Longstreet In The Wilderness
From Manassas to Appomattox (Longstreet)
By Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, CSA
Chapter XXXVIII.--Battle Of The Wilderness.
AFTER reporting the return of my command to service with the Army of Northern Virginia, I took the earliest opportunity to suggest that the preliminaries of the campaign should be carefully confined to strategic manoeuvre until we could show better genera]ship. That accomplished, I argued, the enemy's forces would lose confidence in the superiority of their leader's skill and prowess; that both armies were composed of intelligent, experienced veterans, who were as quick to discover the better handling of their ranks as trained generals; that by such successful manoeuvres the Confederates would gain confidence and power as the enemy began to lose prestige; that then we could begin to look for a favorable opportunity to call the enemy to aggressive work, while immediate aggression from us against his greater numbers must make our labors heavy and more or less doubtful; that we should first show that the power of battle is in generalship more than in the number of soldiers, which, properly illustrated, would make the weaker numbers of the contention the stronger force.
In this connection I refer to the policy of attrition which became a prominent feature during part of the campaign, and showed that the enemy put his faith in numbers more than in superior skill and generalship.
General Grant made his head-quarters near the Army of the Potomac, in Culpeper County, Virginia, commanded by Major-General George G. Meade. It had been organized into three corps, Second, Fifth, and Sixth, commanded respectively by Major-General W. S. Hancock, Major-General G. K.'Warren, and Major-General John Sedgwick, all in cantonment near Culpeper CourtHouse. The Ninth Corps was a distinct body reorganized under Major-General A. E. Burnside, and posted in cooperative position near the railroad bridge over the Rappahannock River. The aggregate of the two commands was about one hundred and thirty thousand men, classified as follows:
Army of the Potomac: Infantry present for duty, equipped (aggregate) 73,390 Cavalry (aggregate) 12,424 Artillery and engineers 2,764 Quartermaster's, subsistence, and medical departments, extra-duty men, and engineer brigade 19,183 Ninth Corps, present for duty, equipped 19,486 Total 127,247 But deducting extra-duty men, claimed as non-combatants 19,183 Leaves 108,064
These figures are from Major-General A. A. Humphreys, chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac. But General Badeau, in his "Military History of U.S. Grant," p. 94, gives as the exact numbers put into battle (after deducting a division of colored troops, not then used for battle service) the following:
Army of the Potomac 97,273 Ninth Corps 22,708 Total 119,981 From which he deducts the division of colored troops 3,095 Leaving 116,886
The Army of Northern Virginia stood on the west side of Rapidan River, Mine Run on its right, extending north, the left division, R. H. Anderson's, looking towards Madison Court-House; the Second and Third Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-Generals R. S. Ewell and A. P. Hill; two divisions and Alexander's artillery of Longstreet's (First) corps being held at Mechanicsville.
Colonel Taylor, chief of staff with the Army of Northern Virginia, gives the strength of the army at the opening of the campaign, from the returns of April 20, the latest up to date, as follows:
Second Corps 17,093 Third Corps 22,199 Unattached commands, Maryland Line, etc 1,125 "A liberal estimate," as he calls it, of my command 10,000 Total 50,417 Cavalry 8,727 Artillery corps 4,854 Making a total of 63,998
But General Badeau objects, on authority of a letter from General Bragg to General Joseph E. Johnston, stating that I had fourteen thousand men in my command. If General Bragg's letter referred to my command in East Tennessee it was accurate enough. But Buckner's division of that command, the cavalry, and other detachments were left in East Tennessee. General Badeau claims, besides, six thousand furloughed men and conscripts as joining the army between the 20th of April and the 4th of May. Of this there is no official record, and it is more than probable that new cases of sick and furloughed men of that interval were as many at least as the fragmentary parties that joined us. General Humphreys reported me as having fifteen thousand men. If he intended those figures as the strength of the First Corps, he is accurate enough, but Pickett's division of that corps was not with it, nor did it return to the Army of Northern Virginia until late in the campaign. So I find no good reason for changing the figures of Colonel Taylor, except so far as to add Johnson's brigade of Rodes's division, which is reported to have joined the Second Corps on the 6th of May,--estimated at 1500, which, added to 63,998, would make the total 65,498. But General Ewell's official account of numbers on the morning of the 6th of May puts his force at 15,500, which is better authority than Colonel Taylor's from the return of April 20, or General Badeau's computation. To these figures should be added Johnson's brigade, that reported later of the day, estimated by General Badeau at 1500, which makes the aggregate of the Second Corps 17,000, and brings that of the Army of Northern Virginia back to 65,405.
