1999 Road Trip: The Wilderness

The Battle of the Wilderness was the third of four major Civil War battles fought within 20 miles of Fredericksburg, VA. It took place from May 5 - 6, 1864. The Union forces were commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederate forces were commanded by General Robert E. Lee. It took place on a large tract of thick second generation forest west of Chancellorsville.

It was the first real battle fought between the two generals. Gen. Grant was trying to bring his forces down to Richmond while Gen. Lee was blocking the way. Knowing that Gen. Grant's forces and artillery greatly surpassed his own in numbers, Gen. Lee forces a confrontation in an area where numerical superiority of troops did not matter much and artillery was almost completely useless.

It is important to note that the vegeation in the area Lee picked was dense. Today the forest has matured and thinned out somewhat; the current pictures do not show it quite as it was during the battle. Soldiers of the time (on both sides) reported that the enemy could not be seen, only heard. Trenches dug by both sides were virtually invisible just a short distance away. Even today, the trenches are hard to spot from a distance (look for them yourself in the pictures).

A Union attack met with some success on May 5, but a powerful Confederate counterattack the following day reversed all gains. Gen. Grant decided to end it by pulling his army out and marching away southward toward Richmond. The battle itself ended a tactical draw. The battle is significant in that it marked the first time Union forces advanced after a battle against forces commanded by Gen. Grant in Confederate territory. It would be followed just days later by the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

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