OUR ARMY CORRESPONDENCE
LETTER FROM VIRGINIA
From Our Special Correspondent
Army of Northern Virginia
Spottsylvania C.H. May 9, 1864
The operations in this quarter continue to be of the most interesting character. On Saturday afternoon the 7th inst. the date of my last letter, the cavalry reported that Grant while keeping up a threatening attitude in our front was preparing to move still further to our right, and in the direction of Spottsylvania Courthouse and Richmond. Having fortified his position, especially on the Plank Road and Turnpike, he hoped that a small force would be able to hold it while the main body of his army was being moved to this place, the possession of which was a matter of the greatest consequence to Grant. The road from Germanna ford on the Rapidan by which he advanced leads directly to this point and thence to Richmond. Other important roads including one from Fredericksburg intersect here and render it a place of no little strategic value. In the present campaign against the Confederate capital, its consequence can hardly be overrated.
Upon the reception of the intelligence alluded to above, orders were immediately issued by Gen. Lee for Longstreet's corps (or Anderson's as I shall designate it hereafter) to move at 11 o'clock that night rapidly to Spottsylvania Courthouse, and if possible head off the Federal army, then believed to be marching for the same destination. Our cavalry had behaved very well and had beaten back the enemy's cavalry for two days. Late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning however it was ascertained that the cavalry were supported by infantry and that the latter were advancing in considerable force. Their march was delayed as much as possible in order to give Anderson time to get up; but they succeeded in occupying the courthouse and were in possession early Sunday morning when Kershaw's division (formerly McLaws') arrived. With Bryan's and Wofford's brigades, Kershaw immediately advanced against the enemy holding the village, his old brigade and Humphreys' were sent under Humphreys against the forces then approaching down the road from the battlefield of the Wilderness, pushing our cavalry before them. Kershaw cleared the village in a few minutes, and made his dispositions to hold it. Humphreys placed his command behind a fence and some frail obstructions which the cavalry had previously prepared.
The enemy advanced with great confidence, being ignorant of the presence of Confederate infantry and supposing the troops behind the line of fence and brush were dismounted cavalry. Humphreys reserved his fire until they got within a few paces and then gave them a volley which covered the ground with their dead and wounded. A sharp combat ensued, the result of which was the rapid retreat of the enemy who left many dead and wounded in our hands, including a brigadier general who was mortally wounded. Our own loss was insignificant. Field's division came up soon afterwards, and a portion of it (Law's brigade) engaged the enemy later in the day, repulsing him as usual. The force disposed of in this summary manner by Anderson was the 5th army corps, which Ewell had beaten so handsomely three days before in the Wilderness. Some two hundred prisoners and five or six hundred small arms fell into our hands.
Ewell's corps moved from the battlefield early yesterday (Sunday) morning, and Hill's corps on Sunday night; the former got in position last evening, and the latter this morning.
Thus has Gen. Lee succeeded in throwing his whole army right across the path of his antagonist. But the ground been more favorable to military operations, or had the enemy delayed his attack on the second day an hour longer, until Longstreet could get in position our victory at the Wilderness would have been decisive and crushing. As it was, Gen. Lee repulsed all Grant's assaults with heavy loss, and held him there until he could throw his army in front of him and between his army and the capital. This was a masterly performance, and renders it necessary for Grant to give us battle here or make a further detour to the right.
There is but one road on the right between Spottsylvania Court House and the Mattapony by which he can move; that is known as the Telegraph road and leads directly from Fredericksburg to Richmond, crossing the North Anna, South Anna and Little river a few miles above the point where they unite and form the Pamunkey. East of the Mattapony is another road which passes through Bowling Green; but if Grant should move by that he would find it necessary to cross three considerable streams, the Mattapony, Pamunkey and Chickahominy. The importance of these observations will be apparent to the reader upon inspection of a good map. The distance from the Court House to the Telegraph road is about eight miles, and to Fredericksburg it is eleven miles.. .
The two armies now confront each other on the north side of the Courthouse and a battle may take place at any time. There has been considerable skirmishing and maneuvering all day. Twenty-four hours will decide whether Grant will deliver battle here, or seek to turn our position again. ...
Mobile Daily Advertiser & Register
May 26, 1864
p. 1 col. 5-6
OUR ARMY CORRESPONDENCE
LETTER FROM VIRGINIA
From Our Own Special Correspondent
Army of Northern Virginia
Spottsylvania Courthouse May 10
I have written you regularly since my arrival at the headquarters of the army, but fear some of my letters have not reached you. The Federal cavalry have been in our rear, and may have captured some of our mail carriers. But little is known here of the operations of the raiding party that passed down the telegraph road towards Beaver Dam Station, on the Central Railway; we have heard that they destroyed the houses at the station and a large quantity of the army supplies, and that they recaptured 300 prisoners and a few hundred guns on the way to Richmond. It is a matter of surprise here that the party was able to pass to the rear without the knowledge of our own cavalry.
