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An American Civil War battle where a general was ordered to advance to a certain point and wait… so waiting was all he did?

An American Civil War battle where a general was ordered to advance to a certain point and wait… so waiting was all he did?



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I'm trying to pin down something I once read about what went wrong with the Union's plans for a certain battle in the American Civil War. I think I once read a few paragraphs about this in a book by Bruce Catton. But that doesn't narrow it down much, because I've read at least eight of Catton's books about various aspects of the Civil War. And I may not even be correct that it was one of his books that told me about this episode.

Here's what I seem to remember about the sequence of events that I'm trying to pin down.

  1. A Union force was preparing to fight a battle with a nearby Confederate force. The commanding general of that Union force gave written orders to one of his subordinate generals. The orders were intended to maneuver that subordinate's soldiers (a division, or a corps, or whatever it was that the subordinate commanded) into a position where they could approach the Confederate right rear flank, coming up from behind, and thus catch that end of the Confederate line in a vise.

  2. However! The senior Union general didn't exactly mandate all of the above in the written orders he sent to his subordinate. The orders said something more along these lines (loosely paraphrased from my imperfect memory):

"Tomorrow morning your troops will advance to the crossroads at such-and-such a village. Then you will wait for my further orders to tell you if I need you to keep swinging around to get behind the Confederates while I'm assaulting their front line with the rest of my force."

  1. From the subordinate general's point of view, the key word in those orders turned out to be "wait." After sunrise on the day of the battle, he started his men marching in the correct direction. They encountered no opposition along the way, and reached the village in question (well out of sight of where the actual fighting was now taking place). Then the general commanding that detachment parked his butt in a chair and sent back a courier to headquarters, with a written despatch saying (in effect): "We made it to the village. How are things going on your end? Do you still want us to keep marching and swing around behind the enemy?"

  2. Having sent that message, he waited… and waited… and waited. All day, in fact! He may have sent a follow-up message after a few hours, asking the same thing as the first message, but nobody ever got around to sending him a reply saying: "Yes, proceed with the original plan." I don't remember who actually "won" or "lost" the battle. It may have been something of a draw, but it certainly was not the crushing victory which the Union commander had been hoping to achieve.

  3. When that Union commander finally realized what had happened -- after it was too late to do any good -- he was annoyed. But he also had to admit that the subordinate general couldn't be court-martialed for scrupulously following the strict letter of his written orders.

  4. I'm pretty sure that neither the commanding general in that operation, nor the subordinate general who was so good at sitting on the sidelines while a battle happened without him, were the sort of generals who later became particularly famous and respected for their contributions during the war. For instance, we're not talking about Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, or Phil Sheridan. (I don't think we're even talking about George B. McClellan!) But I can't remember where or when this particular battle took place. Does anyone recognize it from my description of that fiasco?


It reminds me of what I read about the Battle of Iuka. But it was Grant who "ordered Ord to move within 4 miles of the town, but to await the sound of fighting between Rosecrans and Price before engaging the Confederates." according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Iuka (I haven't read sources beyond Wikipedia.) Ord could have attacked the Confederate right rear flank from where he stood. "A fresh north wind, blowing from Ord's position in the direction of Iuka, caused an acoustic shadow that prevented the sound of the guns from reaching him, and he and Grant knew nothing of the engagement until after it was over. Ord's troops stood idly while the fighting raged only a few miles away.[10]" with [10] = Woodworth, pp. 221-23; Eicher, pp. 372-74; Welcher, pp. 622-23 with

The battle was kind of a draw, as you wrote. It could have been a crushing defeat for the Confederates if Ord had shown more initiative.

Woodworth, Steven E… Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 0-375-41218-2.

Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.

Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861-1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 2, The Western Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-253-36454-X.


This could be Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson under the command of Sherman.

The American Battlefield Trust describes the battle as follows:

Johnston had entrenched his army on the long, high mountain of Rocky Face Ridge and eastward across Crow Valley. As Sherman approached, he decided to demonstrate against the position with two columns while he sent a third one through Snake Creek Gap, to the right, to hit the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Resaca, Georgia. The two columns engaged the enemy at Buzzard Roost (Mill Creek Gap) and at Dug Gap. In the meantime, the third column, under McPherson, passed through Snake Creek Gap and on May 9 advanced to the outskirts of Resaca, where it found Confederates entrenched. Fearing defeat, McPherson pulled his column back to Snake Creek Gap. On May 10, Sherman decided to take most of his men and join McPherson to take Resaca. The next morning, as he discovered Sherman's army withdrawing from their positions in front of Rocky Face Ridge, Johnston retired south towards Resaca.


Lew Wallace

Lewis Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was an American lawyer, Union general in the American Civil War, governor of the New Mexico Territory, politician, diplomat, and author from Indiana. Among his novels and biographies, Wallace is best known for his historical adventure story, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), a bestselling novel that has been called "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century." [1]

Wallace's military career included service in the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. He was appointed Indiana's adjutant general and commanded the 11th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Wallace, who attained the rank of major general, participated in the Battle of Fort Donelson, the Battle of Shiloh, and the Battle of Monocacy. He also served on the military commission for the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, and presided over the trial of Henry Wirz, the Confederate commandant of the Andersonville prison camp.

Wallace resigned from the U.S. Army in November 1865 and briefly served as a major general in the Mexican army, before returning to the United States. Wallace was appointed governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878–1881) and served as U.S. minister to the Ottoman Empire (1881–1885). Wallace retired to his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he continued to write until his death in 1905.


Contents

Military situation Edit

Chattanooga was a vital rail hub (with lines going north toward Nashville and Knoxville and south toward Atlanta), and an important manufacturing center for the production of iron and coal, located on the navigable Tennessee River. In September 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans executed a series of maneuvers that forced Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee to abandon Chattanooga and withdraw into northern Georgia. Rosecrans pursued Bragg and the two armies collided at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19–20. Bragg achieved a major victory when a gap was opened mistakenly in the Union line and a strong assaulting force commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet serendipitously drove through it and routed a good portion of the Union army. A determined defensive stand by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas on Snodgrass Hill saved the army from total destruction, earning him the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga" and allowing time for most of Rosecrans's army to retreat to Chattanooga. Bragg did not cut off the escape routes to Chattanooga and did not organize a pursuit that might have seriously damaged the Union army before it could regroup and prepare its defenses in the city. The Union forces took advantage of previous Confederate works to erect strong defensive positions in a tight, 3-mile-long semicircle around the city. [8]

Bragg had three courses of action. He could outflank Rosecrans by crossing the Tennessee either below or above the city, assault the Union force directly in their fortifications, or starve the Federals by establishing a siege line. The flanking option was deemed to be impracticable because Bragg's army was short on ammunition, they had no pontoons for river crossing, and Longstreet's corps from Virginia had arrived at Chickamauga without wagons. A direct assault was too costly against a well-fortified enemy. Receiving intelligence that Rosecrans's men had only six days of rations, Bragg chose the siege option, while attempting to accumulate sufficient logistical capability to cross the Tennessee. [9]

Bragg's army besieged the city, threatening to starve the Union forces into surrender. The Confederates established themselves on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, both of which had excellent views of the city, the Tennessee River flowing north of the city, and the Union's supply lines. Bragg also had little inclination to take offensive action against the Federal army because he was occupied in leadership quarrels within his army. On September 29, Bragg relieved from command two of his subordinates who had disappointed him in the Chickamauga campaign: Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman (who had failed to destroy part of the Union army at McLemore's Cove) and Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk (who had delayed attacking on September 20 at Chickamauga). On October 4, twelve of his most senior generals sent a petition to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, demanding that Bragg be relieved of command. Davis personally visited Chattanooga to hear the complaints. After he decided to retain Bragg in command, Bragg retaliated against some of those generals by relieving Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill and Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner. [10]

Capt. George Lewis, 124th Ohio [11]

In Chattanooga, Rosecrans was stunned by the defeat of his army and became psychologically unable to take decisive action to lift the siege. [12] President Abraham Lincoln remarked that Rosecrans seemed "confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head." [13] Union soldiers began to feel the effect of extremely short rations and many of their horses and mules died. The only supply line that was not controlled by the Confederates was a roundabout, tortuous course nearly 60 miles long over Walden's Ridge from Bridgeport, Alabama. Heavy rains began to fall in late September, washing away long stretches of the mountain roads. On October 1, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry intercepted and severely damaged a train of 800 wagons—burning hundreds of the wagons, and shooting or sabering hundreds of mules—at the start of his October 1863 Raid through Tennessee to sever Rosecrans's supply line. Toward the end of October, typical Federal soldiers' rations were "four cakes of hard bread and a quarter pound of pork" every three days. [14]

Grant and Thomas headquarters, October 23.

The Union high command began immediate preparations to relieve the city. Only hours after the defeat at Chickamauga, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to Chattanooga with 20,000 men in two small corps from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Even before the Union defeat, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been ordered to send his available force to assist Rosecrans, and it departed under his chief subordinate, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, from Vicksburg, Mississippi. On September 29, Stanton ordered Grant to go to Chattanooga himself, [15] as commander of the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi, bringing all of the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River (and much of the state of Arkansas) under a single commander for the first time. Grant was given the option of replacing the demoralized Rosecrans with Thomas. Although Grant did not have good personal relations with Thomas, he had previously determined that he "could not make [Rosecrans] do as I wished" in the capacity as a subordinate. Grant selected Thomas to command the Army of the Cumberland. Hearing an inaccurate report that Rosecrans was preparing to abandon Chattanooga, Grant telegraphed to Thomas, "Hold Chattanooga at all hazards. I will be there as soon as possible." The Rock of Chickamauga replied immediately, "I will hold the town till we starve." Grant traveled over the treacherous mountain supply line roads and arrived in Chattanooga on October 23. [16]

Reopening the Tennessee River Edit

Opening the Cracker Line Edit

The chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, Brig. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith, had devised a plan with Rosecrans to open a more reliable supply line to the troops in Chattanooga. General Thomas put the plan afoot immediately upon taking command. Smith briefed Grant immediately after the new commander's arrival and Grant enthusiastically concurred with the plan. Brown's Ferry crossed the Tennessee River from Moccasin Point where the road followed a gap through the foothills, turned south through Lookout Valley to Wauhatchie Station, and then west to Kelley's Ferry, a navigable point on the Tennessee that could be reached by Union supply boats. If the Army of the Cumberland could seize Brown's Ferry and link up with Hooker's force arriving from Bridgeport, Alabama, through Lookout Valley, a reliable, efficient supply line—soon to become known as the "Cracker Line"—would be open. In addition, a force at Brown's Ferry would threaten the right flank of any Confederate movement into the valley. [17]

Hooker left Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum with one of his divisions of the XII Corps to guard the railroad line from Murfreesboro, to Bridgeport. Slocum's remaining division, under Brig. Gen. John W. Geary, and the two divisions of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps were ordered to move quickly to Lookout Valley. However, weather conditions delayed the movement, so Grant decided to move ahead with the Brown's Ferry operation even before Hooker could arrive. Smith's plan for the assault on Brown's Ferry was to send most of one brigade (Brig. Gen. William B. Hazen's) traveling stealthily downriver on pontoons and a raft at night to capture the gap and hills on the west bank of the Tennessee while a second brigade (Brig. Gen. John B. Turchin's) marched across Moccasin Point in support. [18]

Braxton Bragg had no idea that this operation was being planned, but he was aware of Hooker's pending river crossing at Bridgeport, so was concerned about his left flank. He ordered Longstreet to move additional units into Lookout Valley, but, unknown to Bragg, the order was ignored. Furthermore, Longstreet's lack of diligence allowed command mixups to leave only two regiments near Brown's Ferry. [19]

Early on the morning of October 27, Hazen's men floated unnoticed past the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain, aided by low fog and no moonlight. They were able to seize the ground above Brown's Ferry by 4:40 a.m. A counterattack by the 15th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Col. William C. Oates (of Little Round Top fame) was repulsed and Oates was wounded. Oates's brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law, placed his brigade blocking the road over Lookout Mountain and reported the Union success to Longstreet. Longstreet dismissed the importance of the report, considering the Union move to be only a feint, and did not bother passing the information on to Bragg. When Bragg learned of it, he ordered Longstreet to retake the ground immediately, but Longstreet once again did nothing and Smith's men spent the day consolidating their bridgehead without interference. [20]

