Map of the First Bull Run campaign

Map of the First Bull Run campaign

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Map of the First Bull Run campaign

Map of the First Bull Run campaign

Go to: First Bull Run/ Manassas

The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run)

Rallying the Troops of Bee, Bartow, and Evans, Behind the Robinson House, by Thure de Thulstrup

Cheers rang out in the streets of Washington on July 16, 1861 as Gen. Irvin McDowell’s army, 35,000 strong, marched out to begin the long-awaited campaign to capture Richmond and end the war. It was an army of green recruits, few of whom had the faintest idea of the magnitude of the task facing them. But their swaggering gait showed that none doubted the outcome. As excitement spread, many citizens and congressman with wine and picnic baskets followed the army into the field to watch what all expected would be a colorful show.

These troops were 90-day volunteers summoned by President Abraham Lincoln after the startling news of Fort Sumter burst over the nation in April 1861. Called from shops and farms, they had little knowledge of what war would mean. The first day’s march covered only five miles, as many straggled to pick blackberries or fill canteens.

McDowell’s lumbering columns were headed for the vital railroad junction at Manassas. Here the Orange and Alexandria Railroad met the Manassas Gap Railroad, which led west to the Shenandoah Valley. If McDowell could seize this junction, he would stand astride the best overland approach to the Confederate capital.

On July 18 McDowell’s army reached Centreville. Five miles ahead a small meandering stream named Bull Run crossed the route of the Union advance, and there guarding the fords from Union Mills to the Stone Bridge waited 22,000 Southern troops under the command of Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard. McDowell first attempted to move toward the Confederate right flank, but his troops were checked at Blackburn’s Ford. He then spent the next two days scouting the Southern left flank. In the meantime, Beauregard asked the Confederate government at Richmond for help. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, stationed in the Shenandoah Valley with 10,000 Confederate troops, was ordered to support Beauregard if possible. Johnston gave an opposing Union army the slip and, employing the Manassas Gap Railroad, started his brigades toward Manassas Junction. Most of Johnston’s troops arrived at the junction on July 20 and 21, some marching directly into battle.

On the morning of July 21, McDowell sent his attack columns in a long march north towards Sudley Springs Ford. This route took the Federals around the Confederate left. To distract the Southerners, McDowell ordered a diversionary attack where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed Bull Run at the Stone Bridge. At 5:30a.m. the deep-throated roar of a 30-pounder Parrott rifle shattered the morning calm, and signaled the start of the battle.

McDowell’s new plan depended on speed and surprise, both difficult with inexperienced troops. Valuable time was lost as the men stumbled through the darkness along narrow roads. Confederate Col. Nathan Evans, commanding at the Stone Bridge, soon realized that the attack on his front was only a diversion. Leaving a small force to hold the bridge, Evans rushed the remainder of his command to Matthews Hill in time to check McDowell’s lead unit. But Evans’ force was too small to hold back the Federals for long.

Soon brigades under Barnard Bee and Francis Bartow marched to Evans’ assistance. But even with these reinforcements, the thin gray line collapsed and Southerners fled in disorder toward Henry Hill. Attempting to rally his men, Bee used Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s newly arrived brigade as an anchor. Pointing to Jackson, Bee shouted, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” Generals Johnston and Beauregard then arrived on Henry Hill, where they assisted in rallying shattered brigades and redeploying fresh units that were marching to the point of danger.

About noon, the Federals stopped their advance to reorganize for a new attack. The lull lasted for about an hour, giving the Confederates enough time to reform their lines. Then the fighting resumed, each side trying to force the other off Henry Hill. The battle continued until just after 4p.m., when fresh Southern units crashed into the Union right flank on Chinn Ridge, causing McDowell’s tired and discouraged soldiers to withdraw.

At first the withdrawal was orderly. Screened by the regulars, the three-month volunteers retired across Bull Run, where they found the road to Washington jammed with the carriages of congressmen and others who had driven out to Centreville to watch the fight. Panic now seized many of the soldiers and the retreat became a rout. The Confederates, though bolstered by the arrival of President Jefferson Davis on the field just as the battle was ending, were too disorganized to follow up on their success. Daybreak on July 22 found the defeated Union army back behind the bristling defenses of Washington.


