The Battle of the Wilderness


KIRKLAND’S brigade was followed by Cooke’s, also made up entirely of North Carolinians, and then came Walker’s and Davis’s brigade. Wilcox with his four brigades followed Heth, while Anderson’s, the other division of Hill’s corps, was far to the rear, having been left with Ramseur and Mahone to look after the trains and to guard the fords.

“ We first struck cavalry dismounted, and one company after another added to the line till the entire regiment was engaged, and pushed them back over five miles,” says the record of the Fortyseventh North Carolina. They did not push Hammond back quite so far; but the way he stood them off undoubtedly made it seem as long as that. Of course, had Lee wished to crowd them, Heth’s men could and would have quickly brushed away those five hundred cavalrymen.

While Ewell was marshaling rather cautiously in front of Griffin, Heth kept on slowly down the Plank Road, and every once in a while from the southwest came the boom of Wilson’s guns, who, three or four miles away, on the Catharpin Road, was engaging Fitz Lee and Rosser right valiantly. At last the North Carolinians were in reach of the Brock Road, but Wheaton’s sudden appearance put a new aspect on affairs. Heth, having pushed his skirmish line hard up, and Wheaton not budging, notified Hill that he had reason to believe a strong force was in his front. Before this news could reach headquarters, Lee’s mind being wholly taken up with what had just happened on Ewell’s right, namely, the overthrow of Jones’s and Battle’s brigades and the savage fighting inaugurated on the Pike, he had ordered Wilcox to move toward the danger point. Wilcox left McGowan and Scales to look after Crawford, and pressed northward through the woods with his other brigades, Lane’s and Thomas’s. Riding ahead of his troops, he found Gordon, and had barely spoken to him when a volley broke from where he had left his men. The musketry he had heard was between his people and McCandless, who, having failed to make any connection with Wadsworth, was moving forward by compass, and, as it proved, right into the arms of Wilcox’s two brigades, which very soon disposed of him, capturing almost entire the Seventh Pennsylvania. His case illustrates well the chance collisions which marked the fighting in the Wilderness, owing to the density of the woods, where commands repeatedly lost their way to the positions to which they were directed.

After Warren’s repulse, Sedgwick not threatening seriously, Ewell having intrenched himself firmly and apparently safely before both of them, Lee gave attention to the news sent by Heth in regard to our stubborn lines at the junction, and about half-past three he sent this message to him by Colonel Marshall, his chief of staff: “General Lee directs me to say that it is very important for him to have possession of Brock Road, and wishes you to take that position, provided you can do so without bringing on a general engagement.” And here let me make this comment on Lee’s message. All authorities agree that his orders in every case to those in front that day were qualified by the caution not to bring on a general engagement. Orders of this kind are embarrassing; for a corps or division commander never knows how far to push his successes. Their evils had a good illustration at Gettysburg. There Lee used identically the same language on the first day; and when Trimble urged Ewell to take advantage of the complete overthrow of our First Corps and follow up our disordered troops and seize the Cemetery Ridge, he replied that he had orders from Lee not to bring on a general engagement. Lee’s orders were indeterminate, and therefore hampering; and for that reason, and on that account, I believe, he lost the battle of Gettysburg.

Heth replied in effect that the only way to find out whether it would bring on a general engagement was to make the attempt; and while Marshall returned for a reply, he formed his division across the Plank Road in line of battle, ready to go ahead if that should be the command. Cooke’s brigade was in the centre, the Fifteenth and Forty-sixth on the right (facing east), the Twenty-seventh and Forty-eighth North Carolina on the left of the road. Davis’s brigade, the Second, Eleventh and Forty-second Mississippi, and the Fifty-fifth North Carolina, was on Cooke’s left. Walker was on his right, Kirkland in reserve. The line on which Heth’s troops were formed had not been chosen for the special advantages of defense it offered, but rather by chance, for he expected to be the assailant. A better one, however, as it turned out, could not have been selected. It conformed to the low, waving ridges between the morasses, offering splendid standing ground, and was almost invisible until within forty or fifty yards. Ready to go ahead or ready to hold, there they were when the quick, sharp, cracking fire of the skirmish line told them that the Union’s defenders were coming.