However, the numerical strength of armies should not be considered as of exclusive bearing upon the merits of the campaign. The commanders had chosen their battle after mature deliberation. They knew of each other's numbers and resources before they laid their plans, and they had even known each other personally for more than twenty years. Each had the undivided support and confidence of his government and his army, and it was time now to leave the past and give attention to the future.
General Lee had acquired fame as a strategist in his two years' service in the Army of Northern Virginia, and General Grant, by his three years' service in the West, had come to be known as an all-round soldier, seldom if ever surpassed; but the biggest part of him was his heart. They were equally pugnacious and plucky,--Grant the more deliberate.
Six months before the opening of the impending campaign, in November, 1863, General Meade, essaying a blow at the Army of Northern Virginia, crossed the Rapidan below General Lee's right, and deployed along the south side of Mine Run, but found Lee's line so strong and so improved by field-works that he felt constrained to withdraw without making battle.
As the purpose of this writing is to convey ideas of personal observations and experience, it will be confined, as far as practicable, to campaigns or parts of them with which I was directly or indirectly connected. So, when participants and partisans have passed away, I shall have contributed my share towards putting the historian in possession of evidence which he can weigh with that of other actors in the great drama.
At midnight of the 3d of May, 1864, the Army of the Potomac took its line of march for the lower crossings of the Rapidan River at Germania and Ely's Fords, the Fifth and Sixth Corps for the former, the Second for the latter, Wilson's division of cavalry leading the first, Gregg's the second column. The cavalry was to secure the crossings and lay bridges for the columns as they came up. Wilson's cavalry crossed at Germania ford, drove off the Confederate outpost, and began the construction of a bridge at daylight. Gregg also was successful, and the bridges were ready when the solid columns came. Warren's (Fifth Corps) crossed after Wilson's cavalry, marching westward as far as Wilderness Tavern. Sedgwick's corps followed and pitched camp near the crossing. Hancock's corps followed Gregg's cavalry, and made camp at Chancellors-ville. Generals Grant and Meade went over after Warren's column and established head-quarters near the crossing. General Grant despatched for Burnside's corps to come and join him by night march. Sheridan was expected to engage Stuart's cavalry at Hamilton's Crossing near Fredericksburg.
General Grant had no fixed plan of campaign beyond the general idea to avoid the strong defensive line occupied by General Lee behind Mine Run, and find a way to draw him out to open battle.
The Wilderness is a forest land of about fifteen miles square, lying between and equidistant from Orange CourtHouse and Fredericksburg. It is broken occasionally by small farms and abandoned clearings, and two roads,-the Orange Plank road and the turnpike, which are cut at right angles by the Germania road,--in general course nearly parallel, open ways through it between Fredericksburg and the Court-House. The Germania Ford road joins the Brock road, the strategic line of the military zone, and crosses the turnpike at Wilderness Tavern and the Plank road about two miles south of that point.
Though the march was set on foot at midnight it was soon made known to General Lee, and its full purport was revealed by noon of the 4th, and orders were sent the different commanders for their march to meet the enemy,--the Second Corps (Ewell's), consisting of Rodes's, Johnson's, and Early's divisions, by the Orange Turnpike; the Third (A. P. Hill's)--R. H. Anderson's, Heth's, and Wilcox's divisions--by the Orange Plank road.
