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.
- 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 . OR, Series I, Volume XXXVI, Part I, page 1062.