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Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

On the night of May 3rd  1864 Major George S. Mead under the direct command of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant move three corps of troops across the Rapidan River at Germanna and Ely’s Fords. By the afternoon of the 4th, the Divisions of Johnson and Rodes were traveling east along the Orange Turnpike towards Old Wilderness Tavern to counter their latest move. At midday May 5th a battle line was formed with Daniel’s brigade on the right, Doles’ brigade center and Battles’ on the left anchored on the turnpike and slightly behind Jones’ brigade of Johnson’s division. At this time Doles’ brigade consisted of the 4th 12th and 44th Georgia with the 21st Georgia detached to North Carolina.

The landscape in this sector made it difficult to lead large bodies of troops and much of the fighting was conducted on the company level and in smaller squads. The underbrush and vines were set ablaze by muzzle flashes and exploding shells and at times the men, hidden by thick smoke would fire point blank into each others faces. These fires also consumed the bodies of the dead and wounded and would set off cap and cartridge boxes. The fighting slowed down around dusk and the Confederates started to build a line of breastworks. The following day the fighting continued along a much strengthened line of battle.

During the Battle of the Wilderness the Federal Army outnumbered the Army of Northern Virginia  by  40,000 troops. The Army of the Potomac reported over 18,000 casualties, while the Confederate losses were 11,400 including The 12th Georgia lost twenty-four killed, twenty-one wounded and five captured. Among them was the12th Georgia’s Colonel Edward Willis, wounded in the thigh. Company “F” reported two wounded.

Early on the morning of May 8th Ewell’s 2nd Corps was on the march towards Spotsylvania Court House with the division of Robert Rhodes leading the way. Taking the Shady Grove Church Road they arrived in time to save Georgia General Richard T. Anderson’s right flank. Doles’ brigade fought a hard pitched battle into the night and when it was over they started digging trenches. Their position for the next two days would face west on a hill called the “Mule Shoe”. The line of battle, from the right was, Doles, Daniels and Ramseur’s with Battles brigade in reserve.

Late in the afternoon on May 10th the skirmish line of Doles brigade was brushed aside by a force of 4,500-5,000 federal soldiers led by Colonel Emory Upton. Within minutes they had smashed into the center of the 44th Georgia and were inside the Confederate breast works. A desperate hand to hand fight had developed as the men used clubbed muskets and bayonets, the advance stalled with some confusion and with Confederate fire from three sides the Yankees were driven out of the breastworks by nightfall.

Federal losses were reported at 1000 with hundreds lying dead and wounded on the field. Of the 650 Confederate casualties 350 were taken prisoner. The 12th Georgia suffered twenty-three killed, twenty-five wounded, one missing, and one hundred and twenty-two captured. Company “F” reported one killed and eleven taken prisoner.  Of course the casualties did not stop with the end of hostilities. A death sentence had been handed to some of the captured during this resent campaign. At least twenty-four died from disease in Northern prisons mostly at Elmira New York. Among the captured were Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Hardeman and five other officers who would become members of The Immortal Six-Hundred, placed under Federal guns on Morris Island, South Carolina. They were, Captain James R. McMichael Co K, Captain Thomas W. Harris Co C, 1st Lieutenant W.D. Ivey Co D 1st Lieutenant Chris Grace Co I and 2nd Lieutenant Agustus M. Green Co E.

On the morning of May12th Doles brigade, being held in reserve, was moved to the right of the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania in response to a massive federal attack. The assault was launched with such speed that it resulted in the capture of Major General Edward Johnson and two-thousand of his men. Described as some of the worst fighting of the war, the opposing forces slugged it out for over twenty hours. Casualties for the 12th Georgia were three killed and one wounded. Company F reported just one man captured.

Early on the morning of May 30th Doles brigade formed a line of battle along the Mechanicsville Pike near Bethdesda Church and drove the Yankees back to Shady Grove Road. Late that afternoon Colonel Edward Willis in command of Pegram’s brigade, Ramseur’s division, was given the assignment of clearing out a piece of artillery that was harassing the column as it moved along the pike. As they advanced the piece retired to a tree line. When the brigade reached an open field they received a murderous fire from both infantry and artillery. The twenty-three year old Colonel of the 12th Georgia was wounded and died the next day. Born in Wilkes County Georgia, his body now rests in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond Virginia.