Battle of the Wilderness


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The Battle in the Wilderness

Wilderness, BATTLE OF THE. At midnight on May 3, 1864, the Army of the Potomac, fully 100,000 strong, fresh and hopeful, and with an immense army train, began its march towards Richmond. The right was composed of the corps of Warren and Sedgwick, and the left of that of Hancock. Warren's cavalry, preceded by that of Wilson, crossed the Rapidan at Germania Ford on the morning of the 4th, followed by Sedgwick. The left, preceded by Gregg's cavalry, and followed by the entire army train of wagons, 4,000 in number, crossed at Ely's Ford at the same time. Burnside's 9th Corps, left behind in anticipation of a possible move of Robert E. Lee on Washington, crossed the Rapidan and joined the army on the 5th, when the whole force had pushed on into the region

Battle Map of the Wilderness


known as "The Wilderness," beyond Chancellorsville, and well on the right flank of the Confederate army lying behind strong entrenchments on Mine Run. The whole force of the National army was now about 130,000 men, of whom a little more than 100,000 were available for battle. When Lee discovered this movement he pushed forward nearly his whole army to strike the flanks of the Nationals on their march. This movement failed. On the 5th, Warren, who was followed by Sedgwick, sent the divisions of Griffin and Crawford to make observations. The former was struck by General Richard Ewell's corps, and the latter by General A. P. Hill's a little later.

The march was suspended. Crawford was withdrawn, and Griffin, reinforced by Wadsworth's division, with Robinson's in support, soon defeated the advance of  confederate general Richard Ewell; but, being continually reinforced, the Confederates soon defeated the Nationals. It was now past noon. Grant was satisfied that Robert E. Lee's troops were near in full force. The country was so covered with shrub oaks, bushes, and tangled vines that no observations could be made at any great distance. Grant ordered up Sedgwick's corps to the support of Warren; while Hancock, who was nearly 10 miles away, on the road to the left, marched back to join Warren. Getty's division of Sedgwick's corps was posted at the junction of two roads, with orders to hold the position at all hazards until the arrival of Hancock. The fighting, where it was begun in the morning, continued fierce until 4 P.M., when both armies fell back and entrenched within 200 yards of each other. Getty held his ground against severe pressure by  A. P. Hill until Hancock's advance reached him at three o'clock.

Battle in the Wilderness


He then made an aggressive movement, and fighting was kept up until dark, with heavy losses on both sides. Burnside's corps was brought up in the night and placed between Hancock and Warren.

Meanwhile General Robert E. Lee brought up General James Longstreet's corps to the support of A. P. Hill. And now each party in the contest was strengthened by an addition of 20,000 men. Just before 5 A.M. Ewell attacked the National right, and was repulsed. A very little later Hancock advanced his force against the Confederate right; while Wadsworth, who had prepared to strike Hill's left the night before, assailed him heavily. The Confederates were driven back a mile and a half, passing Lee's headquarters in the retreat. The flight was checked by James Longstreet's advancing column. Hancock, expecting to be assailed by Longstreet, had attacked with only half his force. The latter's advance having been checked, he resumed his flank movement; but at that moment he was wounded and carried from the field, and his command devolved on Gen. R. H. Anderson. In the afternoon Robert E. Lee projected the entire corps of Longstreet and Hill against Hancock, who had been reinforced and was strongly defended by breastworks. He stood firm until about four o'clock, when a fire in the woods attacked the brush and pine logs of his breastworks. The wind blew the heat and smoke in the faces of his troops and drove them from their defenses, when the Confederates dashed forward and penetrated their lines.

But they were almost instantly repulsed, and Lee was compelled to abandon what he intended as a decisive assault. Night came on, and after dark Lee threw Ewell's corps forward against Sedgwick. There was some hard fighting and much confusion. Confederate General Richard Ewell captured the most of two brigades, and then fell back. So ended the battle in the Wilderness, without decisive results on either side, and with a mutually heavy loss. In the two days the Nationals lost about 18,000 men, of whom 6,000 were made prisoners. Generals Hays, Wadsworth, and Webb were killed.  Longstreet's wounds disabled him for several months. The Wilderness is a wild plateau, covered with a dense growth of dwarf trees and vines and brambles, and sloping every way to cultivated fields. It is along the south bank of the Rapidan River, about 10 miles in width and 15 in length.



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