Now let us turn to Getty, but let us yield for a moment to one of those soft tones that Time now and then utters to woo us back from all the strife of life to the calm, sweet march of a summer day. The engagement on the Plank Road began about half after four — that hour when the elms in the northern meadows were beginning to lengthen, and the cows to feed toward the bars; the thrushes, in the thickets where the dog-tooth violet and the liverwort bloom, were beginning to strike their first clear ringing notes, and the benignant serenity of the day’s old age was spreading over fields and pastures. It was then that the men from the North, from Pennsylvania, New York, and far-away Vermont, heard the expected order to advance. As they leap over the breastworks, for a moment their colors splash in the edge of the woods, but almost in the twinkling of an eye, the lines of men in blue, the guns, and the rippling flags, disappear. Soon crash after crash is heard, cheers, volleys, and wild cheers, and in a little while gray smoke begins to sift up through the treetops; and in a little while, too, pale wounded fellows, supported by comrades or borne on litters, begin to stream out of the woods.

Getty, the cool, intellectually broadbased man,moved forward with his men; between him and them and immediately in front of him was a section (2 guns) of Rickett’s Pennsylvania battery. Within less than a half-mile his troops had met Heth’s almost face to face, and in the deepening shadows they plunged at each other. Wheaton’s men on the north side of the road encountered half of Cooke’s and all of Davis’s brigade posted on the hither side of the tangled morasses already mentioned, and in some places, at not more than one hundred and fifty feet apart, they poured volley after volley into each other. And so it was on the south side with the gallant Vermonters: they too met the enemy face to face; and I have no doubt that the traveling stars and roaming night-winds paused and listened as the peaks in the Green Mountains called to each other that night, in tearful pride of the boys from Vermont who were lying under the sullen oaks of the Wilderness; for never, never had they shown more bravery or met with bloodier losses.

Hays, who had been sent just as the action began to Getty’s right, after having double-quicked to his position, rested for a moment and then moved forward, the Seventeenth Maine on his extreme right. As Davis reached far beyond Wheaton’s right, Hays soon came up against him and joined battle at once. Owing to the nature of the ground, — the zigzagging morass was between them, — continuous lines could not be maintained by either side, and the result was that wings of regiments became separated from each other; but together or apart, the fighting was desperate, and it is claimed that Hays’s brigade lost more men than any other of our army in the Wilderness. Hays himself (a classmate of Hancock, both being in the class after Grant’s) during a lull rode down the line of battle with his staff, and when he reached his old regiment, the Sixty-third Pennsylvania, he stopped. While he was speaking a kindly word, a bullet struck him just above the cord of his hat, crashing into his brain; he fell from his horse and died within a few hours.

When Birney sent Hays to Getty’s right, he led his other brigade (Ward’s) to Getty’s left. As soon as Birney moved, Mott was ordered by Hancock to go directly forward with his two brigades from the Brock Road, which would bring him up on Birney’s left. The fighting became so fierce at once and the musketry so deadly, that aide soon followed aide to Hancock, who was posted at the crossing, from Birney, Getty, Hays, and about every brigade commander, calling for help. At 4.30 Carroll was sent for and ordered to support Birney, who, as soon as he came up, advanced him to the right of the Plank Road. Owens’s brigade of Gibbon’s division followed, and was put in on the left and right. Brooke, who was back at Welford’s Furnace on the road from Chancellorsville to Todd’s Tavern, made his way as fast as he could through the woods, his men quickening their steps as the volleys grew louder; he reached the Brock at 5.30 and at once pushed into the fight, joining Smyth who, being nearer, had proceeded with his gallant Irish brigade to the line of battle to take the place of one of Mott’s brigades that had barely confronted the enemy when panic seized it and it broke badly, unsteadying for a moment the troops on its right and left. This brigade did not stop till it crouched behind the breastworks it had left along the road. Miles’s and Franks’s brigades of Barlow’s division had become engaged also.

At ten minutes of six — the sun dropping toward the treetops, and twilight, owing to the density of the woods, gathering fast — Lyman, who had stayed at Hancock’s side to give Meade timely information as to the progress of events, reported, “ We barely hold our own; on the right the pressure is heavy. General Hancock thinks he can hold the Plank and Brock roads, but he can’t advance.”

The battle raged on. Wheaton’s men on the north, and the Vermonters on the other or south side of the road with Ward’s brigade, were still standing up to it, although suffering terribly. The Confederates in front of them had the advantage of a slight swell in the ground, and every attempt to dislodge them had met with slaughter. Birney sent a couple of regiments to their support. About sundown the commanding officer of the Fifth Vermont was asked if he thought, with the help of Birney’s men, he could break the enemy’s line. “I think we can,” replied the stout-hearted man. And when Birney’s men were asked if they would give their support, they answered, “ We will,” with a cheer. And again they went at the enemy’s line, which partially gave way; but, so dense were the woods that a break at one point had mighty little moral effect to the right or left, with troops as steady as theirs and ours.

