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Civil War Series

The Battles of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

   

MAY 6: GORDON ATTACKS SEDGWICK'S FLANK

Early in the morning, Brigadier General John B. Gordon scouted the northern Union flank and discovered that it was unprotected. He recommended to Ewell that the Confederates attack this vulnerable point, but Gordon's immediate superior, Major General Jubal A. Early, thought the venture too risky. Gordon, however, continued to urge a flank attack, and toward evening, Ewell relented. According to Gordon's version, Lee visited Ewell's sector and ordered the corps commander to execute Gordon's plan. Other sources cast doubt on whether Lee intervened as Gordon claimed.

Shortly before dark, Ewell authorized Gordon to launch the attack that he had been urging. Sedgwick's line crumpled, and confusion at Union headquarters was extreme. An aide ran to Grant with advice. "General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously," he warned. "I know Lee's methods well by past experience; he will throw his own army between us and the Rapidan, and cut us off completely from our communications." Grant exploded. "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do," he roared back. "Some of you seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do."


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LONGSTREET TURNS HANCOCK'S LEFT FLANK: MAY 6, 11 A.M.
While Confederate troops occupy Hancock's attention along the plank road, Longstreet sends four brigades along the grade of an unfinished railroad to turn Hancock's left flank. At 11 A.M. these troops strike, rolling up Hancock's line and hurling it back to the Brock Road.

Darkness descended before Gordon could consolidate his gains, and Union reinforcements prevented him from reaching the Federal rear. Sedgwick established a new line during the night, its upper flank thrown back across Germanna Plank Road. For years afterward, Gordon rankled at what he viewed as a lost opportunity. While his superiors waited, he claimed, "the greatest opportunity ever presented to Lee's army was permitted to pass." Critics would later quibble over whether Gordon had exaggerated his attack's potential, but none could deny that delaying the assault had cost Lee dearly.

JUST AS IT APPEARED THAT LEE'S 4 P.M ATTACK HAD FAILED, JENKINS'S BRIGADE OVERRAN A SECTION OF BURNING LOGWORKS SOUTH OF THE INTERSECTION. (BL)


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FINAL ATTACKS: 2 P.M. TO DARK, MAY 6
Burnside's corps launches a feeble attack on Anderson's division in the woods north of the plank road, while Lee marshals Longstreet's corps for a massive, but unsuccessful, attack on Hancock's Brock Road defenses. To the north, Ewell holds Warren in place near the Orange Turnpike and at dusk attacks Sedgwick's exposed right flank, scattering the brigades of Shaler and Seymour.


JOHN GORDON'S TWILIGHT ATTACK ROUTED TWO BRIGADES AND NETTED SEVERAL HUNDRED UNION PRISONERS. (BL)
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