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Lee to the Rear

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Battle of the Wilderness - May 6, 1864

Don Pfanz

A.P. Hill (250)
Confederate Gen. A. P. Hill
Library of Congress

The May 5 fighting near the Brock Road intersection had left A. P. Hill’s Confederates not only outnumbered but also disorganized. Hill was not worried, however, because Lee had assured him that General James Longstreet’s First Corps would be on the field by dawn to relieve him. Therefore, when Hill’s two division commanders, Henry Heth and Cadmus Wilcox, came to him that night and asked for permission to awaken the troops and prepare them for the next day’s fight, Hill refused. It was a critical misjudgment. Longstreet was late, and when Hancock resumed his attacks the next morning, he quickly sent Hill’s men on the retreat.

Here in the clearing near the Tapp farm stood 12 guns of Confederate Lieutenant Colonel William Poague’s artillery battalion. As Hancock’s men pursued Hill’s Confederates into this field, Poague emptied his guns, driving the Federals back into the woods. But Union soldiers soon infiltrated the woods south of the road and began picking off Poague’s gunners. Hill, who had once served in the artillery, hurried to help with the guns, but still the battalion threatened to give way. Just then, fresh gray-clad troops appeared on the field. It was General John Gregg’s Texas Brigade, part of Longstreet’s corps. When Lee discovered the brigade’s identity, he is said to have shouted, "Hurrah for Texas! Hurrah for Texas!"

Forming a hasty battle line, Gregg’s men began moving steadily across the field. Part way across, Lee joined them and appeared intent on leading the charge. But the Texans would not allow it. With shouts of "Lee to the rear!" they turned their commander back. The brigade then swept ahead into the opposite woods, checking the Federals and giving Longstreet time to bring up the rest of his corps.

 

Lee's Texans by Don Troiani
Men of the Texas brigade grasp the reins of Traveller and force Lee to the rear in the Widow Tapp Field.
Image courtesy of Don Troiani, historicalimagebank.com