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Shortly after reaching the scene of conflict, at about half past four, Hancock strengthened Getty's waiting division with portions of Gibbon's and Owens', and four Federal divisions, with other troops in reserve, advanced to engage with Hill's two.
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A furious combat followed, in which the contending lines met each other, face to face. Hill's men, crouching behind their slight breastworks, sheltered themselves as best they could, as a storm of Federal bullets, cutting off the tops of the dense growth in front, sped to the Confederate line, which met the Federal advance with deliberate aim and drove it back, although held to its work by a strong line of bayonets in its rear.
The battle continued until after nightfall, and the darkness was lighted up by the flashes of the opposing musketry and artillery. Nearly half of Grant's army took part in this attempt to drive Hill's two divisions from safeguarding Lee's right. To relieve the pressure of the unequal combat, Lee ordered Ewell to assume the offensive, drive the Federals from his front, take possession of the Germanna road, and cut Grant's line of communication.
Ewell promptly sent two brigades to attack Sedgwick's center, followed by a supporting force; but Sedgwick was found too well protected, by a heavy breastwork of logs, for a successful assault, so Ewell merely held him in combat. Not content with merely holding his position on the right, Lee ordered a counterstroke from Hill's center and captured a Federal battery, but lost it when forced back by a vigorous Federal repulse, which Hancock followed up with repeated and desperate but unsuccessful assaults on Hill's line.
Stuart, on the extreme right, drove back the charges of Sheridan's cavalry. During the night of the 5th, Hill's and Ewell's men held the lines from which they had fought during the day. Lee ordered Longstreet to make a night march, which he began at 1 a. Ewell opened this battle, at 5 in the morning, by attacking Warren and Sedgwick. The engagement quickly extended to Lee's right, against which Hancock made prompt advance, again assaulting Hill's weak line that Lee had expected to replace with Longstreet, before daylight , but which he could not force from its position.
Wadsworth moved against Hill's left flank, at the same time that Hancock developed a large force around his right. Thus flanked, Hill was forced from the field, stubbornly fighting as he fell back to just behind Poague's artillery, which defiantly held the broad highway, and checked Hancock with canister and grape at short range. Near these guns Lee watched his broken right, which had courageously endured an hour of unequal contention, saying, again and again, to his surrounding staff, "Why does not Longstreet come? One division of Burnside's corps crossed Germanna ford on the morning of the 5th, and another on the morning of the 6th.
Grant ordered these fresh troops to make attack on Lee's center, while Warren and Sedgwick assaulted the right and Hancock the left.
Ewell's men strengthened their line, during the night of the 5th, with breastworks, and planted batteries all along it, and so were able to drive back the Federal assaults with heavy losses. Poague's guns, on the plank road, were able to give check to Hancock's advance, until Longstreet's corps, in double column, and well closed up, came down the plank road at a double-quick.
Field's division on the left and Kershaw's on the right. Lee caught sight of these long-expected reinforcements and rode to meet them. The word passed, as by electric flash, and the quick reply came, from the men of Hood, who had led many a brave assault, "Texas boys.
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A line of battle was promptly formed, and the men, rushing forward, passed Poague's battery, and were advancing on Hancock's men, when they heard behind them, and almost in their midst, from Lee himself, the shouted command, "Charge! Charge, boys, charge! General Lee! Marse Robert, go back! Come back. Lee to the rear! Lee reluctantly obeyed this order of his men, who, waving back to him a salute of gratification, rushed forward to meet the solid ranks of Hancock's oncoming host, and the most of them to meet death.
Part of Poague's guns moved forward in the charge, and the men with them shouted back to their comrades, "Good-bye, boys! Longstreet urged forward his men to press the enemy. The dried leaves of the preceding autumn took fire from blazing cartridges, and their smoke, joining with that of battle, clouded the day and concealed the combatants from each other.
Forming Kershaw's division in line of battle, across the plank road, Longstreet, in person, led it against Hancock's retreating men, but failing to note, in the heat of pursuit, that his flanking brigades, under Mahone, had halted in line and were facing the roadway down which he was rushing. Mahone's men, mistaking Longstreet and his following for a Federal officer and his staff and escort, turned on them a full volleyed flank fire, which killed Jenkins and severely wounded Longstreet, thus checking an onset which promised to turn the Federal retreat into a disastrous rout.
As Longstreet was carried to the rear, Lee rode rapidly to the front to reform his now disordered attack, and at 4 he again pressed forward his lines, through the smoking forest, to fall upon Hancock in the Brock road. Hill had already repulsed Burnside's feeble attack on Lee's center, and the time was opportune for renewing the attack on Grant's flanks.