We have had more bloody work to-day, and again, as at the Wilderness, our losses are miraculously small. It has been a singular battle, not only in its results, but especially in regard to the manner in which it was delivered by the Federal commander. The greater part of the forenoon was consumed by him in an attempt to make Gen. Lee develop his position and plans. Artillery was used freely, and skirmishers and sharp-shooters were pushed forward along the lines, and vigorous efforts made to provoke Lee to un-mask his batteries and show his hand. At length, Grant seemed to grow weary of this kind of work, and ordered an assault to be made. His infantry came up to the work in handsome style, and yet they seemed to have no stomach for the fight, for their separate assaults upon Anderson's corps (late Longstreet's) were repulsed by his skirmishers and sharpshooters alone.
The result was not dissimilar in front of Ewell. The heavy masses of the enemy were pushed back with the ease with which one puts a drunken man away from him. The Confederate fought behind field works thrown up hurriedly, and they appeared to relish the fun amazingly. The last assault made upon Anderson's position was late in the afternoon, and was headed by a regiment of the old U.S. army. The enemy succeeded after a hard struggle in gaining a salient in the lines occupied by Gregg's Texas brigade; but all who cleared the entrenchments, not one lived to return; they were all either killed or taken. They met with a temporary success in front of Rodes' division, Ewell's corps, where they captured a portion, if not all, of the guns belonging to the Richmond Howitzers, of Gen. Alexander's artillery command. The guns were soon recovered, however, and the assailants beaten off with heavy loss.
Towards noon, it was ascertained that the enemy were moving upon our left and rear with cavalry and infantry. Early was sent with Heth's division to drive them off and repossess us of the bridge over the Po, one of the branches of the Matapony river. He accomplished the object of his mission in gallant style. Heth's men were glad of an opportunity to prove to all that the temporary confusion into which they were thrown at the Wilderness, was the result of accident, rather than a lack of spirit. The enemy were punished well, and driven entirely from that part of the field.
I have spoken of our casualties to-day as miraculously small. They were less than 1,000 and including the loss resulting from the heavy skirmishing yesterday, they will not exceed 1,200. The enemy's loss, on the contrary, since our arrival here is estimated as high as 15,000 and at the Wilderness as high as 30,000 including prisoners. These figures are probably too large, though they reflect the opinion which obtains in high official circles here. The calculation rests upon the number of the enemy whom we buried -- 2,700 -- and the 4,000 prisoners who fell into our hands. It is proper to add that papers have been captured since the battle of the Wilderness which admit a loss of 20,000. These papers confess also that Grant was beaten badly on his right (our left) where Ewell commanded, and that Gordon in his night attack inflicted great loss; but they claim that he was successful on his left, our right. The first is true, but the last is not; our victory was complete on every part of the field.
It is reported that Grant, just before opening the battle this morning, issued an order in which he announced to his army that Butler had taken Petersburg and was then investing Richmond with every prospect of reducing it at an early day; also that Johnston had been defeated at Dalton, leaving his dead and wounded in the hands of Sherman. We have not heard from Dalton for some days, but we know that the order utters a falsehood when it claims that Butler has occupied Petersburg or invested Richmond.
The courage of Grant's army, however, like that of the man in the play, is oozing out at their finger's ends, and it needs to be stimulated. In other words, their feeble assaults, though made with heavy lines, and the unanimous confession of prisoners show that the army is ready to abandon the contest. They report that Grant says he will never recross the Rappahannock as long as he has one soldier left who will follow him. He is a determined man, and having got the better of his army, it only remains for us to get the better of him.
Wednesday May 11
Almost unbroken quiet has reigned to-day. The two armies still confront each other like lions about to engaged in mortal combat. A report prevailed in high quarters this afternoon that Grant was retiring in the direction of Fredericksburg and Germanna Ford, but it probably without foundation. He is not the man to yield so easily. Information that has reached me to-day satisfies me that he did not mean to offer battle yesterday, but rather sought to feel our lines and ascertain their direction and strength with a view to a real attack tomorrow or next day, and that the great battle is still to be fought. There can hardly be any doubt but that he has made up his mind to fight us here. The chief danger is to be apprehended rises from the impaired morale of some of the brigades which lost heavily in officers in the Wilderness, and which occupy the weakest part of our line of entrenchments, embracing the salient angle that was lost temporarily yesterday. It has been Gen. Lee's opinion for the last two days that the real attack will be made on the right wing, and all Grant's maneuvers and demonstrations on the left have failed to create any diversion from the right.
Brig. Gen. Walker, of this state commanding a brigade in Wilcox's division, received a painful wound in the foot yesterday.