Between half-past five and six o’clock the enemy — McGowan’s and Kirkland’s brigades having come in to relieve Heth’s exhausted troops in front of Getty — charged, and for a moment planted their colors beside one of the guns of Rickett’s section, whose horses had been killed. But Grant’s and Wheaton’s lines, although thrust back momentarily by the sudden onslaught, braced and drove the Confederates away from the guns. A little later Carroll and Owens, Brooke and Smyth and Miles came up, extending the line southward, and relieved Grant, Wheaton, Hays, and Ward. Carroll, after relieving Wheaton, fought his way in the twilight fairly across the now riddled swamp, then sent the Eighth Ohio up the south and the Seventh West Virginia up the north side of the road, beyond the disabled section where Captain Butterworth of his staff and Lieutenan t McKesson of the Eighth, by the aid of squads from the Eighth Ohio and Fourteenth Indiana, dragged back the guns, Lieutenant McKesson receiving a severe wound.

The sun having gone down, darkness soon settled around them all, but the struggle did not end. Never was better grit shown by any troops. They could not see each other and their positions were disclosed only by the red, angry flashes of their guns. Their line stretched from about two-thirds of a mile north of the Plank Road to a distance of a mile and a half south of it. And so, shrouded in the smoke, and standing or kneeling among their dead, both sides kept on. All other sounds having died away, the forest now at every rolling discharge roared deeply. At last, about eight o’clock or a little after, the volleys that had been so thundering and dreadful stopped almost suddenly, and Getty’s and Birney’s scarred and well-tried veterans were led back to the Brock Road; and there, beside its lonely, solemn way, they lay down and rested.

And what is this movement of mind and heart? It is imagination lifting the veil from the inner eye, and lo! we see Honor proudly standing guard over them all. Getty’s division on that day and the next met with the heaviest loss experienced by any division during the war, and his Vermont brigade of this division lost more men on that afternoon of the fifth than the entire Second Corps. Of the officers present for duty, threefourths ware killed or wounded.

As at the beginning, so now at the end, Hancock’s lines were close up against Hill’s, but in great irregularity and confusion; and Birney, Brooke, Miles, Carroll, and officers of Hancock’s staff, were all busy to a late hour in straightening them out.

When the firing ceased on Hancock’s front, to those of us around the Lacy house and at Grant’s headquarters the silence was oppressive. But soon the stars were shining softly and the merciful quiet of night came on; and wheresoever a mortally wounded man could be reached who was crying for water and help, — some of them in high, wild delirious screams of despair and agony; others with just enough breath left to be heard, alas! too often, only by the bushes around them, — surgeons and friendly comrades, and sometimes their foes, stole to them and did all they could for them.

I wonder what was going on in the breast of the Spirit of the Wilderness as night deepened. I wonder, too, as thespirits of those youths — they averaged less than twenty years — rose all through that night above the treetops, I wonder if they asked which was right and which was wrong as they bore on, a great flight of them, toward Heaven’s gate. On and on they go, following the road Christ made for us all, past moon and stars — the air is growing balmy, landscapes of eternal heavenly beauty are appearing; in the soft breezes that kiss their faces there is the faint odor of wild grapes in bloom, and lo! they hear a choir singing, “ Peace on earth, good will toward men!” And two by two they lock arms like college boys and pass in together; and so may it be for all of us at last.

Well, well! But let us record somewhat of our antagonists’ doings.

At an early hour in the afternoon, Kichards’s North Carolina battery of Poague’s artillery battalion went into position between Widow Tapp’s house and the woods, throwing little epaulements in front of their pieces. As soon as Heth became heavily engaged, Lee, who was close by, having established his headquarters in the old field, sent orders to Wilcox to return at once to the Plank Road, — for he could not mistake what the crashing volleys meant, — and directed Scales and McGowan to his support, Crawford meanwhile having been withdrawn from their front, back and down to within a mile of the Lacy house.

Wilcox, on receipt of the urgent orders, set his two brigades, Thomas’s and Lane’s, in quick motion, filed across the Chewning farm in sight of the signal officers on Crawford’s line, and then took the wood-road — leaf-strewn and shadow-mottled — that joins Chewning’s and Widow Tapp’s, skirting the abrupt descents to Wilderness Run. Through the timber, and over the treetops in the valley, he caught distant views of the Lacy house, Grant’s headquarters, and the old Wilderness Tavern. He caught sight, too, of Wadsworth moving past the Lacy house toward Getty. For, Grant and Meade being at Warren’s headquarters at the Lacy house as our signal officers reported the march of Wilcox’s column, Grant at once ordered a diversion to be made by Warren against Heth’s flank and rear. Wadsworth, who was terribly chagrined over the conduct of his division in the attack up the Pike, was anxious to retrieve the reputation of his troops, and asked to be chosen to go. Accordingly Warren sent him, and Baxter’s brigade of Robinson’s division with him. It was nearly six o’clock as he filed down across the fields, Roebling leading the way.