General Lee's signals were interpreted and sent to General Grant, who so far modified his plans as to prepare for immediate battle. The commands of the First Corps, Field's and Kershaw's divisions and Alexander's batteries, were stationed, Field's north of Gordonsville, where he had been posted on the 1st of May in anticipation of a move around our left, the other commands near Mechanicsville. We were ordered forward by the Plank road to Parker's Store; the order was received after one o'clock, and sent out for information of the commanders, who were ordered to prepare and march. But I asked for and received authority to march by a shorter route that would at the same time relieve the Plank road of pressure of troops and trains (for we had been crowded off the road once before by putting too many troops upon a single track). By the same despatch I asked and subsequently obtained leave to go on to the Brock road, where we could look for and hope to intercept the enemy's march, and cause him to develop plans before he could get out of the Wilderness. We marched at four o'clock by the Lawyer's road. Our chief quartermaster, Colonel Taylor, whose home was between Orange Court-House and the Wilderness, had been ordered to secure the services of the most competent guide to be found. We halted at Brock's Bridge for rest, and there Colonel Taylor brought up our guide, James Robinson, who had been for several years the sheriff of the county, and whose whole life had been spent in the Wilderness. The march was resumed, and continued with swinging step, with occasional rests, until we reached Richard's Shops, at five P.M. of the 5th. There we overtook Rosser's cavalry, engaged in severe encounter with part of Sheridan's. The enemy abandoned the contest and rode away, leaving his dead with some of ours on the field.
The distance of march was twenty-eight miles. Soon after my arrival at the shops, Colonel Venable, of general head-quarters staff, came with orders for a change of direction of the column through the wood to unite with the troops of the Third Corps on the Plank road. The rear of my column closed up at dark, and orders were sent to prepare to resume march at twelve o'clock. The accounts we had of the day's work were favorable to the Confederates; but the change of direction of our march was not reassuring.
In accordance with the general plan of turning the Confederate right without touching our intrenched line along Mine Run, the Army of the Potomac had been put in motion early on the 5th, the Second Corps towards Shady Grove Church by the Todd's Tavern road, the Fifth by the dirt road towards Parker's Store on the Plank road, the Sixth on the right, to follow the Fifth as movements developed. General Warren moved with three divisions, leaving Griffin's on the turnpike. Presently, after taking up his march towards Parker's Store, the Confederates were discovered on the Plank road, and General Meade ordered the corps made ready for battle. The Sixth, except Getty's division, was ordered to make connection on the right of the Fifth by wood roads, and prepare for the battle. Getty's division was ordered to the Plank road at the Brock road crossing, to hold that point at all hazards until the Second Corps could join it, the latter being recalled from Todd's Tavern for that holding and developments there indicated.
At noon General Warren was prepared on the turnpike and attacked with Griffin's and Wadsworth's divisions.
General Lee's orders were against a general engagement until his forces were in hand, but the troops had met and action could not wait. Warren's attack had some success, as by his orders General Ewell felt called upon to delay battle, but a sudden dash of the enemy broke into disorder his brigade under J. M. Jones, also Battle's brigade; but other of his troops joined them, recovered his ground, drove off the attacking forces, taking two guns, and called Warren's corps to better concentration. The Sixth was to be with Warren, but was delayed by the narrow, tangled roads till night. General Ewell prepared for the next day by intrenching his front.
Meanwhile, General Hill had pushed the divisions under Heth and Wilcox along the Plank road until they were near the Brock road crossing, occupied by Getty's division of the Sixth Corps.
General Getty was in time to drive back a few of our men who had reached the Brock road in observation, and Hancock's corps joined him at two P.M., fronting his divisions--Birney's, Mott's, Gibbon's, and Barlow's--along the Brock road, on the left of Getty's. His artillery was massed on his left, near Barlow, except a battery nearer the Plank road, and one section at the crossing. He ordered his line intrenched.
