking from Warren's quarters, near The Wilderness Tavern, was seen a little brook (Wilderness Run), and beyond it a gentle ridge, over which lay the turnpike. On the southern slope of that ridge was the house of Major Lacey, whose fine residence opposite Fredericksburg is delineated on page 19. Around it was a green
. lawn and meadows, and these were bounded by wooded hills, and thickets of pines and cedars—that peculiar covering of the earth which abounded in The Wilderness. On the right of the turnpike this thicket was very dense; and farther to the right was a ravine, which formed the dividing line of the forces of Griffin and Ewell on that eventful morning. The whole region, excepting the little opening around Lacey's house, was an irregular and broken surface, covered with small, thickly-set trees, and an almost impassable undergrowth, in the midst of which full two hundred thousand fighting men were now summoned to combat.
At noon, the Nationals, in force sufficient, it was thought, to set Lee's rear-guard flying, moved to the attack, on the turnpike, when the brigades of Ayres and Bartlett, of Griffin's division, the former on the right and the latter on the left of the highway, pressed rapidly forward, and bore the brunt of the first impetuous onset. The Confederates were easily driven, for only Johnson's division was in battle-line, with General Sam. Jones's brigade stretched across the turnpike. With the aid of a larger force then at hand, Ewell's corps might have been crushed. But its presence was unsuspected, and that force was not brought to bear. Ewell's column was saved by Stewart's brigade instantly coming up and taking the place of Johnson's shattered column, and the timely arrival of Rodes's division at the scene of strife. These fresh forces at once took the offensive. It had been arranged for the right of Warren's line to be assisted by the left of Sedgwick's, under General Wright; but so difficult was the passage through the thick wood, that the latter could not get up in time. Warren's right was thus left exposed, and against it the Confederates struck a quick and vigorous blow, by which Ayres and his regulars were hurled back, and so also was Bartlett's brigade. The fighting was desperate and sanguinary, during which the Confederates captured two guns and a number of prisoners, and gained a decided advantage. Meanwhile General Wadsworth, who had moved his division at the same time with that of Griffin, unable to co-operate with the latter on account of the tangled woods between them, had been somewhat misled, and found his flank exposed to a murderous fire, which caused his command to recoil in some confusion. At the same time the brigade of McCandless, sent by Crawford, found itself in an isolated position on the left of Wadsworth, where it was nearly surrounded, and escaped with great difficulty, after losing two full regiments. And so it was, that every rood of ground gained by the Nationals when they advanced was recovered by the Confederates, and Warren, with his corps bereaved of about three thousand men by this encounter, formed a new line a little in the rear, but still in front of The Wilderness Tavern.
At a little after one o'clock the head of the Sixth Corps was attacked by Ewell, while it was working its way into a position to support the Fifth,
BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS.
when the Confederates, after a severe struggle, were repulsed, and gave way between three and four o'clock with a loss of Generals Jones and Stafford killed. Then Rodes's division, led by General Gordon, made a furious charge that caused the advance of the Sixth to recoil with loss, when, in a countercharge, the Confederates were driven with the loss of General Pegram, who was severely wounded. A general advance of the Nationals was now ordered, but night came on before preparations for the movement were completed, and it was postponed.
