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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
* As late as 11.45 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."
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.
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 Corifederate flank attacks. Frank's brigade, the only one of Barlow's division that had gone forward, was 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 and 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 to give way. Perceiving the hopelessness of the at tempt to repair the disaster on his left, Hancock
made the utmost exertions to hold the advanced position which we occupied on the north of the plank road, “refusing" the other wing. Had it been on open ground and in plain view, his inspiring presence and great tactical skill might have availed; but in the tangled forest, with the troops in the condition in which hours of hard fighting had left them, there was not time. On the left, Mott's division was fast crumbling away under the fire upon their fank; on the right, the heroic Wadsworth had been killed at the head of his division, and his regiments were staggering under the terrific blows of the encouraged and exultant enemy; in the center, Birney's division and the brigades of Carroll, Owen, and Webb, worn with fighting and depleted by their enormous losses, were being slowly pressed back. Down the plank road a stream of broken men was pouring to the rear, giving the onlooker the impression that everything had gone to pieces. In this situation Hancock, upon Birney's representations, reluctantly gave the order to withdraw the troops to the Brock road.
It was now high noon, and the battle of the Wilderness, in all its essential features, had been fought and finished. A great assault had been made in the early morning with overwhelming success; but the disorder of the troops and the poweril re-enforcements arriving upon the field on the Infederate sid had first stayed and then turned
the tide of battle. While the Confederates had brought three new divisions into action, Burnside had not borne a finger's weight upon the fight. At last the enterprise of four brigades led to the turning of Mott's left and caused the whole line to be thrown back violently and in disorder. But while the stream of fugitives would not have allowed any one standing at the junction of the Brock and plank roads at noon of the 6th of May to think anything else than that the whole left wing had collapsed, things were far from being so bad as that. Through the forest the steadier regiments were falling back in as good order as the tangled thickets would permit, still facing the foe; and soon the intrenchments along the verge of the Brock road, which the troops had left in the morning for their great charge, were filled with armed men-much broken up, it is true, alike by advance and by retreat, but not men whom it was safe to attack in position. Their losses had been enormous; but the enemy had captured few prisoners, and had themselves been so severely punished that they made little effort to follow our people up as they fell back to the breastworks.
The next hour or two was, it must be confessed, an anxious time along the Brock road. Until regiments and brigades could be brought together; until the men could get a chance to breathe, to eat something, and look once more at the sun; until ammunition could be brought up and served out, it was
impossible to feel entire confidence. Fortunately, a respite was given. Just as Jackson, riding out in front of his troops after his great victory at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863, to survey the ground over which he purposed to follow up his victory, fell under the fire of his own men, so Longstreet, on this 6th of May, 1864, while riding down the front of the brigades which had made the decisive movement, received a volley which severely wounded him and killed General Jenkins.
The command of Longstreet's corps devolved upon R. H. Anderson ; General Lee, arriving on the ground, postponed the attack. It was not until 4.15 P. M. that our skirmishers were driven in and the Confederates advanced in considerable force * against the intrenchments on the Brock road. The attack was a real one, but was not made with great spirit; nor was the response from our side very hearty. The enemy advanced to .within about a hundred yards, and then halted and began firing, to which our troops replied with noise enough, but keeping too much down behind the log intrenchments, thus discharging their muskets into the air. The breastworks had taken fire at more than one point from the dried leaves and twigs in front, which had been kindled by the discharges of the
* “Field's and Anderson's divisions, excepting Law's and Perry's brigades, with probably some part of Heth's division.”— Humphreys' Campaign of 1864-'05.