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The Wilderness

In the first major action in the east since Gettysburg, Grant’s force of 115,000 men confronted Lee and his 75,000 soldiers in a wooded area not far from Fredericksburg, Virginia, between May 5 and May 7, 1864. Fighting conditions were extremely difficult. The trees and underbrush diminished the impact of artillery and made the use of cavalry nearly pointless. Badly wounded soldiers on both sides were burned alive as the brush caught fire. There was no clear victor in the Wilderness, but Grant was prevented from turning Lee’s flank. Union losses totaled 18,000, Confederate losses were 11,000. In the past such staggering losses would have caused most generals to retreat; such was not the case with Grant. The battle was a tactical victory for the Confederates, who inflicted heavy losses on the Union forces, but it was a strategic win for Grant. He was able to draw on a great reservoir of potential troops, while Lee could not. The purpose of Grant's campaign was to crush Lee's army, rather than capture any specific objective, and he continued to achieve this goal.