Gordon At The Wilderness (Part 2, May 6, 1864)
Taken From
Reminiscences Of The Civil War
By Lt. Gen. John B. Gordon, CSA

Chapter XVIII--The Wilderness--Battle Of May 5

       THE night of the 5th of May was far spent when my command reached its destination on the extreme Confederate left. The men were directed to sleep on their arms during the remaining hours of darkness. Scouts were at once sent to the front to feel their way through the thickets and ascertain, if possible, where the extreme right of Grant's line rested. At early dawn these trusted men reported that they had found it: that it rested in the woods only a short distance in our front, that it was wholly unprotected, and that the Confederate lines stretched a considerable distance beyond the Union right, overlapping it. I was so impressed with the importance of this report and with the necessity of verifying its accuracy that I sent others to make the examination, with additional instructions to proceed to the rear of Grant's right and ascertain if the exposed flank were supported by troops held in reserve behind it. The former report was not only confirmed as to the exposed position of that flank, but the astounding information was brought that there was not a supporting force within several miles of it.
       Much of this scouting had been done in the late hours of the night and before sunrise on the morning of the 6th. Meantime, as this information came my brain was throbbing with the tremendous possibilities to which such a situation invited us, provided the conditions were really as reported. Mounting my horse in the early morning and guided by some of these explorers, I rode into the unoccupied woodland to see for myself. It is enough to say that I found the reports correct in every particular. Riding back toward my line, I was guided by the scouts to the point near which they had located the right of the Union army. Dismounting and creeping slowly and cautiously through the dense woods, we were soon in ear-shot of an unsuppressed and merry clatter of voices. A few feet nearer, and through a narrow vista, I was shown the end of General Grant's temporary breastworks. There was no line guarding this flank. As far as my eye could reach, the Union soldiers were seated on the margin of the rifle-pits, taking their breakfast. Small fires were burning over which they were boiling their coffee, while their guns leaned against the works in their immediate front.
       No more time was consumed in scouting. The revelations had amazed me and filled me with confident anticipations of unprecedented victory. It was evident that General Grant had decided to make his heaviest assaults upon the Confederate right, and for this purpose had ordered his reserves to that flank. By some inconceivable oversight on the part of his subordinates, his own right flank had been left in the extremely exposed condition in which my scouts had found it. Undoubtedly the officer who located that battle line for General Grant or for General Sedgwick was under the impression that there were no Confederates in front of that portion of it; and this was probably true at the time the location was made. That fact, however, did not justify the officer in leaving his flank (which is the most vulnerable part of an army) thus unguarded for a whole night after the battle.
       If it be true that in peace "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," it is no less true that in war, especially war in a wilderness, eternal vigilance is the price of an army's safety. Yet, in a woodland so dense that an enemy could scarcely be seen at a distance of one hundred yards, that Union officer had left the right flank of General Grant's army without even a picket-line to protect it or a vedette to give the alarm in case of unexpected assault. During the night, while the over-con-fident Union officer and his men slept in fancied security, my men stole silently through the thickets and planted a hostile line not only in his immediate front, but overlapping it by more than the full length of my command. All intelligent military critics will certainly agree that such an opportunity as was here presented for the overthrow of a great army has rarely occurred in the conduct of a war. The failure to take advantage of it was even a greater blunder than the "untimely discretion" which checked the sweep of the Confederate lines upon the Union right on that first afternoon at Gettysburg, or the still more fatal delay on the third day which robbed Lee of assured victory.
       As soon as all the facts in regard to the situation were fully confirmed, I formed and submitted the plan which, if promptly adopted and vigorously followed, I then believed and still believe would have resulted in the crushing defeat of General Grant's army. Indeed, the plan of battle may almost be said to have formed itself, so naturally, so promptly and powerfully did it take hold of my thoughts. That plan and the situation which suggested it may be described simply and briefly:
       First, there was Grant's battle line stretching for miles through the Wilderness, with Sedgwick's corps on the right and Warren's next, while far away on the left was Hancock's, supported by the great body of the Union reserves.
       Second, in close proximity to this long stretch of Union troops, and as nearly parallel to it as circumstances would permit, was Lee's line of Confederates.
       Third, both of these lines were behind small breastworks which had been thrown up by the respective armies during the night of the 5th. On Lee's left and confronting Sedgwick was Ewell's corps, of which my command was a part. In my immediate front, as above stated, there was no Union force whatever. It was perfectly practicable, therefore, for me to move out my command and form at right angles to the general line, close to Sedgwick's unprotected flank and squarely across it.
