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Although Grant thus felicitated himself, it speedily became evident that a severe struggle must be had with the rebels before any forward movement could be made by the Army of the Potomac. The line of march, after crossing the Rapidan, led through that region known as the Wilderness, a wild and dreary tract, covered with dense undergrowth, scrub oaks, and the like, with various narrow cross-roads, thoroughly known to the rebels, and affording a capital place for deadly attack upon our men. It was along its gloomy margin that Hooker, a year before, had fought and lost the battle of Chancellorsville (see p. 285). Hancock moved in the direction of Chancellorsville; Warren, having crossed above, was a few miles farther to the west at Old Wilderness Tavern; and Sedgwick was in his rear, toward the river. The army of Lee, occupying the line from Orange to Louisa Court House, was in a position t;> operate on the flank of Grant's forces in their advance to the open country beyond. There were two roads from Orange Court House, the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road, and the turnpike, running eastward and striking Grant's line of march at right angles. The rebel general, with a boldness and vigor unexpected, resolved to advance rapidly upon our army, and compel a battle in a region where he would have all the advantage, and where, as artillery could not be used
gard to the trains really began when the army reacheel the Wilderness, being there shnt up in the restricted triangle between the Rapidan and Rappahannock." —" Amy of the Potomac," p. 410.
amid the thick chapparal, our men would be at every disadvantage, and he might inflict a deadly blow upon them. Accordingly, on the morning of the 4th of May, Lee sent forward two corps of his army, Ewell's by the turnpike, and Hill's by the plank road, to make an immediate attack.
Early on Thursday morning, May 5th, the rebels were in position, and the battle began about noon. Both Grant and Meade were that morning at Old Wilderness Tavern; but neither seems to have realized that the rebels seriously contemplated battle at this point It was the object of Lee in advancing on the cross-roads to divide the army and cut off its communications with the river, with the hope, doubtless, in thus striking it on the march before its position was established, of dealing it a blow from which it could hardly, if at all, recover, and continue its advance, i Grant, in his report, says briefly, "The battle raged furiously all day, the whole army being brought into the fight as fast as the corps could be got upon the field, which, considering the density of the forest and narrowness of the roads, was done with commendable promptness."
Lee's plan was a bold and spirited one; but Grant, though taken rather at I a disadvantage, met the emergency as best he could. There were two main actions during the day, on the right and left of our lines, the rebels in ! oth cases being spiritedly assailed. Ao the nature of the ground forbade generally the use of artillery and cavalry, the fighting was mostly confined to the infantry: both sides suffered severely.
the contest being of the most determined character. The losses were large in Warren's corps, which, from its position, bore the brunt of the en
gagements. In Hancock's corps the divisions of Birney, Barlow and Gibbon were successively engaged. The fighting continued till late in the evening, without material advantage to either party. Both rested that night with the clear understanding that a terrible battle was to be fought on the morrow.
At daylight, on the morning of May 6th, by order of the commanding-general, the fierce struggle was resumed, and had the ground been such as to admit of manoeuvring the large and well-appointed armies now arrayed one against the other, a decisive action might have been fought. As it was, the battle extended along the whole line, a distance of seven miles from Sedgwick's right to Hancock's left. Hancock, prompt in the assault, at five o'clock in the morning, advanced his forces, increased by several divisions from the other corps, and drove the enemy for two miles till they were reinforced by Longstreet's command, which had lately re joined Lee's army, I and now came up by a rapid march. A number of prisoners were taken by Hancock in this movement. A furious attack was made in the afternoon by the joint forces of Longstreet and Hill upon the left and centre; but reinforcements from Burnside having been brought up, the enemy's advance was effectually checked. About noon, Gen. J. S. Wadsworth, commanding the 4th division of the 5th corps, was shot in
the forehead and mortally wounded, while leading his troops into action. After dark, the rebels made an attempt to turn our right flank, and succeeded in capturing portions of Seymour's and Shaler's brigades, with their commanders. Great confusion was produced, and the right of the army was imperilled; but, by Sedgwick's energy and skill, our line was soon re-formed and order restored. Sheridan's cavalry, as before, held firrnly the advance on the left. The fighting was closed with both armies holding substantially the same positions which they occupied the evening before.
Our loss on the right wing was estimated at 6,000, of which 4,000 occurred during the enemy's assault. The total loss in the two days' bloody straggle was probably not short of 15,000. The rebel loss was somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000. Longstreet was severely wounded, accidentally, by his own men, and was of no further use to the rebel cause till the close of the year.
Secretary Stanton, under date of May 8th, stated :—" "We have no official reports from the front, but the medical director has notified the surgeongeneral that our wounded were being sent to Washington, and will number from 6,000 to 8,000. The chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac has made requisition for seven days' grain, and for railroad construction trains, and states, the enemy is reported to be retiring. This indicates General Grant's advance, and affords an inference of material success on our part." *
* This was the first of a series of dispatches, sent by
On the morning of the 7th of May, the bleeding combatants had little desire for renewal of the terrible struggle on the battle field. Reconnaissances, on our side, showed that the rebels had fallen behind their entrenched lines, with pickets to the front covering a part of the field. "From this," according to Grant's statement, "it was evident to my mind that the two days' fighting had satisfied the enemy of his inability to further maintain the contest in the open field, notwithstanding his advantage of position, and that he would wait an attack behind his works. I determined therefore to push on, and put my whole force between him and Richmond; and orders were at once issued for a movement by his right flank." The immense army trains were sent during the day to Chancellorsville, there to park for the night, and preparations were made for a forward movement to Spottsylvania Court House, some fifteen miles south-east. The cavalry, already in advance at Todd's Tavern, had a sharp engagement with Stuart's troopers during the afternoon, and succeeded in driving them for a considerable distance.*
the secretary of war to Gen. Dix, in command at New York. They were intended to satisfy the anxious desire, on every hand, for speedy information from the seat of war. The reader will of course notice that they are more or lees unreliable and imperfect.
* Mr. Swinton, speaking of this opening of Grant's overland campaign, characterizes the battle of the Wilderness as " terrible and indescribable in those gloomy woods. There is something horrible, yet fascinating, in the my-tery shrouding this strangest of battles ever fought—a battle which no man could see, and whose progress only could be followed by the car, as the sharp and crackling volleys of musketry, and the alternate Union cheer and Confederate yell, told how the fight surged and swelled."—" Army of the Potomac" p. 439.
Leaving the narrative of the further movements of Grant and Meade for a brief space, it will be interesting to take note here of what Butler had been about in the meanwhile. Grant had i carefully impressed upon Butler, before the opening of the campaign, that it 11 was his intention to fight Lee between Culpepper and Richmond, if he would stand. Should Lee, however, fall back to Richmond, Grant purposed following him up and effecting a junction with Butler's forces on the James River, and he urged upon Butler to secure foothold as far up the south side of the river as he could, and, if he could not carry Richmond, at least to detain as large a force of the enemy as possible. ,
Butler, at this time, with the corps under Smith and Gillmore (p.424), had a division of horse, commanded by Gen. ,, Kautz, making his force 30,000 in all. They were assembled at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, on the opposite side of the York River, and were in a position to move by land up the Peninsula | toward Richmond, or take up the line of the James River, and threaten the rebel capital from the south side. The last was the purpose really had in view,! although feints were made of attacking in other directions. To distract the at-; tention of the enemy, a brigade of troops, at the very last moment, was sent up the York River to the White House Landing, where, at the time Butler's army was in motion, they were employed in constructing a wharf. The decep- j tion was complete. When all was ready, on Wednesday, May 4th, the transport steamers w< re sent frouj Fortress Monroe to the mouth of York