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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 upon 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 resist 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, on being advised that the Union army was in motion, made up his mind that Grant's objective was Fredericksburg, and thereupon prepared to move his troops to Spottsylvania. As a part of this plan he ordered Early, who was in temporary command of Hill's corps, to move by way of Todd's Tavern, to relieve the pressure on the other roads. Early, on arriving in front of Todd's Tavern, found his road barred. Mahone, who was in advance, at once came into collision with Miles, who, with his own brigade of infantry, a battery, and a brigade of cavalry, had been sent forward on the Catharpin road nearly to Corbin's bridge. Miles twice faced about while retiring upon the main force and beat off the enemy who were following him.
Expectation of battle was now at its height, as it was not doubted that the Confederates were attempting to " counter " upon Meade, answering his advance upon Spottsylvania by a movement into his right and rear. But though the Second Corps stood to arms through the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening, believing that another of its great days had come, the sun went down and darkness fell, and the battle of Todd's Tavern was never fought. Early, having reconnoitered Hancock's position, interpreted his orders as meaning essentially that he was to get to Spottsylvania, and that going through Todd's Tavern was only a means to that end; and so, finding his way barred in this direction, he wisely determined not to force the position, but bivouacked about a mile in front of Hancock, and in the morning moved off to Spottsylvania by the next most convenient route.
By noon of the 9th, Early having disappeared, Mott's division and Burton's brigade of heavy artillery were left to hold the Catharpin road, and the remaining troops were dispatched toward Spottsylvania. On the way down it occurred to Generals Grant and Meade that, instead of the three divisions of the Second Corps, then available, being sent straight on, they should be thrown across the Po River to get upon the road by which Lee himself had retreated, and, moving down this, should try to come into the Confederate left and rear. This was accordingly done after six o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th. Hancock's command, crossing the Po by extemporized bridges, moved forward on the Shady Grove road until it reached Block House bridge, where this road crosses the Po, which here takes a long turn southward. Owing to the distance and the density of the woods, Hancock was only able by dark to get his skirmishers up to the bridge. And here, in the space between Glady Run on the south and the Po on the north and east, the troops rested for the night. Engineering details were, however, actively employed in making secure the communications with the north bank of the river.
The morning of the 10th of May found three divi