The Eastern Theater included the campaigns that are generally most famous in the history of the war, if not for their strategic significance, then for their proximity to the large population centers, major newspapers, and the capital cities of the opposing parties. The imaginations of both Northerners and Southerners were captured by the epic struggles between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac, under a series of less successful commanders. The bloodiest battle of the war (Gettysburg) and the bloodiest single day of the war (Antietam) were both fought in this theater. The capitals of Washington, D.C., and Richmond were both attacked or besieged. It has been argued that the Western Theater was more strategically important in defeating the Confederacy, but it is inconceivable that the civilian populations of both sides could have considered the war to be at an end without the resolution of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. [1]

The theater was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. By far, the majority of battles occurred in the 100 miles between the cities of Washington and Richmond. This terrain favored the Confederate defenders because a series of rivers ran primarily west to east, making them obstacles rather than avenues of approach and lines of communication for the Union invaders. This was quite different than the early years of the Western theater, and since the Union Army had to rely solely on the primitive road system of the era for its primary transportation, it limited winter campaigning for both sides. The Union advantage was control of the sea and major rivers, which would allow an army that stayed close to the ocean to be reinforced and supplied. [2]

The campaign classification established by the United States National Park Service (NPS) [3] is more fine-grained than the one used in this article. Some minor NPS campaigns have been omitted and some have been combined into larger categories. Only a few of the 160 battles the NPS classifies for this theater are described. Boxed text in the right margin show the NPS campaigns associated with each section.

After the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, both sides scrambled to create armies. President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion, which immediately caused the secession of four additional states, including Virginia. The United States Army had only around 16,000 men, with more than half spread out in the West. The army was commanded by the elderly Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War. On the Confederate side, only a handful of Federal officers and men resigned and joined the Confederacy the formation of the Confederate States Army was a matter initially undertaken by the individual states. (The decentralized nature of the Confederate defenses, encouraged by the states' distrust of a strong central government, was one of the disadvantages suffered by the South during the war.) [4]

Some of the first hostilities occurred in western Virginia (now the state of West Virginia). The region had closer ties to Pennsylvania and Ohio than to eastern Virginia and thus were opposed to secession a pro-Union government was soon organized and appealed to Lincoln for military protection. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, commanding the Department of the Ohio, ordered troops to march from Grafton and attack the Confederates under Col. George A. Porterfield. The skirmish on June 3, 1861, known as the Battle of Philippi, or the "Philippi Races", was the first land battle of the Civil War. His victory at the Battle of Rich Mountain in July was instrumental in his promotion that fall to command the Army of the Potomac. As the campaign continued through a series of minor battles, General Robert E. Lee, who, despite his excellent reputation as a former U.S. Army colonel, had no combat command experience, gave a lackluster performance that earned him the derogatory nickname "Granny Lee". He was soon transferred to the Carolinas to construct fortifications. The Union victory in this campaign enabled the creation of the state of West Virginia in 1863. [5]

The first significant battle of the war took place in eastern Virginia on June 10. Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, based at Fort Monroe, sent converging columns from Hampton and Newport News against advanced Confederate outposts. At the Battle of Big Bethel, near Fort Monroe, Colonel John B. Magruder won the first Confederate victory. [6]

First Bull Run (First Manassas) Edit

In early summer, the commander of Union field forces around Washington was Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, an inexperienced combat officer in command of volunteer soldiers with even less experience. Many of them had enlisted for only 90 days, a period soon to expire. McDowell was pressured by politicians and major newspapers in the North to take immediate action, exhorting him "On to Richmond!" His plan was to march with 35,000 men and attack the 20,000 Confederates under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas. The second major Confederate force in the area, 12,000 men under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, was to be held in place by Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson with 18,000 men menacing Harpers Ferry, preventing the two Confederate armies from combining against McDowell. [7]

On July 21, McDowell's Army of the Potomac executed a complex turning movement against Beauregard's Confederate Army of Northeast Virginia(Confederate), beginning the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as First Manassas). Although the Union troops enjoyed an early advantage and drove the Confederate left flank back, the battle advantage turned that afternoon. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson inspired his Virginia brigade to withstand a strong Union attack, and he received his famous nickname, "Stonewall" Jackson. Timely reinforcements arrived by railroad from Johnston's army Patterson had been ineffective in keeping them occupied. The inexperienced Union soldiers began to fall back, and it turned into a panicky retreat, with many running almost as far as Washington, D.C. Civilian and political observers, some of whom had treated the battle as festive entertainment, were caught up in the panic. The army returned safely to Washington Beauregard's army was too tired and inexperienced to launch a pursuit. The Union defeat at First Bull Run shocked the North, and a new sense of grim determination swept the United States as military and civilians alike realized that they would need to invest significant money and manpower to win a protracted, bloody war. [8]

