Say What Special: Prelude to Longstreet's Wounding - Arrival of the I Corps at the Wilderness

lelliott19

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At 1 o’clock at night, orders were received by the sleeping troops of Longstreet’s Corps to resume their journey without delay, and with cheerful alacrity they fell into ranks and proceeded about six miles, when the arrival of fresh orders and the approach of daylight compelled them to double quick the remaining two miles. Kershaw’s brigade held a position on the right of the plank road, one regiment only being on the other side in support of a battery of artillery.

The timely arrival of Longstreet's corps at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, turned the tide of the battle that day. Joseph Brevard Kershaw was commanding McLaws' old division in Longstreet's Corps and Gilbert Moxley Sorrel was serving as Chief of Staff to General Longstreet. According to Sorrel's post-war memoirs:

General M. L. Smith, an engineer from General Headquarters, had reported to Longstreet and examined the situation on our right, where he discovered the enemy's left somewhat exposed and inviting attack; and now came our turn. General Longstreet, calling me said: "Colonel there is a fine chance of a great attack by our right. If you will quickly get into those woods, some brigades will be found much scattered from the fight. Collect them and take charge. Form a good line and then move, your right pushed forward and turning as much as possible to the left. Hit hard when you start, but don't start until you have everything ready. I shall be waiting for your gun fire, and be on hand with fresh troops for further advance."​
No greater opportunity could be given to an aspiring young staff officer, and I was quickly at work. The brigades of Anderson, Mahone, and Wofford were lined up in fair order and in touch with each other. It was difficult to assemble them in that horrid Wilderness, but in an hour we were ready. The word was given, and then with heavy firing and ringing yells, we were upon Hancock's exposed left, the brigades being ably commanded by their respective officers. It was rolled back line after line... A stand was attempted by a reserve line of Hancock's, but it was swept off its feet in the tumultuous rush of our troops, and finally we struck the Plank Road lower down.​

In General Kershaw's noticeably more succinct report, he explains the origin of the flanking movement a bit differently:

The lines being rectified, and Field's division, and Wofford's brigade, of my own, having arrived, upon the suggestion of Brigadier-General Wofford a movement was organized, under the orders of the lieutenant-general commanding, to attack the enemy in the flank from the line of the Orange Railroad, on our right, with the brigades of General Anderson, of Field's division, and Brigadier-General Wofford's, of my own, supported by Mahone's brigade, while we continued to hold the enemy in front, who at intervals bearing down upon our lines, but always without any success. This movement, concealed from view by the dense wood, was eminently successful, and the enemy was routed and driven pell-mell as far as the Brock Road, and pursued by General Wofford to some distance across the Plank Road, where he halted within a few hundred yards of the Germanna Road.​

Sources:
  • From the Rapidan to Richmond and the Spottsylvania Campaign: A Sketch in Personal Narration of the Scenes a Soldier Saw. William Meade Dame. Baltimore, Md., Green-Lucan Co., 1920. page 85.
  • The Camden Confederate, (Camden, SC), May 25, 1864, page 1.
  • Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. Gilbert Moxley Sorrel. Neale Publishing Company, 1905. pp. 241-242.
  • Report of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, C.S. Army, commanding division, of operations May 4-6 [1864]. OR, Series I, Volume XXXVI, Part I, page 1062.
 
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Ole Miss

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One could only imagine the joy and relief Lee felt upon hearing of the arrival of the 1st Corps and its stalwart commander! Longstreet the man and Longstreet the commander were what both the Army of Northern Virginiana and Robert E Lee both needed.

On the road from Gordonsville, the 1st Corps hurried the 30 plus miles, its members knew how desperately they were needed since being ordered forward on May 4th. With the arrival of the Texas Brigade and the rest of the 1st Corps, Lee must have been the happiest man in Northern Virginia! The famous story of "Lee, to the rear" was born here as his men were worried for his saftey.
Regards
David
 

Grant's Tomb

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One could only imagine the joy and relief Lee felt upon hearing of the arrival of the 1st Corps and its stalwart commander! Longstreet the man and Longstreet the commander were what both the Army of Northern Virginiana and Robert E Lee both needed.

