Through The Wilderness
Alexander S. Webb, Brevet Major-General, U.S.A.
In '61, '62, and '63, the Army of the Potomac, under McClellan, Hooker, and Meade, had by constant attrition worn down Lee's command until , in the minds of many officers and men who were actively engaged in the front, there was confidence that Lee would not hold out against our army another year.
On April 9th, 1864, General Grant instructed General Meade that Lee's army would be his objective. Meade had with him, according to his report of April 30th, 95,952 enlisted men, 3486 officers, and 274 guns. Hancock's corps contained 26,676 men; Warren's; 24,125 men; Sedgwick's, 22,584 men (1); while Sheridan controlled 12,525 in the cavalry. To guard all the trains there was a special detail of 1200 men. General Grant had also attached the Ninth Corps (an independent command) to the army operating under his eye. The total force under General Grant, including Burnside, was 4409 officers and 114,360 enlisted men. hor the artillery he had 9945 enlisted men and 285 officers ; in the cavalry, 11,839 enlisted men and 585 officers ; in the provost guards and engineers, 120 officers and 3274 enlisted men. His 118,000 men, properly disposed for battle, would have covered a front of 21 miles, two ranks deep, with one-third of them held in reserve ; while Lee, with his 62,000 men similarly disposed, would cover only 12 miles. Grant had a train which he states in his " Memoirs" would have reached from the Rapidan to Richmond, or sixty-five miles.
(1) These three corps had been increased by the consolidation with them of the First and Third corps. Besides causing great dissatisfaction throughout the army, this consolidation in my opinion, was the indirect cause of much of the confusion in the execution of orders, and in the handling of troops during the battles of the Wilderness.-A. S. W.
Of Lee's army, Longstreet's corps (two divisions) numbered about 10,000 ; Ewell's corps about 17,000. A. P. Hill went into the Wilderness with about 22,000 men for duty in the ranks ; "Jeb " Stuart's cavalry numbered about 8000, and the artillery about 4800. Lee's total strength, as estimated by General Humphreys, was 61,953 men, and the number of field-guns 224.
General Grant's aggregate over Lee was therefore 94 guns and 56,819 enlisted men ; but then Lee had, at the outset, his position in the Wilderness, and Grant did not know at that time, as did General Meade and General Hooker, to what advantage Lee could turn the Wilderness with its woods, ravines, plank roads and dirt roads.
The Army of the Potomac began to cross the Rapidan at midnight of May 3d, after due preparation on the part of Sheridan's cavalry to cover our front. A canvas and a wooden pontoon bridge were laid at Germanna Ford, similar bridges at Ely's Ford, and a wooden bridge at Culpeper Mine Ford. These three fords cover about seven miles of the Rapidan River, which in general flows southeast.
Hancock, preceded by Gregg's cavalry, crossed at Ely's Ford and moved to Chancellorsville, which placed him on the left, or south-east, side of the Wilderness battle-field. Warren, with Wilson's cavalry in front (and followed by Sedgwick), crossed at Germanna Ford and followed the Germanna Plank road, due south-east, to Wilderness Tavern. Sedgwick encamped for the night three miles south of the ford. The sixty-five miles of' trains were until 2 P. M. of May 5th in passing over Culpeper Mine Ford and Germanna Ford. Generalwas Meade's chief-of-staff at the time, states that the halt of the infantry on the 4th at Chancellorsville and the Wilderness was caused by the difficulty in moving the trains across the Rapidan.
General Law, who commanded a brigade under Longstreet, states that on the 2d of May General Lee, in the presence of a number of his officers , expressed the opinion that the Union army would cross the river at Germanna or Ely's Ford. General Lee's headquarters were at Orange Court House ; Longstreet, with his corps, was distant at Gordonsville ; Ewell was near at hand on the Rapidan, above Mine Run ; and A. P. Hill was on his left, higher up the stream ; and it seems that Lee intended to move with his whole force against Grant's right flank as soon as Grant was far enough advanced into the Wilderness on the road to Richmond.