       Fourth, when this movement should be accomplished there would still remain a brigade of Confederates confronting each brigade of Federals along the established battle line. Thus the Union troops could be held to their work along the rifle-pits, while my command would sweep down upon the flank and obliquely upon their rear.
       As latex developments proved, one brigade on the flank was all that was needed for the inauguration of the plan and the demonstration of its possibilities. The details of the plan were as follows: While the unsuspecting Federals were drinking their coffee, my troops were to move quickly and quietly behind the screen of thick underbrush and form squarely on Sedgwick's strangely exposed flank, reaching a point far beyond that flank and lapping around his rear, so as to capture his routed men as they broke to the rear. While my command rushed from this ambush a simultaneous demonstration was to be made along his front. As each of Sedgwick's brigades gave way in confusion, the corresponding Confederate brigade, whose front was thus cleared on the general line, was to swing into the column of attack on the flank, thus swelling at each step of our advance the numbers, power, and momentum of the Confederate forces as they swept down the line of works and extended another brigade's length to the unprotected Union rear. As each of the Union brigades, divisions, and corps were struck by such an absolutely resistless charge upon the flank and rear, they must fly or be captured. The effective force of Grant's army would be thus constantly diminished, and in the same proportion the column of attack would be steadily augmented.
       Add to this inestimable Confederate advantage the panic and general demoralization that was inevitable on the one side, and the corresponding and ever-increasing enthusiasm that would be aroused upon the other, and it will be admitted that I do not overestimate the opportunity when I say that it has been rarely equalled in any war.
       As far as could be anticipated, the plan was devised to meet every contingency. For example, as Sedgwick had no reserves in support behind him, all having been sent to the Union left, his only chance of meeting the sudden assault on his right and rear was to withdraw from his intrenchments under the fire of this flanking force and attempt to form a new line at right angle to his works, and thus perhaps arrest the headlong Confederate charge.
       But it will be seen that his situation would then be rendered still more hopeless, because as he changed front and attempted to form a new line the Confederates in front of his works were to leap from their rifle-pits and rush upon his newly exposed flank. He would thus be inevitably crushed between the two Confederate forces.
       When Sedgwick's corps should thus be destroyed, the fate of the next Union corps (Warren's) would surely be sealed, for in its front would be the Confederate corps, led by that brilliant soldier, A. P. Hill, ready to assault from that direction, while upon its flank would be not only my two brigades, as in the case of Sedgwick, but Ewell's entire corps, adding to the column of attack. In practically unobstructed march around Warren's flank Ewell would speedily envelop it, and thus the second Union corps in the battle line would be forced to precipitate flight; or if it attempted, however bravely, to stand its ground, it would be inevitably crushed or captured as Ewell assailed it in rear while Hill assaulted in front.
       And so of the next corps and the next. Had no part of this plan ever been tested, the vast results which must have attended its execution could scarcely be doubted by any experienced soldier. Fortunately, however, for the removal of all doubt in the premises, it was tested--tested at an hour most unfavorable to its success and after almost the entire day had been wasted; tested on General Lee's approval and by his personal order and almost in his immediate presence. The test, unfair as it was, furnished the plainest and most convincing proof that had it been made at an early hour in the day instead of at sundown, the 6th of May would have ended in the crushing defeat of General Grant's army.
       Here is the test and here the results. With my own Georgia brigade and General Robert Johnson's North Carolinians moving by the left flank, so that we should have nothing to do, when the proper point was reached, except to close up, to front face and forward, we pressed through the woods as rapidly and noiselessly as possible and halted at the point immediately opposite Sedgwick's flank.
       The solid and dotted lines here given sufficiently indicate the approximate positions occupied by the respective armies at the beginning of my flank attack.
       The Georgia brigade (Gordon's) was directed to make the assault, and the North Carolina brigade (Johnson's) was ordered to move farther to the Union rear and to keep as nearly as possible in touch with the attacking force and to gather up Sedgwick's men as they broke to the rear. As the sun went down these troops were ordered forward. In less than ten minutes they struck the Union flank and with thrilling yells rushed upon it and along the Union works, shattering regiments and brigades, and throwing them into wildest confusion and panic. There was practically no resistance. There could be none. The Georgians, commanded by that intrepid leader, Clement A. Evans, were on the flank, and the North Carolinians, led by a brilliant young officer, Robert Johnson, were sweeping around to the rear, without a shot in their front. There was nothing for the brave Federals to do but to fly. There was no time given them to file out from their works and form a new line of resistance. This was attempted again and again; but in every instance the swiftly moving Confederates were upon them, pouring a consuming fire into their half-formed ranks and shivering one command after another in quick succession. The gallant Union leaders, Generals Seymour and Shaler, rode among their panic-stricken troops in the heroic endeavor to form them into a new line. Their brave efforts were worse than unavailing, for both of these superb officers, with large numbers of their brigades, were quickly gathered as prisoners of war in the Confederate net; and nearly the whole of Sedgwick's corps was disorganized.
