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Near Locust Grove in Orange County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Collision of Giants

Wilderness Exhibit Shelter

 

—North Wall —

 
Collision of Giants - The North Wall of the Exhibit Shelter image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
1. Collision of Giants - The North Wall of the Exhibit Shelter
Inscription. Collision of Giants
By 1864 the war had become not just a clash of armies, but of ideas. To be resolved on the fields of Virginia and Georgia that year was not only the fate of the Union, but also the fate of Southern society. The armies on both sides took to the task with unprecedented fury.

The Stakes
"...We should neglect no honorable means of dividing and weakening our enemies...It seems to me that the most effectual mode of accomplishing this object...is to give all the encouragement we can, consistently with the truth, to the rising peace party of the North."
Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis, June 10, 1863.
Crushing defeats, lost territory, and shortages of men, food, and armaments beset the Confederates in 1863. Their hopes in 1864 lay not in absolute victory, but in Northern disunity. Continued military stalemate might result in Abraham Lincoln losing the coming presidential election. But could a shrinking land base, inadequate industry, and insufficient transport sustain the outnumbered Confederate armies long enough? Could Lee again forge victory against great odds?

Divided over the
Collision of Giants Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
2. Collision of Giants Panel
issue of slavery, discouraged by huge losses without great victories, and rent by political division, the Union war effort sagged in 1864. What happened on the battlefields of Virginia and Georgia that spring and summer would decide the war. Would Lincoln - determined to carry the war to a victorious end - survive the election? Or would the Democrats - pledged to negotiate an end to the war - assume power over a dismembered Union?

The Leaders
By 1864, the Confederacy's diminishing hopes for independence lay with Robert E. Lee. Creative and agressive, the 57-year-old Virginian consistently achieved victory where none seemed possible. He would face his greatest test as his army plunged into the Wilderness in May 1864.

Unlike Lee, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant rode to prominence on an inexorable tide of growing industrial and military power. His victories bore the mark of patience and determination, not dash and creativity. By 1864 he had risen to the command of all Union armies. Less inspiring than efficient, he attached himself to the Army of the Potomac for the 1864 campaign.

The Plan
With Grant in overall command, the war would
The Stakes Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
3. The Stakes Panel
be radically different in 1864. He pledged to "hammer continuously" at the South. The advance of the Army of the Potomac would be one of five major offensives along a 1,500-mile front. Grant halted the exchange of prisoners. Civilians would suffer at the hand of advancing armies - yielding crops, livestock, and in some cases homes to Union Forces. The goal: to defeat Confederate armies and demolish the South's capacity to wage war.

In Virginia, Grant set as his objective not the Confederate capital at Richmond, but Lee's Army. On May 4, 1864, the Army of the Potomac started across the Rapidan River below Lee's right flank. Grant hoped to move quickly through the choked, tangled area known as the Wilderness and engage Lee in the open land to the south and west. But combersome wagon trains slowed him down. On May 5 the armies collided in the Wilderness.

"Lee's army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also."
U.S. Grant to George Gordon Meade, April 9, 1864.

The Forgotten Commander
Respected but little applauded, possessed of an acerbic temper, and overshadowed by Ulysses S. Grant, Major General George Gordon Meade
The Leaders Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
4. The Leaders Panel
commanded the Army of the Potomac during the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant commanded all Union armies, but his decision to ride with the Army of the Potomac would mark that army as his own, leaving Meade to toil in relative obscurity for the next eleven months.
 
Location. 38° 19.054′ N, 77° 45.38′ W. Marker is near Locust Grove, Virginia, in Orange County. Marker is on Constitution Highway (State Highway 20), on the right when traveling west. Click for map. Located at stop two of the driving tour of Wilderness Battlefield. Marker is in this post office area: Locust Grove VA 22508, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Clash on the Orange Turnpike (here, next to this marker); Battle of the Wilderness (here, next to this marker); Struggle on the Orange Plank Road (here, next to this marker); The Fighting Ends in Stalemate (here, next to this marker); The Wilderness (a few steps from this marker); Saunders Field
The Plan Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
5. The Plan Panel
(a few steps from this marker); Gordon Flank Attack Trail (within shouting distance of this marker); First Blood in Saunders Field (within shouting distance of this marker). Click for a list of all markers in Locust Grove.
 
More about this marker. The Collision of Giants panel displays portraits of Generals Lee and Grant. The Stakes panel contains facsimiles of newspapers from 1864.

On The Leaders panel a portrait of General Lee is captioned, Lee at the end of the war, "We looked forward to victories under him as confidently as to successive sunrises," wrote one of his officers. To the right, a drawing of depicts Grant during the 1864 campaign. One officer described him as "stumpy, unmilitary, slouchy, and Western-looking; very ordinary in fact." But looks could be deceiving. General George G. Meade informed his wife, "You may rest assured he is not an ordinary man."

The background of The Plan panel shows The Army of the Potomac crossing the Rapidan at
The Forgotten Commander Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
6. The Forgotten Commander Panel
Germanna Ford on May 4, 1864. More than half of the Union army would cross there; the remainder would cross further downstream at Ely's Ford, passing through the old Chancellorsville Battlefield.
A map in the upper right details the early phase of the campaign, After learning that Grant had crossed Germanna Ford, Lee hurried east to engage the Federals in the Wilderness. The region's impenetrable forest would in large measure nullify Grant's advantages in artillery, infantry, and cavalry.

On The Forgotten Commander panel, is a photograph of George Gordon Meade. "He has none of the dash and brilliance which is necessary to popularity," wrote one of his officers.
 
Also see . . .  Wilderness Battlefield. National Park Service site. (Submitted on April 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 
 
Categories. War, US Civil
 
Campaign Map on The Plan Panel image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, February 16, 2008
7. Campaign Map on The Plan Panel
Wilderness Exhibit Shelter image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin
8. Wilderness Exhibit Shelter
The Exhibit Shelter is located at the east end of the parking lot. It contains Battle Maps and descriptions of the Battle of the Wilderness.
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,083 times since then and 22 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.   8. submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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