George B. McClellan was summoned east in August to command the newly forming Army of the Potomac, which would become the principal army of the Eastern Theater. As a former railroad executive, he possessed outstanding organizational skills well-suited to the tasks of training and administration. He was also strongly ambitious, and by November 1, he had maneuvered around Winfield Scott and was named general-in-chief of all the Union armies, despite the embarrassing defeat of an expedition he sent up the Potomac River at the Battle of Balls Bluff in October. [9]

North Carolina was an important area to the Confederacy because of the vital seaport of Wilmington and because the Outer Banks were valuable bases for ships attempting to evade the Union blockade. Benjamin Butler sailed from Fort Monroe and captured the batteries at Hatteras Inlet in August 1861. In February 1862, Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside organized an amphibious expedition, also from Fort Monroe, that captured Roanoke Island, a little-known but important Union strategic victory. The Goldsboro Expedition in late 1862 marched briefly inland from the coast to destroy railroad tracks and bridges. [10]

The remainder of operations on the North Carolina coast began in late 1864, with Benjamin Butler's and David D. Porter's failed attempt to capture Fort Fisher, which guarded the seaport of Wilmington. Union forces at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, led by Alfred H. Terry, Adelbert Ames, and Porter, in January 1865, were successful in defeating Gen. Braxton Bragg, and Wilmington fell in February. During this period, the Western Theater armies of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman were marching up the interior of the Carolinas, where they eventually forced the surrender of the largest remaining Confederate field army, under Joseph E. Johnston, on April 26, 1865. [11]

In the spring of 1862, Confederate exuberance over First Bull Run declined quickly, following the early successes of the Union armies in the Western Theater, such as Fort Donelson and Shiloh. George B. McClellan's massive Army of the Potomac was approaching Richmond from the southeast in the Peninsula Campaign, Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell's large corps was poised to hit Richmond from the north, and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's army threatened the rich agricultural area of the Shenandoah Valley. For relief, Confederate authorities turned to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who earned his nickname at First Bull Run. His command, officially called the Valley District of the Department of Northern Virginia, included the Stonewall Brigade, a variety of Valley militia units, and the Army of the Northwest. While Banks remained north of the Potomac River, Jackson's cavalry commander, Col. Turner Ashby of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, raided the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. [12]

Banks reacted by crossing the Potomac in late February and moving south to protect the canal and railroad from Ashby. Jackson's command was operating as the left wing of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army, and when Johnston moved from Manassas to Culpeper in March, Jackson's position at Winchester was isolated. On March 12, Banks continued his advance to the southwest ("up the Valley") and occupied Winchester. Jackson had withdrawn to Strasburg. Banks's orders, as part of McClellan's overall strategy, were to move farther south and drive Jackson from the Valley. After accomplishing this, he was to withdraw to a position nearer Washington. A strong advance force began the movement south from Winchester on March 17, about the same time that McClellan began his amphibious movement to the Virginia Peninsula. [13]

Jackson's orders from Johnston were to avoid general combat because he was seriously outnumbered, but at the same time he was to keep Banks occupied enough to prevent the detachment of troops to reinforce McClellan on the Peninsula. Receiving incorrect intelligence, Banks concluded that Jackson had left the Valley, and he proceeded to move east, back to the vicinity of Washington. Jackson was dismayed at this movement because Banks was doing exactly what Jackson had been directed to prevent. When Ashby reported that only a few infantry regiments and some artillery of Banks's corps remained at Winchester, Jackson decided to attack the Union detachment in an attempt to force the remainder of Banks's corps to return. But Ashby's information was incorrect actually, an entire Union division was still stationed in the town. At the First Battle of Kernstown (March 23, 1862), fought a few miles south of Winchester, the Federals stopped Jackson's advance and then counterattacked, turning his left flank and forcing him to retreat. Although a tactical defeat for Jackson, his only defeat during the campaign, it was a strategic victory for the Confederacy, forcing President Lincoln to keep Banks's forces in the Valley and McDowell's 30,000-man corps near Fredericksburg, subtracting about 50,000 soldiers from McClellan's Peninsula invasion force. [14]