On the road from Gordonsville, the 1st Corps hurried the 30 plus miles, its members knew how desperately they were needed since being ordered forward on May 4th. With the arrival of the Texas Brigade and the rest of the 1st Corps, Lee must have been the happiest man in Northern Virginia! The famous story of "Lee, to the rear" was born here as his men were worried for his saftey.
Regards
David
"Texans always move them"
 
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View attachment 357346
At 1 o’clock at night, orders were received by the sleeping troops of Longstreet’s Corps to resume their journey without delay, and with cheerful alacrity they fell into ranks and proceeded about six miles, when the arrival of fresh orders and the approach of daylight compelled them to double quick the remaining two miles. Kershaw’s brigade held a position on the right of the plank road, one regiment only being on the other side in support of a battery of artillery.

The timely arrival of Longstreet's corps at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, turned the tide of the battle that day. Joseph Brevard Kershaw was commanding McLaws' old division in Longstreet's Corps and Gilbert Moxley Sorrel was serving as Chief of Staff to General Longstreet. According to Sorrel's post-war memoirs:

General M. L. Smith, an engineer from General Headquarters, had reported to Longstreet and examined the situation on our right, where he discovered the enemy's left somewhat exposed and inviting attack; and now came our turn. General Longstreet, calling me said: "Colonel there is a fine chance of a great attack by our right. If you will quickly get into those woods, some brigades will be found much scattered from the fight. Collect them and take charge. Form a good line and then move, your right pushed forward and turning as much as possible to the left. Hit hard when you start, but don't start until you have everything ready. I shall be waiting for your gun fire, and be on hand with fresh troops for further advance."​
No greater opportunity could be given to an aspiring young staff officer, and I was quickly at work. The brigades of Anderson, Mahone, and Wofford were lined up in fair order and in touch with each other. It was difficult to assemble them in that horrid Wilderness, but in an hour we were ready. The word was given, and then with heavy firing and ringing yells, we were upon Hancock's exposed left, the brigades being ably commanded by their respective officers. It was rolled back line after line... A stand was attempted by a reserve line of Hancock's, but it was swept off its feet in the tumultuous rush of our troops, and finally we struck the Plank Road lower down.​

In General Kershaw's noticeably more succinct report, he explains the origin of the flanking movement a bit differently:

The lines being rectified, and Field's division, and Wofford's brigade, of my own, having arrived, upon the suggestion of Brigadier-General Wofford a movement was organized, under the orders of the lieutenant-general commanding, to attack the enemy in the flank from the line of the Orange Railroad, on our right, with the brigades of General Anderson, of Field's division, and Brigadier-General Wofford's, of my own, supported by Mahone's brigade, while we continued to hold the enemy in front, who at intervals bearing down upon our lines, but always without any success. This movement, concealed from view by the dense wood, was eminently successful, and the enemy was routed and driven pell-mell as far as the Brock Road, and pursued by General Wofford to some distance across the Plank Road, where he halted within a few hundred yards of the Germanna Road.​

Sources:
  • From the Rapidan to Richmond and the Spottsylvania Campaign: A Sketch in Personal Narration of the Scenes a Soldier Saw. William Meade Dame. Baltimore, Md., Green-Lucan Co., 1920. page 85.
  • The Camden Confederate, (Camden, SC), May 25, 1864, page 1.
  • Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. Gilbert Moxley Sorrel. Neale Publishing Company, 1905. pp. 241-242.
  • Report of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, C.S. Army, commanding division, of operations May 4-6 [1864]. OR, Series I, Volume XXXVI, Part I, page 1062.


A splended reminder of a near tragic day for the south. I thought you would enjoy my attempt to expand on your work, so I rode by the Wilderness today to snap a few photos. I hope you enjoy…..Woods-walker....

