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The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864

Gordon C. Rhea

Publication Year: 2004

Fought in a tangled forest fringing the south bank of the Rapidan River, the Battle of the Wilderness marked the initial engagement in the climactic months of the Civil War in Virginia, and the first encounter between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. In an exciting narrative, Gordon C. Rhea provides the consummate recounting of that conflict of May 5 and 6, 1864, which ended with high casualties on both sides but no clear victor. With its balanced analysis of events and people, command structures and strategies, The Battle of the Wilderness is operational history as it should be written.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xiii-xiv

I wish especially to thank the historian William Craig, who offered early inspiration and encouragement; Karl E. Sundstrom, who reviewed my draft and offered valuable insight; William D. Matter and Donald Pfanz, who found time in their busy schedules to read and comment on the manuscript; and Robert K. Krick, Chief Historian of ...


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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. 1-7

Near the eastern end of General Robert E. Lee's Confederate defensive line was a shallow spot in the Rapidan known as Morton's Ford. There the river bent in a lazy loop to create a broad floodplain along its southern bank. Ringed by hills, the place formed a natural amphitheater in which the rebels had front row seats. From heights ...

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I: MAY 2–3, 1864 Lee and Grant Make Their Plans

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pp. 8-59

Eighteen sixty-four opened a season of desperation for the Confederacy and of hope for the Union cause. During the previous year, Federal armies had gained control of the Mississippi River and had consolidated their grip on Tennessee. Not only was the Confederacy now severed from its main river artery but it had lost a substantial...

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II: MAY 4 The Armies Maneuver for Position

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pp. 60-93

According to Meade's general orders, Gregg's cavalry division was to serve as the spearhead of the Federal left wing, crossing Ely's Ford just ahead of Hancock's infantry corps. Meanwhile Wilson's cavalry division was to prepare the way for the Union right wing's movement across Germanna Ford, which was to be conducted by ...

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III: MAY 5, MORNING: Lee and Grant Find Surprise and Opportunity

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pp. 94-144

Mixed scents of brewing coffee and pine hovered over the Federal camps. The still, hot night had been oppressive and sullen, more like deep summer than spring. Blue-clad forms were roused from their fitful sleep by bugles ringing through the woods. They rose sluggishly around stacks of rifles. Aching muscles and blisters served as painful ...

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IV: MAY 5, AFTERNOON: The Grand Offensive Breaks Down [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 145-221

With a shout, the Union 5th Corps lurched ahead, bowing slightly forward along the turnpike. Presented with ideal targets, Ewell's Confederate riflemen blasted away as fast as they could load. Jagged gaps appeared in the Federal formation. In some places, the Yankees made minor inroads. In others, they were decimated almost as soon ...

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V: MAY 5, EVENING: Grant Strives for a Coordinated Assault

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pp. 222-282

At Union headquarters, near Wilderness Tavern, Grant and Meade must have shared a sense of frustration. Despite determined efforts, they had failed to launch coordinated assaults against Lee's entire line. On the Orange Turnpike, first Warren and then Sedgwick had attacked. Each had suffered a costly reverse. Next, Meade's left ...

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VI: MAY 6, MORNING: The Tide Shifts

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pp. 283-350

Shortly before 5 A.M., a signal gun sounded. Two massive Federal assault columns began converging on Hill's disordered Orange Plank Road defenses. Straight along the road from the east came Hancock's corps, strengthened by Getty's division. Slanting through the woods from the north came Wadsworth's augmented division. The jaws of ....

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VII: MAY 6, MIDDAY: Lee Struggles to Retain the Initiative

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pp. 351-403

Before the war, construction had begun on a rail link between Fredericksburg and Orange Court House. Work crews had cleared a right-of-way. Low spots had been filled and elevations leveled to produce an even roadbed. The outbreak of hostilities, however, had stopped progress. No crossties or rails had been ...

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VIII: MAY 6, EVENING: The Armies Reach Stalemate

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pp. 404-452

John Gordon was a born fighter. The lanky commander of Ewell's Georgia brigade needed only a quick survey of the ground to intuit his best move. He was thirty-two years old and one of the finest combat officers in either army. An hour or so after midnight on May 5, after the firing had died out, Gordon's Georgians ...

Appendix: The Order of Battle

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pp. 453-470


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pp. 471-489


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pp. 491-512

E-ISBN-13: 9780807140086
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807130216

Page Count: 536
Publication Year: 2004