As for the Wilderness, it was uneven, with woods, thickets, and ravines right and left. Tangled thickets of pine, scrub-oak, and cedar prevented our seeing the enemy, and prevented any one in command of a large force from determining accurately the position of the troops he was ordering to and fro. The appalling rattle of the musketry, the yells of the enemy, and the cheers of our own men were constantly in our ears. At times, our lines while firing could not see the array of the enemy, not fifty yards distant. After the battle was fairly begun, both sides were protected by log or earth breastworks.
For an understanding of the roads which shaped the movements in the Wilderness, cross the Rapidan from the north and imagine your self standing on the Germanna Plank road, where the Brock road intersects it, a little south of Wilderness Tavern, and facing due west. In general, the Union right wing ( Sedgwick ) held the Germanna road, and the left wing ( Hancock ) the Brock road, while the center ( Warren ) stretched across the obtuse angle formed by them. At the Lacy house, in this angle, Grant, Meade, and Warren established their headquarters during the day of the 5th. If, standing at the intersection of these roads, you stretch forward your arms, the right will correspond with the Orange turnpike, the left with the Orange Plank road. Down the Orange turnpike, on May 5th, Lee sent Ewell against Warren, while two divisions of A. P. Hill advanced by the Orange Plank road to check Hancock. Nearly a day later, Longstreet reached the field on the same road as Hill. The engagements fought on May 5th by Ewell on the Orange turnpike, and by A. P. Hill on the Orange Plank road, must be regarded as entirely distinct battles.
Warren received orders from Meade at 7:15 in the morning to attack Ewell with his whole force. General Sedgwick, with Wright's division and Neill's brigade of Getty's division, was ordered to move out, west of the Germanna Plank road, connecting with the Fifth Corsposed across the turnpike in advance of Wilderness Tavern. At this time also, General Hancock, at Chancellorsville, was warned by General Meade that the enemy had been met on the turnpike, and he was directed to halt at Todd's tavern until further orders. Meantime Crawford's division of Warren's corps, between , the turnpike and plank road, in advancing, found Wilson's cavalry skirmishing with what he supposed to be the enemy's cavalry. At 8 A. M., under orders, Crawford halted, and, hearing that our cavalry, at Parker's store, almost directly south of him, was in need of support, he sent out skirmishers to assist them. Those skirmisher s struck Hill's corps, moving down the Orange Plank road toward the Brock road. Thus at 8 A. M. General Grant and General Meade had developed the presence of Hill on their left and Ewell on their right. Getty's division of Sedgwick had reached Wilderness Tavern ; and. when it was learned that Hill was coming down the Orange Plank road, Getty was directed to move out toward him, by way of the Brock road, and drive Hill back, it' possible, behind Parker's store.
On our right Johnson's division of Ewell was driven back along the Orange turnpike in confusion by General Griffin of Warren's corps. Ricketts and Wright of Sedgwick were delayed in reaching their position on the right of Warren, and for lack of such support Griffin's right brigade under Ayres was forced back and two guns were abandoned. Wadsworth, with his division of Warren's corps, supplemented by Dennison's brigade of Robinson's division, of the same corps, had started forward in a westerly direction, until he found himself with his left toward the enemy. McCandless's brigade of Crawford's division (also of Warren's corps) had endeavored to obtain a position on the left of Wadsworth, but lost its bearings in the entangled woods so that its left came in contact with Ewell's right, and it, as well as Wadas driven in by Daniel's and Gordon's brigades, forming the right of Ewell.
Thus Crawford was left with his left flank in the air, and he of necessity was drawn in about 2 o'clock and posted about a mile south-west from the Lacy house, facing toward his first position at Chewning's house. Wadsworth finally took position on the left of Crawford, facing toward the south and west, with his back toward the Lacy house. Griffin, on Crawford's right, reached to the Orange turnpike. Wright's division of Sedgwick formed on the right of Griffin, with the left of Upton's brigade resting on the pike ; then came the brigades of Penrose and Russell, then Neill's brigade of Getty's division. Soon after getting into position Neill and Russell were attacked by Johnson, who was repulsed. Still farther to the right, toward the Germanna Plank road, Seymour, of Ricketts's division, came up and took position. The entire Union front line was now intrenched At this time on the center and right Warren and Sedgwick were securely blocked by Ewell's single corps. On the left of the line the situation was this : At 11 A. M. Hancock, whose advance had passed Todd's tavern, received a dispatch stating that the enemy was coming down the Orange Plank road in full force, and he was directed to move his corps up to the Brock road, due north. He was further informed that Getty had been sent to drive the enemy back, and must be supported immediately ; that on the turnpike Griffin had been pushed back somewhat, and that he (Hancock) must push out on the Plank road and connect his right with Warren's left.
