Clement Anselm Evans.

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much progress in his campaign, and had ordered that he
should make simultaneous movement from Fort Monroe,
up the James, to an assault upon Richmond and Peters-

Hancock's corps, crossing at Ely's ford, had encamped
on the battlefield of Chancellorsville, whence a good
highway led southward, by way of Spottsylvania Court
House, into the main roads leading directly to Richmond.
Gregg's cavalry, moving along a parallel road to the
southwest, toward Todd's tavern and Spottsylvania Court
House, protected his flank from the incursions of Stuart's
cavalry. Warren's corps had led the advance across
Germanna ford and advanced to the valley of Wil-
derness run, a point where the old turnpike, on which
Ewell was marching, crosses the road to Spottsylvania
Court House, that Warren was following to the southeast.
The Sixth corps, under Sedgwick, followed close behind
the Fifth and encamped in the open fields just south of
the Rapidan. Cavalry also watched the right of the
movement, guarding it from Stuart. Grant's army was
now well closed up, facing to the southward, along the
Orange and Fredericksburg road, on the high watershed
between the Rappahannock and the head branches of the

In the evening of the 4th of May, Ewell established his
headquarters near Locust Grove, on the old turnpike,
with his advance but an hour's march from Grant's pass-
ing flank, on the same road, at the Wilderness run. Lee's
second column, under Hill, which Lee accompanied, had
its headquarters at Verdiersville, some four miles to the
southwest from Ewell's, while Longstreet, that night,
reached Brock's bridge, on the North Anna, on the old
road that Lafayette had cut through the forest, to the
northeastward, to Verdiersville, in order to form a junc-
tion with Wayne, and which, to this day, is known as the
' ' Marquis' road. ' '


During the night of the 4th, Lee sent orders to Ewell
to march upon the enemy at daylight of the 5th, desiring
"to bring liim to battle now as soon as possible." He
ordered Hill forward at the same hour, and himself
promptly rode to the front, along the plank road, and was
with the pickets when the skirmish opened, at Parker's
store, on that road, at the head of the Wilderness run,
three miles south of the old Wilderness tavern, where
Grant and Meade, accompanied by Assistant Secretary of
War Dana, had established their headquarters. Stuart's
cavalry were already skirmishing with those of Gregg, on
the Brock road, in front of and far to Lee's right, toward
Todd's tavern, while Ewell's skirmishers were in lively
engagement with those of Warren, advanced to protect
his flank on the Germanna road. Now and then a field
piece opened from either side.

Lee sent word to Ewell to regulate his advance by that
of Hill in the center, and his engineers reconnoi-
tered the front, and the skirmish lines along the whole
were soon made continuous. Lee reluctantly held back
his two columns, unwilling to bring on general battle
until his strong right, under Longstreet, was in position.
He impatiently awaited the arrival of Longstreet until
8 in the morning (sth), maintaining, in the meantime, a
vigorous skirmish, which held the Federals in check as
Meade developed his lines of battle, along the fields bor-
dering Wilderness run and fronting its wooded western
watershed, which covered the deployment of Ewell and

Lee, Stuart and Hill, riding to near the pickets in
advance of Parker's store, had halted to look down the
open valley of Wilderness run, at the long lines of Fed-
erals drawn up in battle array, when Meade's skirmishers
suddenly advanced from the pine thickets to the east-
ward. Hill's line sprang forward to meet these; he then
reinforced that with Heth's division, and a general battle
appeared to have begun on Lee's right. Near the same
time, about 11 of the morning, Ewell advanced John-
son's division, with Jones' brigade in skirmish front,
pressed back Warren's skirmishers, and came in full view
of his column, marching southward across the turnpike
but ready to face to line of battle ; which they promptly did
and so forced an engagement before Lee was ready for it.
Jones met the attack with a vigorous fire of musketry and


