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from army headquarters that the advance of Longstreet's corps, instead of coming up in rear of Hill, was bearing off southward, as if to pass around his left flank and penetrate into his rear; and he had been especially warned that in his arrangements for the day he must provide fully for all the exigencies which might arise in that quarter. He accordingly placed Gibbon in charge of the left, giving him all the artillery massed there and the splendid infantry division of Barlow. Gibbon's own troops had been sent, or were to be sent, out the plank road to join in the great attack. General Gibbon, than whom no man better knew the use of artillery, disposed a great battery of forty pieces upon the comparatively high and clear ground running backward to our rear, which we spoke of in connection with the first day's fight, and placed his infantry in support.
Such was the situation when Birney, after taking time to rectify his lines at the front, was preparing to renew his attacks upon the corps of Hill and the division of Kershaw. Birney's weak point was his left. Too many troops had been sent up the plank road, Hancock trusting to their being properly distributed by the staff along the line, on their arrival at the front. This I am disposed to regard as Hancock's great tactical mistake during the battle of the Wilderness. He ought to have apprehended the danger that—owing to the nature of the country, the difficulty of moving troops through the woods, and the impossibilty of seeing anything—an undue proportion of the re-enforcements thus arriving would remain at or near the road, instead of being marched through the jungles a sufficient distance to the left properly to extend and strengthen the line. Of course, in open country the latter would, without fail, have been done; but under the circumstances it would have been better had the re-enforcements been taken well down the Brock road toward the left, and then sent forward through the woods, toward the firing, till they came up with the general line.
Hancock, however, though he had no conception, on account of the intervening woods, of the extent to which his troops had been heaped up near the plank road, was yet not unapprehensive regarding the exposure of Birney's left flank to the attack of Confederate re-enforcements arriving on the field; and at a certain hour gave, or thought he gave, an order to send Barlow's division forward, to come up on Birney's left. This statement is contained in Hancock's official report and is corroborated by the notes of his staff officers. General Gibbon, on his part, positively denies having received such a definitive order, though he says the forwarding of Barlow's division had been spoken of between Hancock and himself as a thing to be done. It is not improbable that Hancock may have given what he considered an order to that effect; may have acquiesced in a temporary postponement of the movement, owing to fresh rumors of Longstreet's advance from Todd's Tavern; and may then have failed distinctly to notify Gibbon that he expected it at once to be made. The history of war abounds in such misunderstandings. No one who knew Gibbon can possibly believe that this accomplished officer consciously failed to do anything that was required of him.
However it came about, the evil consequences of the weakness of Birney's left were soon made manifest. The battle was now about to be resumed on our side after the pause needed to rectify the formations, to reorganize as well as could be done in the dense woods the shattered troops, and to replace those which had suffered most by brigades from the second line. Wadsworth's division formed Birney's right; still farther to the right, as announced by a staff officer from General Meade, Burnside, with two divisions, was advancing into the space between Hancock and Warren, meeting little resistance and heading directly for Parker's Store. This heavy concentration of forces seemed to promise a speedy and complete triumph; but the promise was a most fallacious one. Burnside's reported attack proved to be unreal; the interval between Birney and Barlow was still unfilled; powerful re-enforcements were at once stiffening Hill's front and aiming at the dangerous gap in the Union line. Though it was true that Hancock had with him one half of Grant's army, it was also true that two-thirds of Lee's army were now being directed against him; and of these, two-thirds were fresh troops. Field's division of Longstreet's corps had followed close on Kershaw's, coming upon the field at the double quick, and was in turn followed by Anderson's division of Hill's corps. In this critical moment intelligence was received that Cutler's brigade, upon the left of Warren, had been driven from its position in disorder, Burnside as yet being nowhere to be seen; and Birney was obliged to detach two brigades to reoccupy the ground.
In spite of the formidable re-enforcements which the Confederate right had received, our troops made heroic efforts to follow up the successes of the earlier morning. Birney, Wadsworth, and Mott delivered a furious attack in which men fell by thousands and Lee's fresh divisions were shaken like trees in a gale. But the Confederate line would no longer yield. In this moment of anxiety every ear was turned to catch the roar of Burnside's attack. Two hours had passed since Hancock had been told that this was then taking place; but as yet not a sound from that direction told that Burnside had got to work.* It was to be several hours, still, before this promised assistance to our hard-pressed troops was to be given—assistance it could scarcely be called, for when Burnside made his attack Hancock had been driven back to the Brock road.
* As late as 1145 Rawlings, Grant's chief of staff, wrote to Burnside: "Push in and drive the enemy from Hancock's front and get on the plank road. Hancock has expected you for the last three hours, and has been making his attack and dispositions with a view to your assistance."
The crisis of the battle was now fast approaching. The enemy, having discovered the gap in our' line where Barlow's division should have been, drew down four brigades, to find their way around Birney's left. These troops, moving by their right, reached the bed of the unfinished Fredericksburg' railroad, and there formed, facing north, for a decisive charge. At eleven o'clock they moved forward with the impetuosity characteristic of Confederate flank attacks. Frank's brigade, the onfiy one of Barlow's division that had gone forward, W[as struck on end, broken into fragments, and hurljed back in dire disorder. The next troops encountered comprised McAllister's brigade of Mott's division; and these too, although they had partially changed front upon the alarm given by/the attack on Frank, were quickly overlapped, crushed, and driven back. Advised now by the firing land shouting of the turning column of the success of the movement against our flank, the divisions of Kershaw, Field, and Anderson threw themselves impetuously upon the front of the Union forces, and, after a desperate struggle, our men began tqi give way. Perceiving the hopelessness of the at tempt to repair the disaster on his left, HancodB