As soon as he found his troops in hand at the crossroads, General Meade ordered them into action. Getty's division, supported by the Second Corps, was to drive Hill back, occupy Parker's Store, and connect with Warren's line. He afterwards learned of the repulse of Warren on the turnpike, but repeated his orders for the advance on the Plank road. At 4.15 Getty's division advanced, and met the divisions of Heth and Wilcox a few hundred yards in advance of their trenches.
In the fierce engagement that followed, Birney's and Mott's divisions were engaged on Getty's left, and later the brigades of Carroll and Owen, of Gibbon's division. Wadsworth's division and Baxter's brigade of the Fifth Corps were put in to aid Getty's right. The combination forced Heth and Wilcox back about half a mile, when the battle rested for the night. Hancock reinforced his front by Webb's brigade of Gibbon's division, and was diligently employed at his lines during the night putting up field-works.
About eleven o'clock in the night the guide reported from General Lee to conduct my command through the wood across to the Plank road, and at one o'clock the march was resumed. The road was overgrown by the bushes, except the side-tracks made by the draft animals and the ruts of wheels which marked occasional lines in its course. After a time the wood became less dense, and the unused road was more difficult to follow, and presently the guide found that there was no road under him; but no time was lost, as, by ordering the lines of the divisions doubled, they were ready when the trail was found, and the march continued in double line. At daylight we entered the Plank road, and filed down towards the field of strife of the afternoon of the 5th and daylight of the 6th.
R. H. Anderson's division of the Third Corps, marching on the Plank road, had rested at Verdierville during the night, and was called to the front in the morning. The divisions of Heth and Wilcox rested during the night of the 5th where the battle of that day ceased, but did not prepare ammunition nor strengthen their lines for defence, because informed that they were to be relieved from the front. Both the division commanders claim that they were to be relieved, and that they were ordered not to intrench or replenish supplies. So it seems that they were all night within hearing of the voices of Hancock's men, not even reorganizing their lines so as to offer a front of battle ! General Heth has stated that he proposed to arrange for battle, but was ordered to give his men rest. While Hancock was sending men to his advanced line during the night and intrenching there and on his second line, the Confederates were all night idle.
Hancock advanced and struck the divisions before sunrise, just as my command reported to General Lee. My line was formed on the right and left of the Plank road, Kershaw on the right, Field on the left. As the line deployed, the divisions of Heth and Wilcox came back upon us in disorder, more and more confused as their steps hurried under Hancock's musketry. As my ranks formed the men broke files to give free passage for their comrades to the rear. The advancing fire was getting brisk, but not a shot was fired in return by my troops until the divisions were ready. Three of Field's brigades, the Texas, Alabama, and Benning's Georgia, were formed in line on the left of the road, and three of Kershaw's on the right. General Lee, appalled at the condition of affairs, thought to lead the Texas brigade alone into desperate charge, before my lines were well formed. The ordeal was trying, but the steady troops, seeing him off his balance, refused to follow, begged him to retire, and presently Colonel Venable, of his staff, reported to me General Lee's efforts to lead the brigade, and suggested that I should try to call him from it. I asked that he would say, with my compliments, that his line would be recovered in an hour if he would permit me to handle the troops, but if my services were not needed, I would like to ride to some place of safety, as it was not quite comfortable where we were.
As full lines of battle could not be handled through the thick wood, I ordered the advance of the six brigades by heavy skirmish lines, to be followed by stronger supporting lines. Hancock's lines, thinned by their push through the wood, and somewhat by the fire of the disordered divisions, weaker than my line of fresh and more lively skirmishers, were checked by our first steady, rolling fire, and after a brisk fusillade were pushed back to their intrenched line, when the fight became steady and very firm, occasionally swinging parts of my line back and compelling the reserves to move forward and recover it.
