On May 5, the two armies clashed in the brambles (prickly shrubs) and ravines of the Wilderness. The battle lasted for two days, as both sides engaged in a vicious struggle for survival. Desperate combat erupted all throughout the woods as opposing divisions crashed blindly into one another. A forest fire added to the terror and confusion of the battle. Many wounded men burned to death in the blaze, and billowing smoke made it even harder for the exhausted soldiers to find their way through the Wilderness.
The Battle of the Wilderness ended on May 7 in a virtual stalemate, with neither side giving ground. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered losses of ten thousand soldiers in the fight, further weakening that valiant force. But the Union Army suffered more than seventeen thousand casualties in the clash without getting a mile closer to Richmond.
When Grant ordered his troops to prepare to pull out on the evening of May 7, depressed Federal soldiers assumed that they were going to retreat back to the North once again. After all, previous Union commanders of the Army of the Potomac had always retreated to lick their wounds after clashing with Lee. But as the Union Army left their camp, the soldiers suddenly realized that they were marching deeper into Confederate territory rather than retreating back to the North. Excited cheers broke out all along the Federal line. The soldiers who comprised the Army
People to Know
Jubal Early (1816-1894) Confederate lieutenant general who led the 1864 campaign in Shenandoah Valley; also fought at First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania
David Farragut (1801-1870) Union admiral who led naval victories at New Orleans and Mobile Bay
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) Union general who commanded all Federal troops, 1864-65; led Union armies at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Petersburg; eighteenth president of the United States, 1869-77
Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891) Confederate general of the Army of Tennessee who fought at First Bull Run and Atlanta
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) Confederate general of the Army of Northern Virginia; fought at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville; defended Richmond from Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac, 1864 to April 1865
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) sixteenth president of the United States, 1861-65
George McClellan (1826-1885) Union general who commanded the Army of the Potomac, August 1861 to November 1862; fought in the Seven Days campaign and at Antietam; Democratic candidate for presidency, 1864
George G. Meade (1815-1872) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Potomac, June 1863 to April 1865; also fought at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville
Philip H. Sheridan (1831-1888) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Potomac's cavalry corps and the Army of the Shenandoah; also fought at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga
William T. Sherman (1820-1891) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Tennessee and the Military Division of the Mississippi, October 1863 to April 1865; led the famous "March to the Sea"; also fought at First Bull Run, Shiloh, and Vicksburg
George H. Thomas (1816-1870) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Cumberland to victories at Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville; also fought at Perryville and Chickamauga of the Potomac were sick of losing to Lee. They viewed Grant's decision to continue his push to Richmond as a vote of confidence in their abilities. Many of them vowed that the campaign would not end until Lee's army was broken.
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