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Southern batteries on the Widow Tapp's field, facing Hancock's II Corps. The Widow Tapp’s house was just beyond the last large tree that is directly over the right wheel of the caisson.

I have often seen General Lee, but never have I seen him so excited, so disturbed – never did anxiety, or care manifest itself so plainly upon his countenance

- A confederate staff officer

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East face of Texas marker (standing at this point, you are looking west – the Widow Tapp’s field is in the background)


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West face of Texas marker (standing at this point you are looking east – you are looking toward Plank Road, just a few feet beyond the large White Oak and smaller Cedar tree)


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Marker at Texas marker

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I shall not soon forget the sadness in his [General Lee’s] face and the almost despairing movement in his hands when he was told that Longstreet had fallen – Captain Francis W. Dawson , Longstreet’s staff
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lelliott19

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Here's an account of the arrival of Longstreet's Corps that hasn't been widely utilized by modern historians - perhaps because it is not signed and no author's name is noted. Still, it seems to include sufficient detail to have been written by someone who was there and it was published soon after the war - in a Georgia newspaper. I enjoyed reading it and trust that it will be of interest.

General Longstreet and the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864
The Old First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia had but little rest when there was any fighting to be done. After the second Maryland campaign, we had been sent out to the Army of Tennessee; our corps had maintained the high reputation of the "Virginia troops" at the bloody battle of Chickamauaga; the old Sharpsburg soubriquet was set aside, and Gen. Longstreet, no longer called the "War Horse," was generally known among the men as the "Old Bull of the Woods." Then came the skirmished of "le Noir's" and "Campbell's stations," the siege of Knoxville, and the terrible winter of 1863-'64 in desolate East Tennessee.

Our men had borne, unmurmuringly, hardships greater than any to which even they had before been accustomed; they had not complained, although with insufficient food, without blankets, with ragged clothing, and too, often without shoes, they had tramped with bleeding feet for many a weary mile. On the march, and in bivouac, during the freezing day and comfortless night, in hunger and in thirst, they had been sustained by the remembrance of their dear Southern land. All things, however, have an end, and in the spring of 1864, we joyfully returned to Virginia.

On the 3d of May, 1864, we left our camps near Gordonsville, and on the night of the 5th our two divisions - Field's and Kershaw's - went into bivouac a few miles from the Wilderness. By daybreak in the morning the troops were again in motion, and marching toward the field of battle! The Federal troops had made a fierce attack upon the right of General Lee's line, and had been repulsed. Again they came on and in increased force, until at last Heth's and Wilcox's divisions, in spite of their steady and determined fighting, were driven back in confusion. With a cheer, the Federal troops pushed forward; our exhausted men could do no more; there seemed no hope of further successful resistance; but there was a cloud of dust on the road, and General Longstreet followed by his column, came rapidly on. Kershaw's division was in advance; without halting, the men filed into line, and charged with a furious yell.

Nothing could stand before them -- they were inspired with furious, unhesitating valor - the onset of the enemy was checked, and the next moment they were being slowly driven back. Repeatedly did the Federal officers bring up their shattered regiments; reinforcements were put in only to be speedily broken, and the arrival of Field's division and the magnificent body of men commanded by Gen. Robert [sic] Anderson, enabled Gen. Lee to re-establish his original line. We had lost heavily, many of our most gallant men had fallen; but the reverse of the early morning had been retrieved, and our success was so far complete.

It is well-known that the section of country usually called the "Wilderness" is covered with a dense growth of pines, the undergrowth of bushes and briars being so matted and tangled that it is very difficult to force a way through it, while at a distance of forty or fifty yards the form of a man could scarcely be distinguished by any but a quick-sighted observer. The Federals were now resting comparatively quiet, taking, perhaps, a long breath before "trying it on again;" but they were not to have it all their own and we, in turn, became the aggressors. Mahone's brigade, with I think two others [Wofford's and Tige Anderson's] was ordered to move around and attack Grant's left; Generals Lee and Longstreet, lying on the ground near the plank road, quietly awaited the results. <continued here with details of the wounding of General Longstreet>
[The Daily Intelligencer. (Atlanta, Ga.), December 14, 1865, page 1.]
 