Hooker's column marched through Lookout Valley and linked up with Hazen and Turchin at Brown's Ferry at 3:45 p.m., October 28. Thomas's staff began the preparations to bring supplies over the Cracker Line and he telegraphed General in Chief Henry W. Halleck that he expected "in a few days to be pretty well supplied." [21]

Wauhatchie Edit

Having ignored several direct orders from Bragg to attack Brown's Ferry, Longstreet was ordered by Bragg to attack Hooker's concentration at Wauhatchie instead. There, Hooker had neglected to arrange his force into effective defensive positions, instructing them merely to find good cover for the troops and bivouac. He detached Brig. Gen. John W. Geary's division at Wauhatchie Station, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, to protect the line of communications to the south as well as the road west to Kelley's Ferry. Longstreet was amazed to see Geary's bivouacking soldiers with their large wagon train parked directly in front of him. [22]

Longstreet ordered a night attack, a relatively rare occurrence in the Civil War, [23] using only the brigade of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law and Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins's division from Lookout Mountain, far fewer troops than Bragg had authorized. The attack was scheduled for 10:00 p.m. on October 28, but confusion delayed it until midnight. Although Geary and his officers expected an attack and had thrown out pickets, its suddenness took them by surprise. Enveloped from the north by Col. John Bratton's brigade, the Union defenders formed into a V-shaped battle line, facing north and east. Geary's son Edward, an artillery lieutenant, was killed in the battle, dying in his father's arms. [24]

Hearing the sounds of battle, Hooker, at Brown's Ferry, sent Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard with two XI Corps divisions as reinforcements. Orders of march were confused and delayed the movement. Hooker mistakenly deployed units from both XI Corps divisions against Law's and Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning's brigades, leaving no one to go to Geary's aid. Law's 2,000 men were greatly outnumbered by Hooker's men, but the hilltop position was naturally strong and several vigorous Union assaults were repulsed. [25]

Receiving an erroneous report that Bratton was retreating, Law decided to pull back. Just as his men left their entrenchments, Col. Orland Smith's brigade (Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr's division) spilled over them, capturing some stragglers and scattering a regiment that failed to get the order to retreat. Meanwhile, Hooker agreed to let Howard proceed to Wauhatchie with some cavalry. Geary's men continued to hold fast, although they began to run low on ammunition. Just as Bratton began to sense victory, he received a note from Jenkins to retreat because Union reinforcements were arriving at his rear. He withdrew to Lookout Mountain, successfully covered by Benning's brigade. [26]

Both sides had planned poorly for the battle. Hooker's carelessness in placing his men had left them at risk. Grant was disgusted at Hooker's performance and considered relieving him. Longstreet committed too few men for an assault of this importance and Bragg was also disgusted with his subordinate. Bragg's biographer, Judith L. Hallock, wrote that Wauhatchie was, for Longstreet, an "ill-conceived, ill-planned, and poorly coordinated attack" that "resulted in a shambles." [27]

Longstreet departs Edit

The view of Peter Cozzens, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes [28]

The opening of the cracker line changed the strategic situation completely. Bragg knew the siege was effectively broken. Considering his options—retreating from the area assaulting the Union fortifications at Chattanooga waiting for Grant to attack attempting to move around Grant's right flank attempting to move around Grant's left flank—Bragg realized that movement around Grant's left flank was the only promising option. It would potentially allow him to re-establish an additional badly needed rail supply line (to Virginia via Knoxville) and join forces with about 10,000 men operating in southwestern Virginia under the command of Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones. An impediment to this plan was the operation of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Union Army of the Ohio, currently occupying Knoxville and blocking the railroad. On October 17, Bragg had ordered the division of Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson and two cavalry brigades to extend his right flank toward Knoxville. On October 22, Bragg added the division of Brig. Gen. John K. Jackson to the expedition, bringing the total to about 11,000 men, and considered sending Stevenson's corps commander, John C. Breckinridge, as well. In early November, Bragg ordered additional reinforcements and changed the orders from simply extending the right flank to actually pushing Burnside away from Knoxville and reestablish communications with Virginia. [29]

But events in Virginia caused Bragg to change his plan. Responding to a suggestion from President Davis, Bragg announced in a council of war on November 3 that he was sending Longstreet and his two divisions into East Tennessee to deal with Burnside, replacing the Stevenson/Jackson force. Davis had suggested Longstreet for this assignment because he intended Longstreet's divisions to return to the Army of Northern Virginia at the end of the campaign and Knoxville was on the route back to Virginia. In the face of a rapidly expanding enemy force, Bragg chose to divide his army and decrease his net defensive force by about 4,000 men (less than 10%) in order to facilitate the move on Knoxville. Campaign historian Steven E. Woodworth judged, however, that "even the flat loss of the number of good soldiers in Longstreet's divisions would have been a gain to the army in ridding it of their general's feuding and blundering." [30]

Preparations for battle Edit

Grant had two weeks following Wauhatchie before Sherman was to arrive, and he charged Thomas and Smith with the responsibility for planning an assault against Bragg, starting with an attack by Sherman on the Confederate right flank, emphasizing that he would not approve the plan until Sherman had an opportunity to review it. After considerable reconnaissance the two generals presented their plan on November 14. Sherman's arriving troops would use newly improved roads to pass through the hills north of Chattanooga, taking a route that was not visible from Lookout Mountain, hoping that Bragg would not know for certain whether Sherman was targeting Chattanooga or Knoxville. Smith would assemble every available boat and pontoon to allow Sherman's corps to cross the Tennessee River near the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek and attack Bragg's right flank on Missionary Ridge. If the attack were successful, the Union would control the two key railroad lines that supplied Bragg's army, forcing him to withdraw. Thomas's army would simultaneously pin down the Confederate center on Missionary Ridge. The plan also called for Hooker to assault and seize Lookout Mountain, Bragg's left flank, and continue on to Rossville, where he would be positioned to cut off a potential Confederate retreat to the south. [31]

Sherman arrived ahead of his troops on the evening of November 14. He observed the end of Missionary Ridge that he was designated to attack and remarked that he could seize it successfully by 9 a.m. on the assigned day. Grant approved Thomas's and Smith's plan, although he withdrew support for the attack by Hooker on Lookout Mountain, intending the mass of his attack to be by Sherman. Sherman's men were still a considerable distance from Chattanooga because they had been under orders from Halleck to repair the railroad as they marched the 330 miles from Vicksburg (an order countermanded by Grant on October 27) and their commander had ignored advice from Thomas that he march rapidly without the impediment of his trains, as Hooker had done. Although Grant had hoped to begin offensive operations on November 21, by November 20 only one of Sherman's brigades had crossed over Brown's Ferry and the attack had to be postponed. Grant was coming under pressure from Washington to react to Longstreet's advance against Burnside at Knoxville. [32]

Bragg, having dispatched most of his cavalry, had little means of gathering intelligence. He assumed that Sherman's corps would be heading toward his department's extreme right flank at Knoxville, not Chattanooga. Therefore, he believed that the main Union assault would occur on his left flank, Lookout Mountain. On November 12, Bragg placed Carter Stevenson in overall command for the defense of the mountain, with Stevenson's division placed on the summit. The brigades of Brig. Gens. John K. Jackson, Edward C. Walthall, and John C. Moore were placed on the "bench" of the mountain (a narrow and relatively flat shelf that wrapped around the northern end of the mountain approximately halfway to the summit). Jackson later wrote about the dissatisfaction of the commanders assigned to this area, "Indeed, it was agreed on all hands that the position was one extremely difficult to defense against a strong force of the enemy advancing under cover of a heavy fire." [33] Thomas L. Connelly, historian of the Army of Tennessee, wrote that despite the imposing appearance of Lookout Mountain, "the mountain's strength was a myth. . It was impossible to hold [the bench, which] was commanded by Federal artillery at Moccasin Bend." Although Stevenson placed an artillery battery on the crest of the mountain, the guns could not be depressed enough to reach the bench, which was accessible from numerous trails on the west side of the mountain. [34]

Dissatisfaction also prevailed in the Chattanooga Valley and on Missionary Ridge, where Breckinridge, commanding Bragg's center and right, had only 16,000 men to defend a line 5 miles long. Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson, whose division was assigned to the Confederate works along the western base of the ridge, wrote "This line of defense, following its sinuosities, was over two miles in length—nearly twice as long as a number of bayonets in the division could adequately defend." [35] Bragg exacerbated the situation on November 22 by ordering Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne to withdraw his and Simon B. Buckner's divisions from the line and march to Chickamauga Station, for railroad transport to Knoxville, removing 11,000 more men from the defense of Chattanooga. This move was apparently made because, as Grant had hoped, Bragg concluded that Sherman's troops were moving on to Knoxville, in which case Longstreet would need the reinforcements, for which he had been constantly clamoring since he was first given the assignment. [36]


Lincoln removes General McClellan from Army of the Potomac

A tortured relationship ends when President Abraham Lincoln removes General George B. McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan ably built the army in the early stages of the war but was a sluggish and paranoid field commander who seemed unable to muster the courage to aggressively engage Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

McClellan was a promising commander who served as a railroad president before the war. In the early stages of the conflict, troops under McClellan’s command scored several important victories in the struggle for western Virginia. Lincoln summoned “Young Napoleon,” as some called the general, to Washington, D.C., to take control of the Army of the Potomac a few days after its humiliating defeat at the Battle of First Bull Run, Virginia in July 1861. Over the next nine months, McClellan capably built a strong army, drilling his troops and assembling an efficient command structure. However, he also developed extreme contempt for the president, and often dismissed Lincoln’s suggestions out of hand. 

In 1862, McClellan led the army down Chesapeake Bay to the James Peninsula, southeast of the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. During this campaign, he exhibited the timidity and sluggishness that later doomed him. During the Seven Days Battles, McClellan was poised near Richmond but retreated when faced with a series of attacks by Lee. McClellan always believed that he was vastly outnumbered, though he actually had the numerical advantage. He spent the rest of the summer camped on the peninsula while Lincoln began moving much of his command to General John Pope’s Army of Virginia.

After Lee defeated Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August, 1862he invaded Maryland. With the Confederates crashing into Union territory, Lincoln had no choice but to turn to McClellan to gather the reeling Yankee forces and stop Lee. On September 17, 1862, McClellan and Lee battled to a standstill along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Lee retreated back to Virginia and McClellan ignored Lincoln’ surging to pursue him. For six weeks, Lincoln and McClellan exchanged angry messages, but McClellan stubbornly refused to march after Lee. In late October, McClellan finally began moving across the Potomac in feeble pursuit of Lee, but he took nine days to complete the crossing. Lincoln had seen enough. Convinced that McClellan could never defeat Lee, Lincoln notified the general on November 5 of his removal. A few days later, Lincoln named General Ambrose Burnside to be the commander of the Army of the Potomac.

After his removal, McClellan battled with Lincoln once more𠄿or the presidency in 1864. McClellan won the Democratic nomination but was easily defeated by his old boss.


Union: 12,700
Confederate: 1,500

Explore articles from the History Net archives about the Cold Harbor

Grant intended to attack General Robert E. Lee’s army, cut his supply lines from the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond, and isolate him from the Confederate capital. Grant knew he would be able to overpower and outman Lee if he could draw him out of his fortifications and onto an open battlefield, which he had been unsuccessful at doing so far in the campaign.

Having recently taken command of all Union armies, Grant chose to remain in the field during the Overland Campaign, in such close proximity to Major General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac that questions had arisen about their roles and responsibilities, leading to confusion in orders and coordination. Their progress toward Richmond from Spotsylvania and Orange counties, where the Battle of the Wilderness took place, was painstaking but steady. By the end of May, Old Cold Harbor, in Hanover County, Virginia, was a now-strategic crossroads 10 miles to the northeast of the city. During the Seven Days Battle in the spring of 1862, the Battle of Gaines Mill had been fought in this same area.