The Union reorganized after Kernstown: McDowell's command became the Department of the Rappahannock, Banks's corps became the Department of the Shenandoah, while western Virginia (modern West Virginia) became the Mountain Department, commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont. All three commands, which reported directly to Washington, were ordered to remove Jackson's force as a threat to Washington. The Confederate authorities meanwhile detached Richard S. Ewell's division from Johnston's army and sent it to the Valley. Jackson, now reinforced to 17,000 men, decided to attack the Union forces individually rather than waiting for them to combine and overwhelm him, first concentrating on a column from the Mountain Department commanded by Robert Milroy. While marching on a devious route to mask his intentions, he was attacked by Milroy at the Battle of McDowell on May 8 but was able to repulse the Union army after severe fighting. Banks sent a division to reinforce Irvin McDowell's forces at Fredericksburg, leaving Banks only 8,000 troops, which he relocated to a strong position at Strasburg, Virginia. [15]

After Frémont's forces halted their advance into the Valley following McDowell, Jackson next turned to defeating Banks. On May 21, Jackson marched his command east from New Market and proceeded northward. Their speed of forced marching was typical of the campaign and earned his infantrymen the nickname of "Jackson's foot cavalry". He sent his horse cavalry directly north to make Banks think that he was going to attack Strasburg, but his plan was to defeat the small outpost at Front Royal and quickly attack Banks's line of communication at Harpers Ferry. On May 23, at the Battle of Front Royal, Jackson's army surprised and overran the pickets of the 1,000-man Union garrison, capturing nearly 700 of the garrison while suffering fewer than forty casualties himself. Jackson's victory forced Banks from Strasburg into a rapid retreat towards Winchester. Although Jackson attempted to pursue, his troops were exhausted and looted Union supply trains, slowing them down immensely. On May 25, at the First Battle of Winchester, Banks's army was attacked by converging Confederate columns and was soundly defeated, losing over 1,300 casualties and much of his supplies (including 9,000 small arms, a half million rounds of ammunition, and several tons of supplies) they withdrew north across the Potomac River. Jackson attempted pursuit but was unsuccessful, due to looting by Ashby's cavalry and the exhaustion of his infantry after a few days of rest, he followed Banks's forces as far as Harpers Ferry, where he skirmished with the Union garrison. [16]

In Washington, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton decided that the defeat of Jackson was an immediate priority (even though Jackson's orders were solely to keep Union forces occupied away from Richmond). They ordered Irvin McDowell to send 20,000 men to Front Royal and Frémont to move to Harrisonburg. If both forces could converge at Strasburg, Jackson's only escape route up the Valley would be cut. The immediate repercussion of this move was to abort McDowell's coordinated attack with McClellan on Richmond. Starting on May 29, while two columns of Union forces pursued him, Jackson started pushing his army in a forced march southward to escape the pincer movements, marching forty miles in thirty-six hours. His army took up defensive positions in Cross Keys and Port Republic, where he was able to defeat Frémont and James Shields (from McDowell's command), respectively, on June 8 and June 9. [17]

Following these engagements, Union forces were withdrawn from the Valley. Jackson joined Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula for the Seven Days Battles (where he delivered an uncharacteristically lethargic performance, perhaps because of the strains of the Valley Campaign). He had accomplished his mission, withholding over 50,000 needed troops from McClellan. With the success of his Valley Campaign, Stonewall Jackson became the most celebrated soldier in the Confederacy (until he was eventually eclipsed by Lee) and lifted the morale of the public. In a classic military campaign of surprise and maneuver, he pressed his army to travel 646 miles (1,040 km) in 48 days of marching and won five significant victories with a force of about 17,000 against combined foes of 60,000. [18]

