Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 06.djvu/89

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Reports of the Battle of the Wilderness.

the lead, arriving in rear of the line held by these two divisions; and when the head of my column had filed to the right, and had only time to deploy two regiments of Kershaw's old brigade, an advance was made by the whole line of the enemy, and the divisions of Heth and Wilcox broke and retreated in some confusion. With considerable difficulty, but with steadiness, opening their ranks to let the retreating divisions through, Kershaw formed his line on the right and Field on the left of the Plank road. Having checked the advance of the enemy, I ordered a general advance by my line, which was made with spirit rarely surpassed, and before which the enemy was driven a considerable distance. The woods were dense and the undergrowth almost impossible to penetrate.

This success was not purchased without the loss of many of the bravest officers and men of my corps. The circumstances under which they fought were most unfavorable. Thrown suddenly, while still moving by the flank, and when hardly more than the head of the column could face the enemy, into the presence of an advancing foe, with their ranks broken each instant by bodies of our retreating men, they not only held their own, but formed their line, and in turn, charging the enemy, drove him back in confusion over half a mile to a line of temporary works, where they were reinforced by reserves.

About 10 o'clock Major-General M. L. Smith and the other officers sent out to examine the enemy's position, reported that the left of the enemy's line extended but a short distance beyond the Plank road. Special directions were given to Lieutenant-Colonel Sorrel to conduct the brigades of Generals Mahone, G. T. Anderson and Wofford beyond the enemy's left, and to attack him on his left and rear—I have since heard that the brigade of General Davis formed a part of this flanking force—the flank movement to be followed by a general advance—Anderson's brigade on the right and Wofford's on the left, Mahone being in the centre. They moved by the flank till the unfinished railroad from Gordonsville to Fredericksburg was reached. Forming on this railroad facing to the north, they advanced in the direction of the Plank road till they encountered the enemy in flank and rear, who was then engaging the brigades of Gregg, Benning and Law in front. The movement was a complete surprise and a perfect success. It was executed with rare zeal and intelligence. The enemy made but a short stand and fell back in utter rout, with heavy loss, to a position about three-quarters of a mile from my front attack. I immediately made arrangements to follow up the successes gained, and ordered an advance of all my troops for that purpose.

While riding at the head of my column moving by the flank down the Plank road, I came opposite the brigades which had made the flank movement and which were drawn up parallel to the Plank road, and about sixty yards therefrom, when a portion of them fired a volley, which resulted in the death of General Jenkins and the severe wounding of myself.

I immediately notified the Commanding-General of my being