       It is due to both General Ewell and General Early to say that they did all in their power to help forward the movement when once begun. There was, however, little need for help, for the North Carolina brigade, which was in the movement, had not found an opportunity to fire or to receive a shot; and the Georgia brigade as a whole had not been checked for a single moment nor suffered any serious loss. These men were literally revelling in the chase, when the unwelcome darkness put an end to it. They were so enthused by the pursuit, which they declared to me, as I rode among them, was the "finest frolic" they had ever been engaged in, that it was difficult to halt them even when it became too dark to distinguish friend from foe. With less than sixty casualties, this brigade almost single-handed had achieved these great results during the brief twilight of the 6th of May. And possibly one half of the small loss that occurred was inflicted after nightfall by Confederates who enthusiastically charged from the front upon the Union breastworks, firing as they came, and not realizing that my command in its swift movement down the flank had reached that point on Sedgwick's line. The brave and brilliant John W. Daniel, now United States senator from Virginia, was then serving on the staff of General Early. As he rode with me in the darkness, he fell, desperately wounded, with his thigh-bone shattered. He narrowly escaped death from this wound, which has maimed him for life.
       It will be seen that my troops were compelled to halt at last, not by the enemy's resistance, but solely by the darkness and the cross-fire from Confederates. Had daylight lasted one half-hour longer, there would not have been left an organized company in Sedgwick's corps. Even as it was, all accounts agree that his whole command was shaken. As I rode abreast of the Georgians, who were moving swiftly and with slight resistance, the last scene which met my eye as the curtain of night shut off the view was the crumbling of the Union lines as they bravely but vainly endeavored to file out of their works and form a new line under the furious onset and withering fire of the Confederates.
       General Horace Porter, who served with distinction on General Grant's staff, speaking in his book of this twilight flank attack on the 6th of May, says: "It was now about sundown; the storm of battle which had raged with unabated fury from early dawn had been succeeded by a calm .... Just then the stillness was broken by heavy volleys of musketry on our extreme right, which told that Sedgwick had been assaulted and was actually engaged with the enemy. The attack against which the general-in-chief during the day had ordered every precaution to be taken had now been made. . . . Generals Grant and Meade, accompanied by me and one or two other staff officers, walked rapidly over to Meade's tent, and found that the reports still coming in were bringing news of increasing disaster. It was soon reported that General Shaler and part of his brigade had been captured; then that General Seymour and several hundred of his men had fallen into the hands of the enemy; afterward that our right had been turned, and Ferrero's division cut off and forced back upon the Rapidan .... Aides came galloping in from the right, laboring under intense excitement, talking wildly and giving the most exaggerated reports of the engagement. Some declared that a large force had broken and scattered Sedgwick's entire corps. Others insisted that the enemy had turned our right completely and captured the wagon-train .... A general officer came in from his command at this juncture and said to the general-in-chief, speaking rapidly and laboring under considerable excitement: 'General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously; I know Lee's methods well by past experience; he will throw his whole army between us and the Rapidan and cut us off completely from our communications.'"
       This extract from General Porter's book is given merely to show what consternation had been carried into the Union ranks by this flank attack, which had been delayed from early morning to sundown. The question is pertinent: What would have been the result of that flank movement had the plan of battle suggested been promptly accepted in the early morning and vigorously executed, as was urged ?
       If we carefully and impartially consider all the facts and circumstances, there cannot be much disagreement as to the answer. If that one Georgia brigade, supported by the North Carolinians, could accomplish such results in such brief space of time, it is beyond question that the Confederate column of attack, constantly augmented during an entire day of battle, would have swept the Union forces from the field. Indeed, had not darkness intervened, the Georgia and North Carolina brigades alone would have shattered Sedgwick's entire corps; and the brigades and divisions of Ewell, which confronted those of Sedgwick on the general line, would have marched steadily across to join the Georgians and North Carolinians, instead of rushing across in the darkness, firing as they came, and inflicting more damage upon my men than upon the enemy.