General Lee sent General M. L. Smith, of the engineers, to report to me. He was ordered through the wood on my right to the unfinished railroad to find a way around the left of the enemy's line, while we engaged his front. R. H. Anderson's division of the Third Corps came up about eight o'clock and was ordered to report to me.
Hancock's early advance was under a general order including the Army of the Potomac. The Ninth Corps that had been called up reported to General Grant, and was ordered in between the Plank and Turnpike roads. At eight o'clock Hancock was reinforced by Stevenson's division of the Ninth, and Wadsworth of the Fifth was put under his orders. At nine o'clock he attacked with Wadsworth's, Birney's, Stevenson's, and Mott's divisions, and the brigades of Webb, Carroll, and Owen, of Gibbon's division, making as formidable battle as could be organized in the wood, but the tangle thinned his lines and our fire held him in desperate engagement.
Two divisions of the Ninth Corps, at the same time marching for Parker's Store, were encountered between the Plank and Turnpike roads by our Second Corps (Ewell's). Under this combination the forces struggled an hour at the extreme tension of skill and valor.
About ten o'clock General Smith returned and reported favorably of his reconnoissance: that the heavy woodland concealed the route of the proposed flank march, and that there was no force of the enemy in observation. Hancock's left on the Brock road was in strong, well-guarded position, but there was room along its front for our troops to march near the unfinished railroad beyond view of that left on the Brock road.
General Smith was then asked to take a small party and pass beyond the Brock road and find a way for turning the extreme Union left on that road. There were two brigades of Field's division and one of Kershaw's not on the line of battle, but on flank march as supports, and R. H. Anderson's division of the Third Corps. Colonel Sorrel, chief of staff, was ordered to conduct three brigades, G. T. Anderson's of Field's, Mahone's of R. H. Anderson's, and Wofford's of Kershaw's division, by the route recommended by General Smith, have them faced to the left, and marched down against Hancock's left. Davis's brigade of the Third Corps also got into this command.
As soon as the troops struck Hancock his line began to break, first slowly, then rapidly. Somehow, as they retreated, a fire was accidentally started in the dry leaves, and began to spread as the Confederates advanced. Mahone's brigade approached the burning leaves and part of it broke off a little to get around, but the Twelfth Virginia was not obstructed by the blaze and moved directly on. At the Plank road Colonel Sorrel rode back to join us. All of the enemy's battle on the right of the Plank road was broken up, and General Field was fighting severely with his three brigades on the left against Wadsworth and Stevenson, pushing them a little.
The Twelfth Virginia Regiment got to the Plank road some little time before the other regiments of the brigade, and, viewing the contention on the farther side between Field's and Wadsworth's divisions, dashed across and struck the left of Wadsworth's line. This relieved Field a little, and, under this concentrating push and fire, Wadsworth fell mortally wounded. In a little while followed the general break of the Union battle. The break of his left had relieved Kershaw's troops, and he was waiting for the time to advance, and Jenkins's brigade that had been held in reserve and that part of R. H. Anderson's division not in use were ready and anxious for opportunity to engage, and followed as our battle line pushed forward.
General Smith then came and reported a way across the Brock road that would turn Hancock's extreme left. He was asked to conduct the flanking brigades and handle them as the ranking officer. He was a splendid tactician as well as skilful engineer, and gallant withal. He started, and, not to lose time or distance, moved by inversion, Wofford's left leading, Wofford's favorite manoeuvre. As Wofford's left stepped out, the other troops moved down the Plank road, Jenkins's brigade by the road, Kershaw's division alongside. I rode at the head of the column, Jenkins, Kershaw, and the staff with me. After discussing the dispositions of their troops for reopening battle, Jenkins rode closer to offer congratulations, saying, "I am happy; I have felt despair of the cause for some months, but am relieved, and feel assured that we will put the enemy back across the Rapidan before night." Little did he or I think these sanguine words were the last he would utter.