Hancock promptly started his column, and met General Getty at the junction of the Plank and Germanna roads. Getty's division Was then in line of battle, along the Brock road, With Grant's brigade on the left of the Plank road , and Wheaton's and Eustis's brigades on the right of the road which the troops were intrenching. This Was at 2 P. M. of the 5th. Getty informed Hancere two divisions of A. P. Hill out in his front, and Hancock directed the finishing of the Works that had been begun, before any advance should be made. Hancock placed Birney's division on the left of Getty, in two lines of battle along the Brock road, and Mott's and Gibbon's divisions on Birney's left; Barlow's division held the extreme left and formed an angle on the Brock road overlooking the bed of an unfinished railroad. Most of the artillery of Hancock's corps was posted with Barlow's division.(1) Frank's brigade of Barlow's division Was stationed partly across the Brock road, near the junction of the Brock road and a cross-road leading to the Catharpin road.
All of Hancock's corps Were directed to throw up breastworks of logs and earth, the intrenched line beginning at Getty's left and extending to Barlow's left where it was refused to cover the flank. The second line of the Second Corps, also threw up earth-works, and a third intrenched line was formed behind Birney and Mott nearest the Plank road.
At 4:30 P. M. Getty started to the attack, and marched but four hundred yards When he struck Heth's division of Hill's corps, and found the enemy in force, his right having been reenforced by Wilcox's division. Hancock threw forward Birney and Mott on the left of Getty, and put a section of Ricketts's old battery on the Plank road. General Hancock says in his report : '' The fight her e became very fierce at once the lines of battle Were , exceedingly close, the musketry continuous and deadly along the entire line."(2) Carroll's and Owen's brigades of Gibbon's division Were sent in to support Getty, upon the Plank road. Colonel Carroll, an excellent fighting man Was Wounded, but remained on the field. More to the left, Brooke and Smyth, of Barlow's division, attacked the right of Hill, and forced it back.
About 4 o'clock, also, Wadsworth, w ho had been sent from his position near the Lacy house to strike across the country toward the Plank road, halted for the nightle, facing nearly south between Tapp's house and the Brock road. (3) This ended the operations of May 5th, leaving the Army of the Potomac in close contact with Ewell and Hill.
(1) According to General Francis A. Walker's account, in the " History of the Second Army Corps," Dow's 6th Maine Battery was placed in the second line on Mott's left and a section of Ricketts's "F " , 1st Pennsylvania Artillery was posted with the troops of General Getty.-EDITORS.
(2) Colonel Theodore Lyman informs me that on a visit he made to the battle-field of the Wilderness after the war, in going over the ground where on May ůth, the next day, the 20th Massachusetts, of my brigade, lost a third of its numbers, he found the line occupied by the enemy to be just behind the crest of a slight elevation, where they had placed a row of logs, by which they were effectually screened from the bullets and the sight of our troops; for in front of and around them was a dense forest of saplings, the 20th Massachusetts and other of our troops were in the thicket, not more than twenty or thirty yards distant. Their presence was made known by their advance through the brush, and their return fire, aimed as they supposed at the enemy, had cut off the saplings four and five feet above the ground, as regularly as if they had been cut by a machine. Many of the broken tree-tops were still hanging when Colonel Lyman visited the ground.-A. S. W.
(3) Humphreys, to show how bewildering was the dense forest growth, says, " Many men from both armies, looking for water during the night, found themselves within the opposite lines."-A. S. W.
During the night of the 5th orders were given for a general attack by Sedgwick, Warren, and Hancock at 5 o'clock the next morning.
