Who's Fighting in the Wilderness?
Meet Some Generals
Who were the generals leading the combat that was connected to the 36-acres that Central Virginia Battlefields Trust is working to save?
Today, we're highlighting Generals Cullen, Bartlett, Jones, and Griffin and sharing some biographical details and information about their involvement on May 5, 1864, in The Wilderness.
General Cullen A. Battle
Since the new tract of land for preservation has been dubbed "General Battle's Counterattack," it seems right to start with this Confederate officer!
Born on June 1, 1829, in Georgia, Cullen Andrew Battle moved to Alabama with his family when he was seven and later attended the state university to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1852 and served as an elector for John C. Breckinridge during the 1860 election. After Alabama's secession, Battle became the lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Alabama Regiment which fought in Virginia. He saw action during the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. Promoted to brigadier general on August 20, 1863, Battle commanded a brigade of all Alabama regiments in Rodes's Division of the Second Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia at the start of the Overland Campaign in 1864.
Battle held his brigade in reserve on May 5, lining them up across the property we're working to preserve. He had orders to help hold the Confederate position, and as Jones's brigade and other units fell back, Battle launched his counterattack and charged into the fighting across Orange Turnpike and Saunder's Field. At one point, the general "took the colors of the Third Alabama...went forward, and asked the men to follow." He wrote a report on May 9, 1864, protesting a rumor that his brigade had fallen back without orders.
Badly wounded during the fight at Cedar Creek, Battle did not return to active duty but survived the war. He practiced law in Alabama, was elected to Congress (but refused to accept his seat), and served as the mayor of New Bern, North Carolina, after relocating to that state. Battle died on April 8, 1905, and is buried in Petersburg, Virginia.
General Joseph Bartlett
Joseph Jackson Bartlett was twenty-nine years old when he led his brigade in a charge across Saunder's Field that broke through the Confederate lines. Born on November 21, 1834, he had practiced law in New York state prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Enlisting in May 1861, he was elected a captain in the 27th New York Volunteer Infantry and promoted quickly. By October 1862, Bartlett promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and his appointment was confirmed several months later. According to some researchers, Bartlett fought in every major engagement of the Army of the Potomac from Bull Run to Appomattox. During the Mine Run Campaign in 1863, he narrowly escaped capture when Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart raided his camp.
At the beginning of the Overland Campaign, Bartlett commanded the Third Brigade of the First Division, in the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac. In his attack on May 5, Bartlett moved to the south side of Orange Turnpike and punched through the Confederate line. Battle's counterattack and the rallying of other Confederate units resulted in pressure and flanking maneuvers which forced Bartlett and his regiments back. Bartlett himself narrowly avoided capture in the retreat and his horse was shot as he jumped over the Confederate trenches, leaving the general to make the rest of his escape on foot.
After the Civil War, Bartlett went to Sweden as the U.S. minister and also served as the deputy commissioner of pensions for President Cleveland. He died on January 14, 1893, and is buried in Baltimore.
General John M. Jones
John Marshall Jones, a graduate of the West Point Class of 1841, was born on July 26, 1820, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He served in the U.S. Army until his resignation to enter Confederate service. Jones served on staffs of Generals Magruder, Ewell, and Early, where he was regularly praised for his courage and efficiency.
Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jones promoted to brigadier general took command of a brigade in Edward Johnson's division of the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he was badly wounded, then recovered and returned to command to get injured again at the Battle of Payne's Farm in November 1863.
Back in command by May 5, 1864, Jones's brigade of Virginia regiments fought against Union attacks on the west side of Saunders' Field. His lines broke, prompting General Battle's counterattack. Jones reportedly rallied his men and was keeping a close watch on the unfolding battle when he was killed. He was later buried in Charlottesville.
General Charles Griffin
Charles Griffin (b. December 18, 1825) grew up in Ohio and entered West Point in 1843. After graduation, he commissioned into the artillery, fought in the Mexican-American War, and returned to West Point to teach artillery tactics. As the Civil War began, Griffin organized a field battery with the cannons and regular troops at West Point, and this battery fought at First Bull Run.
During the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, he promoted to brigadier general and took command of a brigade in the V Corps. He fought at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, but missed most of the action at Gettysburg due to illness. Beloved by his men, Griffin commanded the First Division of Warren's V Corps in the Army of the Potomac at the beginning of the Overland Campaign. (Bartlett was one of Griffin's brigade commanders.)
General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, wrote about Griffin's fight on May 5, 1864: "Orders were immediately sent to Major-General Warren to halt his column, concentrate his command on the pike, and when his troops were in hand to immediately attack any force in his front.... About noon Major-General Warren had gotten into position on the pike and attacked vigorously with the divisions of Griffin and Wadsworth. This attack was first quite successful, Griffin driving the enemy (Ewell's corps) some distance back on the pike, but as...Griffin's flank was exposed as he advanced, which the enemy taking advantage of, Griffin was compelled partially to withdraw, having to abandon two pieces of artillery."
Griffin fought on in The Wilderness and through the rest of the Overland Campaign, though he got into conflict with his military superiors. After the war, he returned to the regular army, accepting the appointment as colonel of the 35th Infantry which was stationed in the reconstruction District of Texas. Refusing to leave his post during a yellow fever epidemic, Griffin succumbed to the illness and died on September 15, 1867. He is buried in Washington, D.C.
Saunders' Field on a Winter's Day. (Photo by Terry Rensel, 2021.)
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.