George B. McClellan spent the winter of 1861–62 training his new Army of the Potomac and fighting off calls from President Lincoln to advance against the Confederates. Lincoln was particularly concerned about the army of General Joseph E. Johnston at Centreville, just 30 miles (50 km) from Washington. McClellan overestimated Johnston's strength and shifted his objective from that army to the Confederate capital of Richmond. He proposed to move by water to Urbanna on the Rappahannock River and then overland to Richmond before Johnston could move to block him. Although Lincoln favored the overland approach because it would shield Washington from any attack while the operation was in progress, McClellan argued that the road conditions in Virginia were intolerable, that he had arranged adequate defenses for the capital, and that Johnston would certainly follow him if he moved on Richmond. This plan was discussed for three months in the capital until Lincoln approved McClellan's proposal in early March. By March 9, however, Johnston withdrew his army from Centreville to Culpeper, making McClellan's Urbanna plan impracticable. McClellan then proposed to sail to Fort Monroe and then up the Virginia Peninsula (the narrow strip of land between the James and York rivers) to Richmond. Lincoln reluctantly agreed. [19]

Before departing for the Peninsula, McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac to Centreville on a "shakedown" march. He discovered there how weak Johnston's force and position had really been, and he faced mounting criticism. On March 11, Lincoln relieved McClellan of his position as general-in-chief of the Union armies so that he could devote his full attention to the difficult campaign ahead of him. Lincoln himself, with the assistance of Secretary of War Stanton and a War Board of officers, assumed command of the Union armies for the next four months. The Army of the Potomac began to embark for Fort Monroe on March 17. The departure was accompanied by a newfound sense of concern. The first combat of ironclad ships occurred on March 8 and March 9 as the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor fought the inconclusive Battle of Hampton Roads. The concern for the Army was that their transport ships would be attacked by this new weapon directly in their path. And the U.S. Navy failed to assure McClellan that they could protect operations on either the James or the York, so his idea of amphibiously enveloping Yorktown was abandoned, and he ordered an advance up the Peninsula to begin April 4. On April 5, McClellan was informed that Lincoln had canceled the movement of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell's corps to Fort Monroe, taking this action because McClellan had failed to leave the number of troops previously agreed upon at Washington, and because Jackson's Valley Campaign was causing concern. McClellan protested vociferously that he was being forced to lead a major campaign without his promised resources, but he moved ahead anyway. [20]

Up the Peninsula Edit

The Union forces advanced to Yorktown, but halted when McClellan found that the Confederate fortifications extended across the Peninsula instead of being limited to Yorktown as he had expected. After a delay of about a month building up siege resources, constructing trenches and siege batteries, and conducting a couple of minor skirmishes testing the line, the Siege of Yorktown was ready to commence. However, Johnston concluded that the Confederate defenses were too weak to hold off a Union assault and he organized a withdrawal during the night of May 3–4. During the campaign, the Union Army also seized Hampton Roads and occupied Norfolk. As the Union forces chased withdrawing Confederate forces up the Peninsula (northwest) in the direction of Richmond, the inconclusive single-day Battle of Williamsburg took place at and around Fort Magruder, one mile (1.5 km) east of the old colonial capital. [21]

By the end of May, the Union forces had successfully advanced to within several miles of Richmond, but progress was slow. McClellan had planned for massive siege operations and brought immense stores of equipment and siege mortars but poor weather and inadequate roads kept his advance to a crawl. And McClellan was by nature a cautious general he was nervous about attacking a force he believed was twice his in size. In fact, his imagination and his intelligence operations failed him the proportions were roughly the reverse. During Johnston's slow retreat up the Peninsula, his forces practiced deceptive operations. In particular, the division under John B. Magruder, who was an amateur actor before the war, was able to fool McClellan by ostentatiously marching small numbers of troops past the same position multiple times, appearing to be a larger force. [22]

As the Union Army drew towards the outer defenses of Richmond, it became divided by the Chickahominy River, weakening its ability to move troops back and forth along the front. McClellan kept most of his army north of the river, expecting McDowell to march from northern Virginia only two Union corps (IV and III) were south of the river. Pressured by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his military advisor Robert E. Lee, Johnston decided to attack the smaller Union force south of the river, hoping that the flooded Chickahominy, swollen from recent heavy rains, would prevent McClellan from moving to the southern bank. The Battle of Seven Pines (also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks), fought on May 31 – June 1, 1862, failed to follow Johnston's plan, due to faulty maps, uncoordinated Confederate attacks, and Union reinforcements, which were able to cross the river despite the flooding. The battle was tactically inconclusive, but there were two strategic effects. First, Johnston was wounded during the battle and was replaced by the more aggressive General Robert E. Lee, who would lead this Army of Northern Virginia to many victories in the war. Second, General McClellan chose to abandon his offensive operations to lay siege and await reinforcements he had requested from President Lincoln as a consequence, he never regained his strategic momentum. [23]

