The Civil War, Day by Day

The High Water Mark (detail)

Battle of the Wilderness Begins

The previous day, General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac had crossed the Rapidan River with 122,000 men, aiming to defeat Lee’s troops in Richmond. Lee, with only 66,000 starving, bedraggled men, directed his troops to a desolate area of the underbrush in northern Virginia which was known as the Wilderness. Lee chose this strategy because he knew that the North would have no safety in numbers on this treacherous terrain.

The ensuing battle, according to one veteran, was one of “invisibles with invisibles.” The thick smoke of the gunfire and burning thickets made it virtually impossible to see one’s enemy. Neat battle lines were quickly broken, as both sides soon faced in all directions in a maelstrom of confusion. Men fought at near point-blank range, while the wounded perished in flaming underbrush. One Northern soldier commented that the battle sounded like “the noisy boiling of some hell-cauldron.” By nighttime, most of the survivors lay quiet and exhausted in the dark, wooded area. Neither side had experienced heavy losses, and very little had been gained. Yet the battle was an ingeniously planned deterrent to Grant’s impending siege of Richmond…an opportunity for the Confederates to buy time until their inevitable defeat.

Mort Künstler painted this dramatic battle scene, a detail from The High Water Mark, which typifies the fighting which took place at the Battle of the Wilderness.

June's Archived Features:

Monday June 1, 2020
Tuesday June 2, 2020
Wednesday June 3, 2020
Thursday June 4, 2020



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.