At 9 o'clock on the morning of May 4, 1864, the flags on the signal station atop Clark's Mountain spelled out the message that was the beginning of the end of the Southern Confederacy: The great sea of tents that had flooded the fields around Culpeper had disappeared, and the enemy was streaming down the road that led by Stevensburg to Germanna and Ely's Ford.1 The campaign that many believed would be decisive was opening at last.2
As Lee was expecting that the enemy would move at any moment against his right flank, he lost no time in formulating plans or speculating on probabilities. Issuing the usual warning to the army to respect private property, he ordered A. P. Hill to leave R. H. Anderson's division to guard the approaches to the "Gordonsville loop" of the Virginia Central Railroad, with instructions to rejoin his corps as soon as it was certain that the enemy had disappeared from that front.3 Ewell was directed to have Ramseur's brigade cover the lower crossings of the Rapidan.4 The rest of Ewell's and Hill's corps, Lee promptly ordered eastward p270 to meet the enemy's advance. Longstreet, who had one division at Mechanicsville, •five miles south of Gordonsville, and a second division north of Gordonsville, was told to start at once and to move to Todd's Tavern, where he could form the Confederate right.5 General Bragg was urged to return Longstreet's division immediately. This division was Pickett's, then on duty around Richmond.6
When the feeble wagons had been packed with the scant baggage and the still scanter supplies of the army, Lee started along the familiar Plank road with Hill's corps. Ewell took the parallel route of the turnpike or "old stone road" nearer the Rapidan.7 The ranks of neither corps were full. With Anderson left behind, Hill had only two divisions, though both were somewhat larger than most of those in the army. Together they numbered around 14,500 muskets.8 Ewell lacked no complete division but had two brigades and one regiment on detached service, in addition to Ramseur's brigade.9 The Second Corps consequently had on the march about 13,500 infantry.10 Besides these 28,000 men, Lee had in the two corps perhaps 4000 artillery. In scattered units over a large territory, he could count about 8400 cavalry, though it was questionable whether the horses could stand the strain of open campaigning. In case he met the enemy's main force before the arrival of Longstreet or Anderson, he would have only three full divisions of infantry — Heth's, Wilcox's, and Johnson's — and parts of two others, Rodes's and Early's. When Longstreet came up and Anderson rejoined, Lee would muster of all arms between 61,000 and 65,000,11 with 213 guns.12 In discipline and experience, the p272 combat-force was better than it had ever been. Sickness was negligible,13 despite the fact that the rations barely sufficed to sustain life.14 In leadership, it very different from the army that had fought at Chancellorsville or at Gettysburg. Both Longstreet's divisions were led by men who had never served in that capacity under Lee: At the head of McLaws's old troops was Brigadier General J. B. Kershaw, of South Carolina, an able soldier, and over Hood's division was Major General Charles Field. This officer was to acquit himself creditably, though he lacked the tremendous driving force that had distinguished Hood, now commanding a corps under Johnston. Three of Kershaw's brigadiers were new, as were two of Field's.15 In the Second Corps, the three major generals were the same, Early, Johnson, and Rodes, but four of the brigadiers had risen to that grade since the Gettysburg campaign.16 In the Third Corps, Wilcox was about to fight his first major battle as division commander in succession to Pender. The commanders of his brigades were unchanged. Heth, however, had three brigadiers who had not held like rank at Gettysburg, though two of them had shared in the unhappy affair at Bristoe Station.17 In Anderson's division there were two new brigade commanders.18 Most of these recently commissioned general officers were capable men, and if some of them were lacking in experience, Lee had full assurance that their soldiers were not.
Lee did not know the strength of the adversary against whom he was advancing. His scouts had reported that the enemy had 75,000 men and would move with 100,000,19 but Lee did not p273 think Grant's force exceeded 75,00020 and he was skeptical concerning the reputed size of the army that was expected to make a flank attack on Richmond while Grant hammered on the line of the Rapidan and Rappahannock.21 Lee was not certain, either, whether Grant would follow Meade's example, and turn southwest toward the Central Railroad after crossing the Rapidan, or would emulate Hooker and march to the southeast, against the line of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac below Fredericksburg.22 If Grant moved toward the southwest, Lee could hold his old lines on Mine Run with a part of his force and manoeuvre with the rest.23 Should Grant advance to the southeast, he would have to pass through the Wilderness of Spotsylvania.