Image: Pvt. Theodore Wheaton King, Co. F, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

Capt. Beriah S. Brown, Co. H, Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F, Lt. Thomas Foy [ID’d as Fry], Co., H, 2nd RI Infantry Courtesy of Library of Congress

Title: Camp Brightwood, D.C.–Contrabands in 2nd R.I. Camp

Date Created/Published: [between 1861 and 1865]

Medium: 1 photographic print on carte de visite mount: albumen 10×6 cm.

Summary: Capt. B.S. Brown (left) Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F 2nd Regt. Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry (center) and Lt. Fry (right) with African American men and boy.

American Civil War

After the first shot was fired at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the American Civil War would escalate. Many more battles would be fought over the next few years.

First Battle of Bull Run

This was the first major land battle of the war. It took place on July 21, 1861 near the city of Manassas, Virginia. General Irvin McDowell led the Union troops against P.T. Beauregard's Confederate Army. The goal was to capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia.

The Union forces were doing well at first until reinforcements came for the south. The Confederate Army started to gain ground and soon the Union forces were fleeing.

The Capture of Fort Donelson

On February 14-15, 1862, the Union Army under Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Donelson from the Confederates. This is the first major Union victory in the war and opened up a route for the Union Army into Northern Alabama.

The Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac

This was one of the most significant naval battles during the civil war primarily because of the new kinds of warships used. It was fought on March 8-9, 1862 near Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Monitor and Merrimac were the first iron clad warships. This meant that instead of just being made of wood, like all the ships before them, they had hard iron on the outside making them very durable against cannon fire. These new ships could easily defeat wooden ships and changed the way navy warships were made around the world. In the actual battle, both ships survived and the fight was largely inconclusive.

Fought in Tennessee on April 6-7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was the largest battle fought in the western part of the country. The Confederate Army, led by General's Albert Johnston and P.T. Beauregard, attacked the Union Army led by General Ulysses S. Grant. They won the first day, however, General Johnston was killed and they stopped the attack. The next day reinforcements arrived for the North. The North counterattacked and drove back the Confederate Army. Both sides suffered heavy losses. There were around 20,000 casualties and 3500 deaths in this battle.

The Battle of New Orleans

The city of New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy and a major port as well. Flag officer David G. Farragut led the attack of the Union Navy from the Mississippi River. He first attempted to bombard the two forts, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, but was unsuccessful. Then he broke through the chain between the two forts in the river and proceeded to the city of New Orleans. Once in New Orleans he took control of the city on April 24, 1862. This was an important victory for the Union.

The Seven Days Battles took place between June 25, 1862 and July 1, 1862. There were six major battles fought during this time near the city of Richmond, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army attempted to capture the Union Army under General George B. McClellan. As McClellan's army retreated, Lee continued to attack. McClellan managed to escape, but Lee had gained a victory which increased the morale of the South.

Lincoln visiting McClellan
and Troops at Antietam

by The New York Times

This was the first major battle fought in the North. It was fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam is known as the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. There were over 23,000 casualties and 4600 deaths. The Confederate Army, led by General Robert E. Lee, was vastly outnumbered, but still managed to harass and fight off the more conservative Union Army, led by General George B. McClellan. Eventually, though, the Union Amy was able to push back Lee's army and cause them to retreat from Northern soil.

Battle of Fredericksburg

This battle took place on December 11-15, 1862 at Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was a huge battle involving over 180,000 soldiers. The North was led by General Ambrose Burnside and the South was led by General Robert E. Lee. The North was leading a major attack into the South. General Lee managed to fight them back with a much smaller force. It was considered a major victory for the Southern forces.

American Civil War

The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War. Although the Union forces outnumbered the Confederates, the experience of the Confederate soldiers proved the difference as the Confederates won the battle.

When did it take place?

