A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

John Reeves. Pegasus, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-64313-700-1
Historian Reeves (The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee) delivers an exhaustive and intermittently riveting account of the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Interweaving high-level strategy with the perspectives of frontline soldiers, Reeves recounts how Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant planned to cross Virginia’s Rapidan River, pass through the heavily forested region known as the Wilderness, and attack Gen. Robert E. Lee on his right flank before capturing Richmond and ending the war. The odds were overwhelming in Grant’s favor (120,000 Union soldiers vs. 65,000 Confederates), but the dense woods neutralized the North’s advantages. The fighting began on May 5, when Union troops, launching an attack, stumbled onto Confederate defenses. Over the next several days, wadding from paper cartridges ignited the underbrush, turning the battlefield into a “raging inferno” and contributing to heavy losses on both sides. Grant eventually moved his troops to the nearby town of Spotsylvania Court House, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war again produced no clear winner, but contributed to the steady attrition of soldiers that would eventually doom the South. Reeves has a firm grasp of the subject and skillfully draws from firsthand accounts, but often stops the action for long-winded asides. This deep dive is best suited for Civil War completists. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/25/2021
Release date: 05/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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