Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Battle of the Wilderness – Longstreet Attacks

Longstreet's Flank Attack
The line on the southern front was stabilized, but Lee was not content with that. He wanted to go on the offensive. Longstreet's engineer reported that there was an unfinished railroad that gave a covered approach to the Union flank. The plan was approved, and Longstreet gave Moxley Sorrel, his chief of staff, the role of putting four brigades into position to make the attack. At 11 am the Confederates charged. The attack surprised the Federals, and Hancock himself acknowledged that the Federal line was rolled up like a wet blanket. Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont in Getty's division wrote:

The Plank Road
There was no chance for us when the left gave way but to run or be taken prisoner. We were between two fires, and the enemy had every advantage. ... I found myself with a squad belonging to the division that broke and caused the defeat – decidedly bad company to be in. Some of their officers drew their swords and revolvers and tried their utmost to rally them again. They might as well have appealed to the winds. ...  
I was shamelessly demoralized. I didn’t know where my regiment had gone to, and to be candid about it, I didn’t care. I was tired almost to death, and as hungry as a wolf. ... I should have been ashamed of such conduct at any other time, but just then all I thought of was a cup of coffee, and a dinner of hard tack. ... My patriotism was well nigh used up, and so was I, till I had some refreshments.

The Confederate attack was successful, but it was not long before it stalled. James Longstreet rode to the front to get his men moving again. But as he came down the Orange Plank Road with his staff, the 12th Virginia confused his party for Federal cavalry. Their fired into the group, hitting General Micah Jenkins, a staff officer, a courier and Longstreet himself. It was almost exactly a year before that Stonewall Jackson had been shot by his own men on nearly the same ground. Longstreet was wounded severely in the neck, and he turned over command to Charles Field, giving him orders to press the enemy. For a time it was not known whether Longstreet would survive the wound. He did, but he could not return to the army for months.

Longstreet's wounding was the doom of the Confederate attack. It took time to transfer the command, and by the time the troops were moving again, Hancock had taken up a new line of earthworks.

Wounded soldiers from the Wilderness


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