artillery, and had good promise that he would cut Meade's
line of movement. Just then Ewell received Lee's warn-
ing not to bring on a general engagement, and ordered
Jones to "fall slowly back, if pressed." Interpreting
this as an order to fall back at once, Jones began to with-
draw the field pieces in his skirmish line, which Griffin's
division, of Warren's corps, took for a retreat, and so
pressed upon Jones vigorously and drove his men back
with the loss of their leader, who fell in trying to stem
the tide of retreat. Ewell promptly moved forward the
brigades of Gordon and Daniel, crushed Griffin's victory-
disordered advance, and fell on the flank of the divisions
of Crawford and Wadsworth. These he routed, and cap-
tured four Federal guns and many prisoners. Warren
closed up his corps front, with his left retired, through
the forest, toward Wilderness run, and extended his
right with Sedgwick's corps, through the woods to the
westward, with its right retired toward Flat run, thus
covering Ewell's front, which, as reformed, had Rodes'
division on the right of the old turnpike with Johnson's
on his left, followed by Early, extending the line to and
beyond Flat run, where an open field furnished excellent
positions for batteries, which were also placed along the
cross road leading toward the Germanna plank road, in
and near the old turnpike, and at the cross road near
Ewell's right, whence A. P. Hill extended his lines to
the southward, still covering the position that belonged to
Longstreet. These lines of contending forces were now
near together, at the center less than 500 yards apart,
and each (not the Confederate alone, as Grant unfairly
states, repeatedly, in his messages and report) hastened
to make its position strong with rude breastworks of logs
and- earth, and whatever other material active veterans
could lay hands on.

Ewell now held the Fifth and Sixth Federal corps in
check, in desultory engagement, and forced Meade to hesi-
tate in pressing an advance beyond Lee's right, or rather
his center, where Heth had met and driven back Crawford,
leading Warren to the southward. Heth pushed his
advantage in driving Crawford back along the plank
road, met Getty at the crossing of the Brock road, and
forced him to halt on the direct way to Richmond,
which Grant, in his order of march on the morning of
the 5th, expected his army to traverse, having already


ordered Hancock to Shady Grove church, on the head-
waters of the Po, and Warren to Parker's store, in the
same general direction, and Sedgwick to close Tip at the
Wilderness tavern. Hancock, obeying his orders, had
reached Todd's tavern, on the Brock road, and was turn-
ing to the southwest, by the Catharpin road, toward
Shady Grove church, scarcely three miles away, at 1 1 a. m. ,
just as Ewell and Heth were in hot engagement with
Getty, when he was ordered back to Getty's contest, on
the Brock road, which he had only reached at 2 of the
afternoon, and to aid in the work of throwing up formid-
able fortifications along that road, to hold back Hill.

Had Longstreet come to his assigned position, before
this juncture of combat, with his 10,000 men, Lee could
not only have crushed the advance of Crawford and Getty,
as he did with Hill's men, but could have rolled it back
into Ewell's battle, and to the probable discomfiture of
most of Warren's and Sedgwick's corps. He could also,
with the wide interval already made between Warren and
Hancock, have struck the latter in flank, with good pros-
pect for defeating him as he turned back from Grant's
"on to Richmond." The three hours between 11
and 2 were quite enough for this work, had Long-
street's veterans been there to be directed by Lee. Long-
street wandered along the many roads that led through
the great forests of Orange and Spottsylvania, making but
12 miles of easting during all the sth, and halting at night
at Richards' shop, miles away from Hill's right. Under
Lee's orders of urgency, Longstreet marched again at
midnight, and the morning of the 6th was well advanced
when he appeared with his veterans to join in the hotly
contested battle that had again begun.

When, in the afternoon of the 5th,. Hancock halted on
the Brock road, with his right near the plank road, he
was not satisfied with having thrown up along that road
one line of formidable breastworks, upon its western side,
toward Lee's front, but he reared a second, equally for-
midable, on the other side of the road, making that a
covered way — a sort of Spanish trocha. Not satisfied
with these two, his busy men erected a third; so each of
his triple lines of battle was well hedged in, behind a
most formidable line of breastworks, awaiting Hill's attack
from the rude line of slight defenses that his men had
thrown up; although, according to Grant, the Federal


soldiers, during all this campaign, never fought from
behind breastworks, or had breastworks to fall back to
when defeated.