Mobile Daily Advertiser & Register
May 28, 1864
p. 2 col. 1-2
THE BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS
Army of Northern Virginia
Battle-Field, May 7, 1864
Again it becomes my grateful task to chronicle another Confederate victory. While it cannot be regarded in its military aspects as a decisive battle since the enemy was neither routed nor driven back across the Rapidan, yet when we consider the circumstances under which it was fought, the elaborate preparation made by the enemy, the large army of veteran troops with which he advanced, and the common consent with which both sides had come to regard the present campaigns as probably the last act of the bloody drama which has convulsed the North American continent for the last three years, we cannot but look upon it as one of the most important battles of the whole war. The boasted leader of the Federal army chose his own time and place to deliver battle; he made his attack and was repulsed with heavy losses; his combinations were penetrated and defeated, and his whole movement check-mated, at least for the present. These are results of great consequence, and for them the country should be grateful to the Giver of all victory, and for the brave army by whose valor they have been achieved. But let us take up the narrative at the beginning and bring it down to the present time, and thus see what was done and how it was done.
Arriving at Gordonsville Wednesday the 4th instant at 1 o'clock and learning that Grant had crossed the Rapidan below at Germanna and Ely's fords and was endeavoring to turn Lee's right flank, I took horse and pushed to the point to which both armies seemed to be approaching. The moment that General Lee ascertained that Grant had really cut lose from his base at Culpeper, Hill's and Ewell's corps were withdrawn from their position in the Rapidan and ordered to advance upon the enemy's line of march, the former taking the plank road and the latter the turnpike, both leading from Orange Court House to Fredericksburg. Longstreet who was encamped in the vicinity of Gordonsville ready to move upon any point, was ordered to march down the Catharpin road. The main body of Grant's army crossed at Germanna Ford and took the road leading thence in the direction of Bowling Green and Richmond, and known in the neighborhood as Brock's Road, by which name I shall speak of it hereafter. The first object at which he aimed doubtless was to reach the point where that road intersects the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road and the turnpike. These highways run nearly parallel to each other, the distance between them varying from one mile to three miles and more. There is an unfinished railroad which runs nearly parallel to the other two roads and extends from Orange Courthouse to Fredericksburg. The turnpike lies on the north side or next to the river, the railroad on the south side and the plank road between the two. These roads do not cross Brock's road, along which Grant was moving at right angles, but diagonally, the distance between the points where they cut Brock's road being as follows: between the railway and Brock road about five hundred yards, and between the plank road and the turnpike nearly 4 miles. The enemy's line of battle extended along Brock's road from the unfinished railroad across the plank road to the turnpike, and was consequently about four miles in length. Chancellorsville is about four miles below on the plank road and Fredericksburg about fifteen miles. The surrounding country is very appropriately called the Wilderness, the people being ignorant, the soil destitute of fertility, the supply of water scant, the ground broken and covered with a dense and almost impenetrable growth of stunted bushes, pines, and black jacks. It is a blasted region, adjoining the district known as the "poisoned fields of Orange." and providing but little for the subsistence of man or beast. So thick are the woods in some places that it is impossible to distinguish a man even in the absence of verdure at a distance of fifty paces. The reader can readily imagine that it would be difficult to select more unfavorable ground for a battle between two great armies. It only remains to be added that the great battle was fought near the western boundary of Spottsylvania county, the line of battle being nearly at right angles to a straight line drawn from Fredericksburg through Chancellorsville to Orange Court House.
If the reader will keep these points in his mind and will place a good map before him, he will find little difficulty in forming a satisfactory conception of the battle.
As has already been stated, Ewell moved down the turnpike which is on the left and nearest to the river, and Hill down the plank road. Stuart passed still further to the south, and marched down the Catharpin road, so as to throw his cavalry in front of the head of Grant's army, and retard its march. His troopers did their duty well, especially Rosser's brigade of Hampton's division, and forced the federal cavalry which was marching up the road by which he was advancing back into Brock's road with considerable loss in men and horses. Indeed, Grant threw his cavalry up turnpike, plank road, and Catharpin road in the vain hope that he might be able to interpose a screen between himself and the Confederates and thus both protect and conceal his movement. But Lee was not slow in penetrating his designs, and immediately sprung upon him upon his flank like a tiger upon the side of an ox. Ewell and Hill pushed rapidly down the turnpike and plank road, encountered and drove in the cavalry and their infantry supports which had been thrown forward to block up these highways, and compelled the whole army to halt and defend itself. Stuart in the meantime had reached Brock's road in front of the enemy and thus opposed another obstacle to his further advance. It is not known that Grant especially desired to give battle here, but he saw the danger of his position, and immediately formed into line of battle and advanced nearly two miles to meet the threatened attack. This, it will be seen hereafter, was all that saved him from a disastrous defeat, since it gave him time to send his trains to the rear and throw up strong entrenchments parallel with and in front of the road by which he had been marching, and behind which he might rally his troops in the event they were beaten back. This was Thursday the 5th, one year and one day after the great battle of Chancellorsville.
It was about four in the afternoon when both armies encountered one another. Grant attacked heavily and repeatedly along the whole line, and especially upon our right, which he showed a disposition to turn and thus place himself between Lee's army and Richmond; but in every instance he was repulsed with heavy loss. He was persistent, however, in his efforts to break our lines and continued his assaults until night. His last advance against Hill's front was made just before dark and was handsomely repulssed by Wilcox's and Heth's divisions. His final attack upon Ewell after night against that part of the line held by Edward Johnson's division. Here too he was beaten back, leaving many f his dead and wunded on the ground. During these operations Ewell captured 2,000 prisoners, nearly all of whom were taken by Gordon's Georgia brigade and Hays' Louisianians, both of whom behaved with distinguished gallantry.