On May 29, Grant ordered Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry to probe Lee’s right flank. That took Sheridan into Old Cold Harbor where he confronted infantry and cavalry. After sharp fighting, he took control of the town on May 31. Reconnaissance reported that Lee was extending his right flank, which would cut off the Union’s shortest route to the James River, needed as a critical supply line. If Grant could extend his left flank to the south quickly enough, he could keep access to the James open, overpower the leading edge of Lee’s flank, and come between Lee and Richmond.

Grant by this time seems to have realized the inefficiency of the command system, which had required him and Meade to rely upon multiple exchanges of communications to move troops or initiate attacks. During Cold Harbor, Grant would make strategic decisions, communicate them to Meade, and leave Meade to handle the tactical decisions required to carry out Grant’s orders. Ultimately, no one would fully take control during the fighting, resulting in uncoordinated attacks with disastrous results.

Reinforcements were sent to aid Sheridan: Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith’s XVIII Corps and Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright&rsquos VI Corps. Confused orders and bad roads slowed their advance, and the two corps did not arrive until the afternoon of June 1, exhausted. Meade also ordered Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps to pull out of the Union position held after the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse and provide support at Cold Harbor. Shortly after, in the late afternoon, he ordered an attack on the Confederates. Smith and Wright’s exhausted men were able to briefly overrun the trenches only to be pushed back by a strong counterattack.

Meade next ordered an early morning attack on the Confederates, but Smith refused and Hancock’s II Corps had gotten lost and would not arrive until about 6:30 a.m. on June 2. Meade adjusted the time of attack to 5 p.m. that day but Grant, concerned that Hancock’s men wouldn’t be ready to attack, advised Meade to wait until the early morning of June 3.

There had only been a small force of Rebel infantry facing the increasing Union forces in the area on May 31, but thanks to the Union delays Lee, the experienced engineer, had ample time to dig in and reinforce his positions. In addition, in spite of all the delays, the Union did not conduct adequate reconnaissance to assess the enemy strength and did not have a clear view of the Confederate positions because the terrain was heavily wooded and uneven.

Regardless, Union soldiers, most of them veterans, knew that this attack would be costly. That evening, many of them wrote their names on slips of paper and sewed the slips to their uniform coats&mdasha rudimentary form of dog tags&mdashto keep from being buried as "Unknown."

Finally, early on June 3, the attack began in darkness and dense fog. All five Union corps formed a straight line about seven miles long and advanced. The only coordination from higher command was establishing the time of the advance, marked by a signal gun. The II, VI and XVIII corps were the main attack, on Lee&rsquos right, while Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps and Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s IX corps would occupy Lee’s left, preventing the Confederates there from reinforcing his right flank.

As the attack began, the corps became separated by swamps and heavy vegetation, losing contact with each other. Each formation squared off with the Confederate fortifications directly in front of it, providing Lee with the advantage&mdashConfederates were able to easily enfilade the Union troops because of the angles at which Lee had arranged his lines. Estimates are that 7,000 men were killed or wounded in the first hour (some say in the first 10 or 20 minutes) of the assault and the situation did not improve as the Union offensive continued.

The 8th New York Infantry, part of Hancock’s II Corps, sustained the heaviest casualties, losing about a third of their number, most within the first 30 minutes of the battle. The "Bloody 8th," as they became known, had joined the Overland Campaign after the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, coming from Baltimore where they had served in the city’s defenses.

Only one division had mild success Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow&rsquos division of Hancock&rsquos corps was able to overcome part of Lee’s right flank, but without reinforcements&mdashwhich were requested and available but not provided&mdashany advantage was lost. Facing considerable musket and artillery fire, the rest of the corps advanced as far as they could and dug in, hoping to survive.

As reports came in to Meade, the confusion and lack of coordination of the attack became apparent. Of the three corps in the main attack, none had committed all of its troops. On the Union right, Warren and Burnside were tardy in preparing for their attacks and therefore were unsuccessful in preventing Lee from transferring men to the threatened area.

Meade sent Grant a message indicating that the attack might not be successful, asking if it should be continued. Grant responded by telling Meade to back off as soon as it was clear the attack would fail "but when one does succeed push it vigorously, and if necessary pile in troops at the successful point from wherever they can be taken." Then Grant moved his headquarters into Meade’s, in effect taking tactical control of the army back.

At 12:30 p.m., after riding the lines himself, Grant suspended the attack, but ordered it renewed later in the afternoon. There were some isolated exchanges of fire, but no advance. Smith flat out refused the order to attack he never faced any charges or investigation for this act of insubordination.

The following nine days of trench warfare were miserable for both sides, deadly for anyone raising their head above the Union breastworks and deadly for the wounded caught between lines. On June 5, two days after the initial attack, Grant began written communication with Lee to negotiate a truce to retrieve the wounded and dying from between the lines, trying very hard to make it sound as if both sides needed a truce to retrieve casualties. Lee responded he had no casualties to retrieve. Lee had won the fighting and he ultimately won this war of words. Finally, after Grant sent a message that only mentioned his own wounded, Lee agreed. On June 7, a two-hour flag of truce was raised, but by then few of the wounded were found alive. Some had crawled back to their lines under fire, some had been retrieved by comrades during hours of darkness, but thousands died crying out for water under the summer sun over the course of those five days.

Grant, realizing that he could not make further progress, sent Sheridan to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad to the west and planned to send Meade across the James to cut Lee’s supply lines from the south at Petersburg. Finally, late on June 11 or early on June 12, Grant’s aides returned from planning a route for the army across the James River. Grant ordered Meade to leave Cold Harbor as quickly as possible to avoid immediate detection by the Confederates, cross the James, and proceed toward Petersburg. Lee had already guessed that Grant would attack Petersburg and countered by sending II Corps to the Shenandoah Valley in an effort to threaten Washington and distract Grant from Richmond.

Cold Harbor was Grant’s worst defeat of the war. He wrote in his memoirs, "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made &hellip No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained." Confederates called Cold Harbor the easiest victory of the war, though it would be Lee’s last great victory. Less than a year later, following the Battle of Petersburg (aka the Siege of Petersburg), the Appomattox Campaign, and the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, Lee would surrender to Grant.


Articles Featuring Battle Of The Wilderness From History Net Magazines

March 8, 1864, was a wet, blustery Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Despite the bad weather, an unusually large crowd had gathered at the White House that evening for one of President and Mrs. Lincoln’s regular receptions. The reason for the increased turnout was not hard to guess: Major General Ulysses S. Grant was rumored to be in town for a high-level meeting with the president. At that meeting, Grant, the increasingly idolized victor of Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Chattanooga, was expected to receive his much-anticipated promotion to lieutenant general–the first man to hold such an exalted rank in the United States Army since George Washington, nine decades earlier.

No one was more eager to meet the Illinois general than Abraham Lincoln. In the face of near-constant defeats on the eastern front of the war, Grant had been a consistent beacon of good news–and good generalship–in the West. While other, more dashing generals–George McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside and ‘Fighting Joe’ Hooker–had been tried and found wanting on the Virginia battlefields, the initially unknown Grant had quietly gone about the task of carving up large sections of the western Confederacy. Rumors of occasional binge drinking by Grant had floated back to Lincoln, but the hard-pressed chief executive had shown a patience for his fellow Illinoisan that he had not always demonstrated with the closer-at-hand eastern generals. ‘I can’t spare this man he fights,’ was how Lincoln put it, joking that perhaps he should find out what brand of whiskey Grant drank and send a case to the rest of his generals to stiffen their resolve.

But Lincoln had not summoned Grant to discuss his alcoholic preferences. Nor was the general in Washington simply to receive his well-deserved raise in rank. What Lincoln wanted to hear from Grant was how, exactly, he intended to win the war, and, more to the point, how he intended to go through Robert E. Lee to do it. For, despite the dramatic Union victory at Gettysburg, Pa., on July 3, 1863, there was still the disheartening knowledge that the wily Confederate general had escaped to fight another day. And, given his past record, he could be expected to fight hard, to fight well, and to fight soon. In the eight months since Gettysburg, Lee and the tough veteran officers and men of his Army of Northern Virginia had frustrated one attempt after another by Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac to finish them off. With the unusually wet winter coming to a close, Lee’s rested and reconstituted army no doubt would be back grabbing at the Union’s throat as soon as weather permitted.

As the crowd swirled and eddied around the president and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, in the East Room of the White House, there was a sudden stir and buzz at the far end of the room, near the doorway. The president, who, at 6 feet 4 inches, was a good head taller than anyone else in the room, looked up from the receiving line and spied the unprepossessing form of the new arrival–a man whose face he had only seen in photographs. ‘Why, here is General Grant!’ Lincoln exclaimed. With a master politician’s quick grace, the president hurried across the room, right hand outstretched. Grant, 8 inches shorter than the president, walked slowly toward him (presidential secretary John Hay remembered later that it was ‘a long walk for a bashful man’), and the two men shook hands for the first time. ‘Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you,’ said Lincoln with a smile. Grant, who a fellow Union officer once said ‘habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it,’ relaxed enough to permit himself a slight smile. After a lengthy wade through well-wishers–Lincoln withdrew to permit the general his moment in the sun–the two men finally sat down together in private to discuss the upcoming campaign.

Lincoln did not want to know Grant’s plan of attack in great detail he had gotten into trouble in the past by accidently leaking details of campaigns. It was enough to know that Grant intended to make his headquarters in the field with the Army of the Potomac, and, more important, that he intended to make Robert E. Lee his primary target. Grant later recalled: ‘My general plan…was to concentrate all the force possible against the Confederate armies in the field. To get possession of Lee’s army was the first great object. With the capture of his army Richmond would necessarily follow.’ He intended to attach himself directly to the Army of the Potomac, still commanded on paper by Meade, the victor at Gettysburg. Together, they would attempt to bring Lee to battle as soon as possible. The only question was where.

Lee and his 65,000-man army were presently camped on the south side of the Rapidan River, directly across from Meade’s forces at Culpeper. The two sides had spent a comparatively comfortable winter–particularly from the perspective of the Union troops, who passed the winter huddling in their snug tents and cabins, writing letters home, engaging in mock-heroic snowball fights, going to armywide revival meetings and enlarging upon that endlessly fascinating topic: What are our generals going to do next? George T. Stevens, a surgeon with the 77th New York Regiment, remembered: ‘This was the most cheerful winter we had passed in camp. One agreeable feature was the great number of ladies, wives of officers, who spent the winter with their husbands. On every fine day, great numbers of ladies might be seen riding about the camps and over the desolate fields, and their presence added greatly to the brilliancy of the frequent reviews.’ The humble enlisted men, not having the pleasure of female company, manufactured their own companions. According to Captain Henry Blake of the 11th Massachusetts, the men hosted their own homespun dances, with ‘one half of the soldiers arrayed as women. The resemblance in the features of some of these persons was so perfect that a stranger would be unable to distinguish between the assumed and the genuine characters.’

The Confederates, who were not so well fed or sheltered as the Federals, occupied themselves mainly with trying to keep warm and finding enough to eat. Rations were mainly cornmeal and mush, leading one wag to nickname the two armies ‘the Fed and the Cornfed.’ Still, despite the inferior level of comfort, the Southerners maintained a surprisingly high morale, due in large part to the reverence bordering on religious zeal that the men held for their commanding general. ‘No army ever had such a leader as General Lee,’ gushed Private William Wilson of Virginia. ‘No general ever had such an army.’ When Lee went to Gordonsville in late April to personally welcome back into the army Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and his I Corps, which had been on detached service in Tennessee (and had spearheaded the great albeit Pyrrhic Confederate victory at Chickamauga), he was mobbed by the soldiers who greeted him. ‘The men hung around him and seemed satisfied to lay their hands on his gray horse or to touch the bridle, or the stirrup, or the general’s leg,’ recalled Private Frank Mixson of South Carolina. ‘Anything that Lee had was sacred to us fellows who had just come back.’ An officer observed, ‘We looked forward to victory under him as confidently as to successive sunrises.’

