Escaping From the Burning Woods
Original Author: Alfred R. Waud
Created: ca. May 5, 1864
Medium: Drawing on brown paper
Publisher: the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Escaping From the Burning Woods

At the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5–6, 1864), four Union soldiers, two of them glancing anxiously behind them, rescue wounded comrades from brush fires ignited by the fierce fighting. The flames raged through the undergrowth and burned some wounded soldiers alive, filling the woods with smoke and ghastly cries. Although fires were a part of other battles, notably Shiloh in 1862 and Chancellorsville in 1863 (which also took place at the Wilderness), this scene has become iconic in association with the 1864 battle.

The sketch, titled "Army of the Potomac—Our Wounded Escaping from the Fires of the Wilderness," was drawn by the London-born correspondent Alfred R. Waud and appeared as an engraving in the June 4 issue of Harper's Weekly. Waud, who witnessed the battle and either saw a scene like this or heard about it from soldiers, submitted to the magazine the following explanatory note: "The fires in the woods, caused by the explosion of shells, and the fires made for cooking, spreading around, caused some terrible suffering. It is not supposed that many lives were lost in this terrible manner; but there were some poor fellows, whose wounds had disabled them, who perished in the dreadful flame. Some were carried off by the ambulance corps, others in blankets suspended to four muskets, and more by the aid of sticks, muskets, or even by crawling. The fire advanced on all sides through the grass, and, taking the dry pines, raged up to their tops."