Grant, inferring from Wilcox’s march that Lee was detaching from Ewell to strike his left, ordered Warren and Sedgwick to renew the attack on their fronts immediately. When Wilcox reached Lee he reported to him what he had seen through the timber, and Lee sent the following despatch at once to Ewell: —

May 5, 1864, 6 P. M.
Commanding, etc.
General: The commanding general directs me to repeat a message sent you at 6 P. M. The enemy persist in their attack on General Hill’s right. Several efforts have been repulsed, and we hold our own as yet. The general wishes you to hurry up Ramseur, send back and care for your wounded, fill up your ammunition, and be ready to act by light in the morning. General Longstreet and General Anderson are expected up early, and unless you see some means of operating against their right, the general wishes you to be ready to support our right. It is reported that the enemy is massing against General Hill, and if an opportunity presents itself and you can get Wilderness Tavern ridge and cut the enemy off from the river, the general wishes it done. The attack on General Hill is still raging. Be ready to act as early as possible in the morning.
Yours, most respectfully,
and Aide-de-Camp.

Of all the despatches in the War Records relating to the battle, this one has for me more intrinsic interest than any other. It not only coordinates as to time the movements of Wilcox, Wadsworth, and Sedgwick, but it makes a still more enlightening disclosure, revealing at a flash the towering personalities and the workings of the minds of both Grant and Lee. Let us revert to the situation illuminated by the light it throws.

Grant and Meade, Grant mounted on Egypt, or Cincinnati, a black-pointed, velvety-eared, high-bred bay, Meade with drooping hat on his fox-walk, old “Baldy,” have come to the Lacy house and are grouped under the same old venerable trees that are there still, dreaming, swaying with the wind. They were accompanied by several of their staffs, of whom I remember Babcock and Dunn of Grant’s, Edie and Cadwalader of Meade’s. Grant and Meade at this time are told that a signal officer on Crawford’s line has just seen a column of troops (it was Wilcox’s) marching rapidly toward Heth. Locke’s despatch to Humphreys confirming the news is dated 5.45 P. M. Grant with lightning speed catches the significance of the news, and moves Wadsworth toward Getty to fall on Heth’s flank, and at the same time orders Warren and Sedgwick to strike at once at Ewell.

Wadsworth is hardly on his way before Wilcox reaches Lee and tells him what he saw through the timber. Lee’s inferences, the converse of Grant’s, flood in at once: Grant is weakening his line in front of Ewell, and, as the volleys come rolling up one after another from Heth and Getty, Lee tells Ewell to make a dash if he can for the ridge east of Wilderness Run.

Could we have anything better than this despatch with its accompanying evoking light to show the clear-sightedness, quick resolution, swift unhesitating grasp, and high mettle of both Grant and Lee ? their instinctive discernment of the significance of the shifting phases of battle ? Grant’s indomitable will to take advantage of them ; Lee’s warrior blood boiling with the first whiff of the smell of battle, and his tendency then to throw his army like a thunderbolt out of a cloud at his adversary? That smell of battle always set Lee ablaze; and his sweeping comprehension of the immediate moves to be made, augmented by the warmth of his fiery spirit, I think, was the source of the influence he shed around him as he fought a battle.

Lee had some advantages over Grant that afternoon. He knew his army, and his army knew him; Grant was a stranger to his. Lee was where he could see the field; Grant where he could not. Lee knew the country well; Grant had never before entered its fateful labyrinth. Moreover, Lee knew what he wanted to do; and the above despatch of Colonel Marshall’s, ringing with its resolute purpose, tells how he hoped to do it.

But, Colonel Marshall, there is a quiet, modest, blue-eyed, medium-sized man down on that knoll near the Lacy house, cut a short vista through these pines behind you, and you can see where he is in the distance, — whom at last at Appomattox you and Lee will meet; and, strangely enough the ink-bottle you are now using will be used then to draw the terms of surrender; down on the knoll is a gentle-voiced man who has an undismayable heart in his breast, and he will meet you to-morrow morning when Longstreet, Anderson, and Ramseur have come, and every morning thereafter, to the end of the Rebellion, with blow for blow.

