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Civil War Trust

Grant Began War of Attrition at the Battle of The Wilderness - www.civilwar.org

In the Battle of The Wilderness, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces confronted two Rebel corps sent by Confederate Maj. Gen Robert E. Lee in the untamed forest and undergrowth in an area called “The Wilderness,” in northern Virginia, from May 5 to 7, 1864. This was the first battle of Grant’s Overland Campaign, which would culminate with his assault on Richmond. Through three days of fierce and chaotic fighting, no side achieved any clear victory, despite a combined 28,000 casualties.

The Battle of The Wilderness summary suggests that though Grant’s losses at this Civil War battle exceeded Lee’s by nearly 7,000, Grant saw the battle’s outcome as accepting within his broader strategy of brutal attrition. Though he withdrew from the battle, he knew that he could stand to sustain higher losses because he had access to a larger pool of reinforcements, and any Confederate losses would be worth a larger Union sacrifice, as they would make capturing the Confederate capitol easier.

According to some of the Battle of The Wilderness facts, in this battle Grant’s generals faced two far less skilled commanders leading the Rebels, Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell and Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill. These leaders were the best Lee could come up with after the loss of “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville. However untried, Ewell effectively surprised some of Grant’s forces on May 5, while Hill was able to hold against a larger force until nightfall on the first day. In the end of the three days, Grant withdrew due to heavy casualties so he could move on and attempt to assault Spotsylvania Court House.

Today, visitors to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial can walk the battlegrounds of four battles including the Battle of The Wilderness. Monuments, memorials, and noteworthy preserved items mark the expansive park, which is so big that they suggest purchasing a CD and using a car if you want to see everything the park and its trails have to offer, and that you schedule two or more days to do so.

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