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.

May's Archived Features:

Wednesday May 1, 2019
Thursday May 2, 2019
Friday May 3, 2019
Saturday May 4, 2019
Sunday May 5, 2019
Monday May 6, 2019
Tuesday May 7, 2019
Wednesday May 8, 2019
Thursday May 9, 2019
Friday May 10, 2019
Saturday May 11, 2019
Sunday May 12, 2019
Monday May 13, 2019
Tuesday May 14, 2019
Wednesday May 15, 2019
Thursday May 16, 2019
Friday May 17, 2019
Saturday May 18, 2019
Sunday May 19, 2019
Monday May 20, 2019
Tuesday May 21, 2019
Wednesday May 22, 2019
Thursday May 23, 2019
Friday May 24, 2019



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.