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musketry. The heat at times became intense, and the smoke, blown backward over the intrenchments, not only concealed the enemy from view, but blinded and stifled our men. Taking advantage of this unexpected incident, a Confederate brigade dashed forward and planted its colors upon the breastworks just to our left of the Brock road. For a moment all was confusion in that part of the line; some of Mott's men gave way and went to the rear, and with them one general officer.* But startling as was the exigency, it was as promptly and decisively met. Justas at Gettysburg Carroll forced his way through the retreating troops of the Eleventh Corps on the evening of July 2d, and, mounting Cemetery Hill, met and threw out the brigades of Hoke and Hays, which had effected a lodgment in Howard's line, so on this occasion the same intrepid officer, bringing his brigade at the double-quick across the plank road, faced to the right and drove out the adventurous enemy.
This spirited action, which made Carroll a brigadier-general, put an end to the battle on the left in the Wilderness. The Second Corps had lost 5,092, of whom 699 were reported killed, 3,877 wounded, and 516 missing, many of whom had fallen in the thickets, unobserved by their comrades. Among the killed was General Alexander Hays, who had com
* See page 244.
manded Hancock's small Third Division with so much distinction at Gettysburg, but had, in the general reorganization of 1864, been assigned to the command of one of the large new brigades. General Hays was one of those astonishingly brave men whose courage and force in battle make them observed of all. At Gettysburg, at Bristoe, at Mine Run, at Morton's Ford, this devoted officer rode, with his staff and flag behind him, the mark of a thousand riflemen, the admiration of two armies, only to fall in a tangled wilderness, where scarcely a regiment could note his person and derive inspiration from his martial enthusiasm. Among the killed, also, were half a score of field officers. The heaviest blows had fallen upon Birney's Third Division, which had lost 2,242 men.
A comparison of the proportion of the killed and wounded who were commissioned officers with the like proportion at Gettysburg is highly instructive as to the nature of the fighting in the Wilderness. At Gettysburg three hundred and forty-nine officers had fallen ; in the Wilderness, out of a larger total, only two hundred and forty-six. At Gettysburg, of the killed * eight and a half per cent, and of the wounded eight per cent were officers. In the Wilderness but five and a half per cent of the killed and five per cent of the wounded were officers. This
* These figures relate only to those killed outright. They do not include those who subsequently died of their wounds.
great disparity was due to the difference in the topographical features of the two battles. At Gettysburg the fighting was almost wholly in the open. Here, not only had the sharpshooter a chance to do much mischief, but the higher responsibility of the officers led them in critical moments to expose themselves with a freedom which largely increased their losses. In the Wilderness the greater part of those who fell were struck by men who could not even see them; sounds directed the firing rather than sight. Under these conditions there was little special exposure of officers, and their share in the casualties sank to something very near their numerical proportion. To aggravate the horrors of the later day of May 6th the woods had taken fire in many places, here slowly smoldering, there fiercely burning. Hundreds of the wounded, who had fallen in the thickets and were not able to drag themselves within one or the other of the contending lines, were left to a lingering and dreadful death.
When the sun went down upon the smoking woods of the Wilderness on May. 6th, the first battle of the campaign of 1864 was over. Lee had no disposition to renew the action, which he had brought on only to gain time for Longstreet's corps to come up from Gordonsville. Besides, he knew the Army of the Potomac well enough to be aware that his greatest advantage would probably be obtained in the first encounter. After Gettysburg the Confederate commander was very unlikely to attack that army on a third day. Upon the Union side Grant was nowise daunted by the terrific fighting of the 5th and 6th; and in the early morning of the 7th General Birney was directed to make a reconnoissance in force down the plank road to develop the position of the enemy. This was found to be so far retired from our front as to cause Grant to decide not to make a further effort in that direction, but to throw his whole army to the left, with a view to getting between Lee and Richmond. In this movement Warren, with the Fifth Corps
and the cavalry, was to be in advance and seize Spottsylvania Court House on the early morning of the 8th; Sedgwick, with the Sixth Corps, was to move around by the rear and come up on Warren's left, followed by the Ninth Corps; Hancock's corps, having now become the right of the army, was to move down to Todd's Tavern, to be in readiness to resist any counter-movement by Lee into our right rear. Owing to the failure to seize certain bridges, by whose fault it is not necessary here to inquire, Warren did not succeed in reaching Spottsylvania before Lee; and consequently the Union army, instead of receiving at that point the attacks of the Confederates, as Grant had contemplated, was destined to spend many days and suffer monstrous losses in vain attempts to capture the position.
In execution of his own part of the plan, Hancock occupied Todd's Tavern on May 8th and prepared himself to ist a movement which he did not doubt Lee would undertake against Meade's communications with the Rapidan. I do not remember ever to have known Hancock appear so anxious regarding the discharge of any duty as he did this day. His preparations were unceasing and betokened the expectation of a severe struggle. Lee, however, had no such intention, his plans involving no counter-movement against Grant. And yet an action came very near being fought there that day. The reason was that the Confederate commander,