A New Phase begins at the Wilderness

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Battle of the Wilderness, skirmishToday marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Wilderness. It also marked a new phase in the War for the Union or the War for Southern Independence. Gone were the days when the Union Army of the Potomac would advance across the Rappahannock or the Rapidan Rivers, be repulsed and withdraw to the safety of the far bank.

The timidity of past commanders had been replaced by the determination of Ulysses S. Grant to pursue and destroy Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. It would take eleven months but Grant would accomplish his main objective and with it the virtual end of the war.

The Army of the Potomac would begin that long road in the dark, confusing Wilderness of Virginia. On the morning of May 5, the Union V Corps under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren attacked the Confederate Second Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, on the Orange Turnpike. That afternoon the Third Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, encountered Brig. Gen. George W. Getty‘s division (VI Corps) and Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock‘s II Corps on the Orange Plank Road. Fighting until dark was fierce but inconclusive as both sides attempted to maneuver in the dense woods.

The fighting would continue for two more days and at the conclusion almost 29,000 men were killed, wounded, captured or missing. But unlike Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and other battles Grant ordered George Gordon Meade to move his army south to Spotsylvania Court House where they would continue to engage their enemy.

By the light of the burning Wilderness eyewitnesses reported that Grant was cheered by his men as they moved past their general. They and their president knew that Grant was as Lincoln said when advised to relieve him: “I can’t spare the man. He fights.”

For those who wish to read my series on the Battle of the Wilderness, here are the links:

The Overland Campaign: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-51

The Battle of the Wilderness (Days One and Two): http://wp.me/p1BuMY-58

The Battle of the Wilderness (Day Three): http://wp.me/p1BuMY-5h

Clark Mountain: Robert E. Lee’s Lookout Post: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-1n4



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