Although the Confederates had overwhelming faith in Lee, their Federal counterparts were less sure of Grant, at least at first. The new commanding general of the Union Army arrived at Meade’s headquarters at Brandy Station two days after his meeting with Lincoln, and immediately set out to make order of the chaotic scene. One unidentified private took note of his new commander’s less than impressive physical appearance. ‘Of all the officers in the group,’ he said, ‘I should have selected almost anyone but him as the general who won Vicksburg. He was small and slim, even to undersize very quiet, and with a slight stoop. But for his straps, which came down too far in front of his shoulders on his rusty uniform, I should have taken him for a clerk at headquarters rather than a general.’ Nor were the men much impressed by the bold talk coming from the general’s entourage. They had heard such talk before, usually before a devastating defeat. Said Private Frank Wilkeson: ‘Old soldiers who had seen many military reputations melt before the battle fire of the Army of Northern Virginia shrugged their shoulders carelessly, and said indifferently, ‘Well, let Grant try what he can accomplish with the Army of the Potomac. He cannot be worse than his predecessors and, if he is a fighter, he can find all the fighting he wants. We have never complained that Lee’s men would not fight.” Other soldiers joked, without much humor, that the Union Army was about to embark on its ‘annual Bull Run flogging.’

Grant’s first order of business was to decide what to do with the often vinegary Meade. Initially, he had intended to replace the patrician Pennsylvanian with one of his own trusted subordinates from the west, a move that Lincoln would have endorsed wholeheartedly, having lost whatever fleeting confidence he had in Meade following the general’s dilatory pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg. But Grant’s first meeting with Meade changed his mind. Meade humbly offered to step aside in favor of one of Grant’s western warriors, adding that ‘the work before us [is] of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feelings or wishes of no person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions.’ Perhaps Grant was disarmed by Meade’s open display of patriotism. Or perhaps, having been in the same position himself following the Battle of Shiloh, he simply realized that by retaining Meade he would ensure his unquestioning loyalty and obedience. Whatever the reason, Grant elected to keep Meade in titular command of the Army of the Potomac, but he pitched his own headquarters tent nearby, and all messages, inquiries and orders went through him first, not the army’s bootless commander.

With Meade firmly in hand, Grant set out to plan the upcoming offensive. Lee’s army had spent the fall and winter months fortifying their lines south of the Rapidan they were now virtually impregnable, as Meade had discovered for himself during the abortive Mine Run campaign the previous autumn, when a well-planned attempt to surprise Lee had had to be called off when the soldiers got a firsthand look at the bristling Rebel breastworks. Grant, for his part, had no intention of attacking Lee behind his defenses. Instead, he intended to outflank him by marching rapidly southward through the forbidding landscape known as the Wilderness, a 70-mile-wide, 30-mile-long stretch of second-growth timber, wiry underbrush, brackish water and barren soil that was all too familiar to the Union soldiers from their disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville exactly one year earlier. Indian legend said the shadowy woods of the Wilderness were haunted, and no one who had survived the previous spring’s debacle doubted the legends. Grant, the least superstitious of men, had no time for old wives’ tales, but he did understand that unless he moved quickly through the Wilderness, he and his army were dangerously vulnerable to enemy attack. Should Lee strike while the army was stretched out along the twisting trails and marshy gullies, the results could prove as fatal to Grant’s career as Chancellorsville had been to Hooker’s. Speed was of the essence, and the Army of the Potomac was not particularly noted for its quickness.

The task of arranging the army’s movements was left to Meade’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Andrew Humphreys, a prewar engineer and topographer who was as well-suited for the thankless role as anyone could be. The Pennsylvania-born Humphreys was a profane, irascible soldier whose ‘blue-gray dauntless eyes threw into his stern face the coldness of hammered steel.’ He was seldom seen to smile, and the complexities of his new assignment left him little time for amusement. He was charged with organizing a 120,000-man army into a manageable and maneuverable body, with 4,300 supply wagons and 850 field ambulances tagging along behind it like the tail of a kite. All were expected to march undisturbed through some of the roughest countryside in Virginia, beneath the very noses of their ever-vigilant opponents, and to do so in less than 30 hours, which was the amount of time it had taken Lee to move his army into position to counterattack during the Mine Run campaign the previous November. Anything less would leave the Federals dangerously exposed in the midst of the Wilderness, facing a predictably unpredictable enemy, with little room for the army’s cavalry and artillery to operate. ‘Viewed as a battleground,’ said Lt. Col. Francis Walker, the Wilderness ‘was simply infernal.’

Despite the difficulties, Humphreys quickly devised a workable plan. The army would be divided into two wings, which would cross the Rapidan at the Germanna and Ely fords and march quickly down the Germanna Plank Road to reunite at the intersection with the region’s one really good road, the Orange Turnpike. Once there, the army would have the choice of several routes leading west. With room to maneuver, the army could force the Rebels to come out of their breastworks in order to block any Union thrust toward Richmond. On an open field, the weight of Northern numbers and the deadly efficiency of the Union gunners would inevitably swing the tide of battle toward the North. Confederate artillery officer Robert Stiles, anticipating the upcoming campaign, was not alone in feeling ‘a sort of premonition of the definite mathematical calculation, in whose hard, unyielding grip our future should be held and crushed.’

It was a good plan, worthy of an experienced engineer’s logical mind. The only problem was that the best engineer in the prewar army was now wearing gray–and he was wearing three stars wreathed in gold on his collar. Already, Robert E. Lee had summoned his ranking commanders to the top of Clark’s Mountain, overlooking the suddenly busy Union camp, and unerringly predicted the path the enemy would take, down to the very fords they would use when moving against him. Surprisingly, Lee did not intend to contest the river crossings. He hoped instead to lure Grant into overconfidence (something experienced eastern officers had already seen on the part of Grant’s staff, if not the commanding general himself), and then strike him at an as-yet-undetermined place along the way.

Inexplicably, Lee made no preliminary moves to get his own somewhat scattered forces underway, preferring to leave the respective corps of Lt. Gens. Richard Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill in their winter camps at Clark’s Mountain and Orange Court House, while Longstreet’s newly returned I Corps remained in the rear around Gordonsville, ready to fall back quickly to defend Richmond should the need arise. Perhaps, like Grant, Lee was guilty of underestimating his new opponent. Both generals had always had the advantage of fighting against opponents inferior to the ones they were now facing in each other. But if Lee was guilty of underestimating Grant, his I Corps commander was not. Longstreet had been Grant’s closest friend in the prewar army, even serving as best man at Grant’s wedding to a Longstreet cousin, and he understood the new Union leader in a way that Lee did not. ‘That man,’ Longstreet warned, ‘will fight us every day and every hour till the end of this war.’ Lee ignored the warning at his own considerable peril.

Meanwhile, preparations continued apace in the Union camp. At Brandy Station, Meade’s jumping-off point, a 3-story-high mountain of supplies grew steadily higher every day, a veritable cornucopia of soldiers’ needs–bread, beans, beef, pork, dried apples, coffee, sugar, tea, vinegar, molasses and potatoes. Finally, on May 3, the men were told to cook three days’ full rations and pack an extra three days’ partial rations, along with 50 rounds of ammunition. Experienced veterans knew what was coming, and they sought to advise the thousands of new recruits–all green as grass–on how to prepare for the upcoming campaign. Frank Wilkeson, a new artilleryman, was taken in hand by a grizzled veteran named Jellet, who ‘came to me that evening and kindly looked into my knapsack, and advised me as to what to keep and what to throw away. He cut my kit down to a change of underclothing, three pairs of socks, a pair of spare shoes, three plugs of navy tobacco, a rubber blanket, and a pair of woolen blankets.

”Now, my lad,’ Jellet said, ‘do not pick up anything excepting food and tobacco, while you are on the march. Get hold of all the food you can. Cut haversacks from dead men. Steal from the infantry if you can. Let your aim be to secure food and food and still more food, and keep your eyes open for tobacco. Do not look at clothing or shoes or blankets. You can always draw those articles from the quartermaster. Stick to your gun through thick and thin. Do not straggle. Fill your canteen at every stream we cross and wherever you get the chance elsewhere. Never wash your feet until the day’s march is over. If you do, you will surely blister.” Finally, Jellet advised Wilkeson not to burn his permanent camp. ‘Leave things as they are,’ he said. ‘We may want them before snow flies.’

At Union Army headquarters, no such qualified sense of optimism obtained. Among his other eccentricities, Grant refused to turn back after he started for a location. Indeed, if he passed a street he was looking for, he would circle the block rather than retrace his steps. Nor did he intend to do so now. After issuing his last order on the night of May 3, Grant casually crossed his legs, lit another cigar and began chatting with his staff. He explained his general reasons for choosing the eastern route through the Wilderness, instead of attempting to move around Lee’s left flank to the north. It would simplify resupply problems, he said, while also screening Washington from possible attack. Then the normally undemonstrative Grant surprised his aides by leaping to his feet, going over to a map on the wall and circling the towns of Richmond and Petersburg with his hands. ‘When my troops are there,’ Grant said, ‘Richmond is mine. Lee must retreat or surrender.’ It was becoming convincingly clear to everyone present that Grant did not envision a retreat of his own.

At 3 a.m. on May 4, the Army of the Potomac began crossing the Rapidan at Germanna Ford. Horsemen of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry splashed into the waist-deep stream, expecting a fusillade of bullets from the Confederate pickets on the other side. It never came. Obeying Lee’s orders not to contest the crossing, the pickets of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry fell back from the river and scattered into the pre-dawn darkness, leaving behind their half-cooked breakfast. The Rebels, said one Union trooper, ‘gave evidence of great fright.’ This was probably mere playacting, since Southern scouts had followed the enemy’s movements from the moment they had broken camp at midnight and begun heading toward the ford. Whatever the case, Federal engineers led by Captain William Folwell quickly followed the horsemen across the stream and began erecting two parallel bridges, 40 or 50 feet apart and 220 feet across. By dawn, when the carefully timed march of the infantry brought them to the ford, three temporary roads had already been chopped into the steep banks leading up from the river, and the foot soldiers in Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren’s V Corps marched smartly over the river and into the tangled gloom of the Wilderness.

Six miles downriver, at Ely’s Ford, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps made a similar uncontested crossing. A canvas pontoon bridge had been thrown across the ford, but many of the infantrymen eschewed the bridge and simply waded across in water up to their hips, holding their cartridge boxes and rifles above their heads to keep them dry. Behind them they left a trail of discarded blankets and overcoats, so many that Wilkeson believed ‘it would be no exaggeration to say that one could have marched to the Rapidan on overcoats and blankets that were thrown away by tired soldiers.’ An irate Connecticut chaplain estimated the wastage at between 20 and 30 thousand dollars. Wilkeson, who marched with his fellow gunners behind a regiment of heavily sweating German immigrants, watched as the Germans struggled painfully up the steep riverbank, discarding their bulging knapsacks as they made their way. ‘Near the top of the hill we found many well-filled haversacks,’ he recalled, ‘and we picked up every one of them and hung them on the limbers and caissons and guns. The mine was rich, and we worked it thoroughly.’

Grant and his personal entourage followed the line of march to Germanna Ford. Loud cheers greeted them along the way. Usually a plain dresser, Grant had donned a smart pair of yellowish-brown gloves and a black slouch hat with a gold cord to mark the occasion. Accompanying him on the ride south was his political mentor, Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, who had been instrumental in Grant’s phenomenal rise to the top. Washburne was dressed entirely in black, and puzzled soldiers wondered aloud whether the somber figure was Grant’s ‘personal undertaker.’ Shortly before noon, Grant crossed the ford and set up temporary headquarters in an old farmhouse on a bluff overlooking the river. Nearby, Meade had established his own headquarters, and his personal flag–a golden eagle wreathed in silver on a lavender backdrop–flourished in the breeze. Grant, sitting on the porch of the ramshackle farmhouse smoking an ever-present cigar, asked jokingly: ‘What’s this? Is Imperial Caesar anywhere about here?’ When a Northern newspaperman, taking advantage of the general’s good mood, asked him how long it would take to reach Richmond, Grant responded airily, ‘About four days–that is, if General Lee becomes a party to the agreement but if he objects, the trip will undoubtedly be prolonged.’