Longstreet had not yet reached the ground. Leaving Gordonsville at 4 o'clock Wednesday afternoon, he marched fifteen miles that night. The next day he marched down the Catharpin road (so called from a run which it crosses) seventeen miles, his orders being to strike Brock's road at a point south of the unfinished railroad. He halted during the afternoon within eight miles of the battlefield, but owing to the peculiar condition of the atmosphere and the density of the forest, he could not hear the guns of of Hill and Ewell, and was not aware the battle had commenced until the receipt of a dispatch from Gen. Lee at midnight, ordering him to cross over to the assistance of Hill. His corps was put in motion immediately, and reached the field Friday morning soon after sunrise. Hill's troops were aware of the approach of Longstreet's corps and that it would take their place in the line. They had had a hard fight the previous evening and rested but little that night, and when the head of McLaws' division (now commanded by that noble soldier Brig. Gen. Kershaw) came in sight, they relaxed somewhat ther vigilance and were preparing to withdraw when they were attacked in front with great fury by a very heavy force. Under these untoward circumstances, Gen. Wilcox's and Gen. Heth's divisions, which had done so well the evening before, were thrown into confusion and gave way just as Kershaw double-quicked it to the front in column. The latter succeeded in throwing three regiments of his old brigade commanded by Col. Hinnegan into line while Wilcox's and Heth's men were falling back over his troops, and with this small but heroic band he confronted the heavy masses of the enemy, now flushed with the hope of an easy victory, and pressing rapidly forward. These regiments suffered severelyt, but they maintained their ground until the remainder of the division could be got into some sort of line under the terrible fire to which it was exposed. Gen. Lee witnessed the unfortunate and unexpected confusion and withdrawal of the divisions of Wilcox and Heth in both of which he had reposed so much confidence and which had behaved so handsomely on former occasions, and tears rushed into his eyes. He at once placed himself at the head of Gregg's Texan brigade, Field's division, formerly Hood's and prepared to lead it in person. The heroes of the Line STar who had made the circuit of the Confederacy under Lonstreet, remonstrated against such an unnecessary exposure of his life -- a life so important and precious to the Confederacy and all friends of liberty throughout the world. He replied that he must win this battle at every hazard -- that we must whip the fight. The Texans who had not yet moved from their tracks answered that they could whip the fight without his leading them and they would do it. In the meantime appeals were made by several officers to Longstreet as the only person who could probably dissuaded Gen. Lee from so rash a proceding. He went immediately to Gen. Lee and begged him to restrain himself and not to think of exposing himself and the cause which he had so much at heart to such terrible chances. The Texans finally gave him to understand in the most respectful manner that they would obey any order he might give provided he remained behind, but that they would not budge an inch if he led them. Gen. Lee was at length prevailed upon to desist from the hazardous undertaking, and right gloriously did the heroic Texans redeem their pledge.
Kershaw has by the unanimous voice of the army won his spurs and Major General's commission. He has ever proved himself equal to the occasion, however critical, but yesterday he displayed a degree of skill, energy and intrepidity that elicited the admiration of all who witnessed, or hafe heard of, his performance. When he and Fields, another officer who behaved with great judgment and gallantry at length got into position under these difficult circumstances with their old Leader, Longstreet, to guide and direct them, it would have done you good to see how they and their officers and men forward with shouts that rent the skies, and finally repulsed the immense numbers that crowded down upon them with terrible slaughter. They saved the day, which for nearly two hours trembled in doubt, and were at length enabled to assume the offensive. It was evidently Grant's object to turn our right wing and if he had succeeded it is impossible to say what might have been the result.
On the left we were equally successful. An attempt was made to pierce that part of Ewell's line which was held by Pegram's brigade, but it was signally defeated. You will regret to hear that Gen. Pegram was severely wounded and that Brig. Gen. Jones of Viginia and Stafford of Louisiana were killed the evening before. With this exception, the left wing was not required to take any further part in the heavy fighting of the day, the enemy's almost exclusive attention being given to our right.
