Battle of the Wilderness

May 2, 2014

Research and Text by Mount Auburn Volunteers Bill McEvoy & Rosemarie Smurzynski.  Join them for a walking tour about the Battle of the Wilderness on Saturday, May 10 at 1 PM.  Register online.

May 5-6, 1864

On May 5-6, 1864 the Battle in the Wilderness, a dense second growth forest in Virginia, was fought.  This battle was the first head-to-head confrontation of the Generals, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s Army encountered Lee’s Army as the Northerners crossed the Rapidan River on their march south to Richmond. A costly battle, 11,000 Southerners and 18,000 Northerners lost their lives.

Henry Larcom Abbot 1831-1927
Lot 3705 Fuchsia Path
Army Engineer; Brigadier General, U.S. Army; led the siege artillery brigade of the armies at Petersburg and Richmond 1864-1865
In war and in peace he served his country well.

Zabdiel Boylston Adams 1829-1902
Lot 2700 Elder Path
Surgeon, 32nd Regiment, Massachusetts; 56th Regiment, Massachusetts

Henry May Bond 1836-1864
Lot 156 Indian Ridge Path
Adjutant, 20th Regiment, Massachusetts
Wounded in the Wilderness May 6;
Killed May 11 in an encounter on the way to a hospital

Charles Carleton Coffin 1823-1896
Lot 5981 Gentian Path
War Correspondent, embedded four years with the Union Army

Charles Devens 1820-1891
Lot 1594 Tulip Path
Colonel, 15th Regiment, Massachusetts; Brigadier General 1862
He was the first to occupy Richmond in 1865

Charles Folsom 1826-1904
Lot 33 Myrtle Path
Quartermaster, 20th Regiment, Massachusetts
Superintendent of Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1870

Joseph S. Hills 1841- 1864
Lot 1450 Petunia Path (Monument on front cover)
Captain, 16th Regiment, Massachusetts
Killed May 6, 1864 Wilderness Battle
Pure morality, strict integrity, true bravery. He fell in front of his men, while gallantly encouraging them to resist the advancing foe. “Come boys! Rally! Never desert the Union flag.” Fidelis ad arnum.

The following battles are listed at the bottom of the monument: Fair Oaks, Glendale, Malvern Hill, 2nd Bull Run, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Manassas, Bristoe Station

Winslow Homer 1836-1910
Lot 563 Lily Path
Artist Correspondent in Civil War for Harper’s Weekly
Image above: Skirmish in the Wilderness. Winslow Homer. New Britain Museum of Art.

Theodore Lyman 1833-1897
Lot 705 Pilgrim Path
Lieutenant Colonel, Aide de Camp General Meade, archivist

Waldo Merriam 1839- 1864
Lot 2922 Fountain Avenue
Lieutenant Colonel, 16th Regiment, Massachusetts
Killed May 12, 1864 at Spotsylvania
Member Massachusetts First Corp of Cadets (See monument Lot 3215 Lawn Avenue)

Hannah Stevenson 1807-1887
Lot 445 Yarrow Path
Nurse, Washington D.C. and Maryland hospitals, first Massachusetts woman to volunteer as a nurse in the Civil War. When Richmond fell, 1865, she worked with the Freedman’s Bureau to set up schools there. Hannah is Thomas Stevenson’s aunt.

Thomas Greely Stevenson 1836-1864
Lot 920 Heliotrope Path
Colonel 24th Regiment, Massachusetts; Brigadier General, 1862
Killed Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864
His country asked his life and he gave it.

John Michael Tobin 1841-1898
Lot 1049 Chestnut Avenue
Colonel, 9th Regiment, Massachusetts
Received United States Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Malvern Hill

Henry Todd 1841-1864
Lot 1762 Spruce Avenue
Sargent, 36th Regiment, Massachusetts
Killed at the Battle of the Wilderness while gallantly carrying the regimental colors
*Monument conservation supported by a 2013 Preservation Grant from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War.



First hand accounts of the Battle


From Boys of ’61 by Charles Carleton Coffin

There are few months in the calendar of centuries that will have a more conspicuous place in history than the month of May, 1864. It will be remembered on account of the momentous events which took place in one of the greatest military campaigns of history. We are amazed, not by its magnitude merely, for there have been larger armies, heavier trains of artillery, greater preparations, in European warfare, — but by a succession of events unparalleled for rapidity. We cannot fully comprehend the amount of endurance, the persistency, the hard marching, the harder fighting, the unwearied, cheerful energy and effort which carried the Army of the Potomac from the Rappahannock to the James in forty days, against the stubborn opposition of an army of almost equal numbers. There was not a day of rest, — scarcely an hour of quiet.


From the Private Notebook of Colonel Theodore Lyman

May 4:  We were all up by star-light; a warm, clear night; had our breakfast by daybreak, and at 5:45 A.M. turned our backs on our little village of the last six months, and the grove about it, dear even in desolation!  The columns had been moving a good part of the night … the road was filled with wagons and troops.

May 5: Reported at 4:45 to Hancock, who sat on his horse at the crossing of the Brock and Plank roads. He told me to write to General Meade that it was hard to bring up troops in this wood …. All this time heavy musketry in our front and stray balls coming over.  The country a “Wilderness” indeed! – a thick cover of saplings, from 15 to 30 feet high with a close under-growth of bushes.


Civil War Preservation

In 2013, with funding from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War, The Ruth & Henry Walter Fund, Harold I. Pratt and other generous donors, Mount Auburn Cemetery preserved five significant Civil War monuments and made landscape enhancements to a sixth. The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery is now seeking to fund the conservation of an additional eleven Civil War monuments, including the monument to Captain Joseph S. Hills.


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