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Battle of the Wilderness
The opening battle of Grant’s sustained offensive against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, known as the Overland Campaign, was fought at the Wilderness, May 5-7. On the morning of May 5, 1864, the Union V Corps attacked Ewell’s Corps on the Orange Turnpike, while A.P. Hill’s corps during the afternoon encountered Getty’s Division (VI Corps) and Hancock’s II Corps on the Plank Road. Fighting was fierce but inconclusive as both sides attempted to maneuver in the dense woods. Darkness halted the fighting, and both sides rushed forward reinforcements. At dawn on May 6, Hancock attacked along the Plank Road, driving Hill’s Corps back in confusion. Longstreet’s Corps arrived in time to prevent the collapse of the Confederate right flank. At noon, a devastating Confederate flank attack in Hamilton’s Thicket sputtered out when Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was wounded by his own men. The IX Corps (Burnside) moved against the Confederate center, but was repulsed. Union generals James S. Wadsworth and Alexander Hays were killed. Confederate generals John M. Jones, Micah Jenkins, and Leroy A. Stafford were killed. The battle was a tactical draw. Grant, however, did not retreat as had the other Union generals before him. On May 7, the Federals advanced by the left flank toward the crossroads of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Battle of the Wilderness Facts
The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, 61,000 men commanded by General Robert E. Lee
The Federal Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General George G. Meade along with the Ninth Army Corps commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside, 102,000 men under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.
The odd Union command structure grew out of two situations. Although Grant commanded the entire United States Army, he made his headquarters in the field with the Army of the Potomac. He felt this would be the best way to drive his main striking force in the east. (His main army in the west was under the command of his good friend Willliam Sherman, who he completely trusted.) So while Meade gave the day to day orders to the Army of the Potomac, Grant provided the strageic direction, without the critical delay of the fiftty-mile communications line with Washington.
Ambrose Burnside and his Ninth Corps had just arrived from the Western Theater. He outranked Meade, and under normal circumstances might have taken command of the Army of the Potomac. But he had already commanded the army during the disastrous Fredericksburg campaign, and there was no chance he would ever be allowed to command it again. So he reported directly to Grant. It made an awkward command situation, and the good-natured Burnside eventually offered to forego his seniority and take orders from Meade.
How many casualties were there in the Battle of the Wilderness?
How many people died in the Battle of the Wilderness?
Sources vary. Record keeping in both armies suffered as, for the first time in the Civil War, they began fighting almost every day without pause. As the armies moved on they left behind and lost track of the wounded and missing. The situation was worse in the Confederate army, where so many of the company clerks who kept the records were lost and entire brigades would be annihilated over the next few weeks.
Most agree that Union casualties were from around 17,700 to 18,400, with around 2,250 kiled, 10,200 wounded, and 2,900-3,400 captured or missing.
Confederate casualties are put as high as 11,400, with the most detailed estimates of around 1,500 killed, 8,000 wounded and 1,700 captured or missing.
Based on these numbers The Battle of the WIlderness was the fourth bloodiest battle of the Civil War, ranking behind Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Spottsylvania.
When was the Battle of the Wilderness?
How long did the Battle of the Wilderness last?
The fighting began on May 5 and continued on May 6. The armies held their positions on the field until May 7 so some historians consider it the third day of the battle. But since there was little fighting many consider it not part of the battle.
Where was the Battle of the Wilderness fought?
The battle was fought about 15 miles west of Fredericksburg, Virginia in the area of dense second-growth forest locally known as the Wilderness. The Battle of Chancellorsville had been fought almost exactly a year earlier just a few miles to the east.
Why was the Battle of the Wilderness fought?
For over a year the North had been trying to break through the Rappahannock River line to advance on Richmond and, hopefully, end the war. The Battles of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and Chancellorsville (May 1863) and the Mud March (January 1863) and Mine Run (November 1863) campaigns were all attempts to get around or through Lee's excellent defensive position. After the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862 most of the attempts involved wide flanking movements to the west of the fortified high bluffs that lined the river near that city.
Who won the Battle of the Wilderness?
The battle was a tactical draw. The North lost more casualties, although both armies lost roughly the same percentage of men based on their armies' size. Both armies remained on the field after the two days of fighting. But after a day of relative quiet Grant continued his movement south. For the first time Lee had failed to turn back the invasion, a strategic defeat.
Why was the Battle of the Wilderness important?
In the past when the Army of the Potomac had failed to win a victory south of the Rappahannock it had retreated back across the river to rest, recover, and rebuild its strength for the next attempt. This time Grant shrugged off the casualties and kept the initiative by continuing to move south. It was the beginning of a month and a half of almost continuous fighting that ripped the heart out of both armies and ended with Lee's survivors desperately dug in to a final defensive line around Richmond and Petersburg.