Near Locust Grove in Orange County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
The Fighting Ends in Stalemate
Wilderness Exhibit Shelter
—South Wall —
Two days of bitter fighting had left the bleak Wilderness landscape charred and smoking from fire. Corpses littered the contested ground, now scarred by miles of earth-and-log entrenchments. Unwilling to attack Lee's strong position, Grant ordered a night march to Spotsylvania Court House.
A Wilderness of Fire
Brush fires added to the horror of the Wilderness fighting. Ignited by muzzle blasts and fuled by dead leaves and twigs, fires swept through the dry woods, obscuring soldiers' vision and filling their lungs with suffocating smoke. "Two hundred thousand men, inspired with the desperation of demons," wrote one soldier, "were fighting in a wilderness of fire."
Hundreds of wounded men, unable to escape the devouring flames, suffered an agonizing death. Others, unwilling to endure such a fire, chose instead to take their own lives. Union artilleryman Frank Wilkerson saw a man with two broken legs lying between the lines. Next to him lay a loaded rifle. "I know he meant to kill himself in case of fire," wrote Wilkerson, "knew it as surely as though I could read his thoughts."
A Drawn Battle
"...In the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces."
George Gordon Meade.
To Spotsylvania Court House
Two days of fighting had left the two armies bloody and exhausted. Each side entrenched and waited for the other to attack. Believing that Lee was preparing to abandon the Wilderness and retreat to Richmond, Grant issued orders for a night march to Spotsylvania Court House. Spotsylvania stood between the Wilderness and the Confederate capital. Whoever reached the village first would have the shortest route to Richmond.
The Union army quietly began pulling out of the trenches after dark on May 7. Warren and Hancock
The Horrific Cost
The Union army lost more than 17,500 men in the Wilderness. Those who died were buried in temporary graveyards like that shown below, if indeed they were buried at all. After the war most were taken to Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Confederate casualties in the two-day battle, though not precisely known, numbered around 11,000. The Southern dead are interred in the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery. A small number from both armies may still lie buried on the battlefield.
Location. 38° 19.051′ N, 77° 45.378′ W. Marker is near Locust Grove, Virginia, in Orange County. Marker is on Constitution Highway (State Highway 20), on the right when traveling west. Touch 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. Struggle on the Orange Plank Road (here, next to this marker); Battle of the Wilderness (here, next to this marker); Clash on the Orange Turnpike (here, next to this marker); Collision of Giants (here, next to this marker); The Wilderness (a few steps from this marker); Saunders Field (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). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Locust Grove.
More about this marker. The background of the Stalemate panel is a drawing of casualties on the battlefield. The A Wilderness of Fire panel uses drawing where Union soldiers carry a wounded comrade from the battlefield on a makeshift stretcher, while less fortunate men crawl to escape the advancing flames.
The A Drawn Battle panel has a background photograph of Earthworks, like those at Saunders Field, discouraged attack. As both sides entrenched, as standoff ensued. On the right center, a photograph records Union soldiers wounded
The background of the To Spotsylvania Court House panel is a drawing illustrating that Union troops hailed with enthusiasm Grant's decision to march to Spotsylvania. As he road south, throngs of cheering soldiers lined his route. A map on the right shows Union and Confederate routes to Spotsylvania Court House.
The Horrific Cost panel has a background of a temporary graveyard with portraits of soldiers above.
Also see . . . Wilderness Battlefield. National Park Service site. (Submitted on April 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
Categories. • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on April 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,410 times since then and 42 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on April 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.