Grant’s untypically jovial mood was cut short a few minutes later when he was handed an intercepted message from the Confederates showing that Ewell’s corps was moving forward swiftly, destination as yet unknown. Immediately, Grant ordered Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside to prepare to cross the Rapidan with his IX Corps, which Grant had hoped to leave on the other side of the river to safeguard the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Now, with evidence that Lee was moving with more dispatch than he had anticipated (veteran campaigners could have told him that would be the case), Grant ordered Burnside to ‘make forced marches until you reach this place. Start your troops now in the rear the moment they can be got off, and require them to make a night march.’ In the meantime, the II Corps had moved into position on the old killing ground at Chancellorsville, while the V and VI corps (the latter under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick) were moving down the Germanna Plank Road to the point where it intersected the Orange Turnpike. There, they were to halt for the night while the lengthy and ponderous wagon train caught up with them.

The army had made good progress, but it had not passed completely through the Wilderness, and many of the soldiers, particularly those camping among the disinterred remains of the hastily buried Union dead at Chancellorsville, were increasingly uneasy. ‘A sense of ominous dread which many of us found impossible to shake off’ seized the men, one soldier recalled. ‘It was a very easy matter to discover just where pools of blood had been,’ another noted, ‘for those particular spots were marked by the greenest tufts of grass and brightest flowers to be found upon the field.’ Brigadier General Robert McAllister sent his wife a somewhat ghoulish present of ‘two or three pretty violets that I picked upon the very ground where my regiment stood and fought so splendidly [the year before]. The ground was made rich by the blood of our brave soldiers. I thought the flowers would be a relic prized by you.’ An even more grisly relic was unearthed by a less romantic infantryman, who pried up a bullet-shattered skull from a shallow grave and rolled it across the ground. ‘That is what you are all coming to, and some of you will start toward it tomorrow,’ he warned. Another Chancellorsville veteran spooked his campmates by noting that ‘the wounded are liable to be burned to death. I am willing to take my chances of getting killed, but I dread to have a leg broken and then be burned slowly and these woods will surely be burned if we fight here.’ Few of his listeners slept well that night.

The Union soldiers, veterans and newcomers alike, were right to entertain ominous forebodings. While they made camp, the battle-hardened Confederates were moving toward them through the woods, getting in position for a daylight attack that few of the Southerners doubted would be successful. Lee was still unsure of Grant’s ultimate intentions, whether his new adversary was heading for Fredericksburg, to the south, or was swinging around for a thrust westward toward Richmond. Lee wanted to be prepared for either contingency. He ordered Ewell and his II Corps to march due east along the Orange Turnpike until they passed the old fortifications at Mine Run, while A.P. Hill’s III Corps was to move along the Orange Plank Road to New Verdiersville. Once in place, the two corps would be within easy supporting distance of one another. Meanwhile, Longstreet’s I Corps, farther west at Gordonsville, was directed to move across country toward Todd’s Tavern, at the southern tip of the Wilderness. There it would be in place, said Lee, to ‘intercept the enemy’s march, and cause him to develop plans before he could get out of the Wilderness.’

Lee, traveling with Hill’s corps, camped for the night at New Verdiersville, where he directed Ewell to ‘bring [the enemy] to battle as soon now as possible.’ With Longstreet still a day’s march behind, it was a risky tactic, but Lee seldom shied away from taking risks. With less than a third of Grant’s manpower, he intended to jab hard into the Union flank and instigate a battle with the full knowledge that his own most dependable corps would not be available to fight for another full day. To Lee’s mind, this was the only thing he could do. If Grant got through the Wilderness unscathed, the full brunt of the Union Army would have a clear path around Lee’s southern flank to Richmond, and the war would be lost anyway. As Lee had already made clear in a letter to one of his sons, he did not intend to lose without a fight. Perhaps he would die, but ‘if victorious, we have everything to live for. If defeated, there will be nothing left for us to live for.’ By attacking at once, even with only two-thirds of his available force, he would at least give himself and his army a fighting chance. At that stage of the war, it was the best they could hope for. Grant’s incautious delay in traversing the Wilderness would give them that chance.

The morning of May 5 dawned clear and warm. By 8 a.m., it had already grown so hot that some out-of-shape Union soldiers, having spent the long winter months eating and lounging about camp, were reeling from heat prostration. Not that they were being hurried along–the pace of the morning’s march was ‘a moderate gait,’ Wilkeson recalled, ‘with occasional short halts.’ Both Grant and Meade believed that Lee had moved his men back inside the fortifications along Mine Run, 10 miles away, where presumably they would wait politely to be attacked at Grant’s leisure. In the meantime, Grant would be able to reunite the disparate wings of his army. Accordingly, Hancock was directed to swing his II Corps southwest from Chancellorsville to Parker’s Store, an abandoned country market, where he would link up with Warren’s V Corps from the north. Behind Warren, Sedgwick’s VI Corps would swing into place and wait for Burnside’s IX Corps, which was crossing Germanna Ford after an all-night march. When the entire Federal line had been reunited, Grant intended to move west and make contact with Lee’s army in the clear ground beyond the Wilderness.

As usual, however, Lee moved first. Having received word the night before from Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, his cavalry chief, that Union horsemen were screening the approach to Parker’s Store, Lee correctly divined that Grant was indeed intending to move west from the Wilderness. He no longer had to worry about the Federals passing around his right flank. Instead, they were conveniently standing still on unfavorable ground where their vast numerical superiority, their generally more modern small arms and their deadly artillery would be negated to a great extent by the narrow roads, thick undergrowth, limited visibility and lack of maneuvering room. If Ewell and Hill could hold them in place a little longer, Longstreet’s corps, swinging up from the south, would be ideally situated to strike them in the flank and roll them up as swiftly and easily as Lt. Gen. T.J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson had done on almost the same ground, exactly one year earlier. To his aide, Colonel Charles Venable, Lee ‘expressed his pleasure that the Federal general had not profited by General Hooker’s Wilderness experience, and that he seemed inclined to throw away to some extent the immense advantage which his great superiority in numbers gave him.’ Perhaps, his shining reputation notwithstanding, Grant would prove to be no worthier an opponent than Hooker.

Events quickly outraced either general’s ability to control them. On the morning of May 5, skirmishing for control of the Orange Plank Road opened at Parker’s Store between the 5th New York Cavalry and the 47th North Carolina Infantry. At the same time, Union scouts reported the approach of a sizable enemy contingent on the Orange Turnpike, 23Ž4 miles north. Brigadier General Charles Griffin, commanding the Union rear guard division on the turnpike, reported to Warren that the Rebels were fast approaching. ‘I do not believe that Warren ever had a greater surprise in his life,’ ordnance officer Morris Schaff reported. Warren hastily ordered Griffin to ‘push a force out at once against the enemy, and see what force he has.’ Meanwhile, Warren located Meade and told him of the developments. ‘If there is to be any fighting this side of Mine Run,’ said Meade, ‘let us do it right off.’ Meade ordered Hancock to halt II Corps at Todd’s Tavern until they could determine what the Rebels were intending. Grant, back at his Germanna Ford headquarters, approved Meade’s arrangements, but added a characteristic addendum: ‘If any opportunity presents itself for pitching into a part of Lee’s army, do so.’

Lee, who was still traveling with Hill’s corps along the Orange Plank Road, had given Ewell much the same order the night before. Now, however, hearing the scattered firing at the front, he apparently thought better of his earlier order. He told Major Campbell Brown, Ewell’s son-in-law, to tell his kinsman that ‘above all General Ewell was not to get his troops entangled so as to be unable to disengage them, in case the enemy was in force.’ Lee had become concerned that Ewell and Hill, who were still separated by three miles of impenetrable woods, would not be able to resist a concentrated Union assault. Moreover, there was a dangerous gap in the center between them. If Grant attacked with sufficient force, the two Confederate corps would be unable to support one another and would be easy pickings for the overwhelming numbers of bluecoats that Lee was suddenly aware they were facing. And Longstreet’s corps was still a day away.

On both sides of the battlefield, an uneasy quiet hung in the air. No one quite knew what lay in front of them, and the jungle-thick countryside made any accurate accounting impossible. Grant, a man of action who did not like suspense–beneath his bland facade was a surprisingly nervous and sensitive individual–waited impatiently for Griffin to ‘pitch into’ the Confederates along the Orange Turnpike. But Griffin, like Grant a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, waited in turn for other Union divisions to move into place along his flanks. He was convinced, as Grant was not, that a significant Rebel force was concealed on the other side of the treeline. For three long hours the impasse continued, while Grant chewed out Meade, Meade chewed out Warren, and Warren chewed out Griffin. Finally, at 1 p.m., Griffin reluctantly gave the order to move out.

The Union line of advance straddled the Orange Turnpike across a 2-mile front. A bramble-choked cornfield, Saunders’ Field, lay immediately in front of them. Ewell’s Confederates, concealed in the trees on the western edge of the field, had already sighted-in their deadly muskets, and their first well-aimed bullets kicked up dirt like the big drops of a coming shower along a dusty road. The Northern soldiers waiting to attack experienced suspense and dread that cannot be adequately told in words. At the sound of a bugle, they rose to their feet and moved forward, leaning slightly as if into a stiff breeze.

On the Union right, north of the turnpike, the gaily colored uniforms of Colonel George Ryan’s 140th New York Zouaves made easy targets for the Rebel marksmen. Regimental Captain Porter Farley, in the front line, saw his men ‘melt away like snow. Men disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them. It seemed as if the regiment had been annihilated.’ Making matters worse, the regiment was also taking fire from the right rear, where a curve in the woods concealed more Confederate riflemen. The 140th fell back, joined by a second Zouave regiment, the 146th New York, which had been treated just as roughly. Back inside their own lines, an anguished Ryan peered through the dense smoke for some sign of his men. ‘My God,’ he cried, ‘I’m the first colonel I ever knew who couldn’t tell where his regiment was!’ Much of it was lying dead or wounded in the ragged cornfield. Ryan, weeping, clutched the neck of an aide. Of the 529 men who had charged across the field moments earlier, 268 were now casualties, including almost all of the regiment’s officers.

On the southern side of the turnpike, Brig. Gen. Joseph Bartlett’s 3rd Brigade made a better showing, sending Brig. Gen. John M. Jones’ Virginia brigade reeling backward in confusion. ‘A red volcano yawned before us,’ one Maine soldier remembered, ‘and vomited forth fire, and lead, and death.’ The woods were a veritable bedlam of noise, so loud that the soldiers could not even hear their own rifles fire, but merely felt the recoil against their shoulders. ‘What a medley of sounds,’ Union Private Theodore Gerrish recalled. ‘The incessant roar of the rifles the screaming of bullets the forest on fire men cheering, groaning, yelling, swearing and praying!’ General Jones, seeing his line waver as the enemy struck hard at his exposed right flank, rode to the front to encourage his troops. Suddenly, he was cornered by two Pennsylvania privates and ordered to surrender. When he refused to hand over his sword to men of inferior rank, the unimpressed duo simply shot him off his horse and stole his sword. He died immediately.

Bartlett’s attackers soon outran their support. Hopelessly entangled in the vine-choked woods beyond Saunders’ Field, they were struck in turn by flanking fire on two sides. The order came to fall back and regroup. Bartlett himself rode back into the open field, blood trickling from his scratched face. Ordered by the Rebels to surrender, Bartlett shook his fist in defiance and spurred his horse across the field. A welter of bullets crashed into the animal and sent it somersaulting to the ground. The Southerners cheered lustily, but a moment later the shaken and disheveled Bartlett somehow crawled from beneath the dead horse and hobbled to safety. (He would live to receive the formal surrender of arms from the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox 11 months hence.)

On Bartlett’s left, south of Saunders’ Field, the three brigades of Brig. Gen. James Wadsworth’s 4th Division moved forward in tandem with Griffin’s attack. Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s famed Iron Brigade held the right flank. Confederates in the woods beyond could clearly hear Union voices shout, ‘Here’s our western men!’ as the Iron Brigade made its way into battle. No sooner had the Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin regiments advanced than they were met with a withering fire on their exposed flank. Stymied in front by Brig. Gen. George Doles’ Georgia brigade, the Federals were sitting ducks for a crushing counterattack led by Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s veteran brigade. Spearheading Gordon’s attack was a leather-lunged private named James E. Spivey of the 26th Georgia, who was famous in both armies for his awe-inspiring battle cry, ‘a kind of scream or low, like a terrible bull, with a kind of neigh mixed along with it, and nearly as loud as a steam whistle.’ Known as ‘Gordon’s Bull,’ Spivey gave his accustomed roar and Gordon’s men crashed into the Iron Brigade from the north. For the first time in its proud history, the Iron Brigade broke and ran, leaving behind a pair of silver bugles that the Georgians happily scooped up and used until the end of the war.

