Sunday, May 4, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Wild Battlefield of Fire

One modern newspaper article from a city in the former Confederate States of America called it "the beginning of the end".

And, tomorrow at 4pm, church bells throughout the state of Vermont, a state that stayed with the Union, will toll.

Some of those bells, it is hoped, are bells as old as our Civil War.

Why?

Tomorrow is not just the Cinco de Mayo, a day of celebration in many parts of the United States that, ironically, commemorates an 1862 battle in a different war.  Tomorrow  is also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, a two day battle that pit some 65,000 Confederates of the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, against the approximately 120,000 strong union Army of the Potomac, now under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant.

This two day battle took place in a wilderness of tangled growth, where soldiers could not see each other, and the weapons of war set the thickets on fire.  Medics couldn't reach the wounded because of the limited visibility. Hundreds and hundreds soldiers burned to death and shrouded the entire area in smoke.  This battle became its own special kind of hell.  When people who study the Civil War think of the Wilderness, the first thing they think of is "fire".

This battle was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, which would prove to be the bloodiest campaign of a bloody Civil War.  This battle took place so close to where Stonewall Jackson had been mortally wounded the year before.  In fact, if you visit the area, you can see four famous Civil War battlefields within comparatively short distances to each other.

I remember visiting the Wilderness battlefield many years ago.  At that time I had not studied much about the Civil War, and wondered why what I was looking at was basically a forest.  I was used to seeing battlefields that were nice and open, and had visitors centers.  We wandered around trying to find the visitors center until we gave up, ironically, probably driving on the very roads where combat took place.  (Even today, there is no visitors center).  You can now take a virtual tour, but back then, there was no Internet.

Although stalemated, Grant drove his men south, instead of retreated, as other Union generals had tended to do. 

So, Grant's men marched, towards a place called (using the spelling of the times)....Spottsylvania Court House.

And there..... (to be continued).

5 comments:

  1. I've never been super interested in war stuff or history, but this is a really cool post :) Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Stopping by from Facebook/UBC. I am also not particularly good at remembering historical events, but this is especially interesting. I grew up in NH and visited Vermont frequently, so it's sobering to hear about the casualties of countrymen in a neighboring state during that battle.

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  3. How shocking to think of all those men marching into the hell of fire. But, so different from the words of the song, no heavenly cause called them.

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  4. I feel like I've learned so much about war history from your post. I'm currently watching a UK TV series called 'Crimson Fields' which is about nurses during World War 1 !

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  5. Good video clip. Can relate much better to those sorts of graphics then re-enactments which I can't usually follow. Adding fire to the usual battlefield horrors is just awful!

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