When Wadsworth fell the Union battle broke up in hasty retreat. Field's brigades closed to fresh ranks, the flanking brigades drew into line near the Plank road, and with them the other regiments of Mahone's brigade; but the Twelfth Regiment, some distance in advance of the others, had crossed the road to strike at Wadsworth's left before the other regiments were in sight, and was returning to find its place in line. The order for the flanking brigades to resume march by their left had not moved those brigades of the right. As the Twelfth Regiment marched back to find its place on the other side of the Plank road, it was mistaken, in the wood, for an advance of the enemy, and fire was opened on it from the other regiments of the brigade. The men threw themselves to the ground to let the fire pass. Just then our party of officers was up and rode under the fire. General Jenkins had not finished the expressions of joyful congratulations which I have quoted when he fell mortally wounded.
Captain Doby and the orderly, Bowen, of Kershaw's staff, were killed. General Kershaw turned to quiet the troops, when Jenkins's brigade with levelled guns were in the act of returning the fire of the supposed enemy concealed in the wood, but as Kershaw's clear voice called out "F-r-i-e-n-d-s !" the arms were recovered, without a shot in return, and the men threw themselves down upon their faces.
At the moment that Jenkins fell I received a severe shock from a minie ball passing through my throat and right shoulder. The blow lifted me from the saddle, and my right arm dropped to my side, but I settled back to my seat, and started to ride on, when in a minute the flow of blood admonished me that my work for the day was done. As I turned to ride back, members of the staff, seeing me about to fall, dismounted and lifted me to the ground.
Orders were given General Field, the senior officer present, to push on before the enemy could have time to rally. The two lines marching along the Plank road, southward, in pursuit, and the flanking brigades to move in the other direction, were, for the moment, a little perplexing, as he was not accurately advised of the combinations, but he grasped the situation. Before he was prepared, however, General R. H. Anderson came into command as senior, and then General Lee came up. The plans, orders, and opportunity were explained to him, but the woods concealed everything except the lines of troops alongside the road. General Lee did not care to handle the troops in broken lines, and ordered formation in a general line for parallel battle. The change in the forest tangle consumed several hours of precious time, and gave General Hancock time to collect his men into battle order, post his heavy reinforcements, and improve his intrenchments.
After several hours of work our new line was finally adjusted and ordered forward. It approached the enemy's stronghold (in ranks a little thinned by the march through the wood and the enemy's fire), made desperate and repeated charges, and Jenkins's gallant brigade mounted their breastworks, but the solid ranks behind them threw it off, with the lines that essayed to give it support, and the whole were forced back from their fight. Thus the battle, lost and won three times during the day, wore itself out.
General Ewell found opportunity before night to push some of his brigades around the enemy's right, and did clever work in taking a number of prisoners,--Generals Seymour and Shaler among them,--but it was too late in the day to follow his work with a strong fight. He handled his troops with skill and care, putting defensive works before them whenever they halted.
Like attention by General Hancock may be noted; while in marked contrast was the conduct of the Third Corps after their affair on the afternoon of the 5th. The commanders of the leading divisions of the Third had proposed to prepare their troops for the next day, but were ordered to give their men rest, and told that they were to be relieved and withdrawn from the battle. Not even a line of battle was formed, so that they were in disorder when they were struck in the morning, and speedily fell into confusion.
My command, less than ten thousand, had found the battle on the Plank road in retreat, little less than a panic. In a few hours we changed defeat to victory, the broken divisions of the Third Corps rallying in their rear.
As my litter was borne to the rear my hat was placed over my face, and soldiers by the road-side said, "He is dead, and they are telling us he is only wounded." Hearing this repeated from time to time, I raised my hat with my left hand, when the burst of voices and the flying of hats in the air eased my pains somewhat.