Wadsworth’s other brigades fared little better. In short order, Brig. Gen. James Rice and Colonel Roy Stone brought their shattered troops back to the rear as well, and Wadsworth desperately attempted to stabilize his line and hold off repeated Confederate counterattacks across the body-strewn fields to the west. ‘As a grand, inspiring spectacle it was highly unsatisfactory, owing to the powder smoke obscuring the vision,’ wrote one private. ‘At times we could not see the Confederate line, but that made no difference we kept on firing just as though they were in full view. We gained ground at times, and then dead Confederates lay on the ground as thickly as dead Union soldiers did behind us. Then we would fall back, fighting stubbornly, but steadily giving ground, until the dead were all clad in blue.’

For over an hour, a blistering cross-fire swept Saunders’ Field and the woods below it, while wounded Union and Confederate soldiers squirmed facedown in the dust, unable to move forward or backward. Then the veteran troops’ worst predictions came true. Brushfires kindled by bullets striking breastworks erupted on all sides, filling the air with the unmistakable, sickening stench of burning flesh. Ominous, muffled popping sounds marked the explosion of dozens of cartridge belts tied around wounded soldiers’ waists, sending deadly shards of tin slicing through their bowels. Many of the wounded committed suicide to avoid the evil tongues of flame snaking toward them on all sides.

As the bloodletting continued around Saunders’ Field, Sedgwick’s VI Corps moved into line north of Warren’s Corps and joined the fray. The heavy gun smoke and tangled underbrush so limited the soldiers’ line of sight that one newly arrived Wisconsin soldier recalled that the men’soon began firing by earsight.‘ Sedgwick himself barely escaped death when a Rebel cannonball struck within a yard of him, decapitating a private and sending the unfortunate man’s head crashing full into the face of Captain Thomas Hyde, knocking him to the ground and covering him with blood and brains. ‘I was not much use as a staff officer for full fifteen minutes,’ Hyde admitted.

At the south end of the battle, Brig. Gen. George Getty’s lone Union division was holding onto the key intersection of the Orange Plank Road and the Brock Road linking the Wilderness thoroughfare to Todd’s Tavern, where Hancock’s II Corps was still posted. Now, directed by Meade to attack down the road, Getty’s troops crept forward, scarcely able to see 10 yards ahead of them. They had not gone far along the road before they were met by a terrible blast from Maj. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s Confederate brigade. One North Carolinian in the brigade remembered: ‘A butchery pure and simple it was, unrelieved by any of the arts of war in which the exercise of military skill and tact robs the hour of some of its horrors.’ To another Confederate, it was not even a battle, but simply ‘bushwhacking on a grand scale.’

Hancock’s corps, arriving on the scene, rushed forward to support Getty’s chewed-up division, but met the same brutal reception. Hancock himself managed to rally the men behind an opportune line of rifle pits, while Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s division hurried up from Todd’s Tavern to lend strength to the assault. Behind the line, at Grant’s headquarters, the sounds of Hancock’s attack could clearly be heard, but no one could follow what was happening. It sounded, said Grant’s aide Adam Badeau, ‘like an incessant peal of thunder.’ As for Grant, he continued nervously whittling pieces of wood into formless shavings. Otherwise, he betrayed no emotion. But one order he had already given revealed as clearly as a dozen grand speeches what his mindset was that day: all but one bridge across the Rapidan had been torn down. There would be no turning back.

For three more hours, until well after dark, the fighting continued in the flame-torn woods, as first Union, then Confederate forces crashed blindly into one another, only to be sent stumbling backward in the smoke and fire. ‘It was like fighting a forest fire,’ North Carolina Captain R.S. William remembered. Another Southerner, standing in the middle of the roadway with blood dripping from his shattered arm, amazedly told new troops rushing toward the front that ‘dead Yankees were knee deep all over about four acres of ground.’

Near sunset, the head of Longstreet’s relief column finally reached the outskirts of the battlefield, having marched 28 lung-bursting miles in one day. The men, exhausted, flopped down on the side of the road, too tired to pitch their tents. Longstreet allowed them to rest for several hours, then started them eastward at about 1 a.m. He had received a puzzling order from Lee–instead of continuing toward Todd’s Tavern to attack the Union left, he was directed to veer northward and unite with the troops of the III Corps on the Plank Road. First reports from the battlefield were all favorable, but Longstreet was not reassured by the sudden change of direction. Literally in the dark about Lee’s intentions, Longstreet got his men underway, but the road was overgrown with bushes and difficult to follow. Progress was excruciatingly slow. Meanwhile, Lee sent a telegram to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon, reporting that ‘the enemy crossed the Rapidan yesterday….A strong attack was made upon Ewell, who repulsed it….The enemy subsequently concentrated upon General Hill, who resisted repeated and desperate assaults….By the blessing of God we maintained our position.’

At Union headquarters, Grant had a different view of the first day’s fighting. ‘I feel pretty well satisfied with the results of the engagement,’ he told Meade, ‘for it is evident that Lee attempted by a bold movement to strike this enemy in flank…but in this he failed.’ That was not quite true Lee, in fact, had held back from any all-out flank attack. Still, Grant did not want Lee to take the initiative the next morning. He directed Meade to have Hancock and Wadsworth attack Hill’s corps at 4:30 a.m. Burnside, for his part, was to send one division to support Hancock while his other two divisions attacked Hill in flank, and Warren and Sedgwick simultaneously attacked along their respective fronts. ‘We shall have a busy day tomorrow,’ Grant advised his staff, ‘and I think we had better get all the sleep we can tonight. I am a confirmed believer in the restorative qualities of sleep, and always like to get at least seven hours of it.’ In the pitch-black fields to the west, where occasional brushfires still flared in the dark, thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were lost in a sleep from which they would never awaken.

At the south end of the battlefield, few of the ranking Confederate officers were able to sleep. Again and again, couriers went west along the Orange Plank Road, searching in vain for Longstreet’s corps. Meanwhile, at Hill’s headquarters, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth argued unsuccessfully with Hill to rearrange Heth’s and Cadmus Wilcox’s divisions on either side of the roadway. As it now stood, Heth warned, the two divisions were so mixed up that ‘a skirmish line could drive both my division and Wilcox’s, situated as we are now.’ Hill refused, saying that Longstreet would arrive soon and take over the next day’s defense. Heth was unpersuaded, knowing Longstreet’s reputation for moving slow and arriving late. ‘I walked the road all night,’ Heth remembered. ‘Twelve, two, three o’clock came, and half-past three, and no reinforcements.’ Lieutenant Colonel William C. Poague, whose artillery battalion was posted nearby, was alarmed to find many of Hill’s III Corps sleeping unconcernedly along the road, their arms casually stacked in rows beside them. ‘I asked an officer the meaning of the apparent confusion and unreadiness of our lines,’ said Poague, ‘and was told that Hill’s men had been informed that they were to be relieved by fresh troops before daylight, and were expecting the relieving forces any minute. I asked where the Yankees were. He didn’t know certainly, but supposed they were in the woods in front. He struck me as being very indifferent and not at all concerned about the situation.’

The next morning, at first light, Hancock’s corps, augmented by divisions from the V and VI Corps, fell on the unready Confederates from the east and north. As Heth had warned, Hill’s troops were unable to resist the massive onslaught. Some fought stubbornly before falling back others simply turned tail and ran, convinced that it was impossible to hold the ground and foolish to attempt it. One unit of sharpshooters, ordered to the front, took the ungentlemanly precaution of propping wounded Yankees against the trees in front of them to stop the Union firing. The Federals understandably argued against the ‘inhuman experiment,’ but the Confederates were unmoved. ‘We replied that their own men would certainly not fire on them,’ one sharpshooter recalled. ‘The object in view was to stop the firing.’ It worked for a while, but the onrushing Northerners simply ran around the advanced Rebel position and continued their attack unchecked.

By 5:30 a.m., Hill’s corps was shattered, and Hancock was beaming in jubilation. ‘We are driving them beautifully,’ he cried, drawing out the last word for emphasis. ‘Tell Meade we are driving them most beautifully.’ In a short time, Meade responded, and his return message quickly turned Hancock’s smile into a scowl. ‘I am ordered to tell you, sir,’ said a messenger, ‘that only one division of General Burnside is up, but that he will go in as soon as he can be put in position.’

‘I knew it,’ Hancock spat. ‘Just what I expected. If he could attack now, we would smash A.P. Hill all to pieces!’ As it was, Hancock’s own men had outrun their supports and lost momentum. Ammunition was running low, and the soldiers were once again becoming hopelessly enmeshed in the tangled briars and underbrush. The Union battle line stretched for over a mile across the Orange Plank Road, disappearing on either side into the junglelike forest.

A soldier came up to Hancock with a captured Rebel in tow. ‘I was ordered to report that this prisoner here belongs to Longstreet’s corps,’ he told the general. The prisoner confirmed the news. ‘It was too true,’ remembered Hancock aide Theodore Lyman. ‘Longstreet, coming in all haste from Orange Court House, had fallen desperately on our advance.’

Many on the Confederate side of the field might have disputed just how hastily Longstreet had come up, but he had finally arrived. Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw’s division, in the lead, swerved to the south of the Orange Plank Road, while Maj. Gen. Charles Field’s division headed north. In the vanguard of Field’s division was Brig. Gen. John Gregg’s tough veteran brigade of Texans and Arkansans. When Gregg’s troops swept into battle, past a hard-firing artillery battery, Robert E. Lee himself rode out to greet them. ‘Who are you, my boys?’ Lee cried. ‘Texas boys,’ they yelled back. ‘Texans always move them!’ Lee cried, as near to losing his famous composure as he ever came.

Gregg’s voice boomed out. ‘Attention Texas Brigade,’ he called. ‘The eyes of General Lee are upon you. Forward, march!’ With a loud cheer, the Texans broke for the front. ‘I would charge hell itself for that old man,’ one officer cried. Suddenly, the men realized that Lee himself was riding forward with them, his eyes shining brightly. ‘Go back, General Lee, go back,’ cried the men. ‘Lee to the rear!’ With some difficulty, Lee’s aides managed to get the general to turn his horse around and let the infantrymen handle the charge. Longstreet, who came upon the scene at that moment, said later that Lee was ‘off his balance.’ If so, it was due mainly to Longstreet’s delay in getting to the front. Gregg’s men succeeded in blunting the Union attack, but at a terrible cost. Of the 800 men in the brigade, less than 250 escaped unharmed. Nevertheless, the Union offensive had been halted in its tracks, and the Confederate battle line now stretched unbroken from the Orange Plank Road north to the Orange Turnpike.

At 10 a.m., Longstreet received word from his chief engineer that an unfinished railroad bed, not shown on any maps, lay open and unguarded on the Union left flank. Longstreet hastily assembled an attack force, three brigades strong and personally directed by his trusted aide, Lt. Col. G. Moxley Sorrel. The Confederates tore through the Union flank unchecked, sending it careening back in despair. ‘The terrible tempest of disaster swept on down the Union line,’ one New Yorker recalled years later, ‘beating back brigade and brigade until upwards of twenty thousand veterans were fleeing, every man for himself.’

Sorrel hurried back to tell Longstreet the good news. Along the Plank Road, the 26-year-old officer–who had never before commanded troops in battle–encountered ‘quite a party of mounted officers and men riding with [Longstreet].’ Brigadier General Micah Jenkins of South Carolina, who was scarcely older than Sorrel, threw his arm around the colonel and cried, ‘Sorrel, it was splendid we shall smash them now.’ But the happy scene did not last long. As Longstreet’s party proceeded up the road they were suddenly struck by a volley of gunfire from the thickly tangled woods alongside. Understandably jittery Confederates in the underbrush, mistaking the dark-clad horsemen for Union cavalry, had opened fire, blasting Jenkins from his saddle and sending Longstreet reeling in his seat. Jenkins, struck in the head, was mortally wounded. Longstreet, with wounds to the shoulder and throat, was wheezing bloody foam from his mouth. ‘Tell General Field to take command and move forward with the whole force and gain the Brock Road,’ he gasped.

