Near Locust Grove in Orange County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Collision of Giants
Wilderness Exhibit Shelter
— North Wall —
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.
"...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
Divided over the 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?
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
With Grant in overall command, the war would 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,
The Forgotten Commander
Respected but little applauded, possessed of an acerbic temper, and overshadowed by Ulysses S. Grant, Major General George Gordon Meade 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.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #18 Ulysses S. Grant series list. A significant historical date for this entry is April 9, 1864.
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. Located at stop two of the driving tour of Wilderness Battlefield. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Locust Grove VA 22508, United States of America. Touch for directions.
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 RoadThe Fighting Ends in Stalemate (here, next to this marker); The Wilderness (a few steps from this marker); The Capture of Winslow's Battery (a few steps from this marker); Saunders Field (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named The Battle of the Wilderness (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map 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 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.)
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on March 9, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,312 times since then and 26 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on April 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. 8. submitted on March 7, 2008, by Bill Coughlin of Woodland Park, New Jersey.