« PrejšnjaNaprej »
THE WILDERNESS AND SPOTTSYLVANIA.
HE Battle Summer of 1864 was a season of sanguinary conflicts, unsurpassed and even unequalled by any that had yet been recorded in the annals of this bloody war. General Grant had said that the "Army of the Potomac had never fought out its battles." He seemed determined now to carry his command through to victory, cost what it would. In his own words, he was resolved "to fight it out on that line, even if took all summer." General Lee was equally resolute in his resistance. The contending armies were equally brave. They were both composed of Americans, with all the courage and determination of the race-the finest citizen soldiers in the world. Able officers on both sides directed the movements of the opposing forces. The question was one of endurance and resource. Who could give, who could withstand the hardest "hammering"? Who could bring the largest number of men into the field? Who could animate those men with the liveliest hope, or endue them with the most persistent fortitude? It was sufficiently manifest that the first aggressive movement of either party, which had lain quiescent so long upon the banks of the Rapidan, would inaugurate the life and death struggle of the rebellion.
General Grant took the initiative. On the 3d of May, the Army of the Potomac was put in motion from its camps upon the north bank of the Rapidan. General Grant's plan was to turn the enemy's position upon the south bank, by a rapid march in the direction of Spottsylvania Court House. He hoped to draw General Lee out of his fortified position and
fight him on more favorable ground. A part of the army crossed the Rapidan at Germania ford; the remainder crossed the Rappahannock at United States ford; all moved with promptness. On the afternoon of the 4th, the Ninth Corps was ordered to follow with all despatch, and reënforce the Army of the Potomac. The bulk of the Corps was then at the crossing of the Rappahannock by the Alexandria Railroad, holding that road back to Bull Run. It was to move as soon as a crossing of the Rapidan had been secured by the army in front. General Burnside at once put his Corps in motion, and proceeded with all speed to the scene of operations. He marched through the 4th until after midnight, went into bivouac for a few hours and was again upon the road at an early hour on the 5th. The advance of the Corps crossed the Rapidan at Germania ford on the night of that day. A cloud of dust upon the right showed that other movements were going on. It proved to be the march of General Longstreet's corps, that was hastening on a parallel road to the aid of General Lee. The two antagonists were once more pitted against each other, and arrived almost simultaneously upon the field where their chiefs were contending.
On the 5th, General Lee struck the Army of the Potomac amid the entanglements of the Wilderness, and for two days a stubborn and bloody battle raged. Among the trees, in the under brush, along the forest paths, the armies grappled with each other, mostly in detached bodies of regiments and brigades. But little artillery was used, except in the roads, and the ground was unfavorable for the movements of cavalry. It was almost entirely an infantry fight, and was illustrated by many individual instances of heroic daring. Early on the morning of the 6th, General Burnside led his corps into the action near the Wilderness tavern. The command had marched a distance of thirty miles-a portion ten or fifteen more-crossing both the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers. The colored division. had marched from Manassas Junction, leaving there on the 4th, arriving at Catlett's at two o'clock on the morning of the 5th,
crossed the Rappahannock in the afternoon of that day and bivouacked at dark upon the banks of Mountain Creek. On the 6th, the division marched to the Rapidan and crossed at Germania Ford, relieving the troops that were at that time guarding the crossing. General Grant in his report of the operations of the campaign, with characteristic justice declares that, "considering that a large proportion, probably two thirds of General Burnside's command, was composed of new troops, unaccustomed to marches and carrying the accoutrements of a soldier, this was a remarkable march."*
The arrival of General Burnside's corps was most opportune. The Army of the Potomac had been considerably shaken and its lines were disordered. Both contending armies indeed had suffered severely. Yet the spirit of the combatants was unabated, and on the 6th the battle raged once more with almost equal fury. General Longstreet put his corps into the action against General Burnside's command. The Ninth again vindicated its superiority, and the attack of the enemy was broken. In this engagement, the first division under General Stevenson fought with General Hancock's corps and did admirable service in connection with that gallant body of men. The second and third divisions were moved out upon the "Parker's store road," between the positions held by the second and fifth corps. General Potter, with General Willcox in support, attempted to seize Parker's on the plank road. Colonel Griffin's brigade. in advance gained considerable ground, and was steadily pushthe enemy back, when an order arrived from General Grant to move all the available forces to the left, with the view of attacking the enemy in that quarter, in order to relieve General Hancock who was then hard pressed. General Potter's division was accordingly sent to the point of attack, and slowly but surely made its way through the dense undergrowth to the assigned position. General Willcox held the ground already occupied. General Potter, upon coming in contact with the
*Report of Lieutenant General Grant, p. 6.