Wilcox’s pregnant interview with Lee ended, he put Thomas’s brigade on the left of the Plank Road, and, guided by the rattle of musketry, it moved forward toward Heth’s battered lines. Lane’s brigade was to form on Thomas’s left, but just as it reached Hill, Scales, on Heth’s right, was smashed in by Brooke or Birney, and Colonel Palmer of Hill’s staff led it to their right. Colonel Palmer returned when the brigade was well under fire, and on reaching the road he met Stuart and Colonel Venable of Lee’s staff sitting on their horses in the dusk, and told them that Lane had become engaged. Venable exclaimed, “Thank God, I ’ll go back and tell Lee that Lane has gone in, and the lines will be held.”

Notwithstanding that these were fresh troops, the flower of his army, and went in under Lee’s eye, they shook but did not break our lines. It may be said, however, that, upon the whole, victory rested with them. For they held their ground and saved the key of their battlefield.

But it had been saved with mighty sacrifice of life, “All during that terrible afternoon,” wrote the historian of the Forty-sixth North Carolina, Cooke’s brigade, “ the regiment held its own, now gaining, now losing, resting at night on the ground over which it had fought, surrounded by the dead and wounded of both sides.” The Fifty-fifth North Carolina in Davis’s brigade that had fought Hays took into the action 340 men. At the end of the battle it is related in their history that “ 34 lay dead on the line where we fought, and 167 were wounded. They were on one side of a morass and we on the other.” The historian asserts that the sergeant of the Confederate ambulance corps counted 157 dead Federals the following day along their brigade front. “ The record of that day of butchery,” says the same authority, “ has often been written. 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 war of some of its horror’s.”

“ At one time during the fighting of the fifth,” according to the historian of the Eleventh North Carolina, Kirkland’s brigade, “ the brigade lay down behind a line of dead Federals so thick as to form partial breastworks, showing how stubbornly they had fought and how severely they had suffered.” This statement seems almost incredible, but it will not be forgotten that Kirkland was in reserve when the action began and was not called on till late, so that, as the brigade went in with McGowan, the men had a chance to see the death and destruction that had taken place. This brigade, out of 1753, lost 1080, The night before Lee’s army was forced formally to lay down its arms and give up its colors at Appomattox, the survivors of the Eleventh North Carolina of the above-mentioned brigade took the old flag which they had borne at the Wilderness, into a clump of young pines, and there, collecting some fagots, gathered sadly about it in the darkness and burned it.

At the close of the battle this regiment and all the other regiments of Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions were staggering, and it is highly probable that if the engagement had begun an hour or so earlier, defeat would have overtaken them. Or, had Wadsworth been sent earlier, the chances are that Heth could not have withstood his flank attack.

There is no occurrence of the day that I remember with more distinctness than the setting off of Wadsworth’s command that afternoon. I can see the men now moving down the field in column to the road, and then following it up the run for a piece toward Parker’s store. They formed in two lines of battle and entered the swampy, broken woods, guided by Colonel Roebling. Their progress, owing to the nature of the woods and ground, was slow; within a half mile or so they struck the skirmishers of Thomas’s brigade of Wilcox’s division, who had just been posted on Heth’s left. Wadsworth pushed them steadily back, till darkness came on and he had to halt. The extreme right of his line was now in the basin of Wilderness Run at the foot of the abrupt slopes running down from the Widow Tapp’s old field, his left perhaps three-quarters of a mile from the Brock Road. His front was parallel to the Plank Road, a half to five-eighths of a mile from it, the ground about him broken and the woods very dense, webbed with tangled thickets; and there, on the dead leaves and among spice bushes, spring beauties, violets and dogwoods in bloom, they passed the solemn night through. The men say, however, as well as those on Hancock’s lines, that they were restless; their position had been reached practically in the dark and they were so close to the enemy that both spoke in whispers, and all realized the inevitable renewal of the struggle in the morning. Roebling got back to the Lacy house, his most valuable notes tell me, about nine o’clock.

When Wadsworth was moving toward Hancock, Russell’s and Brown’s brigade of the first division of the Sixth Corps, on the extreme right of the line beyond Griffin and Upton, made and received counter and vigorous attacks on Ewell’s left, the brigades commanded by Stafford, Pegram and Hayes. Stafford was mortally and Pegram very severely wounded, and the Twenty-fifth Virginia of Jones’s brigade, which had been transferred to the extreme left along with Gordon’s, lost its colors and over two hundred men to the Fifth Wisconsin of Russell’s brigade.