But Micah Jenkins, who fell by the same fire, was no more. He was one of the most estimable characters of the army. His taste and talent were for military service. He was intelligent, quick, untiring, attentive, zealous in discharge of duty, truly faithful to official obligations, abreast with the foremost in battle, and withal a humble, noble Christian. In a moment of highest earthly hope he was transported to serenest heavenly joy; to that life beyond that knows no bugle call, beat of drum, or clash of steel. May his beautiful spirit, through the mercy of God, rest in peace ! Amen !
"L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace." An Americanism which seems an appropriate substitute is, A level head, a level head, always a level head. With patience to wait ten minutes to see my flanking brigades stretched out on their march to retrieve my aplomb, we could have found a good battle against Hancock's strong left, while we broke over his confused front. Fearing another change of plan, I hurried on to execute before it could be ordered.
There were twenty-two thousand men in the Third Corps. It is not claiming too much, therefore, to say that that corps, carefully prepared during the night of the 5th, could have held Hancock's battle on the morning of the 6th until my attack. of his left could have relieved them.
Under that plan events support the claim that the Third Corps, intrenched in their advanced position, with fresh supplies and orders to hold their ground, could have received and held against Hancock's early battle until my command could have come in on his left rear and completed our strongly organized battle by which we could have carried the Wilderness, even down and into the classic Rapidan.
General Field says in his account of the day,--
" I was at Longstreet's side in a moment, and in answer to my anxious inquiry as to his condition, he replied that he would be looked after by others, and directed me to take command of the corps and push ahead. Though at this moment he could not have known the extent or character of his wounds (that they were severe was apparent), he seemed to forget himself in the absorbing interest of the movement he was making.
"Had our advance not been suspended by this disaster, I have always believed that Grant would have been driven across the Rapidan before night; but .General Lee was present, and ordered that our line, which was nearly a right angle (my division being the base, and Kershaw's and the other flanking force the perpendicular), should first be straightened out. The difficulty of manoeuvring through the brush made this a tedious operation, so that when we did advance with large reinforcements from Ewell's corps placed under my orders, the enemy was found awaiting us behind new breastworks, thoroughly prepared."
Colonel Fairfax says,-
"On reaching the line of troops you were taken off the horse and propped against a tree. You blew the bloody foam from your mouth and said, 'Tell General Field to take command, and move forward with the whole force and gain the Brock road,' but hours were lost."
A Northern historian says,--
"It seemed, indeed, that irretrievable disaster was upon us; but in the very torrent and tempest of the attack it suddenly ceased and all was still. What could cause this surcease of effort at the very height of success was then wholly unknown to us."
Some years after the affair on the Plank road, General Hancock said to me,--
"You rolled me up like a wet blanket, and it was some hours before I could reorganize for battle."
He explained that reinforcements crowding up through the wood, the retreating troops, and confusion caused by mixing in with wagon-trains and horses, made a troublesome tangle, but it was unravelled and his troops at rest when the final attack was made. He had sixty thousand men in hand.
Bad as was being shot by some of our own troops in the battle of the Wilderness,--that was an honest mistake, one of the accidents of war,--being shot at, since the war, by many officers, was worse. Fitzhugh Lee wrote of me in the Southern Historical Society papers, vol. v., No. 4, April, 1878, saying, among other things," He lost his way and reached the Wilderness twenty-four hours behind time."
Now, from Mechanicsville to Parker's Store by our line of march was thirty-four miles,--by the Plank road, thirty-five; from Parker's Store to the battle, three miles. From the time of our march to going into battle was thirty-six hours, including all of two nights. Deducting twenty-four hours alleged as lost leaves twelve hours, including all night of the 4th, for the march of thirty-seven miles!
His logic and method of injury remind one of the French teacher who, when out of patience with the boys, used to say, "I will give you zero and mark you absent."
Another report started by Fitzhugh Lee as coming from his cousin, G. W. C. Lee, was that General Lee said that he "sent an officer to Longstreet to stay with and show him the roads."