enemy, charged and carried a portion of the opposing lines. Three times did the brave men of the second division advance upon the enemy's intrenchments, and though they gained considerable advantage, they were not able to carry the position.
General Willcox, after holding the Parker's Store road for some time, was finally enabled, about two o'clock in the afternoon, to withdraw his division and to go to General Potter's assistance. Colonel Hartranft's brigade had already moved forward to General Potter's right, and, with its usual gallantry, had attacked the enemy and punished him severely. But Colonel Hartranft, having once broken through the enemy's lines, found himself confronted by so strong a force as to make further progress impracticable. He did however succeed in maintaining his position, close by the enemy's intrenchments, where he was bravely supported by the brigade of Colonel Christ. An attack by the two divisions, in connection with the second corps, was contemplated at six o'clock. The enemy, ascertaining the arrangement, opened fire upon our troops, necessitating an earlier assault. The troops advanced. about half-past five o'clock, made a singularly gallant charge upon the enemy, drove him into his works and even broke a portion of his line. But the obstinate resistance which he made and the strong position which he held, prevented a complete success. The two divisions held their ground in front of the enemy, and, when the sun set upon the second day's engagement and the two armies rested on their respective lines, the advantage was clearly with our men. General Lee did not venture upon a third day of fighting. After a demonstration upon our right, which created some confusion in the sixth corps, and at one time threatened very serious consequences, the enemy withdrew from our immediate front, into his fortified lines of defence.
The fourth division, with the cavalry, arrived at Germania ford at an early hour on the morning of the 6th, and at first expected to enter into the conflict. General Ferrero was ordered to report to General Sedgwick and was by him directed at
first to press the enemy. But on the arrival of Colonel Marshall's provisional brigade, composed of some heavy artillery regiments, that had been garrisoning the defences of Washington and were now assigned to the Ninth Corps, General Ferrero's division was ordered to guard the bridges, roads and trains then near the Rapidan. The white troops were at once put into the conflict. A speck of danger appeared in the evening, when the enemy attacked General Sedgwick, but it soon vanished, and through the night, the fourth division moved up the trains nearer to the rear of the army. General Ferrero and his men would have been glad of more active and prominent service. But General Grant felt disposed to employ his white soldiers in the more dangerous duties of the campaign, and the men of the colored division had no opportunity of displaying their courage until a later day.
The losses of the Corps in the desperate fighting of the 6th were somewhat severe. The two divisions lost nine hundred and eighty-five killed, wounded and missing, among whom were several officers of promise. Colonel Frank Graves, of the 8th Michigan infantry, belonging to General Willcox's division, was mortally wounded while leading his regiment bravely in the battle, and unfortunately fell into the hands of the enemy. He was a gallant officer, and had done good service in former campaigns. Colonel Charles E. Griswold, of the 56th Massachusetts regiment, was killed early in the action. He was shot and fell dead without a groan. Hs was one of the most accomplished of the numerous young officers of merit that the State of Massachusetts has contributed to the war. His regiment was a model of neatness, regularity and good discipline. He was an excellent specimen of the patriotic New England citizen soldier ;-brave, intelligent and skilful, always faithful to his duty, and ready to meet every danger and death itself with a calm and courageous soul. Of the enemy's forces immediately engaged with the Ninth Corps, General Longstreet was quite severely wounded.
On the 7th, General Grant discovered that the enemy was