About 11 o'clock Longstreet was ordered to move upon the enemy's left flank and if possible dislodge him from the railroad cut and the plank road, and drive him back upon Brock's road. The brigades selected for this movement were G.T. Anderson's and Jenkins' of Field's division, Mahone's and Davis' of R.F. Anderson's division, and Wofford's and perhaps two others of Kershaw's division. Anderson's division but lately arrived , having been left at Orange Court House to guard against any demonstration upon our rear. The flank movement was completely successful; the enemy was taken by surprise and driven back from the railroad cut, across the plank road with heavy loss, a portion of the troops retreating very rapidly down the plank road to the Brock road. Mahone's Virginia brigade of Anderson's division ran over the 4th United States infantry, a regunebt which insisted that it had never been broken before. The plank road being clear, Lonstreet advanced down it at the head of Jenkins' brigade and had hardly gone half a mile when he was fired upon by Mahone's brigade, which was drawn up in the dense woods parallel to the road, and not more than 75 paces from it. Mahone was waiting there to catch such of the enemy as might have been cut off up the road, and when Jenkins' brigade arrived opposite to him, his men, being unable to distinguish one man from another through the woods very naturally concluded it was a body of the enemy retiring, and opened fire upon their friends, killing eight or ten and wounded several others. Capt. Doby of Kershaw's staff was killed instantly; the interpid Gen. Jenkins of South Carolina received a mortal wound in the head from which he died a few hours afterwards, and Gen. Longstreet was shot in the neck. The ball struck him in front on the right side of the larynx, passing under the skin, carrying away a part of the spine of the scapula, and coming out behind the right shoulder. The wound is severe, but is not considered mortal, the only danger apprehended being from secondary hemmorrage. Should he survive ten or twelve days and the carotid artery artery not become involved, it is the opinion of Dr. Cullen, his medical director, that he will be able to return to the field in a few weeks. He has lost the temporary use of his right arm, what surgeons call the cervical plexus of nerves being injured. He was carried to the rear this morning and was doing remarkably well when he left. Gen. Lee called to see him just before he was moved, and when he bade him farewell and came out of his tent where his great lieutenant lay, his eyes were filled with tears. It is a remarkable coincidence that Jackson received his death wound just twelve months ago only four miles from the spot where his companion-in-arms fell, and just after he had completed a successful flank movement, and under amost precisely the same circumstances. Heaven Grant that Lee may not lose his left arm just as he lost his right arm then.
Gen. Longstreet had just been congratulated by Gen. Lee, Gen. Kershaw and others upon the complete success of his attack upon the flank of the enemy, and he was sweeping down the plank road to pluck the rich fruits of his victory, then almost within his grasp, when he was struck down by his own friends. The delay of an hour which ensued gave the enemy time to escape back behind his entrenchments on Brock's road. The command of the corps then devolved upon Maj. Gen. Fields, and to-day it was turned over to Maj. Gen. Anderson of Hill's Corps, who had been reporting to Longstreet after his arrival and who formerly belonged to the corps.
The enemy had thus been repulsed along our whole line, and left many dead and wounded in our hands. In many places his dead appeared to be five or six times as numerous as our own. Our loss was not so heavy as first reported and will probably not exceed 5,000 of whom not more than 500 were killed. Most of the wounds were comparatively slight, owing to the protection afforded by the trees and bushes. The enemy's loss cannot be much less than 15,000 inclusive of prisoners. The unfavorable character of the ground and and the thick chapparel prevented both sides from using artillery , only a few guns being put in position. Among all the killed, no truer or braver knight ever fell than the gallant and accomplished Col. Nance of South Carlolina and no harder fighter or more perfect gentleman ever received a wound on the field of battle than Gen. Benning of Georgia. The one has gone to the rest of the true soldier; let us prey that the other may long be spared to country he has served with so much modesty and courage. Maj. Gen. Wadsworth f the federal army received a mortal wound in the head and is now in one of our hospitals. Brig. Gen. Hays of the same army is killed.
At half past four o'clock Gen. Lee determined to feel of the enemy and ascertain his position on Brock's road. On the right where I had my position, the brigades of Kershaw, Humphreys, and Wofford of Kershaw's division, Anderson, Jenkins, Gregg and Law of Field's division, and Mahone of Anderson's division moved forward in the form of the letter V, with the sharp point towards the enemy. G.T. Anderson, known at "Tiger Anderson" formed the apex of the line, and succeeded in reaching the enemy's entrenchments, two of his men falling within the works. On the left Ewell was equally successful. The result of the attack or reconnaissance was the discovery that Grant had been driven back a mile and a half to a strong line of entrenchments in front of Brock's road, and that his left wing rested upon a deep cut in the railroad along which he had posted a force that effectually protected it. His position is therfore a strong one, being rendered the more so by by the dense woods through which his line runs. Lee's position is equally satisfactory.
Last night Gordon of Early's division threw his brigade around an exposed point in the enemy's lines, and took Brig. Gen. Seymour of Ocean Pond memory, and Shalter, and about 500 men prisoners. Seymour admits that Grant has been whipped, and that the federal army will continue to be whipped until their ports are closed and the troops reduced to "parched corn and beans like the rebels." He says Grant drinks too much liquor and the war on the part of the north is conducted as if it were a matter of frolic and contract.
Our lines were withdrawn a few hundred yards last night from the enemy's immediate front for the purpose of improving their position. Notwithstanding exactly what the movement meant Grant advanced with heavy forces this morning at half past ten o'clock, but he soon discovered where the Confederate troops were. He was driven back with ease, and now at sunset is cowering behind his entrenchments in the Wilderness. His troops have not done as well as they did under McClellan, Burnside or even Hooker. The Confedeates on the contrary never fought better. Gen. Lee has caused it to be circulated among them some days ago that they must not think of defeat as possible; it was a thing not to be even dreamed of. Nobly have his invincible legions responded to the call of their great chief. Oh, that we may ever have such a leader and such an army!