This, like all other reported sayings of General Lee in regard to me, was not published until after General Lee's death. When it was first published I wrote General G. W. C. Lee for the name of the officer sent. He referred me to the members of General Lee's staff. Not one of them knew of the circumstance or the officer, but referred me to General Lee's engineers. After long search I found the engineers and applied for information, but not one of them knew anything of the alleged fact. I had the letters published as an advertisement for the officer who was claimed as my guide. No response came. I inquired of the members of the staff, First Corps; not one had seen or heard of such a person. The quartermaster, Colonel Taylor, who was ordered to secure a competent guide at the first moment of receipt of orders to march, reported of the matter thus:
"MEADOW FARM, ORANGE COURT-HOUSE,
" July 1, 1879.
" GENERAL JAMES LONGSTREET:
"DEAR GENERAL,--Your favor of the 30th ultimo is this moment to hand, and I reply at once. I think General Fitzhugh Lee entirely in error as to any engineer or other officer being sent to guide you in the spring of 1864 from your camp near Gordons-ville to the Wilderness. I well remember your sending for me, and directing me to procure a guide for you, which I did after some difficulty in the person of Mr. James Robinson, the then sheriff of the county. I saw no such person, nor can I think that any such was at any time at our quarters before we broke
" ERASMUS TAYLOR."
These efforts to secure one witness in support of the allegation, or rather to prove a negation, were all that occurred to me at the time, and now I can think of but one more chance, which is for Fitzhugh Lee to offer a liberal reward. It is not probable that he would fail to find a false witness who could answer for a time to support the false charges.
It may be added that the accounts of the march by other officers agree with mine, as already given. I present here a letter from General Alexander and an extract from one written me by Colonel Venable. The former says,-
AUGUSTA, GA., June 12, 1879.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Absence prevented an earlier response to your favor of the 5th. My recollection of the events is as follows: My command, the artillery, got orders to move about noon on May 4, 1864, being in camp near Mechanicsville, some four or five miles west of Gordonsville. We marched about four P.M., and with only short rests all night and all next day till about five P.M., when we halted to rest and bivouac at a point which I cannot remember; but our cavalry had had a skirmish there with the enemy's cavalry just before our arrival, and I remember seeing some killed and wounded of each side. Your whole corps, Hood's and McLaws's, and the artillery, I think, was concentrated at that point, and my recollection is that we had orders to move on during the night, or before daylight the next morning, to get on the enemy's left flank on the Brock road.
But whatever the orders were, I remember distinctly that during the night news of the fight on the Plank road came, and with it a change of orders, and that we marched at one A.M., or earlier, and turned to the left and struck the Plank road at Parker's Store, and pushed rapidly down it to where the battle had already begun. I remember, too, that the march was so hurried that at one point, the head of the leading division (I forget which it was, however) having lost a little distance by taking the wrong road, the rear division was not allowed to halt, but pushed right on, so that it got abreast of the leading division, and the two came down the road side by side, filling the whole road and crowding the retreating men of the divisions which were being driven back into the woods on each side.
These are facts as I recollect them, and while I don't know what your orders were, I remember that there was a change in them during the night, according to my understanding, and that the change was as promptly and vigorously and successfully carried out as time and distance could possibly permit. There was certainly no loss of time from the moment we received orders to the moment we went under fire in the Wilderness, as the distance covered will show.
Very truly yours,
E. P. ALEXANDER.
Colonel Venable writes,--
July 25, 1879.
DEAR GENERAL--... Well, the morning came. The enemy attacked Wilcox and Heth before your arrival. Disaster seemed imminent. I was sent to meet you and hasten your march. I met your two divisions within less than half a mile of the battlefield coming up in parallel columns very rapidly (I was going to say in double-quick) on the Plank road, side by side, and that they came in grandly, forming line of battle, Kershaw on the right and Field on the left, restoring the battle. It was superb, and my heart beats quicker to think about it even at this distance of time ....
Yours, very truly,
CHARLES S. VENABLE.
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