Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864

This battle occurred in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties and was the first battle of the overland campaign of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Grant attempted to move quickly through the dense underbrush of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, but Lee intercepted him on the parallel road. On the morning of May 5, the Union V Corps under Major General Gouverneur K. Warren attacked the Confederate Second Corps on the Orange Turnpike. But that afternoon the Third Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General A. P. Hill, encountered Brigadier General George W. Getty and Major General Winfield S. Hancock on the Orange Plank Road. Fighting until dark was fierce but inconclusive as both sides attempted to maneuver in the dense woods.
May 6th. Hancock drove back Hill’s corps at dawn on the Plank Road, but the First Corps of Lieutenant General James Longstreet arrived in time to prevent the collapse of the Confederate right flank. Longstreet followed up with a surprise flanking attack from an unfinished railroad bed driving Hancock back to the Brock Road, but the momentum was lost when Longstreet was wounded by his own men. An evening attack by Brigadier General John B. Gordon against the Union right flank caused consternation at Union headquarters, but the lines stabilized and fighting ceased. On May 7th, Grant disengaged and moved to the southeast, intending to leave the Wilderness to interpose his army between Lee and Richmond, leading to the bloody Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, a harbinger of a bloody war of attrition by Grant against Lee’s army and, eventually, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. The battle was tactically inconclusive, as Grant disengaged and continued his offensive.