The Wilderness of Spotsylvania was a tightly forested area nearly twelve miles wide by six miles long; it was located south of the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, ten miles west of Fredericksburg, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), two major battles were fought there: Chancellorsville, in May 1863, where Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson famously outflanked Union forces under Joseph Hooker; and the Wilderness, in May 1864, where the Union’s new general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant, initiated the Overland Campaign. The topography of the Wilderness—dense woods and thick undergrowth broken up by a number of small clearings—made the maneuvering of large armies particularly difficult and the experience of fighting claustrophobic. In both battles, burst shells ignited the woods, burning wounded soldiers. At Chancellorsville, Jackson was killed by a volley from his own men and, a year later, Confederate general James Longstreet was wounded, also by friendly fire.
Author: Michael P. Gray
Manassas Gap Railroad during the Civil War
The Manassas Gap Railroad was chartered in 1849 and served as a short but crucial line for both Confederate and Union forces during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Although it had just seventy-seven miles of track, the railroad also connected points near the United States capital to the Shenandoah Valley, which made the line strategically important. Nearly thirty miles southwest of Washington, D.C., at Manassas Junction the tracks intersected the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, continued west into the Valley via the Blue Ridge Mountain pass known as Manassas Gap, and then went west through Strasburg, to terminate at Mount Jackson. Consequently, this railroad linked the Orange and Alexandria with other rail lines in northern and central Virginia, while its western terminus was in the Valley. The line also showed the strategic advantage railroads played in changing the tide of battle, highlighted during the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861.
Cross Keys, Battle of
The Battle of Cross Keys, while not a full-fledged battle, was, nevertheless, an important Confederate strategic victory that came near the end of Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 during the American Civil War (1861–1865). On June 8, 1862, three Confederate brigades under the command of Richard S. Ewell held off a much larger Union force under John C. Frémont in order that they might then unite with the rest of Jackson’s army seven miles to the southeast at Port Republic. There on the following day, Jackson successfully attacked another Union force under James Shields, marking the end of what had been a remarkable campaign. After initial setbacks in western Virginia, Jackson had temporarily secured the valley for the Confederacy, confused and demoralized the politicians in Washington, D.C., and freed himself to reinforce General Robert E. Lee ahead of the Seven Days’ Battles in front of the Confederate capital at Richmond.