As Lee moved to assault the Federal left on the plank road, Ewell detached Johnson's and Gordon's brigades from his extreme left, under the leadership of Early, to wheel to the right, from their intrenchments, fall upon Sedgwick's right flank, and sweep the rear of his breastworks. Not knowing of the existence of Hancock's formidable intrenchments, Lee's right, consisting of the divisions of Field and Anderson, charged against Hancock, on the Brock road, to find themselves confronted by a wall of fire, made by the burning of the front line of Federal breastworks, which had been set on fire by the burning forest, and by a more dangerous, blazing line of infantry and artillery, that poured rifle ball and shot and shell into their ranks from behind Hancock's second line of breastworks, which he now held in force.
The Confederates drove back the Federals, even from this double-fire line, and planted their flags on the front line of breastworks, but for a short time only. They were repulsed by the fierce artillery fire that was poured upon them, as night put an end to the fierce struggles of this 6th day of May.
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At the close of this day, Lee held, all along his lines, a position advanced from that held in the morning, and the great army of the Potomac found itself in the toils of a defensive struggle, in aid of which it was throwing up new lines of breastworks, along the positions to which it had been forced back on its right and along its center, and was grimly holding on to the triple line of defenses that guarded its left. We were engaged with the enemy nearly all day, both on the 5th and the 6th.
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Yesterday the enemy attacked our lines vigorously, first at one point and then another, from right to left. They were repulsed at all points before reaching our lines, except once during the afternoon on Hancock's front, and just after night on Sedgwick's front. In the former instance they were promptly and handsomely repulsed; the latter, Milroy's old brigade was attacked and gave away in the greatest confusion, almost without resistance, carrying good troops with them.
Had there been daylight the enemy could have injured us very much in the confusion that prevailed; they, however, instead of getting through the break, attacked General Wright's division of Sedgwick's corps, and were driven back. His dispatch concludes: "At present we can claim no victory over the enemy, neither have they gained a single advantage. The enemy pushed out of his fortifications to prevent their position being turned, and have been sooner or later driven back in every instance. Up to this hour the enemy have not shown themselves in force within a mile of our lines.
Well-nigh exhausted by the desperate struggles of May 5th and 6th, each army was quite content to rest behind its defenses, care for its wounded and bury its dead, during the 7th; neither caring to again attempt to carry the breastworks of the other, each formidable with well-placed artillery. Grant, having now found out that Lee was still willing to give battle "this side of Richmond," for which information he had paid dearly by the loss of 17, men, now attempted, by a sidling movement to the left, to steal by Lee and renew his interrupted march toward the Confederate capital.
To open the way for this, his cavalry, during the 7th, pressed southward on the Brock road, where Fitz Lee held them in sharp contention, and on the Catharpin road, where they were equally well met by Hampton's division. He also gave orders for a night march by the Fifth corps, under Warren, along the Brock road, in the rear of Hancock's well fortified line, which the latter was to continue to hold, to Spottsylvania Court House; while Sedgwick, withdrawing from Ewell's front after dark, was to march eastward to Chancellorsville, and then southward to Piney Branch church, and Burnside was to withdraw from Hill's front, and, marching to the eastward of Chancellorsville, then turn south, thus covering the road to Fredericksburg, in his rear, along which Grant was sending his wounded to Aquia creek, and by which he had communication with his base of supplies, which he had now shifted to the same point on the Potomac.
These movements, during the night of the 7th, would leave two corps in front of Lee and withdraw two farther to the east. The army commenced moving south at 9 p. It is not demonstrated what the enemy will do, but the best of feeling prevails in this army, and I feel at present no apprehension for the result.
My efforts will be to form a junction with General Butler as early as possible, and be prepared to meet any enemy interposing. The result of the three days' fighting at the Old Wilderness was decidedly in our favor.
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The enemy having a strongly intrenched position to fall back on when hard pressed, and the extensive train we have to cover, rendered it impossible to inflict the heavy blow on Lee's army I had hoped. My exact route to the James river, I have not yet definitely marked out.
These lame excuses for his failures in the Wilderness battles, are ample confessions that Lee had thoroughly deranged Grant's confident plan of campaign. He was no longer urging Meade to hunt for Lee, and was looking anxiously for co-operation with Butler and the army of the James. Hidden category: Subpages. Namespaces Page Discussion. Views Read Edit View history. Display Options. The floor size is 3, sqft. Parking options: none, attached garage, 2 spaces, sqft garage. Eric W Jenkins is associated with this address.
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