       General Porter, speaking of General Grant's promptness after dark in "relieving the situation," says: "Re-enforcements were hurried to the point attacked, and preparations made for Sedgwick's corps to take up a new line with the front and right thrown back." These movements were such as were to be expected from so able a commander as General Grant. But it will be seen that neither of them could have been accomplished had this flank assault been made at an early hour of the day. General Grant's army on the other flank was so pressed that he could not have safely weakened his force there to aid Sedgwick. Both armies on that flank were strained to the utmost, and Lee and Grant were both there in person, superintending the operations of their respective forces. When night came and put an end to the fighting on his left flank, then, and not till then, was General Grant in position to send reŽnforcements to Sedgwick. Moreover, had the plan of battle proposed to Early and Ewell been accepted, Lee, of course, would have been fully advised of it, and of every stage of its progress. He would, therefore, have made all his arrangements auxiliary to this prime movement upon General Grant's exposed right. The simple announcement to Lee of the fact that this right flank of the Union army was entirely unprotected, and that it was in close proximity to his unemployed troops, would have been to that great Southern soldier the herald of victory. He would have anticipated at once every material and commanding event which must necessarily have followed the embracing of so unexampled an opportunity. As soon as he had learned that his troops were placed secretly and squarely across Sedgwick's right, Lee could have written in advance a complete description of the resistless Confederate charge--of the necessary flight or capture in quick succession of the hopelessly flanked Union commands, of the cumulative power of the Confederate column at every step of its progress, compelling General Grant to send large bodies of men to his right, thus weakening his left. In front of that left was Lee in person. With a full knowledge of the progress made by his own flanking columns, and appreciating the extremity in which such a movement would place the Union commander, Lee would have lost no time in availing himself of all the advantages of the anomalous situation. Knowing that General Grant would be compelled to send a large part of his army to meet the Confederate column, which had completely turned his flank and was pressing his rear, Lee would either have driven back the forces left in his front, thus bringing confusion to that wing also, or he would have detached a portion of the troops under his immediate command and sent them to Ewell to swell the column of Confederates already in Grant's rear, forcing him to change front and reform his whole battle line under the most perilous conditions.
       After weighing the unparalleled advantage which such a situation would have given to such a commander as Lee, can any impartial military critic suggest a ma-noeuvre which could possibly have saved General Grant's army from crushing defeat? If so, he will have solved the embarrassing problem which a completely flanked and crumbling army must always meet.
       The simple truth is that an army which is expending all its strength, or even the major part of it, in repelling attacks along its front, and permits itself to be completely flanked, is in the utmost extremity of peril. Among the highest military authorities there will be no dispute, I think, as to the correctness of the proposition that when opposing battle lines are held by forces of even approximate strength and of equal fighting qualities, and are commanded by officers of equal ability, the one or the other is in a practically hopeless condition if, while met at every point on its front, it is suddenly startled by a carefully planned and vigorous assault upon either its flank or rear. Its situation is still more desperate if assaulted both in flank and rear. This is especially true when the plan of attack is based upon the certainty of rapidly accumulating strength in the assaulting column. It is not too much to say that the position of an army so flanked is absolutely hopeless unless, as in this case, the coming of darkness intervenes to save it.
       Another inquiry to which I feel compelled, in the interest of history, to give a full and frank answer is this: Who was responsible for the delay of nine hours or more while that exposed Union flank was inviting our attack ?
       When the plan for assault was fully matured, it was presented, with all its tremendous possibilities and with the full information which had been acquired by scouts and by my own personal and exhaustive examination. With all the earnestness that comes from deep conviction, the prompt adoption and vigorous execution of the plan were asked and urged. General Early at once opposed it. He said that Burnside's corps was immediately behind Sedgwick's right to protect it from any such flank attack; that if I should attempt such movement, Burnside would assail my flank and rout or capture all my men. He was so firmly fixed in his belief that Burnside's corps was where he declared it to be that he was not perceptibly affected by the repeated reports of scouts, nor my own statement that I myself had ridden for miles in rear of Sedgwick's right, and that neither Burnside's corps nor any other troops were there. General Ewell, whose province it was to decide the controversy, hesitated. He was naturally reluctant to take issue with my superior officer in a matter about which he could have no personal knowledge, because of the fact that his headquarters as corps-commander were located at considerable distance from this immediate locality. In view of General Early's protest, he was unwilling to order the attack or to grant me permission to make it, even upon my proposing to assume all responsibility of disaster, should any occur.
