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Contributing Musicians

Clark Hansbarger
Mike Jewell
Allen Kitselman
Gary McGraw

Fire in the Wilderness / May 6, 1864

Lyrics and Story:

 

Crossed the gap in the early light,
Sun burning through the fog.
Heard the rattle of rifles,
Heard the crow call.

Skirmisher dead in the bloody creek
At the first cannon roar.
Grinning devil’s a knocking again
On the pretty little bride’s back door.

Wish I had no eyes or ears
The pain is with me still
Wish I’d never left Clifton Forge
For pines of Chancellorsville.

No woman’s gentle company,
No man from Galilee.
Not even drinks of whiskey
Will dull this memory.

Noon day caught us in the smoke.
There was crying all around.
Lost child in river,
and the boat has run aground.

Rifle hot as a coal fire stove.
Thomas lying next to me.
Tell him to hush as I watch the fire
Coming through the trees.

Wish I had no eyes or ears
The pain is with me still
Wish I’d never left Clifton Forge
For pines of Chancellorsville

No woman’s gentle company,
No man from Galilee.
Not even drinks of whiskey
Will dull this memory.

We fought this ground a year ago,
The day that Jackson fell.
The Orange Turnpike seems to me
just like the road to hell.

The burnings getting closer.
Thomas eye’s are closed.
I put pistol to his head
And hope nobody knows.

Wish I had no eyes or ears
The pain is with me still
Wish I’d never left Clifton Forge
For pines of Chancellorsville

No woman’s gentle company,
No man from Galilee.
Not even drinks of whiskey

 

Fire in the Wilderness

“… in the Wilderness … I saw one man, both of whose legs were broken, lying on the ground with his cocked rifle by his side and his ramrod in his hand, and his eyes set on the front. I knew he meant to kill himself in case of fire—knew it is surely as though I could read his thoughts.”

—Private Frank Wilkeson (from Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, by Mark Grimsley)

Wilderness - Civil War Songs - Fire in the Wilderness

Wounded escaping from the burning woods of the Wilderness
by Alfred R. Waud, courtesy of Library of Congress

The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864, was the first of a series of major engagements in Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. Though considered a Confederate victory – with approximately 17,000 Union casualties to 11,000 Confederate–  the battle was costly to the diminishing Southern forces, serving only to slow a Union push that eventually ended with the siege of Petersburg.

Though Grant aimed to draw Lee’s Army to more open ground, the battle was fought in the same dense underbrush and forest along and below the Orange Court House Turnpike where the year before Stonewall Jackson had outflanked and routed the Union Army, only to lose his life to friendly fire from his own pickets.

On May 5, Rebel forces under Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill engaged Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren in the fields and forests around the Orange Court House Turnpike. During the battle, the fields caught fire, trapping hundreds of wounded soldiers from both sides. The cries of dying men could be heard throughout the evening and night.

The battle ended two days later after Longstreet surprised and outflanked the Union soldiers along the Orange Plank Road, echoing what had happened the year before. Grant withdrew his forces soon after and moved south to Spotsylvania Court House, to face Lee’s forces just days later in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

The song tells the story of two comrades caught in the fires of The Wilderness, one wounded and unable to escape, and one who must make a decision for which he can’t forgive himself. It is a tale of friendship and survival, of memory, lost innocence and regret.

The Battle of the Wilderness

Overview of Battle of The Wilderness ( Civil War Trust site with great links and videos)

Battle of the Wilderness (history.com site with links)

Detailed Account of Battle (from history.net )

Into The Wilderness (blog with summary of battle and photos)

 The Fires

Account of the Fires with Witnesses Illustrations

Lt. John Patterson and the Medal of Honor (rescuing the wounded from the fires at The Wilderness)

Wounded Escaping from the Burning Woods“, drawing by Alfred R. Waud

 Death of Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson’s Death

Death of Stonewall Jackson, May 1863 (Resources from the VMI Archives)

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