And here may I be allowed to say that all the flags save one captured from the enemy in the Wilderness were taken by western regiments. The Twenty-fourth Michigan captured the colors of the Fortyeighth Virginia, the Fifth Wisconsin those of the Twenty-fifth, the Twentieth Indiana those of the Fifty-fifth, the Seventh Indiana those of the Fiftieth Virginia; the Fifth Michigan those of the Thirteenth North Carolina. The Eighth Ohio and the Fourteenth Indiana retook Rickett’s guns. The men from the west were probably no braver, man for man, than those of the east; but I think their success was wholly because so many of the men were woods wise. From their youth up, both by day and by night, they had roamed through woods under all sorts of sky and in all sorts of weather, and so their depths had no terror for them; and so, like their enemies, they were at home in the timber, and could make their way through it almost as well by night as by day. And I have often thought that perhaps it was this common knowledge of the woods that gave our western armies so many victories. A Confederate line coming on, or rising up suddenly and breaking into their sharp, fierce yells, did not greatly surprise or set them quaking. And yet, although all my boyhood was passed in the grandly deep, primeval forests of Ohio, I am free to own that I never heard that “ Rebel ” yell in the woods of Virginia that its old fields behind us did not seem at once to become mightily attractive.

Reference should be made, as a part of the day’s serious history, to the cavalry engagements under Wilson and Gregg. The former’s encounter with Rosser and Fitz Lee has been mentioned; it was severe, and Wilson, overpowered, had to make his way as best he could to Gregg at Todd’s Tavern. Gregg bristled up, and with Davies’s brigade, the First New Jersey and First Massachusetts Cavalry, met the confident pursuing enemy and drove them back to Corbin’s bridge, but only after a loss of ninety-odd killed and wounded.

When night and exhaustion put an end to the fell struggle between Hancock and Hill, it may be said that the first day of the battle of the Wilderness was over. And what a day it had been! Where now were the conjectures and the roseate forecasts which the self-reliant natures of both Grant and Lee had made, as they were looking forward to it the night before? All transmuted into solemn, speechful reality. Grant had telegraphed Halleck as soon as he had crossed the Rapidan safely, “ Forty-eight hours now will demonstrate whether the enemy intends giving battle this side of Richmond.” With his intuitive wisdom, he had predicted truly; yet, as a matter of fact, he did not know or care when or where the battle should begin. He meant to find Lee, clinch and have it out with him for good and all, wholly undisturbed as usual over possible results. And behold, the day had banished the uncertainties of the night before, and had brought him just where he had wanted to be, in conflict with his famous adversary.

But, imperturbable as he was, I feel sure it had brought some disappointment to him, not because Lee had obviously the best of it, but because he himself had discovered the Army of the Potomac’s one weakness, the lack of springy formation, and audacious, self-reliant initiative. This organic weakness was entirely due to not having had in its youth skillfully aggressive leadership. Its early commanders had dissipated war’s best elixir by training it into a life of caution, and the evil of that schooling it had shown on more than one occasion, and unmistakably that day, and it had had to suffer for it. But never, on that day or any other, did an army carry its burdens of every kind, and it had many, with a steadier or a more steadfast heart.

But let all this lie at the bottom of the Past. Notwithstanding that Lee had repulsed Warren and had badly shaken the morale of his entire corps, and also that of Mott’s division of Hancock’s corps, had held Sedgwick in check, fought Hancock and Getty to a standstill, thrown Wilson back, and brought the formidable movement up with a sudden jarring stop, yet seemingly Grant at the close of the day — and I saw him once or twice — was not troubled, and he issued orders with the same even, softly warm voice, to attack Lee impetuously early the next morning all along his line.

If the day had brought some disappointment and anxious foreshadowings to him, it must have brought some disappointment to Lee also. For when Grant, enmeshed in the Wilderness, found him on his flank and ready to take the offensive, he had not, like Hooker, become confused and undecided, as Lee had hoped and forecast, thereby giving Longstreet and the rest of his forces time to join their chief to enable him to repeat Chancellorsville. The results of the day had put another face on the situation. Grant was neither undecided nor confused; and when, at eleven o’clock that night all the news had come in, Lee undoubtedly was duly thankful that he had held his own, as his despatch to the Confederate Secretary of War dated at that hour shows. He said in reporting the day’s doings, —

“ By the blessing of God, we maintained our position against every effort until night, when the contest closed. We have to mourn the loss of many brave officers and men. The gallant Brigadier-General J. M. Jones was killed, and Brig.-Gen. L. A. Stafford I fear mortally wounded while leading his command with conspicuous valor.”