       Meantime the roaring battle to our right was punctuating with tremendous emphasis the folly of our delay. A. P. Hill, in impetuous assault, had broken and hurled back almost upon General Grant's headquarters a portion of Warren's corps. The zone of the most furious fighting was, however, still farther off and on the extreme right of our line, where the heaviest forces of both armies were gathered. The almost incessant roll of musketry indicated that the fighting was tremendous. From 4:30 o'clock in the morning, through the entire forenoon, and until late in the day, there had been at different points along the lines to our right alternate and desperate assaults by the two armies, with varying success; but not a shot was being fired near us. My troops and the other portions of Ewell's corps were comparatively idle during the greater part of the day, while the bloody scenes to our right were being enacted. It is most remarkable that the desperate struggle on that far-off flank, coupled with the stillness on ours, failed to impress my superior officers as significant. In the early hours of the day Hancock had pressed back the Confederate right, doubling it up and driving it, as was asserted, for a mile or more. Meantime Longstreet arrived with his superb corps. Hancock was checked, and General Grant's forces, in turn, were hurled back by the Confederate assaults. Like an oscillating pendulum, victory was vibrating between the two armies through all of that eventful day, while at any hour of it the proposed movement on Sedgwick's flank by Ewell's idle Confederates was not only perfectly feasible, but full of promise to the Confederate army.
       After Jenkins was killed and Longstreet had been carried back on a litter, seriously wounded, General Lee's attention was necessarily confined to that portion of the field where General Grant was superintending his own aggressive operations. This was one of the crises when General Lee took personal command of his troops; and as Gregg's superb brigade of Texans pressed to the front, the commander-in-chief spurred his horse through a gap in the trenches and attempted to go with them. As these brave men recognized General Lee, a ringing protest ran down the line, and they at last compelled him to yield to their entreaties: "Go back, General Lee; go back !"
       General Grant during that day was full of apprehension that Ewell would attempt some offensive tactics against Sedgwick, while Lee was wondering why it was not done. Lee knew that it ought to be done, as will appear later, if for no other object than to divert Grant's attention from his prime purpose and thus bring incidental relief to Longstreet and the other heavily pressed Confederates far off to our right. General Horace Porter, in his "Campaigning with Grant," more than once refers to General Grant's uneasiness about Sedgwick. He says: "The general-in-chief was devoting a good deal of thought to our right, which had been weakened." Well might General Grant be apprehensive. Had he been fully apprised of that strangely exposed flank of his army, he would have been impelled to send troops to protect Sedgwick's right. On the other hand, had Lee been advised, as he should have been, of the reports of my scouts and of myself, he would not have delayed the proposed movement against Sedgwick's flank a moment longer than was necessary to give an order for its execution. The correctness of this opinion as to what Lee would have done is based not merely upon the knowledge which every officer in his army possessed of his mental characteristics, but upon his prompt action when at last he was informed of the conditions as they had existed for more than nine hours.
       Both General Early and I were at Ewell's headquarters when, at about 5:30 in the afternoon, General Lee rode up and asked: "Cannot something be done on this flank to relieve the pressure upon our right ?" After listening for some time to the conference which followed this pointed inquiry, I felt it my duty to acquaint General Lee with the facts as to Sedgwick's exposed flank, and with the plan of battle which had been submitted and urged in the early hours of the morning and during the day. General Early again promptly and vigorously protested as he had previously done. He still steadfastly maintained that Burnside's corps was in the woods behind Sedgwick's right; that the movement was too hazardous and must result in disaster to us. With as much earnestness as was consistent with the position of junior officer, I recounted the facts to General Lee, and assured him that General Early was mistaken; that I had ridden for several miles in Sedgwick's rear, and that neither Burnside's corps nor any other Union troops were concealed in those woods. The details of the whole plan were laid before him. There was no doubt with him as to its feasibility. His words were few, but his silence and grim looks while the reasons for that long delay were being given, and his prompt order to me to move at once to the attack, revealed his thoughts almost as plainly as words could have done. Late as it was, he agreed in the opinion that we could bring havoc to as much of the Union line as we could reach before darkness should check us. It was near sunset, and too late to reap more than a pittance of the harvest which had so long been inviting the Confederate sickle.
       Where was General Burnside on the morning of the 6th? Where was he during the entire day !
