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The Wilderness

Under the newly appointed Lieutenant General Ulysses Simpson Grant, the Army of the Potomac embarked upon a series of flanking movements designed to get between Lee's army and Richmond. (1) James Woodworth and Sidney Burroughs of the Normal School Company returned from their officers' examinations in Washington on April 29, only a couple hours before the regiment left Alexandria. Their surplus items had already been packed and sent into storage, including their regular uniforms, leaving them only the regiment's distinctive Zouave dress uniforms, with their bright red trim. The 44th left Alexandria by train that afternoon, rejoined the Third Brigade, and began its march from Beverly Ford on May 1. (2) A halt was made at Wilderness Tavern on the afternoon of May 4 and orders were issued to resume the march early then next day. The enemy appeared in their front shortly after daylight, and the Fifth Corps formed a line of battle in preparation for an enemy attack. At about eleven in the morning, the regiment began building breastworks. With no forthcoming enemy attack, the Union army, with the Fifth Corps in the center, began to advance toward the enemy's lines. (3) The Third Brigade, which was placed in the center of the line formed by Griffin's division, rested on the edge of a clearing and was split into two lines. The 44th was stationed on the right of the first line, with its right resting upon the Orange Turnpike, and was unsupported in the rear. (4) Saunder's Field, where the 44th NY was engaged on May 5, 1864

As the regiment formed into line of battle, both James Woodworth and Sidney Burroughs wore their dress uniforms, and neither had a musket. Woodworth, who had been promoted to corporal in December 1863, rejoined the color guard. (5) Sidney Burroughs could not find an extra musket. He could have stayed behind and avoided battle, but he "did not like to see the other boys going in, and he remain behind, so he followed on, and soon after the engagement commenced picked up a gun and went on with his comrades." (6) At about 12:30 p.m., the Third Brigade charged across Saunder's Field, an old farmstead and one of the few clearings in the Wilderness, with "great force and vociferous shouts." They scattered the rebel skirmishers and then broke through the center of the Confederate line. (7) The 44th N.Y. remained behind in reserve. When the men of the Third Brigade, who had outdistanced their fellow attackers on either side, were hit with a counterattack and forced to retreat, the 44th was called into action. They marched forward a quarter of a mile, and formed into line to meet the charge of the oncoming enemy. (8)

As they watched the "gray lines" advancing toward them like a "swarm of locusts, "the men gave a "wild cheer" for Colonel Conner, who had begun to shout orders. As he said "'Ready,'" they all cocked the hammers on their muskets. Other commands followed as the enemy grew closer: "'Steady, men. Aim! Fire low. Fire!'" Their shots were returned by the Confederates, and the men of the 44th dropped to the ground to avoid the heavy fire. They repulsed the first charge, and stood up again. When they heard the "demonic" yell of the enemy, they prepared for the worst. Running low on ammunition, many of the men fixed bayonets and resolved to protect their "dirty," "ragged," and "blood-stained" flag at any cost. Woodworth did not carry the flag into battle, but stood by it, willing to give his life for it. As the enemy charge grew closer, several members of the color guard were shot down. It became a fierce hand-to-hand battle, and "at the point of the bayonet," they were able to drive them back. (9) After about a half-hour of fighting and two charges, the Confederates retreated, and the regiment was ordered to retire to the entrenchments they had built that morning. With all of the noise of the battle, Captain Wood misinterpreted the command, and ordered Company E to charge. He quickly realized his mistake when he saw the rest of the regiment moving back and changed the order, but some of the men, including Sam McBlain, had advanced ahead out of earshot, and were so intent on shooting the enemy that Wood had to run up to them and touch them to get their attention. (10) Lieutenant Husted had bullets pierce his hat and bootleg, and barely escaped capture himself. (11) Remains of trenches of Ewell's Corps on southern edge of Saunder's Field

