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burg road while his troops were making their great charge; Longstreet never left Seminary Ridge.
I have said the troops could have made the further march necessary to carry them out of these jungles into a region rough and tangled enough, yet paradisiacal in comparison with the Wilderness. Of this there is no question. The one objection was the possibility of Lee's interposing between our right and the river. This reason prevailed; yet for one I do not believe it was sufficient. With our distinct superiority in infantry, in cavalry, in artillery, it ought to have been seen to be possible to make our right perfectly secure while advancing our columns five or six miles to the west.* With us Burnside was coming up behind; while it was known that Longstreet with his corps was at an even greater distance in the rear of his own army.
But it was not so ordered. It was destined that the Battle of the Wilderness should be fought. The Second Corps, as recited, halted at Chancellorsville, and spent the afternoon and the night of the 4th upon the very battlefield where Hancock's and French's divisions had fought just one year before. The ground about the Chancellor House was still strewn with the wreckage of battle; and here and there the bones of half-buried men were to be seen protruding from their shallow graves. In the early morning Hancock set out, under orders to move, by way of Catherine Furnaces and Todd's Tavern, to Shady Grove Church, on the Catharpin road; thence to extend his right toward the Fifth Corps at Parker's Store. The Fifth Corps was in turn to extend its right toward the Sixth at Old Wilderness Tavern. But this movement was never to be executed. The Fifth Corps in the center had moved but a little way toward Parker's when Ewell was discovered advancing in force. At half-past seven a dispatch was sent to Hancock informing him of this and directing him to halt at Todd's Tavern. When this message reached Hancock, at about nine o'clock, his head of column was a mile and a half beyond that point. About two hours later he received orders to move to his right, by the Brock road, to its junction with the Orange plank road. Hancock accordingly countermarched to Todd's Tavern, and then took the route northward toward the main body of the army. Birney's division—which, having formed the rear in the morning, took the lead in the retrograde movement—arrived at the intersection of the Brock and Plank roads about two o'clock. Here it found Getty's division of the Sixth Corps holding the plank road against a movement of Hill's corps which had been intended to interpose a Confederate force between Grant's two wings. Getty had not as yet become seriously engaged; but Warren's Fifth Corps, farther to the north, had been fighting a severe battle with Ewell, in which the Union troops were rather roughly handled.
* " Had he [Grant] really wished to fight a battle on the 5th, the Second Corps, after crossing at Ely's Ford on the 4th, should have moved out the Orange plank road to New Hope Church; the Fifth Corps out the pike to Robertson's Tavern; the Sixth Corps to Old Wilderness Tavern, and, on the morning of the 5 th, to position between the Second and the Fifth Corps; Wilson's cavalry out the Orange plank road in advance of the Second Corps, and moving to the left at New Hope Church. That would have brought on a battle in more open and better ground for the Army of the Potomac than that of the Wilderness."— Humphreys's Virginia Campaign of 1864-65,p.36.
Even while Birney's division was coming up, the bullets of the enemy's skirmishers were flying across the Brock road, by which we were moving. Birney at once placed his division in two lines of battle, the formation being greatly retarded by the narrowness of the road and the density of the woods on either side. Mott's division was the next to arrive, and took position, also in two lines, on Birney's left. General Hancock found Getty anxious to make an early attack in obedience to repeated instructions from Meade, who addressed similar urgent representations to Hancock himself as soon as he arrived upon the ground. The latter was strongly desirous of getting his whole corps up and in hand; and would, if left to himself, have awaited the arrival of Gibbon and Barlow. But at a quarter past four Getty moved forward. Scarcely had his troops advanced four hundred yards through the thickets when Hill was encountered, and so fierce at once became the fighting that Hancock had no resource but to throw Birney forward with his own and Mott's division. Birney went in on both Getty's right and left, a section of Ricketts's Pennsylvania battery moving up the road abreast of the troops. Dow's Sixth Maine Battery was put into position at the junction of the two roads to fire over the heads of our men. Meanwhile Gibbon's and Barlow's divisions were forming in the road farther to the left, Frank's brigade of the latter having been halted to hold the junction of the Brock road and a road leading out to the Catharpin road. All of the Second Corps artillery, except the six guns accounted for, was established on some high, cleared ground which ran backward from the extreme left of our line, forming a marked exception to the general topographical character of the Wilderness.
No sooner had Getty, Birney, and Mott become fairly engaged in front of the Brock road than the disadvantages resulting from a lack of more complete preparation became painfully evident. It was scarcely possible to bring up the remaining troops through the dense woods with sufficient rapidity to meet the demands from the leading divisions for reenforcements. One of the fiercest battles of history had begun, and both armies were entering upon the first action of the opening campaign with ferocious resolution. Owen's brigade, from Gibbon, was thrown in upon either side of the plank road to support Getty. Then Smyth's and Brooke's brigades, from Barlow, went in from our extreme left, and with desperate resolution drove back Hill's right a considerable distance. Finally, Carroll's brigade, from Gibbon, was pushed up the plank road, where our troops had received a savage countercharge and had for the moment been forced back, leaving behind them Ricketts's two guns. Before the Confederates could secure the coveted trophies, detachments from the Fourteenth Indiana and Eighth Ohio succeeded in retaking the guns and hauling them by hand down the road. And so, amid those dense woods, where foemen could not see each other, where colonels could not see the whole of their regiments, where captains often could not see the left of their companies, the two armies thus suddenly brought into collision wrestled* in desperate battle until night came to make the gloom complete. Thousands on either side had fallen. Of those who survived, many had not once beheld an enemy, yet the tangled forest had been alive with flying missiles; the whistling of the bullets through the air had been incessant; the very trees seemed peopled by spirits that shrieked and groaned through those hours of mortal combat.
* "A wrestle as blind as midnight ; a gloom that made manoeuvres impracticable; a jungle where regiments stumbled on each other and on the enemy by turns, firing sometimes into their own ranks, and guided often only by the cracking of the bushes or the cheers and cries that rose from the depths around."— Badeau, vol. ii,p. Iij.