On a recent trip to the Fredericksburg area, I passed through the Wilderness Battlefield. I have a few upcoming talks on the battle and the wounding of James Longstreet, so I took the time to explore some areas of the field that I have not visited in a few years.
At tour stop 8, on the park’s driving tour map is the Brock Road-Orange Plank Road Intersection. On the morning of May 5th 1864, generals Grant and Meade were into their second day of what became known as the Overland Campaign, when Robert E. Lee pushed his out gunned and out manned army into the Wilderness of Spotsylvania and Orange counties of Virginia. Lee looked to nullify the vast Union numbers by engaging the enemy in the choked terrain of the Wilderness.
In the open stages of the battle a race took shape for a small country crossroads known simply as the Brock Road-Orange Plank Road Intersection. The Brock Road ran roughly north and south. If the Confederates were able to seize the crossroads, they would be able to turn north, strike the Union left and rear, and possibly drive the Army of the Potomac into the Rapidan River. The Orange Plank Road ran roughly west to east. This road to would give Lee’s men access to the Union rear.
As Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Confederate Third Corps engaged an undermanned Union infantry regiment (13th Pa. Reserves), and an undermanned Union cavalry regiment (5th NY Cav.), a Union division rushed toward the intersection.
The race for the intersection was won by Brigadier General George Washington Getty and his 6th Corps division. The Federals were able to hold the intersection for the battle, this allowed Grant to keep moving south towards Richmond and Petersburg.
One of the units key to holding this intersection was Brigadier General Lewis Grant’s Vermont Brigade. The five regiments that comprised the brigade fought extensively on both days of the battle. Be it on the offensive or defensive the Vermont Brigade fought with poise and determination. The Vermonter’s had seen limited action in the war thus far. Being part of the 6th Corps meant that the “Green Mountain Boys” had missed out on much of the action the Army of the Potomac had seen up to this pint in the war. Still they were a veteran unit seeing action at Williamsburg (1862), 2nd Fredericksburg (1863) and the New York Draft Riots.
In Wilderness their casualties numbered 1,234 (though some put it as high as 1,269). The Vermont Brigade sustained the highest brigade casualties on either side in the battle.
On September 16, 2006 a simple monument, costing $46,000, was dedicated to Grant’s brigade in the woods just south of intersection. Atop of the 39,000 pound monument is a two foot tall relief of Vermont’s Camel’s Hump Mountain. The back of the monument is adorned with a quote from brigade commander Lewis Grant’s. While the front has the words “The Vermont Brigade: In these woods during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5 and 6, 1864, Vermont’s ‘Old Brigade’ suffered 1,234 casualties while defending the Brock Road and Orange Plank Road Intersection.” To me, this quiet spot and often overlooked monument is a fitting tribute to one of the best brigades in the Army of the Potomac.