Mobile Daily Advertiser & Register
May 27, 1864
p. 2 col. 2-3
OUR ARMY CORRESPONDENT
LETTER FROM VIRGINIA
Army of Northern Virginia
Spottsylvania Courthouse, May 13
On yesterday was fought in front of this modest little village -- henceforth to be famous through all coming time -- one of the fiercest and most obstinate battles of modern times. It commenced at daylight, and raged and roared with tremendous fury until 2 o'clock in the afternoon when the enemy retired from the bloody conflict. Grant made the attack again as he did at the Wilderness, and gained a considerable advantage by the suddenness and vigor of the assault early in the day; but with this exception, he was repulsed with a loss that will carry mourning to thousands to Northern and European hearthstones and dismay and confusion to the tyrants and demagogues whose hosts he leads. The Confederates failed at one point only -- partly from accident, partly from mistake, and partly, I fear, from lack of spirits but on all other parts of the field they were victorious, and as firm and resolute as ever. The enemy was beaten, but not routed or driven from the field.
It is not my purpose to go much into the details of the battle -- first because the letter, if captured between this place and Richmond, might give the foe desirable information in regard to the strength and position of our forces; and second because it is almost impossible to prepare any account of a battle that will give satisfaction to subordinate officers, and if one makes the attempt and fails, as he certainly will, he is almost sure to have his motivates impugned and become involved in a controversy in the newspapers.
The battle was fought on the north side of Spottsylvania Courthouse on undulating ground diversified by field, pine thickets, and patches of woods. Our line is crescent shaped, perhaps it will be more correct to say that it is nearly in the form of a horse-shoe, and extends around the court house, or village, on the north of north-western side, so as to cover all the approaches from these quarters. Slight entrenchments had been thrown up along our entire front, extending from near the Shady Grove (or Catharpin road continued) on the west, around to and beyond the Fredericksburg road on the northeast side of the village. At one point on the right is an eminence a few hundred yards in advance of the general direction of our line, and in order to prevent the enemy from getting possession of it for his artillery, a sharp angle was projected so as to include the hill within our entrenchments. The result shows that this was an unfortunate piece of engineering. Past the foot of the hill on the north side sweeps a ravine, which presents a convex line to the hill, the two approaching each other like circles that touch but do not cut each other. The enemy availed himself of this ravine in his assault upon the angle, which was the weakest point in our line, being considerably in advance of the general line, and beyond the reach of support from the forces operating on the right and left.
Information was received night before last that Grant was retiring in the direction of Fredericksburg and Germanna Ford; a report to this effect was noised abroad through the army, though subsequent events show that it was without the least foundation. Through a mistake, which I cannot trace to its source, but which grew out of this mischievous report, the artillery, which had been posted on the hill in the angle alluded to above was withdrawn during the night. This left Maj. Gen. Johnson of Ewell's corps, whose division, heretofore considered one of the best in the army, occupied this part of the line without any artillery support. He communicated this fact to the corps commander at midnight with the additional intelligence that the enemy was massing a heavy force in his immediate front for the purpose, as he believed, of assaulting him next (yesterday) morning. The guns, or others, were sent back, and were just moving into the angle at 4 o'clock yesterday morning when the force which Johnson reported to be massing in his front, made a vigorous assault upon his position and carried it. The assaulting force had been assembled in the ravine at the foot of the hill, was very strong, and advanced, one report says, in column of regiments. It had rained the evening before, and considerable fog prevailed, under cover of which the attack was made. One or two guns were got into position and fired, but the horses attached to the other pieces were shot down before they could be unlimbered and most of the cannoneers captured. jones' Virginia brigade, whose commander was killed at the Wilderness while trying to rally his men, was the first to break, the old Stonewall and other brigades belonging to the division, becoming involved, soon followed its example, and the last seen of Gen. Johnson, the hero of Allegheny, he was standing almost alone with a musket in his hand contesting the ground single-handed with the multitudinous foe. The brigades comprising the division are the Stonewall brigade, Gen. James M. Walker, and Jones' brigade, both of this state, Steuart's brigade of Virginians and North Carolinians, and Stafford's brigade of Louisianans. Jones and Stafford fell at the Wilderness, Walker was wounded yesterday, steuart and Johnson, the commander of the division, were taken prisoners, and the Colonel commanding Jones' brigade is reported killed with many other officers. The guns left on the field, but which neither party has been able to secure on account of the fire of the other -- some eighteen or twenty -- are said to belong to Cutshaw's and Page's battalions. A thousand or twelve hundred prisoners were lost at the same time.