Concealed by a dense forest of pines, of young growth,
extending to the right and left from the turnpike, with
skirmishers in advance, Heth's division, strengthened on
both flanks, but especially on the left to keep touch with
Ewell, and with Poague's battalion of artillery in the
roadway, awaited Hancock's attack, which was in prep-
aration but a few hundred yards in advance. Shortly
after reaching the scene of conflict, at about half past
four, Hancock strengthened Getty's waiting division with
portions of Gibbon's and Owens', and four Federal divi-
sions, with other troops in reserve, advanced to engage
with Hill's two. A furious combat followed, in which
the contending lines met each other, face to face. Hill's
men, crouching behind their slight breastworks, sheltered
themselves as best they could, as a storm of Federal bul-
lets, cutting off the tops of the dense growth in front, sped
to the Confederate line, which met the E'ederal advance
with deliberate aim and drove it back, although held to
its work by a strong line of bayonets in its rear.

The battle continued until after nightfall, and the dark-
ness was lighted up by the flashes of the opposing mus-
ketry and artillery. Nearly half of Grant's army took
part in this attempt to drive Hill's two divisions from
safeguarding Lee's right. To relieve the pressure of
the unequal combat, Lee ordered Ewell to assume the
offensive, drive the Federals from his front, take posses-
sion of the Germanna road, and cut Grant's line of com-
munication. Ewell promptly sent two brigades to attack
Sedgwick's center, followed by a supporting force; but
Sedgwick was found too well protected, by a heavy
breastwork of logs, for a successful assault, so Ewell
merely held him in combat.

Not content with merely holding his position on the
right, Lee ordered a counterstroke from Hill's center and
captured a Federal battery, but lost it when forced back
by a vigorous Federal repulse, which Hancock followed up
with repeated and desperate but unsuccessful assaults on
Hill's line. Stuart, on the extreme right, drove back the
charges of Sheridan's cavalry. After this first day of
Wilderness battle was over, Lee telegraphed to Rich-
mond, ' ' By the blessing of God we maintained our posi-


tion against every effort until night, when the contest

During the night of the 5th, Hill's and Ewell's men
held the lines from which they had fought during the day.
Lee ordered Longstreet to make a night march, which he
began at i a. m., expecting to have him in position, on
his right, by daylight of the 6th, to help in an aggressive
fight which he proposed to make at the dawn of day,
advancing his entire battle line against Grant's. Ewell
opened this battle, at 5 in the morning, by attacking
Warren and Sedgwick. The engagement quickly ex-
tended to Lee's right, against which Hancock made
prompt advance, again assaulting Hill's weak line (that
Lee had expected to replace with Longstreet, before day-
light), but which he could not force from its position.
Wadsworth moved against Hill's left flank, at the same
time that Hancock developed a large force around his
right. Thus flanked, Hill was forced from the field,
stubbornly fighting as he fell back to just behind Poague's
artillery, which defiantly held the broad highway, and
checked Hancock with canister and grape at short range.
Near these guns Lee watched his broken right, which
had courageously endured an hour of unequal contention,
saying, again and again, to his surrounding staff, "Why
does not Longstreet come?"

One division of Burnside's corps crossed Germanna ford
on the morning of the 5 th, and another on the morning of
the 6th. Grant ordered these fresh troops to make attack
on Lee's center, while Warren and Sedgwick assaulted
the right and Hancock the left. Ewell's men strength-
ened their line, during the night of the 5th, with breast-
works, and planted batteries all along it, and so were able
to drive back the Federal assaults with heavy losses.
Poague's guns, on the plank road, were able to give check
to Hancock's advance, until Longstreet's corps, in double
column, and well closed up, came down the plank road at
a double-quick. Field's division on the left and Kershaw's
on the right. Lee caught sight of these long-expected
reinforcements and rode to meet them. "What boys are
these?" he asked, as he met the head of the column under
Field. The word passed, as by electric flash, and the quick
reply came, from the men of Hood, who had led many a
brave assault, "Texas boys." When the voice of the
great leader clearly rang out, "My Texas boys, you must


charge. ' ' The response of the 800 present for duty was
an answering cheer that gave assurance of victory when
the charge should be ordered. A line of battle was
promptly formed, and the men, rushing forward, passed
Poague's battery, and were advancing on Hancock's
men, when they heard behind them, and almost in their
midst, from Lee himself, the shouted command, "Charge !
Charge, boys, charge!" Glancing back and discovering^
that Lee in person was joining in, if not leading the
charge, the Texans shouted, "Go back. General Lee!
Marse Robert, go back!" Poague's men, from amid
their guns, also called out, "Come back! Come back.
General Lee ! ' ' But Lee, waving his hat, rode on with
the charge, while from every side, like a shout of
command, the soldiers cried out, "Lee to the rear!
Lee to the rear!" Then a tall Texas sergeant stepped
from the ranks, caught the bridle rein of "Trav-
eler," and turned him to the rear. Lee reluctantly
obeyed this order of his men, who, waving back to him
a salute of gratification, rushed forward to meet the solid
ranks of Hancock's oncoming host, and the most of them
to meet death. Part of Poague's guns moved forward in
the charge, and the men with them shouted back to their
comrades, "Good-bye, boys!"