Burnside, who, with his corps, had been holding the line of the Orange and Alexandria railroad back to Bull Run, set his corps in motion the afternoon of the 4th and made a forced march to the field. The leading division, under Stm Brandy Station, crossed at Germanna Ford the night of the 5th, was held in reserve at Wilderness Tavern, and joined Hancock on the Brock road at 8 A. M. of the 6th. Potter and Willcox, coming from Bealton and Rappahannock Station, reached the field about daylight, and were ordered to fill the gap between Warren and Hancock and join in the general attack. (1) Ferrero's colored division, after a forced march of forty miles, was held in the rear to guard the trains.
Longstreet's arrival on the field was known and reported by General Hancock to General Meade at 7 A. M. on the 6th; indeed, it was found that Longstreet was present when, at 5 o'clock, my brigade (of Gibbon's division) was ordered to relieve General Getty. When I advanced I immediately became engaged with Field's division, consisting of Gregg's, Benning's, Law's, and Jenkins's brigades, on the north side of the Orange Plank road.
Just before 5 o'clock the right of the line under Sedgwick was attacked by the Confederates, and gradually the firing extended along the whole front.
Wadsworth's division fought its way across Hancock's front to the Plank road, and advanced along that road. Hancock pushed forward Birney with his own and Mott's divisions, Gibbon's division supporting, on the left of the Plank road, and soon drove his opponents from their rifle-pits, and for the time being appeared to have won a victory. His left, however, under Barlow, had not advanced. From information derived from prisoners and from the cavalry operating in the vicinity of Todd's tavern, it was believed at this time that Longstreet was working around the left to attack the line along the Brock road. Instead of attacking there, Longstreet moved to the support of Hill, and just as the Confederates gave way before Birney's assault, Longstreet's leading division, under General C. W. Field, reached Birney's battle-ground and engaged my line.
Thus at 8 o'clock Hancock was battling against both Hill and Longstreet. General Gibbon had comm Hancock himself was looking out for the Plank road.
Warren's Fifth Corps, in front of Ewell, had obeyed the orders of General Grant, in making frequent and persistent attacks throughout the morning, without success. The same may be said of Wright, of Sedgwick's Sixth Corps, who was attacking Ewell's left; but Ewell was too strongly intrenched to be driven back from his line by the combined Fifth and Sixth corps.
(1) General Humphreys remarks in his account as follows : " For, so far as could be ascertained, the gap between Hill and Ewell was not yet closed, neither was that between Hancock and Warren." As I held the right of Hancock on May 6th until 1 o'clock, I can state that it was never closed on the part of the Union troops. My aide, Colonel W. T. Simms, was badly wounded, on my right, while seeking to form a junction with the Ninth Corps or with Crawford of the Fifth Corps.-A. S. W.
General Burnside, with the divisions of Willcox and Potter, attempted to relieve Hancock by passing up between the turnpike and the Plank road to Chewning's farm, connecting his right with Warren and joining the right of Hancock, now held by my brigade.(1) Burnside's other division, under Stevenson, moved up the Plank road in our support, and I placed four of his regiments, taken from the head of his column, on my right, then pressed to the rear and changed my Whole line, Which had been driven back to the Plank road, forward to its original line, holding Field's division in check With the twelve regiments now under my command. Now, at this very moment, General Wadsworth (Who had assumed command over me because he stated that Stevenson ranked me, and he must take us both in his command) had given to me the most astonishing and bewildering order, -- which was to leave
(1) The right of the column under Willcox advanced beyond the Lacy house to Wilderness Run, and found the enemy well posted on high ground, behind the swamps along the creek. An attack here was deemed impracticable, and Willcox was moved to the left toward the Tapp house in support of Potter, who had gone in near the Plank. road.-Editors.
the twelve regiments under my command at his (Wadsworth's) disposal, and to go to the left, find four regiments, and stop the retreat of those troops of the left of our line who were flying to the Brock road. (1) When I rode off to obey this unfortunate order, General Wadsworth, in order to stop the enemy's attack upon Birney upon his left, went to the 20th Massachusetts of my brigade and ordered that regiment to leave its log-works and charge the enemy's line, a strong breastwork on the west side of a ravine on Wadsworth's front.