This occurred at a very early hour in the morning. If Jones' Brigade had not given away, it is possible, though not probable, that Johnson would have been able to maintain his ground. He is one of the best officers in the army, and the sublime spectacle presented when battling alone with the enemy, though deserted by his command, should excite our admiration, rather than provoke criticism. But it should not be imagined that the enemy gained the hill without opposition, sudden and vigorous as his assault was. He was received with volley after volley, and the ground was covered with his slain; but he had massed such a heavy force upon a single exposed point, some distance in advance of the general line and incapable of being instantaneously supported, that it was found impossible to repulse him. It is but just to add, too, that the enemy's charge was as spirited as it was successful, and reflects no little credit upon his troops. He was aware of the weakness of the point from its comparative isolation, having effected a temporary lodgement in the angle two days before, as detailed in my letter of yesterday, and it would have been wonder if had not been successful with the preparation he had made.
The Confederates suffered severely as they retreated across the intervening space to our second line, or rather to the line which subtends the angle, and which may be considered the base of the triangle covering the hill. Even this line is somewhat in advance of the direction of the general line. But the broken division did not stop here; they continued their retreat to the rear. Fortunately, the gallant Gordon, commanding Early's division, was in reserve, and swept to the rescue in a manner that excited the admiration of every beholder, including Gen. Lee. The enemy swarmed over the hill and rushed against the lines to the right and left, but Rodes and Gordon and Wilcox were there to meet them.
The battle was now fully joined, and for nine hours it roared and hissed and dashed over the bloody angle and along the bristling entrenchments like an angry sea beating and chafing against a rock bound coast. The artillery fire was the most sustaining and continuous I have ever heard for so long a time, averaging thirty shot to the minute, or 1800 to the hour, for six hours. The rattle of musketry was not less furious and incessant. At 10 o'clock when the din and uproar were at the highest, an angry storm cloud swept over the field, and thus to the thunder of battle was added "the dread artillery of the skies." It was now manifest that Grant's real assaults, as Gen. Lee had believed, would be launched against our right wing, and to that point the opposing forces gravitated from all parts of the field; just as when a cloud surcharged with electricity forms in the heavens, all the lesser clouds and racks drift to it and are swallowed up in the swelling angry mass.
Grant strove hard to hold us to other parts of the field and prevent this concentration of force and for that purpose he engaged Anderson on our left and Early who had been sent to the extreme right. He made three separate assaults against the former, but was repulsed each time with frightful loss by Law and DuBose of Field's division, formerly Hood's. Early, at the head of Hill's Corps, hurled him back as a mad bull would an incautious mastiff caught upon his horns, as often as he advanced upon him.
But it was against Ewell, who held the right of the original line that Grant expended his greatest efforts and made his most desperate assaults. Having gained a foothold in the angle or centre of Ewell's position, he brought up line after line and hurled them with tremendous violence at one time against Rodes, at another against Gordon, and then against both. Wilcox was brought up and placed on Gordon's right and Wofford and Humphreys of Kershaw's Division and Jenkins' Brigade of Field's, Anderson's Corps, were sent to the assistance of Rodes. Additional batteries were sent in the same direction. Heth went to the right and all of Anderson's old division but Wright followed him. And thus the whirling, remorseless maelstrom drew everything into its angry vortex. The enemy exhibited a courage and resolution worthy of a better cause; Grant seemed to have breathed into his troops some of his own spirit and indomitable energy. But if the federals fought well, the Confederates fought better. From early dawn until far in the afternoon with steady hands and unblanched cheeks they faced the leaden hail that was rained upon them without intermission. At some points the two armies fought on opposite sides of the entrenchments, the distance between them not being more than the length of their muskets. Again and again would Grant marshal his men for the onset, and right valiantly did they respond, but as often as they returned to the assault, so often were they repulsed as if they had rushed against a wall of iron. At no point of the line and at no point during the long and terrible and exhausting conflict, did the heroic children of the South falter or waver for one moment. Each man knew he was fighting the battle for the possession for Richmond -- the battle indeed for the independence of the Confederate States -- and the thought of yielding to the foe never once entered his mind.
During one of the assaults Gordon inflicted very heavy loss upon the enemy by moving around and striking the assaulting column in flank. The enemy was thrown into great confusion, and retired rapidly to the rear, leaving many dead and wounded on the ground.
The most important movement against the enemy's flank, however, was executed by Mahone's and Lane's brigades on the extreme right under the direction of Gen. Early. The expedition was intended to operate, not against the flank of the opposing column, but against the flank of the federal army, and thus afford relief to our centre and left wing, both of which were hard pressed. The two brigades were placed under command of Mahone, who passed around to the Fredericksburg road, and was about to engage the enemy when he met the latter coming out, probably to take us in flank. An engagement ensued immediately, and resulted in the defeat of the enemy, who retired back to the main army, where considerable commotion was produced by the fresh danger with which it was threatened. A division operating against our left, supposed to belong to Burnside's corps, was withdrawn, and double-quicked across the field to check Mahone. Just before it reached the scene of action, it came within full view of Poague's and Pegram's guns and not more than twelve hundred yards distant. Twelve pieces were brought to bear upon it in less time than it requires to describe this brilliant episode in the battle. The enemy stood their ground for a moment, then staggered back, and finally broke in the wildest disorder. What with Mahone's fire in front, and the artillery plowing great gaps in their flank, their loss was terrible. A shell exploded just as it struck the ground right in their midst, and hurled one man in the air several feet above the heads of his flying comrades. His movement afforded instantaneous relief to our left, and from this line the assaults of the enemy grew more and more feeble along the whole line, and finally they ceased altogether at 2 p.m.
