“All circumstances seemed to combine to make the scene one of unutterable horror. At times the wind howled before the tree-tops, mingling its moans with the groans of the dying, and heavy branches were cut off by the fire of the artillery, and fell crashing upon the heads of the men, adding a new terror to battle. Forest fires raged; ammunition trains exploded; the dead were roasted in the conflagration; the wounded, roused by its hot breath, dragged themselves along with their torn and mangled limbs, in the mad energy of despair, to escape the ravages of the flames; and every bush seemed hung with shreds of blood-stained clothing. It seems as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of earth”-Horace Porter

Hell Itself: The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864

Savas Beatie, 2016
192 pp.; 150 images, 10 maps
ISBN: 978-1-61121-315-7
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About the Book: Soldiers called it one of the “waste places of nature” and “a region of gloom”-the Wilderness of Virginia, seventy square miles of dense, second-growth forest known as “the dark, close wood.”

“A more unpromising theatre of war was never seen,” said another.

Yet here, in the spring of 1864, the Civil War escalated to a new level of horror.

Ulysses S. Grant, commanding all Federal armies, opened the campaign with a vow to never turn back. Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, moved into the Wilderness to block Grant’s advance. Immovable object intercepted irresistible force-and the Wilderness burst into flame.

With the forest itself burning around them, men died by the thousands. The armies bloodied each other without mercy and, at times, without any semblance of order. The brush grew so dense, and the smoke hung so thick, men could not see who stood next to them or in front of them. “This viewed as a battleground, was simply infernal,” a Union officer later said.

It was said another, “hell itself.”

Driven by desperation, duty, confusion and fire, soldiers on both sides marveled that anyone might make it out alive.

For more than a decade, Chris Mackowski has guided visitors across the battlefields of the Overland Campaign. Now in Hell Itself  he invites readers of the Emerging Civil War Series to join him in the Wilderness-one of the most storied battlefields of the Civil War.

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Hell Itself also includes:

  • Forward by Gregory A. Mertz
  • Appendix A: “Their Spencer Carbines Made the Dense Woods Ring”: Federal Cavalry in the Battle of the Wilderness by Daniel T. Davis
  • Appendix B: “It’s Griffin, not Gregg”: Cracks in the Army of the Potomac’s High Command by Ryan Quint
  • Appendix C: Where’s Burnside? by Chris Mackowski
  • Appendix D: Unfriendly Fire: The Wounding of James Longstreet by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White
  • Appendix D: The Wilderness as WildernessThen and Now by Gregg Kneipp
  • Appendix F: Building a Battlefield: The CCC in the Wilderness by Rebekah Oakes
  • Order of Battle
  • Suggested Reading


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About the Author: Chris Mackowski, Ph.D, is the editor-in-chief of Emerging Civil War and the author of more than a dozen books. A professor of journalism and mass communication at St. Bonaventure University, he’s also historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge, a historic property located on the Spotsylvania battlefield. Chris is a former historian at Fredericksburg and Spotyslvania National Military Park, which included the Wilderness battlefield.