The battle took place on July 21, 1861 at the start of the Civil War. Many people in the North thought it would be an easy Union victory resulting in a quick end to the war.

Who were the commanders?

The two Union armies in the battle were commanded by General Irvin McDowell and General Robert Patterson. The Confederate armies were commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard and General Joseph E. Johnston.

The Civil War had begun a few months earlier at the Battle of Fort Sumter. Both the North and South were eager to finish the war. The South figured that with another major victory the North would give up and leave the newly formed Confederate States of America alone. At the same time, many politicians in the North thought that if they could take the new Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia the war would be over quickly.

Union General Irvin McDowell was under considerable political pressure to march his inexperienced army into battle. He set up a plan to attack the Confederate force at Bull Run. While his army was attacking General Beauregard's army at Bull Run, General Patterson's army would engage the Confederate army under Joseph Johnston. This would prevent Beauregard's army from getting reinforcements.

On the morning of July 21, 1861, General McDowell ordered the Union army to attack. The two inexperienced armies ran into many difficulties. The Union plan was far too complex for the young soldiers to implement and the Confederate army had troubles communicating. However, the superior numbers of the Union began to push the Confederates back. It looked like the Union was going to win the battle.

One famous part of the battle occurred at Henry House Hill. It was on this hill that Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson and his forces held back the Union troops. It was said that he held the hill like a "stone wall." This earned him the nickname "Stonewall" Jackson. He would later become one of the most famous Confederate generals of the war.

While Stonewall Jackson held off the Union attack, Confederate reinforcements arrived from General Joseph Johnston who had been able to avoid Union General Robert Patterson to join the battle. Johnston's army made the difference pushing back the Union army. With a final cavalry charge led by Confederate Colonel Jeb Stuart, the Union army was in full retreat. The Confederates had won the first major battle of the Civil War.

The Confederates won the battle, but both sides suffered casualties. The Union suffered 2,896 casualties including 460 killed. The Confederates had 1,982 casualties with 387 killed. The battle left both sides realizing that this would be a long and horrible war. The day after the battle, President Lincoln signed a bill that authorized the enlistment of 500,000 new Union soldiers.

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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Map of the First Bull Run campaign - History

Confederates built winter quarters and stayed at Manassas/Centreville until March, 1862
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War (p.452)

Ambrose Bierce may not have uttered the sardonic comment, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography," but the quote is still relevant to the study of Civil War places in Virginia. 1

Many people get introduced to Virginia geography when examining how their ancestors moved through the state in a Civil War unit. Sometimes, what appears to be obvious is not correct. The names of some places highlighted in The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies have changed. For example, Stonewall Jackson's march in August 1862 through "Salem" refers to modern-day "Marshall" in Fauquier County, not to the city of Salem next to Roanoke. Genealogists studying family members who served in 1861-65 must match historical maps with historical events, before getting in the car to visit sites of interest.

More recent satire in the New York Times highlights how time and places can be juxtaposed by suburban sprawl, by using a mock battle report from Union General Irvin McDowell to illustrate the impact of modern suburban development on the historical setting at Manassas: 2

Hdqrs. Department of Northeastern Virginia
Business Center, Radisson Hotel
Reagan National Airport
Arlington, Va., Aug. 4, 2011

Colonel: I have the honor to submit the following report of the battle of the 21st of July, near Manassas, Va.

. The First Division (Tyler's) was stationed on the north side of the Warrenton turnpike and on the eastern slope of the Centreville ridge just north of Centreville Crest Shopping Center, where an advance guard raided a Five Guys, then requisitioned disinfected bedrolls from Body & Brain Yoga/Tai-Chi/Meditation, where they encountered little resistance.

the 1861 farmland between Centreville and Bull Run has been transformed into suburban housing developments, plus rock quarries
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS

The physical geography of Virginia affected where the armies marched, where they camped, and where they fought. Efforts of slaves to achieve freedom, and of local residents to just survive, are recognized by numerous plaques on the roadsides and by including in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

The war made many locations in Virginia special, even "hallowed." Efforts to preserve those special places have shaped the geography of tourism, as well as the conservation of historic sites in Virginia.

