Baptists and the American Civil War: May 5, 1864

Battle of Wilderness

Battle of Wilderness

Wasting no time, today Confederate General Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia takes position in front of Union General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Army of the Potomac.

The federals, having crossed the Rapidan River only yesterday, number some 120,000, nearly twice the size of Lee’s army. Along the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road, parallel arteries, the two armies clash. Small skirmishes take place early in the day as scouts probe the enemy, the armies organize themselves and the generals establish headquarters. At one point Lee barely escapes capture in a surprise encounter with advance Union troops.

By mid-afternoon, the fighting begins in earnest as the federals attack the enemy on the two fronts.

The fighting is fierce this first day of the Battle of the Wilderness. The intensity of the battle forces Lee to commit his reserves early to the fray. Thousands of casualties are tallied by the end of the day, yet neither side has gained significant advantage over the other. With the stakes high, the morrow promises even fiercer clashes. After all, possession of the Confederate capital of Richmond is on the line. Lee must prevent Grant from reaching the city, for should the federals capture the city, the war will effectively be over.

But for now, even as the battle rages in northern Virginia, all seems calm in the Confederate capital. The Confederate Senate convenes, opened in prayer by John Lansing Burrows, the pastor of the city’s First Baptist Church. A flurry of bills and resolutions are then placed before the legislators, including several bills designed to address the runaway inflation that plagues the Confederate economy. Two unanimously-adopted resolutions commend the military officers who led Confederate forces to earlier victories at Plymouth, North Carolina (April) and Ocean Pond, Florida (February).

Senatorial celebrations aside, the scope of this day’s battle is far greater than that of Plymouth or Ocean Pond.

Many Baptists are injured or killed during today’s action. Among the casualties is Daniel Green of Tattnall County, Georgia, a founding member of the Evergreen Baptist Church. Suffering a severe wound in his foot, Green is hospitalized and has to have the foot amputated. Surviving the war, the veteran raises a family and lives until 1882.

Meanwhile, Union General William T. Sherman’s forces are on the move, getting into position to fight the rebels entrenched in Dalton. He anticipates engaging the rebels in three days. “I hope the enemy will fight at Dalton,” Sherman notes as he thinks of what lies ahead. But should the Confederates play a game of cat and mouse, the Union general is prepared to out flank the enemy in a slow advance to Atlanta, if he must.

Sources: “Confederate States Congress,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, May 5, 1864 (link); Vance Cody Harris, “The Green Brothers” (link); Battle of the Wilderness (link) and (link); “General Sherman’s Blog, May 5, 1864 (link); image, Major-General Wadsworth Fighting in the Wilderness, Library of Congress (link)