They reached the relative safety of the trenches, but not without heavy losses. The 44th lost 12 killed and 57 wounded, and Company E 2 killed or mortally wounded and 6 wounded. William Oliver and Hicks Campbell were among the wounded, Oliver severely, and Hicks only slightly. (12) Both men eventually returned to duty. Sidney Burroughs was wounded, and was sent to the hospital to die. Orsell C. Brown, a Quartermaster-Clerk from Company A, was pressed into service as a hospital nurse to care for the many wounded, and Sidney was one of his patients. Brown talked with him as he bathed his hands and face. His brief talk with Sidney made a great impression upon him, and he thought Sidney was "a splendid fellow, and of a very fine family." But Sidney "felt that his wound was mortal," having been shot in the stomach, a wound that was usually fatal. Talking with his friends for the last time, shortly after daylight on May 7, he asked them to remember that "'when you march home, tell them how we did this, and how I died. Tell them they asked us to bring that flag home, and we have done it; for boys, you must remember!'" And then he died. (13) He was buried near the hospital, along with the others who died there. They were buried "as soldiers, placing a board at their heads plainly marked, hoping that some day their remains may be borne to their own soil." (14)

The next morning, May 6, brought an early awakening and a silent movement to the front. General John Sedgwick's Sixth Corps was to begin the assault at 5:00 a.m. and the Fifth Corps was to join the attack once it was engaged. While awaiting the command to charge, the men of the 44th lay on their stomachs to conceal themselves from enemy sharpshooters. The order was countermanded at noon, and only a small skirmish line was sent out, which silenced the enemy's fire with minimal loss. During the day, Albert Husted was promoted to Captain and assigned to Company I, leaving the remaining men from the Normal School. He replaced Seth Johnson, who was killed the previous day. The next morning, the Confederates attacked the Fifth Corps, but they were quickly repulsed and sent into a "hasty retreat." (15) Early in the evening of May 7, the 44th received orders to march toward Spotsylvania Court House.

1. Woodworth saw Grant when he passed through Alexandria on March 9. In Grant, he saw "a very ordinary looking man, and was plainly attired." James Woodworth to Phebe Woodworth, March 13, 1864.

2. Nash, 182, 184, 231, 367, 431. The regiment rejoined the Third Brigade, now under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Bartlett, at Rappahannock Station. The 44th quickly revisited many of the places where they had camped in 1863, including Beverly Ford, Brandy Station, and Culpepper. They crossed the Rapidian River for the final time on May 3.

3. The Army of the Potomac formed with the Sixth Corps on the right, the Fifth in the center, and the Second on the left. Within Griffin's division, the Third Brigade was in the center.

4. Eugene A. Nash, 184-185; Gordon C. Rhea, The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864 (Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University, 1994), 102, 146, 152-157, 169. Parts of the Battle of the Wilderness were contested on the same field as the Battle of Chancellorsville. The Orange Turnpike was a major road that ran through the Wilderness.

5. James Sperling Deposition, November 17, 1866, Phebe B. Woodworth Pension File.

6. Orsell C. Brown to Olivia Brown, May 25, 1864.

7. The two Confederate lines were held by Brigadier Generals John Jones and Cullen Battle of Richard Ewell's corps.

8. Rhea, 146, 152-157, 169; Bradford R. Wood, "Service with the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. In 1864," in Nash, 285-286.

9. H. J. E. C to the Editor of the Seneca Co. Courier, May 30, 1864, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, 44th N.Y. Newspaper Clipping File; Bradford R. Wood, "Service with the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," in Nash, 285-286.

10. Bradford R. Wood, "Service with the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," in Nash, 285-286.

11. Nash, 144.

12. Nash, 285-286.

13. H. J. E. C to the Editor of the Seneca Co. Courier, May 30, 1864, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, 44th N.Y. Newspaper Clipping File.

14. Orsell C. Brown to Olivia Brown, May 25, 1864. Sidney's body was moved to Fredericksburg National Cemetery, where his body now rests, under the name George W. Burroughs, of the 44th N.Y., Company E. Captain Bradford Wood received Sidney's commission to the 31st U.S.C.T. on August 9 and forwarded it to Thomas Burroughs. Bradford R. Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," in Nash, 286.

15. Nash, 185-186. On the Sixth, the enemy attacked the Second Corps in the afternoon and the Sixth Corps in the evening, but gained nothing from these movements.

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