Wainwright’s Diary, May 3, 1864: “we only wait the hour of midnight in order to start”

This morning, I am making preparations to begin my trip to the Wilderness for the 150th anniversary events.  Remembering those events, let me share what is effectively the last Winter Encampment diary entry by Colonel Charles S. Wainwright.  He, too, was getting ready for a trip into the Wilderness:

May 3, Tuesday.  Everything is packed, and we only wait the hour of midnight in order to start. Orders have been coming in thick and fast all day; an army is bad as a woman starting on a journey, so much to be done at the last moment….

It seems notwithstanding General Meade’s appeal to their honour, there are a number of men inclined to be fractious under the idea that their term of service is already out; he now sends notice that all such be shot without trial if they do not step out to the music….

I found yesterday that General Warren, I suppose by order, was building several redoubts on the heights south of the town, and rode around to see them, thinking that I might be called upon to have something to do with them, especially as the General asked me to examine whether the parapets were too high for light guns. I thought to meet him there but did not.  I, however, came across General Wadsworth. The old gentleman was talkative as usual, and said that he did not know very much about engineering, though he did claim to be otherwise pretty well up in military matters.  I agreed with him perfectly as to his ignorance of engineering, and thought he would be wiser not to attempt to use terms belonging thereto….

This afternoon General Warren had his division commanders and myself at his quarters, shewed us his orders, and explained tomorrow’s move.  This Fifth Corps leads off, followed by the Sixth; we are to cross at Germanna Ford again and go as far as the Old Wilderness Tavern tomorrow.  The Second Corps, all the heavy trains, and also the Reserve crosses at Ely’s Ford and goes to Chancellorsville; the Ninth Corps does not move until the next day.  We are to try and get around Lee, between him and Richmond, and so force him to fight on our own ground.  My batteries, with two forage waggons each, start at midnight, pass through Stevensburg, and then follow in rear of the First and Third Divisions. The ammunition and all the rest of the waggons, together with half of the ambulances, move off to Chancellorsville and we are warned that we shall not see them again for five days.  The night is soft but cloudy, with some signs of rain; now the roads are capital. Our general officers, that I have talked with, are very sanguine; Grant is said to be perfectly confident.  God grant that their expectations be more realized.

When I reached Warren’s quarters Wadsworth only was there.  He insisted on having my opinion as to which way we were to move, whether around Lee’s right or left; and when I told him I had no opinion, having nothing to found one on, declared I must be a regular, I was so non-committal.  Would that it were characteristic of all regulars never to give an opinion on subjects they knew nothing about; and if the people at home, newspaper editors and correspondents, and also the politicians at Washington, would take a leaf out of the same book, it would save the country millions of money, and many a poor fellow in our army his life.  During the interview I could see that Warren paid especial deference to Griffin, whom he evidently fears. I do not wonder much at it except that Griffin has no influence; but then, he is such an inveterate hater, and so ugly in his persecutions.  I was gratified at being summoned with the division commanders….

If you are visiting the Wilderness battlefield today, I encourage you to take the short drive up Virginia Highway 3 to Stevensburg, and all the way into Culpeper if you can.  150 years ago tomorrow – very early tomorrow morning – was the first of many marches made by the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign.

Culpeper Co Jan 5 08 092

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, page 347-8.)