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A Devilish Entanglement: 160th Battle of the Wilderness

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May 1864: the American Civil War has raged for three brutal years. A war that started full of patriotic pride with images of grandeur has become a source of weariness as the cost continues to rise. Despite victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Union still needs to find a way to effectively bring the Confederacy to heel. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia has continued to elude destruction and, though now proven beatable, still poses a significant threat to both Washington and a swift end to the war.

Ulysses S. Grant, newly promoted to lieutenant general by President Lincoln, now commands all the Union Armies and has set in motion a strategy to open up five fronts of conflict to spread the Confederate armies thin. While Sherman pursues Johnston in the West and Banks moves to capture Mobile, Butler will move up the James River towards Lee while Sigel ravages the Shenandoah and Meade confronts Lee directly in central Virginia.

On May 4th, Grant personally accompanies Meade’s Army of the Potomac as it crosses the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford uncontested. In doing so, nearly 119,000 US troops enter a labyrinth of countryside roads weaving through dense woods. It is known as The Wilderness: roughly 70 square miles of second-growth forest and dense underbrush covering barren soil that Native Americans consider haunted. As they establish bivouacs for the night, many discover poorly buried and disinterred remains from the Battle of Chancellorsville a year earlier.

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Two days earlier, Lee has surveyed Grant’s amassing forces and correctly guessed he will cross at Germanna Ford. His army of a little over 66,000 men is precariously spread out across the region in three corps under Longstreet, Ewell, and A.P. Hill. Lee hopes to strike just as he had done a year earlier at Chancellorsville. Ewell and Hill have been ordered to move and engage first, a bid to slow Meade’s advance long enough for Longstreet to arrive and put his corps into action.

Genl. Wadsworth’s division in action at the Wilderness by Alfred Waud
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Wounded escaping from the burning woods of the Wilderness by Alfred Waud
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What will transpire over the next two days will change the nature of the war. Veterans of the open rolling battlefields along the Antietam or Rappahannock and around Gettysburg or Richmond are soon going to plummet into a dense fog of war. As flashing muskets rattle through the trees, gunsmoke will fill the chokingly thick Wilderness. Brigades step off back roads and are swallowed whole by woods filled with the din of battle. Commanders cannot tell where their lines start and end. Companies are separated from their regiments. Within hours, the confusing inferno of war will produce a literal Hell on Earth as the forest itself catches ablaze. The wounded often load one last time – not to defend themselves, but to spare themselves the agony as trees crackle and the smoke grows heavier. Those left standing are no longer fighting by sight, but by sound as fury rages all around them.

On 4-5 May 2024
Join Civil War Historical Impressions as we support the Friends of the Wilderness in hosting
“A Devilish Entanglement”: the 160th Battle of the Wilderness!

This will be an authentic force-on-force event featuring multiple scenarios and intense experiences. More importantly, this event will directly impact historic preservation of the Wilderness Battlefield in support of the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield and Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. The Wilderness Run Vineyard and 1781 Brewing Company will also benefit from patronage bolstered by our presence on 60 acres of their property, which they have graciously made available to us. Thank you!

US Forces

Kyle Windahl
83rd Pennsylvania
US Campaigner Battalion

Ted Brennan
44th New York
US Progressive Battalion

CS Forces

Austin Williams
61st Georgia
CS Campaigner Battalion

Brian Gesuero
50th Virginia
CS Progressive Battalion

Impression guidelines are being released by individual unit commanders.
Please visit the unit-specific webpage or Facebook group for more information!

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