PDF The Greatest Civil War Battles: The Battle of the Wilderness

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Stuart was operating in his Army's rear, in the direction of Fredericksburg. He ordered the bulk of his cavalry to move east to deal with that perceived threat, leaving his army blind. But he assumed that the corps of Sedgwick, Warren, and Hancock could hold back any potential Confederate advance until the supply trains came up, at which time Grant could move forward to engage in a major battle with Lee, presumably at Mine Run.

Private Frank Wilkeson [23]. Grant was notified of the encounter and instructed "If any opportunity presents itself of pitching into a part of Lee's army, do so without giving time for disposition. Ewell's men erected earthworks on the western end of the clearing known as Saunders Field. Warren approached on the eastern end with the division of Brig.

Charles Griffin on the right and the division of Brig. James S.

9. Battle of Stone’s River

Wadsworth on the left, but he hesitated to attack because the Confederate position extended beyond Griffin's right, which would mean that they would be subjected to enfilade fire. He requested a delay from Meade so that Sedgwick's VI Corps could be brought in on his right and extend his line. Warren was correct to be concerned about his right flank. As the Union men advanced, Brig. Romeyn B. Ayres 's brigade had to take cover in a gully to avoid the enfilading fire. The brigade of Brig. Joseph J. Bartlett made better progress to Ayres's left and overran the position of Brig. John M. Jones , who was killed.

However, since Ayres's men were unable to advance, Bartlett's right flank was now exposed to attack and his brigade was forced to flee back across the clearing. Bartlett's horse was shot out from under him and he barely escaped capture.

155th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness

To the left of Bartlett, the Iron Brigade , commanded by Brig. Lysander Cutler , advanced through woods south of the field and struck a brigade of Alabamians commanded by Brig.

Cullen A. Although initially pushed back, the Confederates counterattacked with the brigade of Brig. Gordon , tearing through the line and forcing the Iron Brigade now filled with green recruits from its devastating losses at Gettysburg to break for the first time in its history. As the majority of the new recruits fled from the terrors of combat, the old veterans of the brigade attempted to hold their ground and eventually were forced to retreat against overwhelming odds. Further to the left, near the Higgerson farm, the brigades of Col. Roy Stone and Brig. James C. Rice attacked the brigades of Brig.

George P. Doles 's Georgians and Brig. Junius Daniel 's North Carolinians. Both attacks failed under heavy fire and Crawford ordered his men to pull back. Warren ordered an artillery section into Saunders Field to support his attack, but it was captured by Confederate soldiers, who were pinned down and prevented by rifle fire from moving the guns until darkness. In the midst of hand-to-hand combat at the guns, the field caught fire and men from both sides were shocked as their wounded comrades burned to death.

Sedgwick attacked Ewell's line in the woods north of the Turnpike and both sides traded attacks and counterattacks that lasted about an hour before each disengaged to erect earthworks. During the fray, Confederate Brig. Leroy A. Stafford was shot through the shoulder blade, the bullet severing his spine.

Despite being paralyzed from the waist down and in agonizing pain, he managed to still urge his troops forward. Unable to duplicate the surprise that was achieved by Ewell on the Turnpike, A. Hill's approach was detected by Brig.

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Samuel W. Union cavalry under Brig. James H. Wilson , employing repeating carbines, succeeded in briefly delaying Hill's approach. Getty's men arrived just before Hill's and the two forces skirmished briefly, ending with Hill's men withdrawing a few hundred yards west of the intersection. Much of the fighting near Orange Plank Road was in close quarters and the thicket along the road, accompanied with the smoke from rifles, caused much confusion amongst officers of both sides.

A mile to the rear, Lee established his headquarters at the Widow Tapp's farm. Lee, Jeb Stuart, and Hill were meeting there when they were surprised by a party of Union soldiers entering the clearing.


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The three generals ran for safety and the Union men, who were equally surprised by the encounter, returned to the woods, unaware of how close they had come to changing the course of history. As the Union men approached the position of Maj. Henry Heth , they were pinned down by fire from a shallow ridge to their front. As each II Corps division arrived, Hancock sent it forward to assist, bringing enough combat power to bear that Lee was forced to commit his reserves, the division commanded by Maj.

Cadmus M.

The Wilderness during the Civil War

Fierce fighting continued until nightfall with neither side gaining an advantage. Grant's plan for the following day assumed that Hill's Corps was essentially spent and was a prime target. If successful, Hill's Corps would be destroyed and then the full weight of the army could follow up and deal with Ewell's. Although he was aware of the precarious situation on the Plank Road, rather than reorganizing his line, Lee chose to allow Hill's men to rest, assuming that Longstreet's Corps, now only 10 miles from the battlefield, would arrive in time to reinforce Hill before dawn.

When that occurred, he planned to shift Hill to the left to cover some of the open ground between his divided forces. Longstreet calculated that he had sufficient time to allow his men, tired from marching all day, to rest and the First Corps did not resume marching until after midnight.

Moving cross-country in the dark, they made slow progress and lost their way at times, and by sunrise had not reached their designated position. Private William Dame, Richmond Howitzers [33].

William T. Poague's 16 guns at the Widow Tapp farm fired canister tirelessly, but could not stem the tide and Confederate soldiers streamed toward the rear.

Civil War Maps, Available Online, Spotsylvania County | Library of Congress

Before a total collapse, however, reinforcements arrived at 6 a. John Gregg 's man Texas Brigade , the vanguard of Longstreet's column. General Lee, relieved and excited, waved his hat over his head and shouted, "Texans always move them! As the Texans realized this, they halted and grabbed the reins of Lee's horse, Traveller , telling the general that they were concerned for his safety and would only go forward if he moved to a less exposed location.

Longstreet was able to convince Lee that he had matters well in hand and the commanding general relented. Longstreet counterattacked with the divisions of Maj. Charles W. Field on the left and Brig. Joseph B. Kershaw on the right.

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