Longstreet’s wounding fatally stalled the Confederate advance. The Kentucky-born Field, who was still suffering from the aftereffects of a crippling wound at Second Manassas, took several hours to rearrange his lines. The delay allowed Hancock’s men to construct a row of formidable chest-high breastworks of logs and dirt, and to clear an unobstructed line of fire in front of them. When the Southern forces finally went forward again at 4:15 p.m., they ran head-on into a well-rested enemy supported by 12 judiciously placed artillery pieces. What followed was ‘the most desperate assault of the day,’ one Massachusetts defender recalled. Northern war correspondent Charles Page, an eyewitness to the attack, called it the ‘most wicked assault thus far encountered–brief in duration, but terrific in power and superhuman momentum.’

Screaming the Rebel yell at the top of their lungs, the Confederates plunged through the forest toward Hancock’s line. The ‘unquenchable fellows,’ as an admiring Union officer termed them, knelt in the dust 30 yards from the Federal breastworks, desperately firing their muskets at the few heads bobbing above the works. Most of their bullets flew high, while the blueclad defenders blasted away at point-blank range in comparative safety. Aided by a quick-spreading brushfire, some of Field’s men actually managed to breach the Union line, but a swift counterattack drove them back. New York infantryman Charles Weygant described the ensuing rout: ‘Over the works rushed the Union line with clubbed muskets, swords, and bayonets, right at the now totally demoralized Confederates, who broke for the rear, and fled in the wildest disorder across the slashing and down through the woods again.’

At least one high-ranking Confederate officer, artillery Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, believed the afternoon attack should never have happened. ‘The attack ought never, never to have been made,’ he wrote after the war. ‘It was sending a boy on a man’s errand. It was wasting good soldiers whom we could not spare. It was discouraging pluck and spirit by setting it an impossible task.’ Given Lee’s erratic behavior that afternoon, it was indeed a questionable decision, comparable in scope and result to the forlorn assault at Gettysburg by Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s doomed division. Something deep in Lee’s psyche could not accept frustration–much less defeat. Having already told his son that he could see ‘nothing to live for’ if he lost the war, Lee’s ill-considered decision to attack entrenched Union fortifications that afternoon guaranteed that hundreds of his men would not have the same freedom of choice in the future.

As for Grant, he was perfectly willing to accept a tactical draw on the battlefield. Following a sunset repulse of Gordon’s division at the north end of the Union line along the Orange Turnpike, the general called off any more Federal attacks. He had spent the afternoon nervously whittling–he wore out his new yellow gloves in the process–and smoking some 20 cigars. Studying a map with his aide, Horace Porter, Grant figuratively pulled in his horns. ‘I do not hope to gain any decided advantage from the fighting in this forest,’ the general declared. ‘I did expect excellent results from Hancock’s movement early this morning, when he started the enemy on the run but it was impossible for him to see his own troops, or the true position of the enemy, and the success gained could not be followed through in such country. I can certainly drive Lee back into his works, but I shall not assault him there he would have all the advantages in such a fight. If he falls back and entrenches, my notion is to move promptly toward the left. This will, in all probability, compel him to try and throw himself between us and Richmond, and in such a movement I hope to be able to attack him in a more open country, and outside of his breastworks.’

Subsequent events proved Grant correct. The next day, while Lee’s exhausted soldiers clung to their own breastworks and nursed their battle wounds, the Union army began moving southeast around the Confederate flank, heading for Spotsylvania Court House, 10 miles away. Lee quickly moved to intercept Grant, realizing as he did that he now faced an opponent who would not retreat after he had been sorely tested. Nearly 30,000 men, Union and Confederate, had fallen in the Wilderness without noticeably altering the deadly logic of Grant’s mathematics: the more men he lost, the more men Lee would lose, and Grant had all the numbers on his side.

The two armies would meet again at Spotsylvania, and many other places, before the war was over, but no one–general or private–would ever again suffer the unique horrors of the Wilderness. Grant, who was not given to overstatement, said later that ‘more desperate fighting has not been witnessed on this continent than that of the 5th and 6th of May.’ His aide Porter was virtually biblical in his judgment. ‘It seemed as though Christian men had turned to fiends,’ he wrote, ‘and hell itself had usurped the place of earth.’ For all concerned, the Battle of the Wilderness had indeed been a hell on earth, one that survivors would never forget.

This article was written by Roy Morris, Jr. and originally published in the April 1997 issue of Military History magazine.

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The Battle of Little Big Horn: Custers Ultimate Humiliation

American history is full of iconic battles. Most of the more famous ones were of course victories. Scattered within the names of victories such as Yorktown, Gettysburg, Normandy, and Iwo Jima are others: Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Bunker Hill – all defeats, but which have a luster to them for the heroism involved.

One name, however, signifies total defeat and humiliation, unless you are Native American, and that’s Little Big Horn, which took place in late June 1876.

Charles Marion Russell – The Custer Fight (1903)

Today the battle is somewhat of a footnote – a monument to one man’s hubris – but at the time, Little Big Horn came as almost as big a shock as Pearl Harbor in 1941, or 9/11. People were stunned.

They couldn’t believe the US Army had been defeated so soundly, especially when many people believed the natives were on the verge of total defeat. Americans couldn’t believe a national hero such as Custer could have been beaten, and so badly. And of course, they wanted revenge – which they got, and which was part of the national tragedy that were the Indian Wars.

Bloody Knife, Custer’s scout, on Yellowstone Expedition, 1873 – NARA – 524373

Little Big Horn became a by-word for defeat. Actually, the battle’s name wasn’t uttered much, but it did take on a more heroic one: “Custer’s Last Stand,” and those three words became part of the American lexicon.

Let’s examine 10 of the more common myths surrounding Little Big Horn, or “The Battle of the Greasy Grass” as it was known to the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors that took part in it.

Let’s kill a couple of myths up front: Custer did not have long hair at the time of the battle, many people survived (just not from the US Army), and the officers of the 7th Cavalry did not lead a charge with their sabers, which they left behind. Now let’s get to some of the other misconceptions about the battle…

Actually, a number of soldiers survived

Custer led a force of 31 officers, 586 soldiers, 33 Native scouts, and 20 civilian employees. When the battle ended in the evening of June 26, 1876, 262 men were dead on the field, 68 were wounded, and six died of their wounds some time afterward. The units of Custer’s battalion, companies C, E, F, and I, were wiped out.

However, most of the men of the seven other companies present, under the command of Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen, survived the battle.

Custer ignored his Native scouts

A common idea is that Custer, a decorated Civil War hero and perhaps the best-known officer in the West, ignored his Native scouts and totally dismissed their value. This is not the case. He did listen, but they were about as wrong as anyone else.

On the evening of the 25th, Custer was told that there was a large Native village about 15 miles away. Custer believed these men but wanted to wait until the next morning to attack, marching quietly through the night to surprise the Sioux at dawn.

Albumen print cabinet card, waist-length portrait of Hunkpapa Lakota chief Gall (c.1840-1894) in war bonnet.
Date between 1880 and 1884

He told one of his scouts, Half Yellow Face, “I want to wait until it is dark, and then we will march.” This scout, a Crow, argued that the Sioux “have seen the smoke of our camp” and pushed for an attack.

Another Crow scout, with the unenviable name of White Man Runs Him, spoke up and told Custer that the enemy had already seen the soldiers. An Arikara scout named Red Star agreed with the Crows and told Custer his should attack and “capture the horses of the Dakotas.” Like the Lakota, these were a branch of the Sioux.

As Custer pondered, some of his men told him about some Natives they had seen rifling through a pack train at the rear of his column. With all of this information, Custer ordered his attack. He did not ignore his scouts.

The Native village was huge

In movies and documentaries, the mobile village is shown to be massive. Many times, infantrymen are shown coming up over a rise to see a gigantic village in the valley below, and they know their “number is up.”

Cheyenne sun dancer. Date circa 1909

This was not the case. The village was big – estimates from survivors on both sides, combined with the geography of the area and other factors, put the village at about 1½ miles long, along the river that gave the battle its name. From all accounts, there were at least a dozen other Native settlements throughout the West that were bigger.

The Natives under Sitting Bull set up an ambush

Aside from Custer, the most famous personality of the battle was the Lakota chief, Sitting Bull, who became one of those rare things in war – a respected enemy.

One of the native women, Pretty White Buffalo, later gave an account of events. “I have seen my people prepare for battle many times,” she said, “and this I know: that the Sioux that morning had no thought of fighting.”

1876 Army Campaign against the Sioux

Another, Antelope Woman, later known by her Americanized name of Kate Bighead, recounted that there were scores of naked men, women and, children in the river, bathing or playing. Others were fishing downstream. Everyone was having a good time.

In fact, far from planning an ambush, the Sioux and their allies were unaware of Custer’s approach, though they believed a force of soldiers to be in the area. Sitting Bull himself was caught up in the initial confusion of Custer’s appearance.

His wife Four Robes grabbed their twins and sprinted for the hills when soldiers were first reported. In her panic, she left one child behind and had to go back to retrieve it. Later they called the child “Abandoned One.” Custer had actually surprised the Sioux, not the other way around.

Custer’s tactics were poor

Though many a tactical thinker throughout history has written that dividing your force in the face of the enemy is a mistake, many others have used the opposite tactic to surprise, flank, and trap the enemy. The most famous instance of this in American history is Lee and Jackson’s attack on Union forces at Chancellorsville. At Little Big Horn, Custer tried a similar approach.

Three of Custer’s scouts accompanying Edward Curtis on his investigative tour of the battlefield, circa 1907. Left to right: Goes Ahead, Hairy Moccasin, White Man Runs Him, Curtis and Alexander B. Upshaw (Curtis’s assistant and Crow interpreter).

Custer’s subordinate, Major Reno, attacked the southern end of the village, while Custer circled to the north along the bluffs of the river. Sometimes, however, planning doesn’t translate into victory. Paraphrasing boxer Mike Tyson “Everyone has a plan, then they get punched in the mouth.”

Reno got punched in the mouth: the Sioux got things together after the initial surprise and pushed Reno back across the river, further separating him from Custer.

At that point the famous warrior Crazy Horse rode up to where another warrior, Short Bull, was helping drive Reno across the river. Short Bull told him: “Too late! You’ve missed the fight!” Crazy Horse replied: “Sorry to miss the fight, but there’s a good fight coming over the hill.”

Short Bull looked north to see the “Blue Coats” under Custer to the north. Crazy Horse said, “That’s where the big fight is going to be. We won’t miss that one!”

Custer died at the river

In movies, books and newspaper accounts of the time, Custer is reported to have been shot down in the middle of Little Big Horn as he was trying to retreat eastward across the river.

Custer’s Last Stand

But by the time of Custer’s reported death in the river, Cheyenne warriors were already there and had been for some time. Custer would not have retreated into a force of waiting Natives. Troops and warriors shot at each other from opposite sides, so Custer knew retreat east wasn’t an option.

A warrior named Standing Bear reported that there was “no fighting on the creek.” Another, Bobtail Horse, stated like many others that the Natives and Custer’s men were both fighting on the east side of the water, and that no troops were near the water.

Among others, a man named White Cow Bull (who also falsely claimed to have stopped an entire cavalry charge in the river) later said that he and Bobtail Horse shot down a buckskin-clad soldier, which was Custer. Bobtail Horse never claimed that, and even doubted that White Cow Bull was there.

Other Natives, both male and female, told stories of Custer being too drunk to fight, or that they had “heard from someone, who heard from someone” that Custer had been shot in the chest in the river.

Crazy Horse’s Charge

One of the iconic images of the battle is that the famous warrior Crazy Horse gathered running braves about him and charged into the battle, overwhelming Custer and turning the tide of the battle. A number of authors have repeated this claim through the years.

“Custer’s Last Stand.” Lieutenant Colonel Custer standing center, wearing buckskin, with few of his soldiers of the 7th Cavalry still standing.