Lee strongly hoped and rather expected that this latter would be his opponent's line of advance.24 He was conscious of the inferiority both of his numbers and of the weight and range of his artillery. His plan was to catch Grant on the march, where his numerical superiority would mean least. Especially was he anxious to engage the new Union commander in the tangle of the Wilderness, where the fine Federal ordnance could not be employed.25 For these reasons, and also because it would be difficult to bring up a sufficient force in time to dispute the crossing of the Rapidan, Lee determined to leave Grant alone until he was on the south side of the river. Then he intended to attack him there, as soon as Longstreet came up.26
Maturing the details of this plan as he rode forward at the head of Hill's column on the Plank road,27 Lee bivouacked in the p274 woods opposite the Rhodes house at Verdiersville, where his headquarters had been during the Mine Run campaign.28 Heth's division was encamped nearby, and Wilcox was in rear of Heth, having made the long march from a point •six miles above Orange Courthouse.29 Ewell's corps was at Locust Grove, on the old stone road, his advanced units about six miles northeast of Hill's.30
To Lee's camp fire in the woods, during the evening, couriers brought many messages, some encouraging and some disquieting. Davis telegraphed that reinforcements were on the way, though the first of them could hardly arrive within less than four days.31 In another message, the President announced that a Federal force p275 had landed at Bermuda Hundred on James River, close to the railroad that linked Richmond and Petersburg32 — a move that Lee had anticipated in previous correspondence with the executive.33 General Imboden reported that a Union force under General Sigel was advancing up the Shenandoah Valley and was probably moving against Lee's left flank.34 There was new evidence, also, that General Averell was preparing a raid against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.35
Thus, ere the day was done, Lee was assured that the enemy was simultaneously taking the offensive, as he had expected, in four directions — Grant with the main army overland from the north against Richmond, Butler on the line of the James, Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley, and Averell in the southwest. If Richmond be regarded as Lee's right flank and the Valley as his left, he now had to face an attack on the centre, on either flank and on one of his lines of communication, that with southwest Virginia and Tennessee. Yet Lee's view was not confused by the minor operations. In a letter written before the receipt of the news of the landing at Bermuda Hundred, he told the President, "It seems to me that the great efforts of the enemy here and in Georgia have begun, and that the necessity of our concentration at both points is immediate and imperative."36 Grant in Virginia and Sherman in Georgia — these were the adversaries who threatened the life of the Confederacy, and they must be met, Lee reasoned, by abandoning the less important fronts so as to bring together all the troops into two strong armies. To strengthen Johnston who was opposing Sherman, he had previously urged that troops be drawn temporarily from Mobile and from the army of General Leonidas Polk.37 He now recommended that Beauregard, who had already been sent to Weldon, be advanced with all available forces to defend Richmond from Butler's attack.38 Lee did not neglect the Valley,39 but he realized that the Army of Northern Virginia would have to bear the brunt of the major offensive of the enemy in the Old Dominion.