General Wadsworth was told that the regiment could not safely be moved, that I had changed my front on that regiment and held the line by means of it. Wadsworth answered that the men were afraid, leaped his horse over the logs and led them in the charge himself. He was mortally wounded, (2) and my line was broken by Field, and swept off as by a whirlwind. Birney's line, as a consequence, was broken to pieces, and back to the Brock road went the troops. This attack was directed by Lee in person. [See also p. 124.) When I came back from endeavoring to carry out the order that Wadsworth had given me, I found the 19th Maine, under Colonel Seedless Connor, on the Plank road. Another regiment also staid with me to hold the Plank road and to deceive the Confederates, by fighting as though they had a continuous line. Colonel Connor was shot in the leg after a long skirmish ; I offered him my horse, but his wounds being such as to render him unable to mount, he had to be carried to the logworks. His regiment staid there until I gave the order to break like partridges through the woods for the Brock road.
(1) Of this incident, Col. C. H. Banes, in his " History of the Philadelphia Brigade" (Owen's), says
"Webb's First Brigade of the Second Division was moved from its position on the Brock road, and quickly advanced on either side of the Plank road. By 8 o'clock the fighting had become continuous along the entire front of the Second Corps, and was raging at some points with great fury. . . . Toward 9 o'clock there was an almost entire cessation, followed soon after by furious assaults that expended their force before anything definite was accomplished, and these were followed in turn by desultory firing. . . . A few moments before 12 o'clock, General Wadsworth, whose division had pushed its way during the morning until it conne . . rode through the woods to the Plank road, and began to ascertain the location of the corps with a view to concerted action. While General Wadsworth was on the edge of the road, near the line of battle, and engaged in making these observations, and before his command was really assured of its position, there occurred one of the strangest scenes of army experience. Without any apparent cause that could be been from the position of the brigade, the troops on our left began to give way, and commenced falling back toward the Brock road. Those pressing past the left flank of the Second Division did not seem to be demoralized in manner, nor did they present the appearance of soldiers moving under orders, but rather of a throng of armed men who were returning dissatisfied from a muster. Occasionally some fellow, terror stricken, would rush past as if his life depended on speed, but by far the larger number acted with the utmost deliberation in their movements. In vain were efforts put forth to atop this retrograde movement; the men were alike indifferent to commands or entreaties.
. . . The division of Wadsworth, being on the right of the Plank road, was the last to feel this influence; but, in spite of the most gallant efforts of its commander, it soon joined with the other troops in moving to the rear, leaving the brave Wadsworth mortally wounded." A. S. W.
(2) General Wadsworth and myself had been discussing why I did not have certain men carried off the field who had been shot in the head. I told him that from my observation I had never considered it worth while to carry a man off the field if, wounded in the head, he slowly lost his vertical position and was incapable of making a movement of his head from the ground. I considered such cases as past cure. When I was shot in the head in the works at Spotsylvania Court House on the morning of the 12th, at the Bloody Angle, the bullet passed through the corner of my eye and came out behind my ear. While falling from the horse to the ground I recation with General Wadsworth; when I struck the ground I made an effort to raise my head, and when I found I could do so I made up my mind I was not going to die of that wound, and then I fainted.- A. S. W.
Burnside had finally become engaged far out on our right front ; Potter's division came upon the enemy intrenched on the west side of a little ravine extending from Ewell's right. General Burnside says that after considerable fighting he connected his left with Hancock's right and intrenched.
Hancock was out of ammunition, and had to replenish the best way he could from the rear. At 3:45 P. M. the enemy advanced in force against him to within a hundred yards of his log-works on the left of the Plank road.
The attack was of course the heaviest here. Anderson's division came forward and took possession of our line of intrenchments, but Carroll's brigade was at hand and drove them out at a double-quick. .
Now let us return to our right, and stand where General Meade and General Grant .were, at the Lacy house. The battle was finished over on the left so far as Hancock and Burnside were concerned. Grant had been thoroughly defeated in his attempt to walk past General Lee on the way to Richmond. Shaler's brigade of Wright's division of Sedgwick's corps had been guarding the wagon-trains, but was now needed for the fight and had returned to the Sixth Corps lines. It was placed on the extreme right on the Germanna Plank road, due north from where General Grant was standing. Shaler's brigade was close up to the enemy, as indeed was our whole line. Shaler was busy building breastworks, when it was struck in the flank, rolled up in confusion, and General Seymour and General Shaler and some hundreds of his men were taken prisoners. But the brigade was not destroyed: A part of it stood, and, darkness helping them, the assailants were prevented from destroying Wright's division. Wright kept his men in order.
