« PreviousContinue »
awful inducement to panicky retreat in case of defeat, and a terrible invitation to a scouting enemy.
Now darkness settled down and put a stop to the carnage. It had been a day of heavy losses to both armies. The hosts lay confronting each other on nearly the same ground they had occupied for twenty-four hours. Grant was not through the Wilderness, but neither was he back over the Rapidan. Lee had not pierced his flanks nor turned his wings, but was compelled, himself, to draw away from the front and back behind his breastworks. His brilliant designs of the morning had come to naught by night. The fighting had been the fiercest of the war. Grant admitted that he had seen nothing like it, not even at Shiloh.
While there was not that about the day which could be called a victory by either combatant, Grant was satisfied. After ordering support to Sedgwick, he went to sleep as contentedly as if all his cohorts had been victorious. He had defeated all the cherished plans of the able Confederate leader, He did not expect to annihilate his army on its own ground, but he knew that he had inflicted losses on it equal to his own. It was no place for either rapid or brilliant results, no place for maneuvres and tactical experiments. The thing was to anticipate an offensive enemy, and if possible run counter to it, which Grant had done on both the 5th and 6th ; and after that to hold every force well in hand and keep it in solid mass so that to beat against it would be like charging unto death.
In hauling off his forces along his entire line and placing them well away from the Federal front and behind their defences, Lee confessed that his plans had been thwarted, that he had found his superior in pluck and generalship, and that offensive operations must be turned into something more wary and conservative. The 6th of May may be said to have disillusioned him as to Grant's genius and power, and he never afterward undertook a movement on so rash and bold a scale as
that designed to crush Grant in the Wilderness and to make an end of his army and campaign at a single blow.
On the morning of the 7th, at an early hour, Grant threw out skirmishers a distance of a mile and a half to feel for the enemy, but they discovered no aggressive movement from Sedgwick's right to Hancock's left. The entire Confederate army had withdrawn behind its works and showed no disposition to renew the contest. Sheridan sent Wilson from Chancellorsville toward Germanna Ford to see if the enemy were interjecting himself between Sedgwick and the river. This space was clear. By noon Warren pushed his corps forward to reconnoitre in force. There was some sharp firing, but no firm opposition. Lee had definitely abandoned his offensive movements. He, of course, could not be attacked in his invisible entrenchments. The battle of the Wilderness was over.
The losses on the Federal side in this three days' fight made up from regimental returns, as stated by both General Badeau and Humphreys, were 2,265 killed, 10,220 wounded, 2,902 missing, most of the latter being prisoners. The Confederate losses are not definitely known, but there is no reason to suppose they were less than those of the Federal force.
FTER feeling the Confederate lines on the 7th of May,
1864, and finding that Lee did not accept the offer of battle, Grant was at liberty to think that his front was free from further danger. He could not hope to assume a successful offensive with those interminable fastnesses of pines and scrub oaks before him, in the midst of which, and beyond, the Confederates were safely ensconced behind breastworks.
What should be done now? To retain that position was useless. It was no part of Grant's plans to remain idle. He had set his head toward Richmond. He must not give Lee a chance to escape him, nor to out-manæuvre him. He must not be thrown on the defensive. Confident of his strength, he must have opportunity to wield it on an open and more favorable field. He had drawn Lee from his stronghold south of the Rapidan, and neutralized his fortifications. He would again draw him from his stronghold in the “Wilderness," and along Mine Run, and thus neutralize his natural advantages of position. It was a bold scheme and full of danger.
Was anything transpiring to help his determination? Yes. Word came that Butler had landed his whole force at City Point, completely surprising the enemy; also that Sherman was advancing on Johnston and expected to give battle on the 7th. Knowing that Lee would not remain long inactive, thinking it possible that he might be inclined to hasten to Richmond on account of the threatening aspect of affairs on the south of the James and determined to not let him escape with his army,
Grant resolved to swing his whole army to the left and south, one step nearer the James, into a more open country, and past the enemy's extreme right. He could thus insert himself between the Confederates and their capital, a thing they could not afford to permit. He could, further, hasten his proposed co-operation with Butler.
On May 8th he wrote: “My effort will be to form a junction with Butler as early as possible, and be prepared to meet any enemy interposing. My exact route to the James, I have not yet distinctly marked out.” It should be always in mind that Grant was constantly receiving word of the movements of Sherman, Butler, Sigel and his other generals at remote points, and that the movements of the army, under his own eye, were as co-operative with those of his other armies as their's were expected to be with his.
The orders for this gigantic and perilous movement went forth at 3 P. M., of May 7th. Success depended on secrecy and dispatch. Warren's Fifth Corps was again to take the lead. He was to withdraw from his central position and move by the Brock road, in the rear of Hancock, who was to hold his place till the corps was entirely past. Then Hancock was to follow, while Sedgwick and Burnside were to move by way of Chancellorsville and Piney Branch Church. The trains, which were centred aţ Chancellorsville, were to move to the left of all. Sheridan had been sent during the afternoon toward Todd's Tavern to clear the way for Warren, and had had a severe and successful engagement with Stuart's cavalry. In the evening, Grant and Meade made their way along the Brock road, where Hancock's corps lay. Their presence was the signal for cheering by the tired and wounded veterans, who now realized that they were not to retreat, but that the movement was to be in the direction of Richmond.
All were now ready. Spottsylvania Court House was the destination, fifteen miles south. All night the troops and
trains engaged in tedious, slow march, for the ways were few and crowded, and Sheridan, owing to the length and sharpness of the cavalry contest with Stuart, had not succeeded in getting possession of the salient points along either the Catharpen road, or that running from Shady Grove to Spottsylvania. What was worse, the movement of the trains in the afternoon, which had been reported to Lee, gave him the impression that Grant was about to retrcat to Fredericksburg. In anticipation of this, he hurried Anderson, now commanding Longstreet's corps, toward Spottsylvania from Shady Grove Church, and even ordered Ewell to Todd's Tavern by way of the Catharpen road. Thus he had ordered his corps to the very destinations and partly over the same roads that Grant had his. This, Sheridan, partly through opposition from Stuart, and partly through change of orders from Meade, did not discover in time to prevent Merritt, who covered Warren's advance, from coming in contact with Stuart's cavalry in such force as to stop all progress until relief came through Warren's head division under Robinson.
By this time Anderson had reached a point just north of Spottsylvania, where the Brock road and that from Shady Grove meet. This obliged Wilson's cavalry to evacuate Spottsylvania. Anderson fortified his point, and lay in wait for the Federal approach. Soon Robinson appeared, and was met with a murderous fire, which drove him back in confusion. Warren came upon the scene to find the enemy in force and strongly posted right across his path to Spottsylvania. Jaded as his troops were with their all night march, and almost continuous fighting since daybreak, he threw Griffin's division forward on Robinson's right. This division met with the same hot reception. Crawford's division and Cutler's (formerly Wadsworth's) were now brought into line, the gallant Warren heading a brigade in person, and after a severe fight the Confeder. ates were repulsed on both their wings. Warren then straight