The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5--6, 1864

LSU Press
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Fought in a tangled forest fringing the south bank of the Rapidan River, the Battle of the Wilderness marked the initial engagement in the climactic months of the Civil War in Virginia, and the first encounter between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. In an exciting narrative, Gordon C. Rhea provides the consummate recounting of that conflict of May 5 and 6, 1864, which ended with high casualties on both sides but no clear victor. With its balanced analysis of events and people, command structures and strategies, The Battle of the Wilderness is operational history as it should be written.
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About the author

Gordon C. Rhea is also the author of Carrying the Flag: The Story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy's Most Unlikely Hero; The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7--12, 1864; To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13--25, 1864, winner of the Fletcher Pratt Literary Award; and Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26--June 3, 1864, winner of the Austin Civil War Round Table's Laney Prize; and In the Footsteps of Grant and Lee: The Wilderness through Cold Harbor. He lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

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LSU Press
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Published on
Sep 1, 2004
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History / General
History / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
History / United States / General
History / United States / State & Local / General
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In this unique biography of Thomas Jefferson, leading journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchens offers a startlingly new and provocative interpretation of our Founding Father. Situating Jefferson within the context of America's evolution and tracing his legacy over the past two hundred years, Hitchens brings the character of Jefferson to life as a man of his time and also as a symbolic figure beyond it.

Conflicted by power, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and acted as Minister to France yet yearned for a quieter career in the Virginia legislature. Predicting that slavery would shape the future of America's development, this professed proponent of emancipation elided the issue in the Declaration and continued to own human property. An eloquent writer, he was an awkward public speaker; a reluctant candidate, he left an indelible presidential legacy.

Jefferson's statesmanship enabled him to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France, doubling the size of the nation, and he authorized the Lewis and Clark expedition, opening up the American frontier for exploration and settlement. Hitchens also analyzes Jefferson's handling of the Barbary War, a lesser-known chapter of his political career, when his attempt to end the kidnapping and bribery of Americans by the Barbary states, and the subsequent war with Tripoli, led to the building of the U.S. navy and the fortification of America's reputation regarding national defense.

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In his gripping fourth volume on the spring 1864 Overland campaign -- which pitted Ulysses S. Grant against Robert E. Lee for the first time in the Civil War -- Gordon Rhea vividly re-creates the battles and maneuvers from the North Anna stalemate through the Cold Harbor offensive. Once again Rhea's tenacious research elicits stunning new facts from the records of a phase oddly ignored or mythologized by historians. The Cold Harbor of these pages differs sharply from the Cold Harbor of popular lore.

We see Grant, in one of his most brilliant moves, pull his army across the North Anna River and steal a march on Lee. In response, Lee sets up a strong defensive line along Totopotomoy Creek, and the battles spark across woods and fields northeast of Richmond. Their back to the Chickahominy River and on their last legs, the rebel troops defiantly face an army-wide assault ordered by Grant that extends over three days.

Rhea gives a surprising new interpretation of the famous battle that left seven thousand Union casualties and only fifteen hundred Confederate dead or wounded. Here, Grant is not a callous butcher, and Lee does not wage a perfect fight. Every imaginable primary source has been exhausted to unravel the strategies, mistakes, gambles, and problems with subordinates that preoccupied two exquisitely matched minds.

In Cold Harbor, Rhea separates fact from fiction in a charged, evocative narrative. He leaves readers under a moonless sky, Grant pondering the eastward course of the James River fifteen miles south of the encamped armies.

To European explorers, it was Eden, a paradise of waist-high grasses, towering stands of walnut, maple, chestnut, and oak, and forests that teemed with bears, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters, and foxes. Today, it is the site of Broadway and Wall Street, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and the home of millions of people, who have come from every corner of the nation and the globe. In Gotham, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace have produced a monumental work of history, one that ranges from the Indian tribes that settled in and around the island of Manna-hata, to the consolidation of the five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898. It is an epic narrative, a story as vast and as varied as the city it chronicles, and it underscores that the history of New York is the story of our nation. Readers will relive the tumultuous early years of New Amsterdam under the Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant's despotic regime, Indian wars, slave resistance and revolt, the Revolutionary War and the defeat of Washington's army on Brooklyn Heights, the destructive seven years of British occupation, New York as the nation's first capital, the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the Erie Canal and the coming of the railroads, the growth of the city as a port and financial center, the infamous draft riots of the Civil War, the great flood of immigrants, the rise of mass entertainment such as vaudeville and Coney Island, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the birth of the skyscraper. Here too is a cast of thousands--the rebel Jacob Leisler and the reformer Joanna Bethune; Clement Moore, who saved Greenwich Village from the city's street-grid plan; Herman Melville, who painted disillusioned portraits of city life; and Walt Whitman, who happily celebrated that same life. We meet the rebel Jacob Leisler and the reformer Joanna Bethune; Boss Tweed and his nemesis, cartoonist Thomas Nast; Emma Goldman and Nellie Bly; Jacob Riis and Horace Greeley; police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt; Colonel Waring and his "white angels" (who revolutionized the sanitation department); millionaires John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, August Belmont, and William Randolph Hearst; and hundreds more who left their mark on this great city. The events and people who crowd these pages guarantee that this is no mere local history. It is in fact a portrait of the heart and soul of America, and a book that will mesmerize everyone interested in the peaks and valleys of American life as found in the greatest city on earth. Gotham is a dazzling read, a fast-paced, brilliant narrative that carries the reader along as it threads hundreds of stories into one great blockbuster of a book.
Fought in a tangled forest fringing the south bank of the Rapidan River, the Battle of the Wilderness marked the initial engagement in the climactic months of the Civil War in Virginia, and the first encounter between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Gordon C. Rhea, in his exhaustive study The Battle of the Wilderness, provides the consummate recounting of that conflict of May 5 and 6, 1864, which ended with high casualties on both sides but no clear victor. Whereas previous studies have stood solely on published documents - mainly the Official Records and regimental histories - The Battle of the Wilderness not only takes a fresh look at those sources but also examines an extensive body of unpublished material, much of which has never before been brought to bear on the subject. These diaries, memoirs, letters, and reports shed new light on several aspects of the campaign, compelling Rhea to offer a critical new perspective on the overall development of the battle. For example, it has long been thought that Lee through his superior skill as general lured Grant into the Wilderness. But as Rhea makes clear, although Lee indeed hoped that Grant would become ensnarled in the Wilderness, he failed to take the steps necessary to delay Grant's progress and even left his own army in a position of peril. It was only because of miscalculations by the Federal high command that Grant stopped in the Wilderness rather than continuing on to a location more favorable to the Union forces. Throughout The Battle of the Wilderness Rhea gives close attention to the hierarchy of each army. On the Confederate side, he scrutinizes the evolving relationship between Lee and his corps commanders. On the Federalside, he reviews the several tiers of command, including the tense alliance between Grant and George G. Meade, head of the Union Army of the Potomac. Rhea presents a balanced analysis of events and people, command structures and strategies, while gracefully infusing excitement and immediacy into a subject for which he obviously feels great enthusiasm. Both the general reader and the specialist will find this important contribution to Civil War scholarship rewarding.
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