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Yankee Brooke

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Very interesting account. This battle has always fascinated me. What it must have been like fighting in this, probably the last place anyone would choose to fight a battle.
 

Ole Miss

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Very interesting account. This battle has always fascinated me. What it must have been like fighting in this, probably the last place anyone would choose to fight a battle.
Exacly why Lee chose it twice! Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. The thick underbrusha nd second generation growth prevented the Federals from using their strength in numbers and artillery.
Regards
David
 
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Exacly why Lee chose it twice! Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. The thick underbrusha nd second generation growth prevented the Federals from using their strength in numbers and artillery.
Regards
David
Exacly why Lee chose it twice! Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. The thick underbrusha nd second generation growth prevented the Federals from using their strength in numbers and artillery.
Regards
David
Exacly why Lee chose it twice! Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. The thick underbrusha nd second generation growth prevented the Federals from using their strength in numbers and artillery.
Regards
David
Hey David - your Ole Miss boys in the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment were among the last of Lee’s army to leave the Wilderness. Their Division (General Heny Heth) was left behind to serve in a gruesome burial detail. When they arrived at Spotsylvania Courthouse the next morning they were placed in reserve and bivouacked in a field (modern day photo attached). They had only a few hours rest when they were called upon by Lee to perform a flank attack on a part of Hancock ‘s II Corps....which they executed the following morning after a night march over much of Spotsylvania they had just crossed the previous day on nearly no rest or food for two days.

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jackt62

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Exacly why Lee chose it twice! Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. The thick underbrusha nd second generation growth prevented the Federals from using their strength in numbers and artillery.
Regards
David

Always been amazed that 2 federal commanders (Hooker and Grant), got themselves ensnared in the Wilderness. Hooker was actually mostly out of the Wilderness and ready to spring his trap on the ANV on open terrain when he pulled back, for reasons still debated. You would have figured that Grant would have at least learned the importance of clearing the Wilderness, but even and Meade couldn't get their slow moving wagons and troops out of that bog in time to avert Lee's assault on ground that benefited the ANV.
 

Ole Miss

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In Grant's defense this was his 1st battle with Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant came from the West and there was no one like Lee in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama or Mississippi. Joseph Johnston, PGT Beauregard, Pemberton, Bragg or Hardee were like the Triple A League vs the majors with Lee. Grant did not make the same mistake again except perhaps at Cold Harbor.
Regards
David
 

Yankee Brooke

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Not to mention Grant and the Union had already prevailed in wilderness battles out west, so perhaps he wasn't as weary, thinking he could handle it? Shiloh was mostly wooded, if I recall.
 

Ole Miss

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Shiloh was a learning lesson for Grant and one he did not forget. He assumed that the Confederates would wait for him to attack but they did not wait. Shiloh was a plateau with stands of old growth timber and several small cleared fields for farming. Domecstic livestock roamed free and there was not that much undergrowth though pockets of underbrush existed especially along the ravines running to the Tennessee River. The terrain made it difficult for commanders above the brigade level to actively lead troops.
Regards
David
 

Jasperbob

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My gg grandpa, was in Kershaw's division 50th Georgia Infantry, he also was wounded at the wilderness. In early 1863 he drove Longstreets wagon, after being wounded at Fox's Gap Maryland. Nice article never knew about the March to the Wilderness.
 
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Thanks for stopping by and the kind critique Jasperbob.
Lelliott19 has written a soon to be published (Blue andGray) article on Sgt. Kirkland ( Angel of Marye’s Heights) who was under Kershaw
at Fredericksburg. I recommend you consider buying it. She’s an excellent researcher and author!
If you’re ever in the Fredericksburg area - I would be pleased to give you a no obligation tour of the Wilderness.
 
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