p276 While assuming that Grant would seek the initiative, Lee was not disposed to yield it to Grant if he could possibly retain it. Longstreet reported during the evening that he would camp between Foust and Brock's Bridge on the North Anna River, and that he hoped to be at Richards' Shop, •six miles south of Verdiersville by noon the next day, May 5.40 On this assurance, Lee determined to attack Grant. Writing to Ewell at 8 P.M., and instructing him to move early the next morning, Colonel Taylor gave him these further directions in Lee's name: "If the enemy moves down the river, he wishes to push on after him. If he comes this way, we will take our old line. The General's desire is to bring him to battle as soon now as possible,"41 as soon, that was, as Longstreet was within supporting distance. In this, Lee acted on his own initiative and judgment, for President Davis had telegraphed him, "you can estimate the condition of things here [in Richmond], and decide how far your movements should be influenced thereby."42
Late in the night of May 4‑5, General Stuart advised Lee that the enemy was still in the Wilderness.43 The next morning, when there was no evidence of a Federal movement to the southwest, Lee became satisfied that the enemy intended to pass through the gloomy mazes of the Wilderness in an effort to turn his right flank. As this was precisely what he most desired, the prospect raised Lee's spirits. Unwont as he was to talk of prospective operations in the presence of his staff, he chatted cheerfully of the situation as he ate his breakfast. Grant, he felt, was throwing away much of the advantage of his superior forces by entangling himself in the Wilderness, instead of profiting by Hooker's experience there.44
Soon the Third Corps was ready to go forward on the Plank road. Lee rode at its head with Hill, preceded by Stuart and some of his cavalry.45 Not long after the column entered the Wilderness, Major Campbell Brown of Ewell's staff rode up and p277 reported that the Second Corps was advancing along the old stone road and wished instructions. Lee was anxious to hold the enemy but desirous, of course, that Longstreet should come up before a general engagement began, so he sent back word to Ewell, who was somewhat ahead of Hill, to regulate his advance by that of the Third Corps. While he did not absolutely forbid Ewell to meet the enemy, he expressed his preference that a major battle should not be precipitated until the arrival of Longstreet.46
Tramping onward over the route that had been followed in November, the Third Corps passed the sombre works along Mine Run and ere long met a detachment of the enemy's cavalry.47 Stuart galloped off to the right, where Rosser was soon skirmishing with the Federals, and Kirkland's infantry brigade pushed the rest of the Union cavalry back up the road.48 Shortly after 11 o'clock, there came another message from General Ewell, an important message: From his position, said Ewell, he could see a column of Federals crossing the turnpike by the route from Germanna Ford and moving on toward the Orange Plank road, in a southeasterly direction.49 This confirmed the observations of the morning and made it certain that the enemy was in the Wilderness and was seeking to turn the Confederate right, playing, apparently, into Lee's hand. Ewell was again instructed to conform to Hill's movements and not to bring on a battle, if practicable, until Longstreet arrived.
About noon, however,50 there came from the direction of the old stone road the sound of heavy firing. Hill moved on past Parker's Store and brushed aside a cavalry attack on his right flank.51 At this stage of the advance, the first tactical obstacle was encountered, an obstacle that played a large part in the fighting that followed: The course of the turnpike or old stone road, and that of the Plank road were diverging, and the space between them was now so wide that there was no contact between Hill's left on the Plank road and Ewell's right on the turnpike. For this reason, Lee could not tell what the firing from Ewell's front indicated, or how the Second Corps was faring in an action that swelled steadily in violence.
p278 For •two miles, through the scrub growth of the Wilderness, Lee rode on ahead of Heth's division, with no enemy in sight. Shortly before 3 o'clock, he turned aside into a little clearing on the left-hand side of the road. Riding to a grove of trees in an elevated field, whence there was a view down the valley of Wilderness Run, he dismounted with Hill and Stuart to study the ground while awaiting the arrival of the leading division. Nearby was the home of the Widow Tapp, destined ere two days were done, to become a sinister name in American military history.52
Lee was concerned at the separation of the two corps, which apparently he had not anticipated. With Ewell seriously engaged, and the enemy in close proximity to Hill's front, there was manifest danger that Grant would find the gap between Hill's left and Ewell's right. The Federals might then pour into the unguarded area and perhaps might turn the exposed flanks of both corps. As if to confirm this fear, a blue skirmish line deployed in a few minutes from the cover of some old-field pines within easy musket range on the left. Hill remained where he was, either from surprise or in the belief that the skirmishers would fall back. Stuart stood up. Lee, rising quickly, hurried off, calling loudly for Colonel Taylor, in order, doubtless, to give instructions for troops to be advanced to drive back the Unionists.53 Had the Federals pressed on, they might have made the richest capture that had fallen to any soldiers in the war, but they were as surprised at meeting graycoats as the Confederates were at seeing them, and they quickly withdrew without firing a shot. The direction of their advance was ominous, nevertheless. Doubtless other forces were behind them in the gap between Hill and Ewell. As quickly as he could reach him, Lee ordered Wilcox, who was behind Heth, to file off to the left and to establish contact with the right of Ewell's corps.54
Wilcox had been gone only a short time, and Heth had scarcely been placed across the Plank road in line of battle, when the Federals attacked furiously down the road and on either side of it. The woods were so thick that the enemy could scarcely be seen p279 at all, but the volume of his fire showed that he was in great strength. Soon Lee realized that Heth's left flank, and perhaps his right, also, might be turned, and that Wilcox might be cut off before he could form junction with Ewell. He determined to recall Wilcox and to form him on Heth's left, for it was better to have a gap between Wilcox's left and Ewell's right than to have Ewell, Wilcox, and Heth all fighting with their flanks in the air. Fortunately, Wilcox had left two brigades behind him to form the right of his line of battle as he extended to the left. These two, Scales's and McGowan's, were at once brought back. Thomas's brigade returned in a short while and was placed on Heth's left, where the enemy threatened to get in rear of the Confederates.55 Lane was kept for a time in reserve. The enemy's first onslaught was beaten off, largely because of a very gallant counterattack by McGowan; but a second assault followed the first, and a third the second. Still the lines held.
