As if the Battle of the Wilderness wasn’t bloody enough and bad enough, it seems to be equally as horrendous in the 21st century.
It was May 4, 1864 when Grant led his 120,000 men in the Army of the Potomac across the rocky Rapidan River in an attempt to reach the open space lands where he would fight Robert E. Lee, whose forces he was confident he would outnumber. A seemingly wise decision, Lee’s forces were only about 66,000, but Grant didn’t know his Southern compatriot’s wily tactics. Rather than wait until Grant’s men reached those open spaces, Lee chose to attack them in the heavily forested area known as the Wilderness. Underbrush was thick and tangled, there were streams and creeks with ravines and the “roads” were barely rutted passages.
Two days and 17,666 men later, the battle was over. When Longstreet arrived on the 5th, he turned the tide, and the Rebel troops drove in two flanks of Union fighters. By the time night fell, Grant and Meade began to withdraw.
Now some 140+ years later, another battle continues to rage. Wal Mart with its bucks and clout wants to build a super store which will be remotely near the battlefield, or a portion of it, and the good history and heritage folks of Orange County are up in arms of the vocal type. Offers to assist Wal Mart in finding a different locale for their store have fallen on ears as deaf as Grant’s were, meetings and focus groups have gotten nowhere. Wal Mart is showing its big bucks and muscle around, much as Grant tried to, and everyone waits for a Longstreet like group to materialize from somewhere with a plan to keep out the Big W from the bloody acreage where so many died. Preservationists have weighed in as they always do and must, but thus far the big guns seem to be in the lead.
Will the Wilderness go the way of portions of Manassas and many others? Will the urban sprawl drown out the roar of the cannon and the screams of dying men? Stay tuned….. it ain’t over til it’s over.