The Wilderness battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between May 5-7, 1864, The Wilderness was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 28,600 total casualties.
The battlefield is located between the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road west of Brock Road (Route 613). These two roads were also critical during the battle and the scene of heavy fighting. There is no visitors center here, only an exhibit shelter staffed part time.
A complete driving tour of the battlefield takes roughly two hours, with eight main stops. One of the most exciting episodes in the Civil War occurred in this clearing when Robert E. Lee tried to personally lead a counter attack at a critical moment. Men of the Texas Brigade shouted “Lee to the rear!” and refused to advance until he withdrew to safety.
Most of the Wilderness is covered in, well, wilderness, but there are some open areas and the forest is less dense today than it was in 1864. You can see how the dense trees and tangled undergrowth would have made maneuvering difficult. Participants described the battle as a whirlwind where front and rear were almost indistinguishable.
Some of the heaviest fighting took place at the Brock Road-Plank Road intersection. On May 6, Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was accidentally wounded by his own men while leading an attack along Orange Plank Road. This was the second time a veteran Confederate corps commander was wounded by friendly fire in the tangled Wilderness, the first being Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at the Battle of Chancelorsville, just a few miles east of that intersection.
The Battle of the Wilderness was a bloody stalemate, with neither army gaining a clear advantage over the other. Ulysses S. Grant opted to flank Lee’s army and continue south, continuing his Overland Campaign toward Richmond. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is open from dawn to dusk. The Wilderness exhibit shelter is staffed weekends and holidays from 9:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.