       General Early never yielded his convictions that had I been permitted to attack Sedgwick's exposed right flank in the morning, the movement would have led to Confederate disaster, because of the presence of Burnside behind that flank. He was so thoroughly satisfied of this that in his book, written and published since the war, he insists:" Burnside's corps was in rear of the enemy's flank on which the attack was suggested." In the years that have passed I have made no effort to controvert General Early's opinions in this matter. Now, however, the time has come when the publication of my own reminiscences makes it necessary for me to speak. The recent printing by the Government of the War Records makes public the official reports of the Federal officers who fought in the Wilderness on that 6th of May. I shall quote only from Federal officers or Northern history.
       In his report General Hancock says: "I am not aware what movements were made by General Burnside near Parker's store on the morning of the 6th, but I experienced no relief from the attack I was informed he would make across my front--a movement long and anxiously waited for .... During the night of the 5th I received orders to move on the enemy again at 5 A.M. on the 6th." He adds that his orders informed him that his right would be relieved by an attack of other troops, among them "two divisions . . . under General Burnside." It will be remembered that Hancock held the extreme left of Grant's army. Burnside was there with Hancock. This officer describes the places and times where and when Burnside was to move, and adds: "The same despatch directed me to attack simultaneously with General Burnside."
       This was during the morning hours. Later in the day General Meade locates him thus: "Soon after Hancock fell back, about 2 P.M., Burnside attacked toward the Orange plank road to the right and in advance of Hancock's position."
       General Grant himself (speaking of Burnside's movements) says in his official report: "By six o'clock of the morning of the 6th he was leading his corps into action near Wilderness Tavern," etc.
       Swinton, in his history of" The Army of the Potomac," says: "The Union line as formed by dawn of the 6th was therefore in the order of Sedgwick on the right, next Warren, and Burnside and Hancock on the left."
       General Porter says: "At four o'clock the next morning, May 6, we were awakened in our camp by the sound of Burnside's men moving along the Germanna road. They had been marching since 1 A.M., hurrying on to reach the left of Warren." He adds:"The general now instructed me to ride out to Hancock's front, inform him of the progress of Burnside's movement," etc. This was early on the morning of the 6th, and Hancock and Burnside were on the extreme left. It is established, therefore, beyond question that Burnside was not in rear of Sedgwick when I insisted upon attacking that exposed right flank in the early morning. tie was not there at all during the entire day. He was on the other flank of Grant's army morning, noon, and evening. The Federal reports so locate him, and there can be no longer any dispute as to Burnside's locality, upon which the entire controversy rests.
       General Early, in his book, states that General Ewell agreed with him as to the impolicy of making the morning flank attack which I so earnestly urged. Alas! he did; and in the light of revelations subsequently made by Union officers, no intelligent military critic, I think, will fail to sympathize with my lament, which was even more bitter than at Gettysburg, over the irreparable loss of Jackson. But for my firm faith in God's Providence, and in His control of the destinies of this Republic, I should be tempted to imitate the confident exclamation made to the Master by Mary and Martha when they met Him after the death of Lazarus: "Hadst thou been here, our brother had not died." Calmly reviewing the indisputable facts which made the situation at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness strikingly similar, and considering them from a purely military and worldly standpoint, I should utter my profoundest convictions were I to say: "Had Jackson been there, the Confederacy had not died." Had he been at Gettysburg when a part of that Second Corps which his genius had made famous had already broken through the protecting forces and was squarely on the Union right, which was melting away like a sand-bank struck by a mountain torrent; when the whole Union battle line that was in view was breaking to the rear; when those flanking Confederates in their unobstructed rush were embarrassed only by the number of prisoners--had Jackson been there then, instead of commanding a halt, his only order would have been, "Forward, men, forward !" as he majestically rode in their midst, intensifying their flaming enthusiasm at every step of the advance.
Or had he been in the Wilderness on that fateful 6th of May, when that same right flank of the Union army was so strangely exposed and was inviting the assault of that same portion of his old corps, words descriptive of the situation and of the plan of attack could not have been uttered fast enough for his impatient spirit. Jackson's genius was keener-scented in its hunt for an enemy's flank than the most royally bred setter's nose in search of the hiding covey. The fleetest tongue could not have narrated the facts connected with Sedgwick's position before Jackson's unerring judgment would have grasped the whole situation. His dilating eye would have flashed, and his laconic order, "Move at once, sir," would have been given with an emphasis prophetic of the energy with which he would have seized upon every advantage offered by the situation. But Providence had willed otherwise. Jackson was dead, and Gettysburg was lost. He was not now in the Wilderness, and the greatest opportunity ever presented to Lee's army was permitted to pass.