Lately, historians, most notably Gregory Michno (whose research into Native accounts, published in his book Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer’s Defeat and The Mystery of E Troop: Custer’s Gray Horse Company at the Little Bighorn, was the basis of the quotes in this article) have developed a new theory.

Though he arrived late in the battle against Reno, Crazy Horse and some warriors did engage Reno’s troops. This is near a spot called Calhoun’s Hill, and many witnesses report his being there at the same time that historians have him a mile or so away leading a charge against Custer.

Mitch Bouyer marker on Deep Ravine trail. Deep Ravine is to the right of this picture (south/southwest) and about 65 yards distant.

Before he was killed in US captivity just over a year later, during a moment with interviewers Crazy Horse, through his aide Horned Horse, told the story of the battle as it was reported above. The only time that Crazy Horse led any kind of rapid charge against soldiers was towards the end of the battle, as the US soldiers attempted to flee.

Indians leave the Battlefield

The idea of Crazy Horse’s charge comes from a variety of sources. Some were from Natives trying to impress their people with Crazy Horse’s bravery, though they didn’t need to since he was already famous by the time of Little Big Horn. Some were from white soldiers who reported seeing him on horseback, along with other accounts clouded by the fog of war.

The “Last Stand”

Some people believe that Custer’s men were simply cornered and were essentially overwhelmed. Others have the bulk of his troops in a circle, fighting an organized final stand, like in the famous 1941 movie They Died With Their Boots On.

The truth is somewhere in between. We know that Custer’s men didn’t just roll over – they fought tooth and nail and weren’t overwhelmed easily.

The truth is that there was an assortment of final stands. Natives rushing to the final part of the battle saw evidence of groups of soldiers who had died in place, fighting warriors on all sides. The final one of these stands has been labeled “Custer’s Last Stand.” It actually was the warriors that gave it this label and it stuck.

Lieutenant Colonel Custer and his U.S. Army troops are defeated in battle with Native American Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne on the Little Bighorn Battlefield, June 25, 1876 at Little Bighorn River, Montana

All the warriors later interviewed had no problem admitting that the soldiers fought bravely and well. Iron Hawk, who was there, said, “The Indians pressed and crowded right in around them on Custer Hill, but the soldiers were not yet ready to die. They stood here a long time.”

The Deep Ravine

Visitors touring the Little Big Horn battlefield today come to a place called “The Deep Ravine” where a historical marker tells them that 28 soldiers were killed there, as Natives shot at them from the sides and top of the ravine.

Reproduction of a U.S. Geological survey map of the Little Bighorn river and hills annotated with Custer’s route over battlefield, as determined by Edward S. Curtis

However, many eyewitnesses said that there were only a few men there, and only a few bodies were found there when the battle ended. Over the years, bones and artifacts from the battle have been found at the battlefield, but one place that they really haven’t turned up is at the Deep Ravine.

Historians claiming that people died at certain spots at the battle base their theories on the fact that bones and other objects, like shell casings, have been found in those places. The Deep Ravine has not turned up this evidence. Yet the myth of soldiers being helplessly gunned down in the earth has lived on since the time of the battle, when newspapermen wanted to make clear who the “savages” were.


Battle of Antietam

A light rain fell that night, and the skies remained overcast until about five thirty on the morning of September 17. That’s when Confederate artillery, situated on the high ground northwest of Sharpsburg, opened fire, inaugurating what would become the bloodiest twelve hours in American history.

Lee had spread all of his army—except for A. P. Hill ‘s division, which was still marching from Harpers Ferry—along the Hagerstown Pike and across two and a half miles of Maryland countryside. In the north, Confederates held a ridge on the Nicodemus farm, across a cornfield belonging to David R. Miller, and anchored on a plateau near the white-brick Dunker Church and across the pike from the West Woods. D. H. Hill’s men commanded the center of the line, positioned on a farm lane that ran east to west and sank below ground level.

Hooker launched his attack from the Joseph Poffenberger farm and aimed his 9,500 men for the high ground near the church. He initially drove Alexander R. Lawton’s 3,500 Confederates from the Miller cornfield back into the West Woods, but furious counterattacks led by John R. Jones and then John Bell Hood beat Hooker back. After it was repulsed by advancing troops under Union general George G. Meade , one of Hood’s regiments, the 1st Texas Infantry, left more than 82 percent of its men on the field.

By eight thirty in the morning, when McClellan dispatched two divisions of Edwin V. Sumner’s Second Corps to bolster Hooker, thousands of men already lay dead or dying amid broken stalks of corn and the battered remnants of trees. Union general Joseph K. F. Mansfield had been mortally wounded an hour earlier, while Hooker suffered a gunshot wound to the foot. The Confederates hardly fared better. Jackson’s division—named for Stonewall Jackson and containing the famed Stonewall Brigade —had been reduced to only a few hundred men and, with its highest-ranking officers all fallen, was now commanded by a lieutenant colonel. For now, 11,700 Confederates had bent but not broken before 16,500 Union attackers, but Lee had run out of nearby reinforcements. He rushed two divisions in support of Jackson’s men: John Walker’s, at the extreme right of the Confederate line, and McLaws’s, still tired after its night-march from Harpers Ferry.

Beating his Confederate counterparts to the fight, Sumner stopped his men briefly in the East Woods while he reconnoitered the nearly deserted West Woods and the area around Dunker Church. Given another twenty minutes, he hoped to clear the woods of Confederates, establish his artillery on the high ground near the church, and drive the Army of Northern Virginia from the field. Toward that end, Sumner ordered John Sedgwick’s division forward, but at the very moment the Union men entered the West Woods, Lee’s reinforcements arrived. Confederates under the commands of McLaws, Walker, and Jubal A. Early came rushing through the trees and inflicted nearly 2,500 casualties on Sedgwick’s division, with Sedgwick himself—a portly old bachelor from Connecticut—managing to get shot three times. Eventually, the left side of the Confederate line stabilized in what was left of the West Woods.

Following Sumner’s orders from McClellan, Union general William H. French’s 4,500-man division marched to the south, where it encountered D. H. Hill’s 2,500 men holding their position along the Sunken Road. Constituted only a couple of days before the battle, French’s division attacked at about nine thirty and was bolstered by the arrival of Israel B. Richardson’s division. After three hours of savage fighting, what came to be known as Bloody Lane finally fell. At that point, Union general William B. Franklin urged McClellan to give him permission to press the attack, but Sumner—sobered, perhaps, by the sheer number of men killed that day—argued against it, and by the time McClellan personally intervened on Sumner’s behalf, Lee had time to regroup his men and establish a line along the Hagerstown Pike. Although losses for both sides totaled 5,500 out of more than 17,000 men engaged, neither army had been able to fully dislodge the other.

At the same time that Sedgwick and French emerged from the East Woods, Union general Ambrose E. Burnside was to attack the Confederates on their far right, over the southernmost bridge. The idea was to prevent Lee from borrowing troops from his right to reinforce his left, and after a short delay, the attack got started between nine and ten in the morning. Burnside made several small runs at the 500 Confederates on the west bank of the Antietam, but the bridge—an arched, stone walkway—was too narrow to mount an effective charge. Finally, Burnside sent troops downstream, where they found a place to ford the creek and then came upon the Confederates from behind. At the same time, a small storming party made one last rush on what came to be known as Burnside’s Bridge. One Virginia soldier described the fighting as “volumes of musketry and noise of the artillery … mingled in one vast roar that shook the earth.” By one o’clock the crossing was in Union hands.

A two-hour lull ensued while Burnside’s full Ninth Corps (technically under the command of Jacob D. Cox) crossed the bridge and aligned itself for an attack. Only the arrival of A. P. Hill’s division—the last to arrive from Harpers Ferry, and the last of Lee’s reinforcements—saved the day for the Confederates. His men struck Burnside’s men on the left flank and in the rear, halting the Union advance before darkness finally put an end to the fighting. In the preceding twelve hours, nearly 95,000 men had struggled in the fields around Sharpsburg, with about a quarter of those, or approximately 22,700, ending up killed, wounded, or missing. No single-day battle has ever seen as many American casualties before or since September 17, 1862.


“A Night Before the Battle and the Soldiers Cannot Rest”

There was no sign of the promised reinforcements when, shortly after midnight, Federal pickets near flat-topped Moore’s Hill, 1,100 yards south of town, encountered French’s vanguard. Within minutes, while skirmishers on both sides traded shots, Tourtelotte had his entire command under arms. At 1 o’clock in the morning, with sporadic firing still going on, the train with Corse and Rowett’s Brigade on board pulled into Allatoona and began unloading the troops and ammunition. After this was complete, Corse sent the train back to Rome to bring back the rest of Rowett’s Brigade and Lt. Col. Roger Martin’s First Brigade. But the train derailed after leaving Allatoona: No further reinforcements would arrive until after the battle was over.

After meeting with Colonel Tourtelotte and familiarizing himself with the fortifications, Corse ordered his men to stack arms and get some sleep. “But it is a night before the battle and the soldiers cannot rest,” Daniel Lieb Ambrose of the 7th Illinois wrote. “Men are hurrying to and fro: their voices are hushed, for thought is busy with them all they are thinking of the coming strife.”

Moving as best they could through the dark wood, steep hills, and deep valleys, the Confederates crossed the railroad near Allatoona around 3 am. “They saw only one or two twinkling lights and heard nothing except occasional shots by their skirmishers and enemy outposts,” Gottschalk wrote. Ordering Major Myrick to place his guns on Moore’s Hill, from which they could sweep the area, and leaving the 39th North Carolina Infantry and 32nd Texas Cavalry (dismounted) to protect them, French continued his advance.

“But without roads or paths it was like the blind leading the blind,” one author wrote. After floundering around in the darkness for over an hour, French’s men found themselves in front of the Union defenses instead of on the main ridge. With Tom Moore acknowledging they were lost and that he could not find the way, French halted until daybreak.

“Although the rest would be a short one, weary soldiers were grateful,” Gottschalk said. “They had gotten little sleep during the night’s downpour and marched most of the previous 12 hours since leaving Big Shanty after a hard labor destroying track.”

At Allatoona, while French’s men rested, Corse positioned his troops for battle. The 7th Illinois, 39th Iowa, and a battalion of the 93rd Illinois were deployed in line of battle facing west. The 4th Minnesota, 12th, 50th Illinois, and 18th Wisconsin were positioned on the eastern hill, with the rest on the outpost and skirmish lines. Corse commanded the troops on the western redoubt, and Tourtelotte led those in the eastern redoubt. By sunrise, with sporadic firing going on between the skirmishers, every Union soldier in Allatoona who could carry a rifle—2,137 men in all—was on the firing line.

Resuming his march at first light, French’s men struggled up and down hills until they reached the high ground 600 yards west of the fortifications at 6:30 am and saw them for the first time. “The whole formed a mountain fortress,” French wrote, “with immense entanglements of abatis, stockades, stores, etc, to check any assault on the works.’’

“As I looked across the intervening space to the bristling forts and viewed the rugged Mountainside with the interminable abatis that lay between, and then cast my eyes along our slender line,” Lieutenant Warren recalled, “I thought to myself there will be hot work here if these regiments are made of resolute men.”


Preparing for Victory As Well As Defeat

Overall, Grant utilized his “volunteer” officers effectively, and they rose to the task many times during the battle.

General Grant came away from the Battle of Belmont with a better understanding of combined arms warfare. Although he made mistakes, he later proved he had learned from them. In addition, he discovered a new and profound understanding of himself, especially under the muzzle of his enemy’s muskets. But perhaps Grant’s greatest lesson was that a commander must always be just as prepared for victory as he is for defeat.

The battle of Belmont clearly indicated how important Columbus was. As long as the Rebels held the Iron Banks, they controlled the Mississippi. Belmont certainly served as a diversion that left the Rebels unprepared for General Grant’s attacks on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.

When Fort Henry and Fort Donelson fell, Columbus became outflanked by the Union forces. As a result, the Confederates were forced to abandon their strong position at Columbus. Union forces moved in and occupied Columbus on March 4, 1862.


Watch the video: Η μάχη του Σένταρ Κρικ Αμερική 1864 - Ιστορικές Αναπαραστάσεις (August 2022).