Manassas Battlefield was one of the first sites in Virginia where a monument was erected to commemorate the Civil War Union troops dedicated stone memorials decorated with cannon balls and artillery shells on Henry Hill and Deep Cut to honor the battles in 1861-62. In the next 50 years, almost every courthouse in Virginia placed a statue of a Confederate soldier near the front door. Richmond extended Monument Avenue westward, and Memorial Bridge was completed over the Potomac River in 1932 to link the Lincoln Memorial with Arlington Cemetery and the pre-war home of General Robert E. Lee.

different designs were considered after Memorial Bridge was proposed in 1886, before final construction during the Great Depression
Source: Library of Congress, (1887)

Map of the First Bull Run campaign - History

Confederates built winter quarters and stayed at Manassas/Centreville until March, 1862
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War (p.452)

Ambrose Bierce may not have uttered the sardonic comment, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography," but the quote is still relevant to the study of Civil War places in Virginia. 1

Many people get introduced to Virginia geography when examining how their ancestors moved through the state in a Civil War unit. Sometimes, what appears to be obvious is not correct. The names of some places highlighted in The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies have changed. For example, Stonewall Jackson's march in August 1862 through "Salem" refers to modern-day "Marshall" in Fauquier County, not to the city of Salem next to Roanoke. Genealogists studying family members who served in 1861-65 must match historical maps with historical events, before getting in the car to visit sites of interest.

More recent satire in the New York Times highlights how time and places can be juxtaposed by suburban sprawl, by using a mock battle report from Union General Irvin McDowell to illustrate the impact of modern suburban development on the historical setting at Manassas: 2

Hdqrs. Department of Northeastern Virginia
Business Center, Radisson Hotel
Reagan National Airport
Arlington, Va., Aug. 4, 2011

Colonel: I have the honor to submit the following report of the battle of the 21st of July, near Manassas, Va.

. The First Division (Tyler's) was stationed on the north side of the Warrenton turnpike and on the eastern slope of the Centreville ridge just north of Centreville Crest Shopping Center, where an advance guard raided a Five Guys, then requisitioned disinfected bedrolls from Body & Brain Yoga/Tai-Chi/Meditation, where they encountered little resistance.

the 1861 farmland between Centreville and Bull Run has been transformed into suburban housing developments, plus rock quarries
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS

The physical geography of Virginia affected where the armies marched, where they camped, and where they fought. Efforts of slaves to achieve freedom, and of local residents to just survive, are recognized by numerous plaques on the roadsides and by including in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

The war made many locations in Virginia special, even "hallowed." Efforts to preserve those special places have shaped the geography of tourism, as well as the conservation of historic sites in Virginia.

Manassas Battlefield was one of the first sites in Virginia where a monument was erected to commemorate the Civil War Union troops dedicated stone memorials decorated with cannon balls and artillery shells on Henry Hill and Deep Cut to honor the battles in 1861-62. In the next 50 years, almost every courthouse in Virginia placed a statue of a Confederate soldier near the front door. Richmond extended Monument Avenue westward, and Memorial Bridge was completed over the Potomac River in 1932 to link the Lincoln Memorial with Arlington Cemetery and the pre-war home of General Robert E. Lee.

different designs were considered after Memorial Bridge was proposed in 1886, before final construction during the Great Depression
Source: Library of Congress, (1887)


In the wake of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 men to aid in putting down the rebellion. While this action saw additional states leave the Union, it also began a flow of men and material into Washington, DC. The growing body of troops in the nation's capital was ultimately organized into the Army of Northeastern Virginia. To lead this force, General Winfield Scott was compelled by political forces to select Brigadier General Irvin McDowell. A career staff officer, McDowell had never led men in combat and in many ways was as green as his troops.

Assembling around 35,000 men, McDowell was supported to the west by Major General Robert Patterson and a Union force of 18,000 men. Opposing the Union commanders were two Confederate armies led by Brigadier Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston. The victor of Fort Sumter, Beauregard led the 22,000-man Confederate Army of the Potomac which was centered near Manassas Junction. To the west, Johnston was tasked with defending the Shenandoah Valley with a force of around 12,000. The two Confederate commands were linked by the Manassas Gap Railroad which would allow one to support the other if attacked.

Battle At Bull Run A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War

Title: Battle At Bull Run A History of the First .

Publisher: Easton Press, Norwalk, CT

Publication Date: 1996

Binding: Full Leather

Book Condition: Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: No Dust Jacket

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