The Texas brigade, now led by Gregg, struck the
masked front of Hancock's corps, in the plank road, and
was soon fairly enveloped in a circle of fire ; but it flinched
not, and soon staggered the Federal column, and then,
when Anderson and Benning brought up their Georgians^
and Law his Alabamians, in support, Hancock's line was
forced to yield, not to numbers, but to courage, and was.
driven back toward his line of defenses, but not until the
half of Gregg's men, in ten minutes of fighting, had fallen
beside their successful comrades. Lee now deployed
Field to the left and Kershaw to the right, and the com-
bat surged back and forth through the tangled and
marshy forest. The crisis of the engagement was at
hand. Hill's rested men were again sent to the front.
At 10 of the morning, Longstreet sent Mahone, with
his four brigades, to turn Hancock's left, which they
did, under shelter of the cuts and fills of the partially
graded Orange railroad, and then, moving forward, struck
Hancock's flank and rolled it up, as Hancock himself said,
"like a wet blanket." By 11 o'clock, Lee's counter-^




Top.F.n^T Office, V D..Frt.Ci'5i8fi


stroke, on Hancock's front and flank, had driven back
his brigades and broken up his right, under Wadsworth ;
and by noon. Grant's entire left had been defeated and
disorganized. Hancock's chief of staif, the truth-telling
Walker, says of this time: "Down the plank road from
Hancock's center a stream of broken men was pouring
to the rear, giving the onlooker the impression that
everything had gone to pieces. ' '

Longstreet urged forward his men to press the
enemy. The dried leaves of the preceding autumn took
fire from blazing cartridges, and their smoke, joining
with that of battle, clouded the day and concealed the
combatants from each other. Forming Kershaw's divi-
sion in line of battle, across the plank road, Longstreet,
in person, led it against Hancock's retreating men, but
failing to note, in the heat of pursuit, that his flanking
brigades, under Mahone, had halted in line and were
facing the roadway down which he was rushing. Ma-
hone's men, mistaking Longstreet and his following for
a Federal officer and his staff and escort, turned on them
a full volleyed flank fire, which killed Jenkins and
severely wounded Longstreet, thus checking an onset
which promised to turn the Federal retreat into a disas-
trous rout.

As Longstreet was carried to the rear, Lee rode
rapidly to the front to reform his now disordered
attack, and at 4 he again pressed forward his lines,
through the smoking forest, to fall upon Hancock in the
Brock road. Hill had already repulsed Burnside's feeble
attack on Lee's center, and the time was opportune for
renewing the attack on Grant's flanks. As Lee moved
to assault the Federal left on the plank road, Ewell
detached Johnson's and Gordon's brigades from his
extreme left, under the leadership of Early, to wheel to
the right, from their intrenchments, fall upon Sedg-
wick's right flank, and sweep the rear of his breastworks.
The sun was low as this masterly movement began, but
these men, that Stonewall Jackson had often led to
flanking victory, knew what was in the air when the
order to march was given, and they at once, with a wild
yell, swung into line, fell upon Milroy's old brigade which
they had routed in the Valley the preceding spring, just
as its men were cooking their suppers, as was Hooker's
right when struck at Chancellorsville, and quickly routed


a mile of Sedgwick's line, capturing 600 of his men and
two of his brigadiers ; and they were still sweeping on to
"victory, even through the gathering darkness, when
Ewell called a halt.

