Battle of the Wilderness

Thursday, May 5, 1864

Kurz & Allison portrait of the Battle of the Wilderness. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To begin the Overland Campaign, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant crosses the Rapidan River to the northwest of Chancellorsville, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee abandons his defenses to attack Grant, who had planned for Lee to attack. Lee, however, moves so rapidly that Grant does not have time to prepare in the "Wilderness of Spotsylvania" area (which had been a part of the Battle of Chancellorsville the year before). In this first battle fought between Generals Grant and Lee, neither can claim a victory despite three days of fighting and more than 28,000 casualties between the two armies. While total Union casualties are higher, Grant's forces can afford to lose more men and supplies than Lee's beleaguered army, which is barely half the size and can no longer expect significant replenishment. Grant disengages and continues to the southeast in the direction of the Confederate capital at Richmond, knowing that Lee will follow. 


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