This is in fact the end of the battle of the Wilderness, so far as relates to the infantry. Our cavalry was drawn in from Todd's tavern and the Brock road. The enemy's cavalry followed them. They were all intrenched, and General Grant decided that night that he would continue the movement to the left, as it was impossible to attack a position held by the enemy in such force in a tangled forest. To add to the horrors of war, we had the woods on fire all around us, and Humphreys estimates that about two hundred of our men were burned to death. The best possible proof that this was an accidental battle can be found in the movements of the troops. There was no intention to attack Lee in the Wilderness.
May was the last day of the battle of the Wilderness. Ewell had most effectually stopped the forward movement of the right wing of Meade's army, and Hill and Longstreet defeated our left under Hancock.
The fact is that the whole of the left was disorganized. From Hancock down through Birney and Gibbon, each general commanded something not strictly in his command. Hancock had "the left" Gibbon "the left" of Hancock ; Birney had his own and Mott's divisions, and Wadsworth had Webb and Stevenson. The troops of these division commanders were without proper leaders.
We had seen the mixed Second and Ninth corps driven in, in detail, on our left. We knew that the Fifth and Sixth corps were blocked, and we felt deeply the mortification consequent upon our being driven back to the Brock road. From personal contact with the regiments who did the hardest fighting, I declare that the individual men had no longer that confidence in their commanders which had been their best and strongest trait during the past year. We are told by General Badeau in his history that at the very time our men were being tossed about on the Plank road '' General Grant lay under the trees awaiting Burnside's advance, and revolving the idea of a movement still farther to the Union left, thrusting his whole force between Lee and Richmond." We did move toward Spotsylvania. Warren's Fifth Corps was directed to withdraw from the Wilderness after dark on the 7th of May, and to move by the left behind Hancock on the Brock road, with Sedgwick (the Sixth Corps) following him, and to proceed toward the court house.
This was attempted, but Warren found that he was required with his corps to help Sheridan's cavalry, which was detained by J. E. B. Stuart at Todd's tavern, or near that point. Warren gave the required assistance, driving out of his way Stuart, who was assisted by infantry.
At 8: 30 P. M. Warren moved by the Brock road to the left of the Second Corp pike and Germanna Plank road to Chancellorsville, thence by the Piney Branch Church road to the intersection of that road with the Brock road. At this point Sedgwick was ordered to leave a division, with another at Piney Branch Church, and a third midway between these two. Burnside started to follow Sedgwick, but early on the morning of the 8th he was ordered to halt at Aldrich's, where the Piney Church road leaves the main Fredericksburg Plank road, to guard the trains. Ferrero's division of this corps was now detached for this service.
Warren was delayed by the blocking of the Brock road by the mounted troops of the provost guard, and this delay gave Longstreet's men, under R. H. Anderson, the opportunity to reach Spotsylvania in advance of Warren.
When Warren reached Todd's tavern at 3 A. M., he found Merritt's cavalry engaging the Confederates. Hancock had waited for the whole army to pass, and reached the tavern at 9 o'clock on the 8th. (1). At 11 A. M., say s General Humphreys, "Hancock sent his leading brigade under Miles to make a reconnaissance down the Catharpin road toward Corbin's Bridge, about two miles distant." Miles had his own brigade, one battery, and one brigade of Gregg's cavalry. He found Hampton's cavalry, and held them at bay until 5:30 P.M. While returning, Miles was attacked by Mahone's infantry, and was compelled to call up reenforcements. At 1:30 P. M. Hancock sent Gibbon east ten miles to support Warren and Sedgwick.
(1) My notes show that we of the Second Corps obeyed orders implicitly. We waited to cover the movements of the rest of the army, and then took our place at 4 P.M. of the 8th of May on the Brock road, about one mile south-east of Todd's tavern.- A. S. W.
