The Wilderness

May 5-6, 1864 - Fredericksburg Area Battlefields

Located in the city of Fredericksburg and surrounding Spotsylvania County, Central Virginia, the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park is home to the battle sites of four important American Civil War battles: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

At over 8,000 acres, it’s the second-largest military park in the world.

The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park features many fascinating historical sites and historical sites and the Ellwood Manor. This museum focuses on the Battle of the Wilderness.

The Battle of the Wilderness

One of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, the Battle of the Wilderness is known as the opening phase of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. This will be the first battle between General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee which will see fighting with the forests ablaze. This battle is the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

With little gains in the East after Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant general-in-chief of all Union Armies in early 1864. General Grant will initiate a war of attrition with a campaign to fight General Lee’s Army in a series of costly battles all the way to the Confederate Capital of Richmond.

In the spring of 1864, General Grant made his headquarters with General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac. Together, on May 4, 1864, they will cross the Rapidan River and travel through a forested region known as the Wilderness with the goal of getting on General Lee’s vulnerable flank at Orange Court House.

On May 5, 1864, the battle began when General Lee intercepted General Grant’s larger army as they traveled through the Wilderness, which negated the Union’s numerical superiority. Fighting raged in Saunder’s Field on the first day, exploded at the Brock/Plank Road intersection, and grappled throughout the forested region.

On May 6, 1864, General Grant launched an all-out attack at dawn to destroy General Lee’s right flank. Led by General Winfield Hancock, the Federals would have almost succeeded if it wasn’t for the last-minute arrival of General James Longstreet’s Corps. A Confederate counter and flank attack sent the Federals reeling. The day ended inconclusively with forest fires sweeping through portions of the battlefield.

By the morning of May 7, 1864, the battlefield was a stalemate, with the forest ablaze. Despite the costly nature of the battle, General Grant refused to order a retreat like all his predecessors had done.

Instead, he withdrew to the south, closer to Richmond, where he would say, “There’s no turning back.

Notable Places of Interest at the Wilderness Battle Site

  • The Wilderness Exhibit Shelter – An outdoor exhibit on Saunder’s Field where the opening shots of the battle were fired.
  • Ellwood Manor – Plantation home from the 1700s used as a Union headquarters. Open seasonally, it houses special exhibits.
  • The Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center – Located 10 minutes away, it features exhibits on the battle of the Wilderness and Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Court House.
  • Chancellorsville: Museum Shop – The gift shop is located in the visitor center; Civil War books, collectibles, and clothing items will be found.
  • The Texas Monument – Stone monument in Tapp Field commemorates this brigade’s valor during a crisis.
  • The Vermont Monument – Stone monument paying tribute to this bloodied, unsung brigade which held and fought at the Brock/Plank Road intersection.

Ready to explore the battlefield for yourself? Browse our full selection of American Civil War Battlefield Tours.

Please contact us if you have any questions about our tours or services.

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Mine Run

Battle of Mine Run

4 Hours
Part of the Forgotten Fall of 1863, find out what both armies have been up to since the battle of Gettysburg months earlier.
The Wilderness

Battle of The Wilderness Battlefield Tour

4 Hours
Next major battle after Gettysburg, known as the opening phase of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Historians say, it’s the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.
Spotsylvania Court House

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House Guided Tour

4 Hours
The second battle of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. See Robert. E. Lee’s defenses known as The Mule Shoe & where intense fighting occurred at The Bloody Angel.