His greatest blessings, however, were that Warren was not allowed to wait till Wright came up, that Getty had not attacked an hour earlier, and that we had not seized and held the Chewning Farm.

But I had better leave the battle’s tactics to those who make a special study of military campaigns, venturing the following personal incident for the consideration of those young, cocksure critics who have never been in a big or a little battle, and who are surprised at the mistakes that Grant and Lee made, and contemplate with supreme satisfaction what would have happened had they been there and in command of either army.

One night, some time in the winter before we started for the Wilderness, when I was dining with Duane, Turnbull, Michler, and Mackenzie of the engineers, in their spacious pine-bough-decorated mess room, they discussed Burnside’s hesitation when Mr. Lincoln, having finally made up his mind to relieve McClellan, offered him the command of the Army of the Potomac. I listened a while, and then piped up that Burnside should not have had any such doubts of himself, that he had been educated for that business and kind of emergency, that it was n’t very much of a job, etc., and wound up — the bottle had moved faithfully, yet with genteel moderation — that if I were offered the command I’d take it. Whereupon my astounded listeners flung themselves back in their chairs and there was something between a howl and a roar of laughter as they threw their eyes, filled with pity and humor, across and down the table at a mere snip of a thin-faced boy. Well, of course, I stuck to it — I should have taken command of the Army of the Potomac.

Now if, at the end of that first night, say at nine o’clock, Mr. Grant should have sent for me and said, “I’m thinking of assigning you to the independent command of one of the empty ambulances,” — let alone turning the command of the Army of the Potomac over to me — “ and want you to get it safely out of this,” I think I should have said, “ Mr. Grant, I ’m not very experienced in handling ambulances, and if you can get anybody else I’ll not object,” so dark was the outlook and so deeply had I been impressed by the responsibilities that encompassed him. Dear military critics, however vast may be your knowledge of the art of war, and however boldly your youthful confidence may buckle on its sword and parade to the imaginary music of battle, let me tell you that if you are ever on a field where your country’s life is hanging as ours hung on Grant’s, or as the cause of the South hung on Lee’s shoulders, I ’ll guarantee that you will not volunteer to take the. command of anything, but will wonder that more mistakes are not made.

And here answer might be given to the inquiry which is often raised, coming sometimes from those who have been carried away by delving in the tactics of the battle, and sometimes from those who have become warmly interested in its history: namely, what did the officers at corps and army headquarters have to say about it among themselves during its progress, and at the close of that first day in the Wilderness. In the sense in which the question is asked by the former, nothing, absolutely nothing. For who could possibly have penetrated the rapidly evolving events and seen what the critic sees now so clearly? Who could have told us where the gaps lay between Ewell and Hill, where Longstreet was, what Sheridan with his cavalry might have been doing beyond Todd’s Tavern, and the importance of bringing Burnside’s two divisions up to the Lacy farm that afternoon so as to be ready for the next morning ? Whom had nature endowed with such omniprescience? Perhaps, if the critic will ask the Spirit of the Wilderness how it happened that no one saw what he sees now, she will explain it all to him.

It is hardly necessary to say that for officers or men to discuss or pass judgment upon the events and conduct of a battle would be death to discipline, and instead of an army, the country would be relying for its fife upon a mob. In all my service with the Army of the Potomac, from Chancellorsville to Petersburg, sometimes in the eclipse of defeat, sometimes in the very verge of yawning disaster, never did I hear discussion, or more than barely a word of criticism or protest over any feature of a campaign, except after Cold Harbor, and then only for a day. Soldiers and officers see so little of any field that they do not give weight to their immediate surroundings or experience.

The question of what the officers at headquarters said to each other about the battle in its progress, and how they felt, is a very natural one, and its answer may be a minor but essential part of the story itself. I do not know what Grant and Meade, Rawlins and Seth Williams said to each other; but whenever an aide came back from the front and had reported to the General or his chief of statf, he would take his place among his fellows, and their first question would be, “ Where have you been, Bob, or Tom, or Mack,” and “ How is it going up there, old fellow ? ” For every one, from the time the first shot was fired, was keyed by the battle’s progress. “Been up [or over] to - lines They are holding their own mighty well. Colonel So-and-So [or our dear little 4 Dad,’ or Bill] has just been killed. Old General -’s command is catching perfect h—l. Say, fellers, where can I get something to eat [or drink], I’m hungry [or dry] as the dickens.” That is about a fair sample of the conversation at headquarters while the battle is going on, so far as my experience goes.