Slowly, now, but perceptibly, the weight of the enemy's attack began to shift to the Confederate right, whither Wilcox reported he could see large masses of troops moving. Lee reasoned that the Federals might be pulling away from Ewell. This might offer the Second Corps an opportunity of getting on the Federals' right and perhaps of reaching their line of supply from across the Rapidan. A message was sent off to Ewell at 6 P.M., with instructions to make this move if possible. In case Ewell met resistance too heavy to be overcome, Lee planned to turn the Federal left, upon the arrival of Longstreet and of R. H. Anderson.56 As Longstreet's orders were to move to Todd's Tavern, •five miles south of the point where Hill was then fighting, Lee sent off Colonel Venable with instructions to Longstreet to change his line of march and to come up in support of Hill along the Plank road.57
By the time these messages were on their way, a fourth and a fifth Federal attack had been made. Both had been repulsed, but they had been delivered with as much vigor as the Federals had ever displayed against the Army of Northern Virginia. Two divisions could not stand indefinitely against a repetition of these assaults. Longstreet must be hurried up to reinforce Hill. For this purpose, Lee sent off Major H. B. McClellan of Stuart's staff p280 to find General Field, whose division was heading Longstreet's advance, and to tell him to speed his march.58
Night was drawing on when a new fury of fire came to Lee from the extreme right, but this proved to be, in part, from Lane's brigade, which Wilcox had prudently moved to the right to meet a fresh threat there.59 Lane's, however, was the last brigade that Hill had at his disposal. Just as that grim fact became apparent, word was received from Wilcox, north of the Plank road, that the enemy was again pushing into the gap between his line and the right of Ewell. Reinforcements must be sent — but whence were they to come? Not a man on the line could be moved, for the pressure was heavy on all; not a unit was in immediate reserve. The only troops not actually engaged were about 125 men of the Fifth Alabama battalion, who were guarding the prisoners. As quickly as possible, these Alabamians were hurried to the left of Wilcox. Going in with a yell that must have created a false impression of their numbers, they hurled back the enemy.60
That was the last infantry attack. Darkness fell, and the firing died away after 8 P.M. The sky was cloudless, but in the heavy woods nothing was visible beyond a radius of a few feet. Prisoners taken during the engagement represented parts of three corps. Hill's estimate was that his 14,500 men had fought 40,000.61
Ewell now sent a report62 saying that he, too, had been vigorously assailed.63 Jones's brigade of Johnson's division had been attacked about noon, as it was advancing, and had been thrown back on Battle, whose ranks had been disorganized. Daniel's brigade had been brought up in support from Rodes's division, and Gordon, of Early's division, who had been thrust forward, had delivered a brilliant counterattack. The whole corps had then been put in line of battle and had been instructed to throw up earthworks. The fighting had been so intense that the muskets p281 of Pegram's brigade had become too hot to handle,64 but the enemy had suspended his attacks, and the Second Corps would be able, Ewell said, to hold its ground.65
Approximate position of the Army of Northern Virginia at the close of action in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, May 5, 1864.
