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Battle of the Wilderness

(1864)

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Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison.
Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison.
1964 Stamp
1964 Stamp
U.S. postage stamp, 1964 5-cent issue, Battle of the Wilderness centennial commemorative stamp.
Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of the Wilderness
Skulls remaining on the field and trees destroyed at the Battle of the Wilderness, 1864.
Wilderness: The Vermont Monument
Wilderness: The Vermont Monument
12th New Jersey Regiment
12th New Jersey Regiment
140th New York Monument
140th New York Monument
140th New York Monument in Saunders Field on the Wilderness Battlefield
Stonewall Jackson's Arm Monument
Stonewall Jackson's Arm Monument
Stonewall Jackson's Arm Monument in the Lacy Family Cemetery at Ellwood on the Wilderness Battlefield
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument One of the heros of Gettysburg, Hays held Ziegler's Grove and the north end of Cemetery Ridge during Pickett's Charge, and is honored by a monument and statue on the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument The monument is made from a 42-pounder rifled cannon set into a stone base. The large caliber cannon was manufactured in 1859 and used for coastal defence during the war. The trefoil shape of inscription tablet is the symbol for the Union Second Corps. From the front of the monument: Here Fell General Alexander Hays 3d Div. 2d Corps U.S.V. May 3, 1864
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument
Major General Alexander Hays Monument From the rear base of the monument: Erected by General Alexander Hays Post No. 3 Department of Pennsylvania G.A.R. and Davis Star Camp, Sons of Veterans At the rear of the base is an inscription: This ground donated by Major W.S. Embrey, C.S.A
Major General James Wadsworth
Major General James Wadsworth
James Samuel Wadsworth was a wealthy landowner from Geneseo, New York who devoted his life to public service. A Free Soil Republican, at the start of the Civil War he offered himself to the Union cause
Tablet from the Battle of the Wilderness monument
Tablet from the Battle of the Wilderness monument
Here May 5,6, 1864, 70,000 Confederates under Lee defeated 120,000 Federals under Grant. Confederate loss 11,500. Federal 18,000. This battle, fought with conspicuous bravery, in a Wilderness on fire, will take its place among the great battles of the Civil War. Erected by the 13th Virginia Regiment Chapter U.D.C. 1927
Lee To The Rear Monument
Lee To The Rear Monument
The State of Texas monument and the "The Texans Attack" wayside marker are nearby. Both provide more details to the 'Lee to the Rear' story, where the men of the Texas Brigade refused to launch a desperate counterattack so long as Lee sought to lead them. Lee was persuaded to go a short distance to the rear and the attack was launched, halting a Union breakthrough at the cost of half the brigade
Colonel James D. Nance Monument
Colonel James D. Nance Monument
Colonel Nance commanded the 3rd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry.
State of Texas monument
State of Texas monument
The small "Lee to the rear!" monument and the "The Texans Attack" wayside marker are nearby.

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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

Who fought in the Battle of the Wilderness?

 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.

Event Details

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Date:
From: 05 May 1864 1
To: 07 May 1864 1
Event:
Also known as: Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign 1
Name: Battle of the Wilderness 1
Place:
Location: Spotsylvania County and Orange County, Virginia 1

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Sources

  1. Contributed by bruceyrock632
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