5¢ Battle of the Wilderness
Civil War Centennial Issue
Issue Date: May 5, 1964
City: Fredericksburg, VA
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Giori Press
Color: Dark red and black
The Battle of the Wilderness
In the spring of 1864, the Union and Confederate armies were in a race toward Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s main objective was to get between Lee’s army and Richmond, thus severing its communications and supplies.
On May 3, 1864, the Union army crossed the Rapidan River and entered a dense forest known as the Wilderness. Knowing that Lee avoided engagements on difficult ground, Grant ordered his men to camp for the night. The next morning they would set off and attempt to get between Lee and Richmond.
The following morning, as the Union army was beginning its march out of the Wilderness, the Confederates attacked. Because of the thick vegetation in the forest, it was difficult to see or maneuver properly, making an effective battle impossible. Cavalry and artillery were useless in such an environment, so much of the fighting was nearly hand to hand. Before long, the flashes from muskets ignited the dry underbrush. Fire claimed the lives of many wounded still lying on the battlefield.
Grant considered the battle a Union victory because he was able to accomplish his objective of getting his troops across the Rapidan River (practically in the face of Lee’s army) and re-forming as a unit on the other side. However, because of the heavy casualties on both sides, history remembers it as a tactical draw.