For the information of those who have never been in battle, let me say, without seeming didactic, that the commanding general or his corps commanders are rarely where the artists have depicted them, on rearing horses, leading or directing amid a sheet of fire. There are times, however, when the artist is true to life: as when Sheridan, seeing Ayres and his Regulars recoiling for a moment under terrific fire at Five Forks, dashed in; and there and then with those flashing eyes he might have been painted. Warren that same day seized the colors on another part of the field, and led on. But, as a rule, the corps commander chooses a position where he can see all the field and his troops as they engage. The test of his genius is in choosing the crilical moment when he will join them. Suppose McClellan had shown himself and ridden his lines at Gaines’s Mill, or Bragg at Chick - amauga, the outcome might have been different. Owing to the character of the Wilderness, Grant had few chances to seize opportunities of that kind. At Spottsylvania, the night Upton was making his assault and breaking their lines temporarily, he was close up, and I sat my horse not far from him. He was mounted on Egypt; there were two or three lines of battle within thirty or forty paces of each other and of him. The fire that reached us was considerable; an orderly carrying the headquarter standard was killed, and a solid shot struck an oak five or six inches through squarely, not thirty feet from us, shivering it into broom slivers; but through it all Grant wore the same imperturbable but somewhat pleading face.

But, to return to the Wilderness and the impressions it made, it goes without saying that the first day was a disappointing one, and that the desperate character of the fighting and the attendant losses had stamped themselves deeply. But there was no dejection, — the army from top to bottom was looking forward to the coming day’s trial with resolution and hope.

After supper, which did not take place until the day’s commotion had well quieted down, I happened to go into the Lacy house, and in the large, high-ceiled room on the left of the hall was Warren, seated on one side of a small table, with Locke, his adjutant general, and Milhau, his chief surgeon, on the other, making up a report for Meade of his losses of the day. He was still wearing his yellow sash, his hat rested on the table, and his long, coalblack hair was streaming away from his finely expressive forehead, the only feature rising unclouded above the habitual gloom of his duskily sallow face. A couple of tallow candles were burning on the table, and on the high mantel a globe lantern. Locke and Milhau were both small men: the former unpretentious, much reflecting, and taciturn; the latter a modest man, and a great friend of McClellan’s, with a naturally rippling, joyous nature.

Just as I passed them, I heard Milhau give a figure, his aggregate from data which he had gathered at the hospitals. “ It will never do, Locke, to make a showing of such heavy losses,” quickly observed Warren. It was the first time I had ever been present when the official report of losses was being made, and in my unsophisticated state of West Point truthfulness it drew my eyes to Warren’s face with wonder, and I can see its earnest, mournfully solemn lines yet. It is needless to say that after that I always doubted reports of casualties until officially certified. I passed through the house, and out to the place where the horses were, in charge of the orderlies. I found mine among others in the semidarkness of one of the open sheds of the old plantation’s clustering barns, gave him the usual friendly pat, and stroked his silky neck as he daintily selected from the remaining wisps of his ration of hay.

All the space between the garden, the back of the house, and the barns, was loosely occupied by the bivouacs of the headquarter orderlies, clerks, teamsters, officers’ servants, cooks and waiters of the various messes, provost-guards, etc., who on a campaign form quite a colony about corps and army headquarters. The soldiers, in groups of two or three, were sitting around their little dying fires, smoking; some, with overcoat and hat for a pillow, already asleep. The black cooks, coatless and bareheaded, were puttering around their pot and kettle fires, with the usual attendant circle of waiters sitting on their haunches, some embracing languidly their uplifted knees with their long, sinewy arms, eyes of some on the fire, chins of some on their breasts and eyes closed, all drowsily listening to some one’s childlike chatter; others on their backs, feet towards the fire, and snoring loudly. And around them all, and scattered about, were the baggage and supply wagons, their bowed white canvas tops, although mildewed and dirty, dimly looming, outlined by being the resting-place for stray beams wandering through the night. The mule teams, unhitched but still harnessed, stand facing each other across the wagonpole where their deep feed-box is still resting. Some are nosing in it for an overlooked kernel of oats or corn, or a taste of salt, some among the bits of forage that have fallen to the ground, some nodding. Asleep, their driver is in or under the wagon, and his rest unbroken by the every-once-in-a-while quick rattling of the looped-up trace-chains, as one of his mules lets drive a vicious kick right or left at its army mate.

(To be continued.)