It had been, altogether, a hard day's fighting, with heavy losses. The significant fact was that the Federals had not waited to be attacked but had advanced quickly to challenge the oncoming Confederates. The new Federal commander obviously did not intend to allow the Army of Northern Virginia to take the initiative and to assail him on the march. Still, the enemy had been halted in the Wilderness, and Grant's plan of moving around the right flank had been disclosed. That was gain. During the afternoon, Lee had considered attacking the next day from his left, but Longstreet and Anderson could come up more quickly on the right than on the left. Besides, there was more ground for manoeuvring on the right. If the three divisions due to arrive during the night could get on the Federal flank south of the Plank road, they might be able to roll up the Union line and to throw Grant back against the fords of the Rapidan. And that would be the end of another "On to Richmond."
As Hill's officers moved about, it became apparent that the lines of Heth and of Wilcox were badly disarranged. Spread through the woods, "they were," in the language of Colonel William H. Palmer, Hill's adjutant general, "like a •worm fence, at every angle."66 If the men ventured even a short distance in front of their positions to get water, they found themselves among the enemy's pickets. Federals were captured who thought they were still within their own lines. It was desirable, of course, to straighten out the front and to establish entrenchments, but in the black darkness, this was almost impracticable with exhausted troops. The simplest course seemed the safest — to leave the men where they were and to relieve them with Longstreet's corps upon its arrival. That could not be long. Field had doubtless received p282 his orders to hurry on, and he should be up by midnight. Kershaw would follow. So would Anderson. The line could be taken over by comparatively fresh men, that dangerous gap between Hill and Ewell could be filled, and the turning movement could be begun at daylight. So, when Heth and Wilcox asked for orders, Lee bade them remain in position, as they were, with the assurance that they would be relieved by 12 o'clock or soon after.67
p283 Lee had spent most of the afternoon and evening in the field at the Widow Tapp's and there he prepared to bivouac, only •a few hundred yards from the line of Hill's infantry and almost under the guns of Poague's battalion, which had been brought up to check the Federal advance but had not been employed during the day.68 He had just sat down to eat his scant supper when Major H. B. McClellan made his report. With suppressed indignation, the cavalryman told how he had gone to Field's camp, as Lee had directed, and had delivered Lee's instructions for Field to move at once to support Hill. Field, he said, had refused to accept the verbal orders and had stated that he was under instructions from General Longstreet to move at 1 A.M.
This was serious. Instead of arriving by midnight to relieve Heth and Wilcox, the head of Longstreet's corps would hardly reach the lines until daylight, when the enemy would be astir.69 Realizing the danger to Heth and Wilcox from a delay in the p284 arrival of Longstreet, Major McClellan volunteered to ride back with written orders, which General Field must perforce obey. But Lee would not have it so. Without the slightest show of impatience at what McClellan considered the insubordination of Field, General Lee explained: "No, Major, it is now past 10 o'clock, and by the time you could return to General Field and he could put his division in motion, it would be 1 o'clock; and at that hour he will move."70 Whatever the risks, they had now to be taken, whether on the front where Heth's and Wilcox's weary men waited, or in the gap between Hill and Ewell. And if the dangers of the dawn could be overcome, then the Army of Northern Virginia should show its old offensive power once more and Grant be borne down as Hooker had been in those same grim tangles of the Wilderness.
1 3 C. M. H., 433; O. R., 36, part 1, p1054. It is proper to observe in this first note on the Wilderness campaign that the Official Records contain only a small number of Confederate reports for the period from May 4, 1864, to the close of the war in Virginia. No general report by Lee survives, though Jones remarked in 14 S. H. S. P., 568, that such a document was prepared on the operations from the Rapidan to the James, and that the original draft was then in the possession of Colonel Charles Marshall. In the absence of any general narrative by the army commander, the Southern story of the campaign had to be reconstructed from three major sources, viz., Lee's brief telegrams to the President and to the Secretary of War, the few subordinate reports that were filed, and the correspondence in the Official Records. Fortunately, the authorities this period are quite numerous and, in many instances, are of prime historical importance.
2 Cf. Taylor MSS., May 1, 1864: "I am deeply impressed with the vast importance of success in this campaign. . . . The beginning of the end is, I believe, at hand. . . . Never did matters look so bright for us."
3 Venable in 14 S. H. S. P., 523. Special attention is directed to Colonel Venable's monograph. Written in 1873 by one of the best-informed of Lee's staff officers, it is perhaps the most valuable brief Confederate account of the long struggle from the Rapidan to the James. For the orders regarding private property, see O. R., 36, part 2, p946. These orders were reiterated for the wagon-trains, May 23, ibid., 36, part 3, p826.
7 As early as 1834, the author of Letters on the Virginia Springs (Philadelphia, 1835) had found this road "in bad repair and rough, but not dangerous" (p12).
8 Cf. Wilcox in Annals of the War, 493.
9 R. D. Johnston's brigade of Rodes's division was at Hanover Junction; the Twenty-first Georgia, Doles's brigade, Rodes's division, and Hokes's brigade, Early's division, were still in North Carolina (O. R., 36, part 1, pp1069‑70).
11 Webb (4 B. and L., 152) and Humphreys (The Virginia Campaign of 1864 and 1865, p14, cited hereafter as Humphreys), put the strength of Lee's army, on the opening of the campaign, at 61,953; Taylor, in his Four Years, estimated it at 64,000; Longstreet (op. cit., 552), figured 65,405.
13 Welch, 91‑92.
14 Cf. 3 B. and L., 230.
15 Colonel John W. Henagan, formerly of the Eighth South Carolina, headed Kershaw's brigade; Barksdale's famous troops had been entrusted to Brigadier General B. G. Humphreys; over Semmes's brigade, as noted, was Brigadier General Goode Bryan. In Field's division, the Texas brigade was led by the valiant John Gregg. Micah Jenkins had a new brigade consisting of the 1st, 2d, 5th, and 6th South Carolina and the Palmetto Sharpshooters.
16 John Pegram had William Smith's brigade, somewhat enlarged; Leroy A. Stafford commanded the Louisiana brigade previously under General Nicholls; Robert D. Johnston had Iverson's former command; and Cullen A. Battle had wisely been assigned to the Alabama troops with which Rodes had won his fame.
17 W. W. Kirkland, who had Pettigrew's old brigade, John R. Cooke, and H. H. Walker, who headed Brockenbrough's troops.
18 Abner Perrin, who had been given the brigade of Wilcox upon the promotion of that officer, and N. H. Harris, who, as already stated, had succeeded to Posey's command after that officer had died of his wounds.
21 O. R., 36, part 1, p943. As a matter of fact, according to Humphreys (op. cit., 14), Grant had 122,146, including the IX Corps, which was within supporting distance. Other estimates of Grant's strength, ranging from 116,886 to 127,247, are cited in Longstreet, 552. Fitz Lee (op. cit., 327) pointed out that Grant could have manned a battle-front of •thirty miles, two lines deep, whereas Lee could have covered only •sixteen miles.
22 Lee's Dispatches, 169 ff.
24 Cf. Lee to Bragg, O. R., 51, part 2, p887, urging that Pickett's division be sent to Spotsylvania Courthouse. Lee would hardly have done this if he had not thought that Grant would move in that direction.
25 Lee's Dispatches, 184; Henderson: Science of War, 317; Maurice, 228‑29.
27 3 C. M. H., 434.
29 Wilcox in Annals of the War, 488.
33 Lee had not, however, predicted the landing-place.
36 Lee's Dispatches, 173.
38 Lee's Dispatches, 173.
44 Venable in 4 B. and L., 240‑41; Long, 327. For the considerations that led Grant to move against Lee's right, instead of against his left, see Humphreys, 9; 4 B. and L., 106‑7. Grant had read Lee's signals and had directed his troops to prepare for immediate action (Longstreet, 556).
45 14 S. H. S. P., 524; H. B. McClellan, 406.
47 Wilcox in Annals of the War, 489.
51 Wilcox, loc. cit., 489.
52 The Tapp house was burned, and now only a shrub or two in a pasture show where it stood.
53 W. H. Palmer in W. L. Royall: Some Reminiscences (cited hereafter as Royall), 28; Venable in 4 B. and L., 241; 3 C. M. H., 435.
54 Wilcox, loc. cit., 492.
55 Wilcox, loc. cit., 492‑93.
57 Longstreet, 557.
58 H. B. McClellan MSS.
59 Palmer in Royall, 29‑30.
60 Palmer in Royall, 30.
61 Palmer in Royall, 30. The attacks had been delivered by Getty's division of the V Corps and by nearly the whole of the II Corps, with Major General Winfield S. Hancock in general command (O. R., 36, part 1, pp319‑20). Toward the end of the fighting, Wadsworth's division and Baxter's brigade of the V Corps were sent to reinforce Hancock, but, said General Meade in his official report, "They did not arrive . . . in time before dark to do more than drive in the enemy's skirmishers and confront him" (O. R., 36, part 1, p190).
62 Dated 8 P.M.
64 33 S. H. S. P., 22.
65 O. R., 51, part 2, p890. For Ewell's report, see O. R., 36, part 1, pp1070‑71, covering the reports of his subordinates. McHenry Howard gave a very detailed account of the action in IV M. H. S. M., 97 ff., and Gordon, op. cit., 239 ff., explained his part in the engagement on the left. G. W. Nichols, A Soldier's History of His Regiment, 141, made it appear that Lee was on this part of the line during the course of the action, but his statement is refuted by Thomas, op. cit., 477‑78, and by Gordon, loc. cit. Their narratives showed that the conversation alleged to have taken place between Lee and Gordon was actually between Ewell and Gordon.
66 Palmer in Royall, 30; Wilcox, loc. cit., 494.
67 Palmer in Royall, 30‑31; Wilcox, loc. cit., 494‑95; Venable in 14 S. H. S. P., 525. Both Venable and Longstreet (op. cit., 560) suggested that there was negligence on the part of Hill and his division commanders in not fortifying their line, but all the evidence indicates that they acted in the belief that they would be withdrawn long before dawn.
68 Pendleton, 325; Venable in 14 S. H. S. P., 524.
69 Longstreet marched about •sixteen miles on the 4th before he halted in the vicinity of Brock's bridge (O. R., 36, part 1, p1054). On the 5th, instead of reaching Richards's Shop by noon, as he had written Lee he hoped to do, Longstreet did not cover the •fifteen miles to that point until 5 o'clock (Longstreet, 557). A march of •ten miles more that evening would have put the corps in position to relieve Heth and Wilcox by midnight, but Longstreet elected to stop at the shop, to rest the troops for five or six hours, and then to go on. His advance both days was a subject of controversy between Fitz Lee and himself. The former contended that General Lee sent an engineer officer to show Longstreet the route on the 4th, but that Longstreet refused his services, took the wrong road, and lost twenty-four hours in reaching the battlefield (5 S. H. S. P., 184‑85; cf. Fitz Lee, 330). Longstreet definitely refuted this, in From Manassas to Appomattox, 568 ff. On the other hand, Longstreet was very careless in his statement of the time of his various movements in this advance to support the Third Corps. He wrote (op. cit., 556) that it was 1 P.M. on May 4 when he received Lee's orders to start from Mechanicsville. Alexander affirmed, however (ibid., 570), that he was instructed by noon on the 4th to put his artillery in motion. Field (14 S. H. S. P., 542) said that he received his orders from Longstreet at the same hour. The orders sent Field by Longstreet, as printed in O. R., 36, part 2, p947, are dated 11 A.M. Longstreet was, therefore, at least two hours wrong as to the time of his start. Instead of moving within three hours after he received his orders, as might be inferred, it was five hours before he had his columns in motion. Again, Longstreet stated that it was 11 P.M. on the 5th when the guide arrived who was to conduct the army through the woods to the Plank road, and he left the reader to conclude, perhaps, that if the guide had arrived sooner, the start would have been made earlier. The fact is that Major McClellan had taken the guide with him to Field's headquarters and was back at Lee's bivouac by 10 P.M. The guide was probably at the disposal of Longstreet's leading division by 9 P.M. Longstreet may have been culpable for not pressing on during the late afternoon of the 5th but it is probable that he used good judgment. In the absence of specific information of a crisis, it may have been better to rest his men so as to have them ready for hard fighting on the 6th. There seems to be no basis in fact for the claim of White (op. cit., 356), that Lee expected Longstreet early on the afternoon of May 5. The case of Field may be a little different. He was, of course, under Longstreet's orders and, as a new division commander, hesitated to accept verbal orders from a cavalry staff officer he scarcely knew. His men had probably rested four hours, however, when McClellan arrived. Had he then moved to the front as Lee intended, the near-disaster on the morning of May 6 might have been averted.
70 H. B. McClellan MSS.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Jan 15