On May 2nd, Lee called his commanders together and advised he thought the Federal Army, now under General Grant, would make a move across the Rapidan in the near future. Sure enough, two days later, scouts on Clark's Mountain signalled Grant's men were on the move. By 1:00 pm on the 4th, Hill's men were enroute to intercept. With Ewell's Corps advancing toward the Wilderness on the Orange Turnpike, Hill's forces moved up the Orange Plank Road in the same direction. This was the same Wilderness area that Lee had won such a glorious victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Now, with 64M men, he faced a Union force of over 120M, and a new commander.

Ewell's forces were the first to make contact, on what would become Lee's left flank. Realizing Hill's men could cut off an entire corps if they were able to make it to the Brock Road intersection, Grant sent in Getty's Division from the VI Corps to hold it. The battle on the right flank would become a see-saw battle in forest that limited visibility to 20 yards. Initially, Hill's front division under Heth successfully pushed the Union forces back. When reinforcements from Hancock's 2nd Corps began arriving, the tide shifted. Wilcox's division was by now, located around the Chewning farm, an unwooded high spot in the center. It was here that Hill's forces joined with Ewell's right flank. Two of Wilcox's brigades were sent to reinforce Heth, while Thomas Georgian's maintained their support of Poague's battalion of artillery.

As more and more of Hancock's men arrived and were rushed into the battle against Hill, Thomas' brigade was sent to reinforce Kirkland's North Carolinian's under Heth, who were under heavy attack. Thomas sent his men charging into a Federal column, only to receive heavy fire from their flank. Soon they were nearly surrounded in the forest, fighting at right angles to one another, and in some cases, back to back. As darkness fell, the firing began to cease. Hill had escaped disaster against overwhelming odds; his 15,000 men holding back 40,000 Federal's. Every armed man he had was on the line now. He had even robbed Gen Lee's 5th Alabama, a decimated regiment of only 125 men, now assigned to provost marshal duties. These men had completely fooled Wadsworth's Iron Brigade into believing they were a much larger force, and secured the gap between Ewell and Hill.
In the dark, troops fired nervously at anything that moved. Friend and foe were in some places were within a few feet of one another. Those who ventured out to help a wounded comrade or gather water, were captured. Small fires smoldered and the smell of burning flesh permeated the air. Najor General John Gibbob inhis official report wrote "The weather being very dry and hot, the woods soon took fire, and many of our poor wounded were burned to death." Heth and Wilcox were so concerned about the total disarray of their forces, that they requested Hill allow them to pull the men back and reorganize them. Hill refused to relinquish ground. Assured by Gen Lee that reinforcements under Longstreet would arrive early in the morning, he let his men rest.

The following morning, Longstreet arrived at Lee's headquarter's around 5 a.m., but with his forces far behind. As he was being greeted, the woods came alive as Hancock attacked Hill with his full force. Hill's veteran's, now used to advancing and falling back, put up a stiff fight. They loaded and fired, as they slowly fell back. But against the overwhelming firepower of Hancock's advancing Corps, the withdrawal picked up speed. A Georgia private* in Thomas' brigade later wrote, "The enemy advanced in three columns cross-firing on our Brigade from three directions from the front, right flank, and rear..." Thomas wrote that his men, while attempting a manuever, "into line faced to the rear, the regiment under a fearfully galling fire, and  in the dense woods, fell back in confusion." Hill and Lee both, entered the mass of withdrawing troops, cursing, demanding and even begging them to hold. But it was to no avail. The Confederate Corps was simply overwhelmed. But as fast as the Confederate's were retreating, the Union forces began to have difficulty advancing. Their troops were in such disorder, that in places huge masses of blue coated soldiers milled around looking for their own regiment, while in other places, not a blue jacket was to be seen.

Monument near Widow Tapp Farm...field located near where Thomas' men fought in woods.

The situation became so perilous, that when Union forces broke into a clearing, Hill had to order artillery to fire over and into his own men to stop their advance. This momentarily stopped the Union advance, but as they swung around to flank the cannons, and all seemed loss, Longstreet's men poured up the road. It was a complete reversal of Antietam. There, Hill's last minute arrival had kept Longstreet's Corps from collapsing. Now, for a second time, Lee had come within a hair's breath of losing the war. But this time, it was Longstreet who arrived in the nick of time. Led by his Texan's, Longstreet's men turned off the road, and under fire, formed into position. After advancing nearly 1000 yards, and now completely disorganized, Hancock's men could not handle Longstreet's attack. Within minutes,it was the Union forces in hasty retreat as Longstreet's men poured into the forest after them. Hill's men, quickly reorganized, were sent to protect the center between Ewell and Longstreet. There they found the Union IX Corps and attacked. On the left, Ewell attacked. Throughout the remainder of the day, the battle raged. When night fell for a second time on the battlefield, the two armies were basically where they had started. On May the 7th, scouts reported Grant was pulling out, but unlike all Union commanders before him, was not withdrawing. Instead he was heading toward Spotsylvania.

A picture of the human remains of an unburied soldier. This photo was taken shortly after the battle, in the vicinity where the 35th fought, north of the Plank Road. It is thought the deceased is a Union soldier, that burnt in one of the many fires that raged through the forest during the fight. Note the desolation to the forest left by the battle and the fire.

The battle had gained neither army anything but casualties. Grant's army suffered nearly 16M casualties, while Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had suffered over 11M. Hill had lost nearly half his corps, with 7000 of his 15000 men, dead, wounded, or missing. The 35th Georgia would loose 4 killed, 22 wounded and 23 missing in the engagement. Exactly who the 35th was facing in this battle is impossible to determine at this time, if ever. Troops were faced in different directions, and tangled in the heavy woods. Even batle maps are unclear on the location of the Geogian's under Thomas> Even General Hancock in his official report stated "No movements of the enemy could be observed until the lines were almost in collision; only the roar of the musketry disclosed the position of the combatants"   

By the evening on the 7th, Hill's beaten force was once again marching. Lee was in pursuit and wanted to get to Spotsylvania before Grant did. The preceding winter was the last rest Thomas' Georgian's would have for a very long time.

Wilderness Battlefield

Battle of the Wilderness Links

Drawing of Battlefield, 1st Day early, Lee's right flank only shown

*(from a diary quoted in "Bloody Roads South" by Noah Andre Trudeau)

35th Georgia Index