Battle of the Wilderness
In the spring of 1864—150 years ago—the toil, sacrifice, and destruction of three years of Civil War merged into a swelling Union tide whose advance seemed inexorable, even if its success and destination remained in doubt. The Civil War became a whirlwind, rushing southward through Virginia and the Confederacy. Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg joined the lengthening list of the nation’s bloody battlefields. That divided nation and the world watched intently, for that spring and summer the final course of the war would be set.
THROUGH THE WILDERNESS IN VA.
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
COMMENCING MAY 4TH 1864
May the 7th 1864
Arose at daylight, we had our breakfast about half cooked when the battle commenced. The rebels came out of the woods in 4 lines of battle, then Our artilery opened on them with Grape & Canister causing them to retreat in confusion & were glad to get out of sight. Very heavy fighting down the left of the line near Chancelorsville. It was reported we had captured between 4 & 5000 prizoners today. Heared good news about dark and Great Cheering prevailed the whol length of the line. We recd orders to be ready to move at dark. We marched 3 or 4 miles and halted untill 2 O clock in the morning by the side of the road. We slept with our knapsacks on our backs. Was aroused from our slumbers by a pack of mules running away. We sprung to our feet, grabbed our muskets & got ready for action. We considered it an attack from the rebels. In a moments time we were all quiet and down we laid until daybreak.
- "We are all boys between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one."
Louis Leon joined North Carolina's Charlotte Grays in April 1861. He was to serve throughout the war and spent considerable time in Virginia. Captured at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, he spent the war's last months imprisoned at two notorious facilities: Point Lookout, Maryland and Elmira, New York. He published his war-time diary in 1913.
May 5—Moved this morning, feeling for the enemy, and came up to them at noon, five miles from the Run, in the Wilderness. It certainly is a wilderness; it is almost impossible for a man to walk, as the woods are thick with an underbrush growth and all kinds of shrubbery, old logs, grapevines, and goodness knows what. My corps of sharpshooters were ordered to the front. We formed in line and advanced to the enemy. We fought them very hard for three hours, they falling back all the time. Our sharpshooters' line got mixed up with Gordon's Brigade, and fought with them.