Before this repulse of the Fifth Corps, and at least two hours before Griffin advanced, Grant was satisfied that Lee was disposed to give battle in considerable force in The Wilderness, and he and Meade made dispositions accordingly. Hancock, with the Second Corps, was marching on his prescribed line, ten miles distant, when, at a point two or three miles from Todd's Tavern, he received orders first to halt, and then to hasten to the main body by the Brock road. At the same time Meade ordered General Getty, of the Sixth Corps, to seize and hold with his division, until Hancock should come up, the junction of the Brock with the plank road, along which Hill was advancing, and had passed Parker's store. Getty did so, and found himself at once pressed more and more by Hill, who had evidently been aiming to secure the same strategic point before Hancock should reach it. Getty held it firmly until about three o'clock, when Hancock's advance, under Birney, came up and secured the position absolutely. The whole of the Second Corps were soon there, in double line of battle in front of the Brock road, facing Hill's line stretched across the plank road.' Hancock at once began to throw up breastworks on his front, but before they were completed, he was ordered to advance on Hill and drive him beyond Parker's store. Getty, moving on each side of the plank road, had already made a vigorous attack on Heth, driving in his pickets, and becoming hotly engaged. Then Hancock ordered to his support the divisions of Mott and Birney, with Ricketts’s Battery and a company of the First Pennsylvania Artillery, when a most sanguinary battle ensued, at close distance, the musket-firing being deadly and continuous along the whole line. The brigades of Carroll and Owen, of Gibbon's division, and the Irish brigade under Colonel Smythe, of the Second Delaware, and others of Barlow's division, were soon involved in the fight. The battle-lines swayed to and fro. Mott's division gave way, and as General Alexander Hays was heading his command to fill the gap, he was shot dead while at the head of his troops in the thickest of the fight.
Grant and Meade were satisfied by sounds that reached their ears that there was heavier or more pressing work to be done in front of Hill than in a contest with Ewell, and so Wadsworth was ordered to lead his division, and Baxter's brigade of Robinson's, through the thickets, and fall upon Hill's flank and rear. So difficult was the march in the tangled way, and in the face of skirmishers, that it was dark, and the conflict had nearly ceased, before Wadsworth was in position for attack, so his men rested on their arms that night, close by Hill's reposing skirmishers, ready for assault in the morning. Hancock had continued unavailing efforts to drive Hill, until after dark,
1 Hill's corps consisted of the divisions of Generals Anderson, Heth, and Wilcox.
BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS.
CULPEPPER MINE FORD
when his wearied troops also laid down upon their arms, the combatants so near each other that both drew water from the same brook. At midnight all was silent in The Wilderness, where the roar of battle had been sounding for many hours, during which time the opposing forces exhibited the curious spectacle of each being divided almost as effectually as if a high wall was between them. Hancock was entirely separated from Warren and Sedgwick by a thicket that forbade cooperation, and for the same reason Hill and Ewell were unable to assist each other.
Notwithstanding their heavy losses, the opposing commanders determined to renew the struggle in the morning on that strange battle-field—an arena more fitted for the system of savage warfare than for that of civilized men. Preparations were made accordingly. Burnside was summoned to the front by Grant, and Longstreet was called up from Gordonsville by Lee.
Burnside arrived before day
break on the morning « May, 1864.
of the 6th;" and Longstreet, arriving before midnight of the 5th, had bivouacked not far from the intrenchments on Mine Run. Burnside took position in the interval between Warren, on the turnpike, and Hancock, on the plank road, and Longstreet was directed to take position on Hill's right. Meade's line of battle, fully formed at dawn, was five miles in length, facing westward, with Sedgwick on the right of Warren, and Burnside and Hancock on the left. Lee's army remained the same as on the evening of the 5th, Ewell's corps, forming his left, being on the turnpike, and Hill's on the right, lying upon the plank road. Each line had been extended so as to form 2
connection, and Longstreet was ready to take his prescribed position on Hill's left.
So stood the two great and veteran armies in the morning twilight on the 6th of May, 1864, ready for a struggle that must be necessarily almost hand to hand, in a country in which maneuvering, in the military sense, was almost impossible, and where, by the compass alone, like mariners at murky midnight, the movements of troops were directed. The three hundred guns of the combatants had no avocation there, and the few horsemen not away on outward duty were compelled to be almost idle spectators. Of the two hundred thousand men there ready to fall upon and slay each other, probably no man's eyes saw more than a thousand at one time, so absolute was the concealments of the thickets. Never in the history of war was such a spectacle
ORANGE PLANK ROAD
SCALE O NILCO
BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS.