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The Battle of the Wilderness

 May 6-5, 1864

        On May fifth and sixth,1864, a battle broke out once again between the two great generals of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.  This battle took place approximately eleven months before the end of the war at Wilderness, Virginia..

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            The battle was part of the great Spring Campaign of 1864 and was fought very close to the town of Richmond.[i] It was Lee's purpose to protect the town and to save the Confederacy.  Grant's main purpose was to wound and kill as many of Lee's men as possible, and to reach and occupy Richmond, the Confederate capital.[ii]  With these goals the two men were prepared to fight for it all.  Both armies, lying on opposite sides of the Rapidan River, were prepared and well rested from the winter.[iii]

On May 4, 1864 Grant started to move his troops across the Rapidan and towards the settled troops of Lee.  Grant had split his army up to cross at sections of the river.[iv]  The troops of the Fifth and Sixth Corps crossed at Germanna and then the Second Corps at Ely's Ford.[v]  As Grant and his troops crossed the Rapidan, Grant was hoping to bring the rebels out and to fight south of the Wilderness.  This plan, however, did not work because on May fifth, two of Lee's corps ran into three of Grant's Corps that were moving south.[vi]  And so the fighting began in the Wilderness on May fifth.

      The area of the Wilderness consisted mainly of underbrush and brackish water, 70 miles wide and 30 miles long.[vii]  Fighting in this place became an ordeal.  Both sides were often invisible and were only able to move by the use of a compass and the sounds of the gunfire from either side.  Also, much of the brush in the area caught on fire and so many of the wounded died or suffocated due to the fire.[viii]  With the smoke-filled woods caused by underbrush fire, many troops lost their way and ended up shooting at their own.  Even one of Lee's generals, General James Longstreet, was shot in the shoulder by his own troops.[ix]  By nightfall, this bloody, brutal battle was over. Neither side made any advance.[x]  This battle, however, was not the end of the campaign.  Grant kept moving forward towards Richmond while flanking Lee onto Spotsylvania where the campaign continued.[xi]


Notes:

[i] Milton, 280.
[ii] Milton, 311
[iii] Morris
[iv] Blay, 283.
[v] Milton, 312.
[vi] McPherson, 724-25.
[vii] Morris.
[viii] Blay, 285.
[ix] McPherson, 725.
[x] Blay, 285.
[xi] Blay, 287.


Bibliography:

    Blay, John S.  The Civil War: A Pictorial Profile.  New York: The Cornwall Press, 1958.

    McPherson, James M.  Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

    Milton, George Fort.  Conflict: The American Civil War.  New York: Coward - McCann, Inc, 1941

    Morris, Roy Jr. "Titans Clash in the Wilderness."  Military History. April. 1997

    Map from:  The Civil War Home: Battle of the Wilderness.

    Image from: Give God the Glory: Memoirs of a Civil War Soldier.


Edited,  Researched and Written by: 
Jonathan Carlson
Dec 15, 2000

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