About 8 A.M. on the 8th Warren's leading division, under General John C. Robinson, deployed into the clearing north of Spotsylvania Court House, and was fired upon by Confederates upon Spotsylvania Ridge. General Robinson was severest fire. Griffin's division advanced on the right of Robinson's ; but the line, being unable to sustain itself soon fell back until it was succored by the divisions of Crawford and Wadsworth, which now reached the front. A line was taken up east of the Brock road, near Alsop's. Sedgwick came up about noon and the Fifth Corps, supported by , Sedgwick, were at 1 P. M. directed to storm the Confederate position on Spotsylvania Ridge. Sedgwick moved south to join Warren's left; but it was late in the day when Crawford's division of the Fifth and one of Wright's brigades under Penrose assaulted what proved to be Rodes's division of Ewell's corps in position and intrenched.
On the morning of the 9th Burnside's corps moved across from the Plank road to the Fredericksburg road at the crossing of the Ny River . This brought him east of the court house one and a half miles. He pushed over the river one division under O. B. Willcox. Stevenson's division came up at noon. Potter's division remained a mile in rear on the Fredericksburg road. Willcox fought a brigade of R. H. Anderson and some dismounted cavalry. Hancock moved east to the right of Warren, and intrenched overlooking the Po. On the morning of the 9th Sheridan started on a raid around Lee's army.
In front of Hancock the Po River ran from west to east, then it turned due south opposite Warren's right. The Confederate left rested for a time on this south bend, and the bridge over it at the crossing of the Shady Grove Church road was fortified by Longstreet. While the several corps were adjusting their lines on the 9th, General Sedgwick; our most esteemed general, was killed by a sharp-shooter, and Horatio G. Wright took command of the Sixth Corps.
General Burnside had reported to General Grant on the 9th that he had met the enemy on the east of Spotsylvania Court House, and he had added to his report that he judged, from the indications in his front, that Lee was about to move north toward Fredericksburg. It was theed that Hancock should make a reconnaissance toward Lee's left, crossing the east and west bend of the Po River, moving south as far as the Shady Grove road, turning the enemy's left then to move east and cross the Po River , again by the Block House road bridge. Hancock crossed three of his divisions (Mott was with Wright) at different points at 6 o'clock in the morning, forcing the crossing, and meeting a very stubborn resistance in front of Barlow, who was on his left, and but little in front of Gibbon who was on , his right. He now laid three pontoon-bridges over the river, it being fifty feet wide and not fordable, and then pushed due south toward the Block House bridge, but reached that point too late that night to attempt a crossing.
During this night orders were issued from Meade for the operations of the next day : Hancock was to endeavor to find the position of the enemy's left, to force him from the position of his (Hancock's) front. The Sixth Corps was ordered to feel the intrenchments near the center. Mott's division of Hancock's corps, still kept north of the Po River with Wright, and on the left of the Sixth Corps, was to prepare to join Burnside, who with his corps (the Ninth) was to attack Early from the east on the morning of the 10th.
But at dawn on the 10th an examination of the Block House bridge, made by Hancock, showed that the enemy was strongly intrenched on the east side of the Po at that point. However, Brooke's brigade of Barlow's division was sent down the Po River to a point half a mile below the bridge.
Brooke discovered the enemy in strong force holding intrenchments extending nearly half a mile below the bridge, their left resting on the Po River.
But other arrangements had been made f or the movement of the army, and Meade now ordered Hancock back. Meade was directed to arrange for the assault at 5 o'clock, under General Hancock's command in t , the front of Warren and Wright.
Birney, while withdrawing, was attacked ; Hancock, who had started ahead with Gibbon to prepare for the attack, recrossed to the south bank of the Po and joined Barlow. Barlow was half a mile south of his bridges. His left, composed of Miles's and Smyth's brigades, was along the Shady Grove road, facing south, their left rested at the bridge. Brooke's and Brown's brigades were in front or south of the Shady Grove road. North-east and to their , rear one and a half miles, Field's guns were planted in intrenchments, sweeping the ground behind them and covering the pontoon-bridge over the Po.
Hancock drew back Brooke and Brown to the right and to the rear; . and then Miles and Smyth retired to the crest south of the pontoon-bridges.
These troops formed a tÍte-du-pont facing south. Heth's division, of Hill's corps, attacked the two right brigades with vigor, but was twice repulsed. The Union loss was very heavy.
