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Battle of the Wilderness: Civil War bulletin (1864)

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This is a detailed account of what would come to be known as The Battle of the Wilderness, which was the first battle of Grant’s Virginia Overland Campaign against Lee. Considered one of the Civil War’s “Decisive Battles,” more than 3500 lives were lost over these few days. (For more information, see some maps depicting the battle plan here, and other coverage and resources here.)

HIGHLY IMPORTANT NEWS.

VICTORY!! VICTORY!!!

OFFICIAL WAR BULLETINS.

GRANT OUTGENERALS LEE.

ARMY OF THE POTOMAC TRIUMPHANT.

Unparalelled Slaughter on Both Sides.

Heavy Captures of Artillery and Prisoners.

SUMMARY OF ARMY INTELLIGENCE

Army of the Potomac, “Marching Along”

Wednesday Night, May 4, 1864.

The grand Army of the Potomac has at last taken the initiatory stride in the long-expected advance, and tonight finds our troops again across the Rapidan. No extraordinary amount of prescience is necessary to see another sanguinary conflict close at hand; adventitious circumstances only can delay it.

The 2nd Army Corps, Maj. Gen. Hancock, forms the extreme left of our army, the 6th occupying the right and the 5th the center. The river was crossed at Germania, Culpepper Mine, and Ely’s Fords without opposition by the enemy. The 2nd Corps broke camp at about 10 pm last night, and, under cover of the darkness, marched toward the Rapidan, the divisions moving in their numerical order.

Ely’s Ford was reached at 5 o’clock this morning, where a battalion of the 58th New York Engineers, commanded by Major Wesley Brainard, had, during the night, constructed two pontoon bridges, over which our troops immediately passed to the south bank of the river. Gregg’s Cavalry Division preceded the infantry several hours before, and picked up a dozen or more of the enemy’s pickets. The plank road leading to Fredericksburg was thoroughly patrolled several miles beyond Chancellorsville, but no force of the enemy discovered. The troops of the 2nd reached the old battlefield of Chancellorsville at noon to-day, where they were advantageously disposed on commanding eminences by Gen. Hancock, and a halt for the night ordered.

Our crossing the river without opposition occasioned some surprise among the troops. That Grant’s Budden advance in this direction was unexpected by the rebel General there is every reason to believe. Now that we have a foothold south of the Rapidan, Lee will undoubtedly use his best endeavors to fight a battle on ground of his own choosing. We have succeeded in completely flanking him on his right, which will of course compel his evacuation of his works on Clark’s Mountain and at Mine Run. Our cavalry have patrolled the country in the direction of Orange Court House, and report no force of the enemy this side of Mine Run.

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The condition of the troops could not be better. Although just from their winter huts, and unaccustomed for a long time to fatigue, they have never marched so well as they have on this occasion. Every one remarked the small number of stragglers, and, if there is any index to the true state of reeling among troops, straggling, or the absence of it, is one.

The men seemed to repose unbounded confidence in Gen. Grant, whose plans they are to execute, and are aware of the momentous campaign which has just been inaugurated. To-night bivouacking on the spot one year ago yesterday, made forever sacred by the blood of brave heroes, and lulled to rest by the notes of the whip-poor-will, far from home and relatives and friends, the soldiers of this great army, confident in the justice of the cause in which they are battling, dream but of victory.

Evidences are visible of the great battle which occurred here one year ago. The graves of our men, buried by the enemy in immense trenches, are visible on every side, and in many places scores of skulls grin horribly at the mournful observer. Trees cut down by solid shot and shells, and pierced and scarred by bullets, meet the eye on every side. The remains of a Sergeant killed in the battle were discovered and identified by his former comrades to-day, and with reverential hands and with fitting marks of respect, consigned to their final resting place. The walls and chimneys of the Chancellorsville mansion are still standing, and only tend to intensify the desolated aspect of the surrounding country.

Thursday Night, May 5, 1864.

Darkness closes around the soldiers of this army, and finds them tired and weary, sleeping in their war harness, while vigilant sentinels far in the advance keep watch over tho foe whom they so nobly and successfully battled to day.

At an early hour this morning the march was resumed in the direction of Todd’s Tavern, which point was reached before noon, and the troops placed in line of battle. At 12 m., Gen. Wilson, commanding Kilpatrick’s former cavalry division, made his whereabouts known by a brisk cannonading, several miles southwest of “The Tavern,” and in the vicinity of Shady Grove Church, where for three quarters of an hour he was sharply engaged with a large body of cavalry and a considerable force of infantry, by whom he was gradually forced back upon the 2nd Corps.

The movoments of Lee this morning soon revealed his real design — an attempt to cut our lines by a desperate attack. On discovering his intentions, Gen. Warren was directed to attack him at once, which he did at about 11 am. A determined musketry fight of an hour and a half ensued, in which Warren handsomely drove him from his position with the infliction of great loss. Griffin’s division of the 5th corps led the attack and suffered severely, its loss being nearly 1,000 in killed, wounded and missing.

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Finding his efforts to break our centre futile, the enemy next attempted to interpose an overwhelming force between Warren and Hancock, the latter of whom, in accordance with orders, was marching his corps rapidly to form a junction with the former. Fortunately, his advance, consisting of Birney’s Division, came up not a moment too soon, and just in time to circumvent the rebel General, who, at 2-1/2 p.m., made a desperate onslaught on the divisions of Birney, Gibbon, and Getty, the latter of whom had been temporarily detached to form the extreme right of Hancock’s command. The fight raged hotly until some time after dark, and resulted in the repulse of the enemy at all points.

Scarcely any artillery was brought into requisition, the character of the ground rendering it useless. The battle-field is covered with a thick growth of underbrush and medium-sized oak trees, and it is owing to that fact that our losses are comparatively light.

Friday, May 6, 1864.

Constant picket firing occurred along our entire lines throughout the night (Thursday) and one or two severe attacks were made upon Sedgwick, which were handsomely repulsed. At a quarter to five am, the ball opened in full blast by the Rebels assaulting and making a desperate attempt to turn the position of the 6th Corps. Artillery was used on both sides, but owing to the entire ground being covered by undergrowth of pines, the musket was chiefly relied upon.

The attack extended rapidly along our entire line, and at about 7 o’clock was especially severe on both our right and left flanks, which the foe seemed determined to break in turn, for which purpose they adopted their inevitable tactics of rapidly concentrating and hurling masses of men upon the point of assault. Owing to the wooded condition of the entire battlefield, this system has been more successful to them and damaging to us than it could be in open ground, where artillery could be brought into requisition.

At 11-1/4 o’clock a desperate assault was made upon the 5th Corps, particularly upon the 4th Division, commanded by Gen. James S Wadsworth. While gallantly rallying his men, and at their head, leading the charge, this noble man and devoted soldier was shot in the forehead and fell dead, his body remaining in our possession.

Official Civil War bulletin 1864

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