James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927). History of the Civil War, 1861–1865. 1917.

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  wrote General Sherman, “that the war professionally began.” In 1864 and 1865, the campaigns and the battles were, as in the previous years, the events on which all else depended; but by this time the President and his generals had learned the lessons of war and begun to conduct it with professional skill.  5   The two salient features of Grant’s plan were the destruction or capture of Lee’s army by himself and his force of 122,000 and the crushing of Joseph E. Johnston by Sherman with his 99,000. From the nature of the situation, a collateral objective in the one case was Richmond, in the other, Atlanta. The winter and early spring had been spent largely in systematic and effective preparation. The people’s confidence in Grant was so great that many were sanguine that the war would be over by midsummer.  6   On the night of May 3 the Army of the Potomac began its advance by crossing the Rapidan without molestation and encamping next day in the Wilderness, 1 where Hooker had last year come to grief. Grant had no desire to fight a battle in this jungle; but Lee, who had watched him intently, permitted him to traverse the river unopposed, thinking that, when he halted in the dense thicket, every inch of which was known to the Confederate general and soldiers, the Lord had delivered him into their hands. Lee ordered at once the concentration of his army and with
Note 1. “The Wilderness is a gently undulating tract of low ridges and swampy swales alternating, covered with a dense second growth of small pines intermixed with oaks, ash and walnut, and thick matted underbrush in patches almost impenetrable. It is from ten to twelve miles across in any direction. The main roads which traverse it and a few clearings, widely separated, let but little daylight into the dense, gloomy and monotonous woods. Once off the roads it is exceedingly difficult to manœuvre troops through this region and almost impossible to preserve their orderly formation or to keep them in any given direction when in motion.”—Hazard Stevens, Milt. Hist. Soc., IV, 187. [back]