The men were anxious to follow up the enemy when he was repulsed, but Gen. Lee's plan was to act on the defensive, and not to strike until the right time came. The federal army far exceeded his in numbers; they had entrenched themselves, as his had done; and common sense, as well as military science, would teach the propriety of patiently awaiting, rather than rashly making the attack. The result has shown the wisdom of the policy adopted, Grant has already well nigh himself, whilst Lee's army remains almost intact, ready to assume the offensive, or to continue to act on the defensive, as occasion may require.
Our loss in the rank and file is remarkably small, the men being well protected by the entrenchments. The casualties, however, have been unusually heavy among field officers, who were not protected, and had to move frequently from one point to another, under the terrible infantry and artillery fire of the enemy which swept every part of the field in rear of our entrenchments. The ground is torn and plowed up by the direct anc cross fire of the federal guns, as if it had been prepared by the farmer for the reception of spring seed. Three assistant surgeons were killed in the discharge of their duty on the field; and Chaplain Owen of Texas who carried to news to Lee at Chancellorsville that Sedgwick was moving on his rear from Fredericksburg, was severely wounded early in the morning, whilst on his way to the Richmond Howitzers to hold prayers. Including the battle of the Wilderness we have lost the following General officers:
Killed: Brig. Gens. Stafford of Louisiana, Jones of Virginia; Jenkins and Perrin of South Carolina; and Daniel of North Carolina.
Wounded: Lt. Gen. Longstreet of Alabama; Brig. Gen. Hays of Louisiana; Benning of Georgia; McGowan of South Carolina; Ramseur and Johnston of North Carolina; and James M. Walker (Stonewall Brigade), H.H. Walker and Pegram of Virginia.
Captured: Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson of Georgia; and Brig. Gen. George H. Stewart of Maryland.
Gen. Lee made more than one narrow escape, his clothing being covered with mud thrown upon him by bursting shells. He will persist in staying near the point of greatest danger. The whole country, with one voice, should protest against such rash exposure of a life in which we are all so deeply interested, and upon the preservation of which so much depends. Col. Taylor, his Adjutant General, had his horse shot. Gen. Ransom's wound is light. Many valuable field officers were killed and wounded, but their names will appear in the lists of casualties in their several commands. I omitted to mention above that Maj. Hamilton, Commissary of Gregg's Texas Brigade, and Capt. Barksdale, Quartermaster of the 18th Miss. regiment, were killed at the Wilderness. They believed that the hour of supreme trial had come and that the final battle for our independence was about to be fought, and feeling that every man who could wield a musket should be in the field, they procured arms, though against positive orders, went into the fight, and fell with their feet to the foe, battling manfully for the right.
The two armies, led by the most renowned chieftains on the western continent if not in the world have now been wrestling with each other for the mastery for eight long days. Thank God the smaller combattant thus far has been marvelously successful, and has suffered comparatively little loss except in officers; whilst the larger, being the wrong doer, has been punished beyond all precedent in this war. His dead and many of his wounded still remain on the ground, being too near our entrenchments to be moved, and they tell their own melancholy tale. If half that prisoners report of their losses in battle, and from desertion, straggling and demoralization, be true, then the enemy's casualties are indeed frightening. The loss in prisoners here has been about equal, say 1,500 on each side; this gives us the advantage of 3,000, including those taken at the battle of the Wilderness. Of the prisoners captured here, two or three hundred were taken by Mahone, and four colors and one guidon, when he moved on the flank of the enemy.
Last night we rectified our lines near the angle which has given so much trouble, retiring it somewhat and locating it where it should have been run originally. The enemy still retains possession of the angle, but he has not been able to remove the guns left by Cutshaw and Page, nor have we, the sharpshooters on either side preventing it. We brought away from the wilderness 12,000 captured rifles and muskets.
Both armies have rested from the strife to-day. The dead have to be buried, the wounded have to be cared for, shattered regiments and brigades have to be reorganized, and fresh plans to be devised. This requires time, and the men require rest. There can be no doubt that Grant's troops were well supplied with liquor before they entered the battle; many of the prisoners, including more than one Colonel, were in a state of intoxication when taken. It rained last night and again to-day.
May 14 - There has been a good deal of shelling and picket firing to-day, and at one time a renewal of the strife seemed to be imminent. The New York Herald urges the recall of Grant and his army to the north side of the Rappahannock. Will he go? We hear that the movement upon Richmond from City Point and the Peninsula has failed to accomplish its purpose; that being true, what can Grant hope by pressing further in this direction? It is said he started with 92,000 muskets; if he can muster 50,000 of these now, he is more fortunate than prisoners, both officers and men, represent him to be.
It has been raining at intervals all day.
Mobile Daily Advertiser & Register
May 27, 1864
p. 1 col. 8 & p. 2 col. 1-2.