Not knowing of the existence of Hancock's formidable
intrenchments, Lee's right, consisting of the divisions of
Field and Anderson, charged against Hancock, on the
Brock road, to find themselves confronted by a wall of
fire, made by the burning of the front line of Federal
breastworks, which had been set on fire by the burning
forest, and by a more dangerous, blazing line of infantry
and artillery, that poured rifle ball and shot and shell
into their ranks from behind Hancock's second line of
"breastworks, which he now held in force. The Confed-
erates drove back the Federals, even from this double-
fire line, and planted their flags on the front line of breast-
works, iDut for a short time only. They were repulsed
by the fierce artillery fire that was poured upon them, as
night put an end to the fierce struggles of thiff 6th day
of May. At the close of this day, Lee held, all along his
lines, a position advanced from that held in the morning,
and the great army of the Potomac found itself in the toils
of a defensive struggle, in aid of which it was throwing up
new lines of breastworks, along the positions to which it
had been forced back on its right and along its center,
and was grimly holding on to the triple line of defenses
that guarded its left.

On the morning of the 7th, at 10, Grant telegraphed
to Washington, from the Wilderness tavern :

We were engaged with the enemy nearly all day, both on the 5th and
the 6th. Yesterday the enemy attacked our lines vigorously, first
^t one point and then another, from right to left. They were repulsed
at all points before reaching our lines, except once during the after-
noon on Hancock's front, and just after night on Sedgwick's front.
In the former instance they were promptly and handsomely repulsed ;
the latter, Milroy's old brigade was attacked and gave away in the
greatest confusion, almost without resistance, carrying good troops
with them. Had there been daylight the enemy could have injured
us very much in the confusion that prevailed ; they, however, in-
stead of getting through the break, attacked General Wright's divi-
sion of Sedgwick's corps, and were driven back.

After confessing that his loss had been about 12,000,
-and mentioning his killed, wounded and captured gen-
erals, he added: "I think the loss of the enemy must
exceed ours, but this is only a guess based upon the fact
that they attacked and were repulsed so often" — a state-


ment that is rather remarkable, in the light of his subse-
quent reports, when he accounts for his enormous losses
by saying that, during all the campaign, he had to attack
Lee protected by breastworks. His dispatch concludes:
"At present we can claim no victory over the enemy,
neither have they gained a single advantage. The enemy
pushed out of his fortifications to prevent their position
being turned, and have been i sooner or later driven back
in every instance. Up to this hour the enemy have not
shown themselves in force within a mile of our lines. ' '
He does not say that he had withdrawn his lines, in many
places, and thus secured the mile of interval that he

Well-nigh exhausted by the desperate struggles of
May sth and 6th, each army was quite content to rest
behind its defenses, care for its wounded and bury its
dead, during the 7th ; neither caring to again attempt to
carry the breastworks of the other, each formidable with
well-placed artillery. Grant, having now found out that
Lee was still willing to give battle "this side of Rich-
mond, ' ' for which information he had paid dearly by the
loss of 17,000 men, now attempted, by a sidling move-
ment to the left, to steal by Lee and renew his inter-
rupted march toward the Confederate capital. To open
the way for this, his cavalry, during the 7th, pressed
southward on the Brock road, where Fitz Lee held
them in sharp contention, and on the Catharpin road,
where they were equally well met by Hampton's divi-
sion. He also gave orders for a night march by the Fifth
corps, under Warren, along the Brock road, in the rear of
Hancock's well fortified line, which the latter was to con-
tinue to hold, to Spottsylvania Court House ; while Sedg-
wick, withdrawing from Ewell's front after dark, was to
march eastward to Chancellorsville, and then southward
to Piney Branch church, and Burnside was to withdraw
from Hill's front, and, marching to the eastward of
Chancellorsville, then turn south, thus covering the road
to Fredericksburg, in his rear, along which Grant was
sending his wounded to Aquia creek, and by which he
had communication with his base of supplies, which he
had now shifted to the same point on the Potomac.

These movements, during the night of the 7th, would
leave two corps in front of Lee and withdraw two farther
to the east. Grant and Meade were apprehensive, dur-


ing all the 7th, that Lee might again attack them, as
indicated by the dispatch Grant sent to Washington, about
noon of the 8th, in which he said:

The army commenced moving south at 9 p. m. yesterday, and
when closed up to the position assigned for the first day's march
will stand thus: General Warren's corps at Spottsylvania Court
House; Hancock at Todd's tavern; Sedgwick on the road from
Piney Branch church to Spottsylvania, and General Bumside at
Aldrich's. It is not demonstrated what the enemy will do, but
the best of feeling prevails in this army, and I feel at present
no apprehension for the result. My efforts will be to form a junc-

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 43 of 153)