Hancock, finding the enemy repulsed and the woods on fire in the rear of his line, crossed to the north side of the Po River. One gun, the first ever lost by the Second Corps, was Jammed between two trees in the midst of this fire , and was abandoned by Birney's men. Many of our wounded perished in the flames.
Of this battle on our right, General Hancock said "The enemy regarded this as a considerable victory. Had not Barlow's division received imperative orders to withdraw, Heth's division would have had no cause for congratulation."
Meanwhile, Warren had determined to make the attack, and at 3:45 he did so, directing it personally and leading in full uniform.(1) The assaulting column was composed of Crawford's division, Cutler's division (formerly Wadsworth's), and Webb's and Carroll's brigades of the Second Corps. The official diary of Longstreet's corps says that "some of the enemy succeeded in gaining the works, but were killed in them." We were driven back, however, with heavy loss, including Brigadier-General James C. Rice, of Cutler's division killed.
(1) Warren had made reconnaissances in force, with division front twice. He knew his ground, as he always did.-A. S. W.
General Hancock returned to us at half-past five, and we were ordered to make another attack at 7 P. M. with Birney's and Gibbon's divisions and part of the Fifth Corps. We made the assault, but we were driven back a second time. Our men were demoralized by fruitless work. Over on our left, in the Sixth Corps, General Wright had found what he deemed to be a vulnerable place in the Confederate line. It was on the right of Rodes's rebel division and on the west face of the salient. Colonel Emory Upton was selected to lead this attack. Upton's brigade was of the First Division, Sixth Corps. He had four regiments to his command ; and General Mott, commanding a division of the Second Corps, had been ordered by General Wright to assault the works in his front at 5 o'clock to assist and support Upton's left.
Upton formed in four lines. The Sixth Corps batteries played upon the left of the enemy's salient, enfilading it, and, as they ceased firing, Upton charged. Rushing to the parapet with a wild '' Hurrah," heedless of the terrible front and flank fire he received, his men poured over the enemy's works ; captured many prisoners, after a hand-to-hand fight ; and, pressing forward, took the second line of rebel intrenchments with its battery.
Mott, who was on Upton's left, did not support him. The enemy being reenforced, Upton was ordered to retire, but he carried back with him several stand of colors and 1200 prisoners (1). On the left Burnside made an attack in conjunction with those on the right. He pushed close to the enemy, on the Fredericksburg road, and intrenched. General T. G. Stevenson, commanding one his divisions, was killed in making this assault.
(1) For gallant conduct displayed during the assaults on the 10th, Colonels Upton and Carroll were made brigadier-generals.- A. S. W.
On the 10th of May the Second, Fifth, and Sixth corps lost 4100 men killed and wounded. Not many were missing. The Confederates lost probably two thousand men. On the 11th (1) dispositions were made for the grand assault the next day on the '' Bloody Angle?' Of that assault I have little to write. Grant had his back to the north, and enwrapped the V-shaped salient occupied by Lee. During the night three divisions of the Second Corps were to move to the left behind the Sixth and Fifth, and join the Ninth Corps in an assault at 4 A. M. on the 12th. Warren and Wright were to hold their corps in readiness to take part. We moved to the attack at 4:35 A. M. on the 12th, and captured Johnson and four thousand men from Ewell; also twenty pieces of artillery. At this time I was shot in the head and went to the rear. Another will tell of the incidents of our bloody but fruitless assault.
(1) It was at this time that General Grant sent his famous "all summer" dispatch, in these words : "Headquarters, Armies Of The U. S., Near Spotsylvania Court House, May 11th, 1864,
8:30 A. M.
"MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Chief-of-Staff of the Army.
"GENERAL : We have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting. The result to this tune is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy, as well as those of the enemy. We havime eleven general officers killed, wounded, or missing, and probably twenty thousand men. I think the loss of the enemy must be greater, we having taken over four thousand prisoners in battle, whilst he has taken but few, except stragglers.
I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
"The arrival of reenforcements here will be very encouraging to the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible, and in as great numbers. My object in having them sent to Belle Plain was to use them as an escort to our supply train. If it is more convenient to send them out by train to march from the railroad to Belle Plain or Fredericksburg, send them so.
" I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers, and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take.
"Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee's army being detached for the defense of Richmond.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
Source: "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"
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