GENERAL WILCOX AT
On May 12, 1864, Major General Henry Heth’s Division formed the extreme right of the Confederate army. His Tennessee and Alabama Brigade was commanded by Colonel William McComb. Tennessee Governor James D. Porter published an account of the ensuing battle written by Captain J. H. Moore, 7th Tennessee Infantry:
“The works occupied by the Tennessee brigade extended about 50 yards in front of the general direction of our line, and terminated in an acute angle with 50 yards of open space between the line and the pine woods. Our skirmish line was engaged in the early morning…the Federal artillery opening at the same time. At 9 a.m., in the midst of a heavy rainfall, our skirmishers were driven in, and soon (Gouverneur K.) Warren, with the (Union) Fifth corps, emerged in three lines from the woods into the open space. We poured volley after volley into their well-dressed ranks and drove them to the cover of the pines; in a few minutes the enemy reformed and made another advance to the open space, but another volley forced them to retire and fall back far into the pine woods. The two assaults made on the angle held by the Tennessee brigade were less than an hour in duration yet the Federal dead and wounded were as thick on the ground as if a battle had raged all day.
Lieut. F. S. Harris, 7th Tennessee, commanding the division of sharpshooters and Lieut. Byrd Wilmouth, commanding the skirmish line, pursued the enemy with vigor…the gallant Wilmouth was killed; Harris survived the war and seven wounds received in battle.”
The desperate fighting along the Mule Shoe continued throughout the day. Both Lee and Grant were equally determined to break the deadlock. At 2:00 p.m., Lee and Grant coincidentally ordered simultaneous attacks at Heth’s Salient southeast of the Mule Shoe line. Grant assumed Lee’s right to be lightly defended and hoped for a new breakthrough. Lee reasoned that an attack on the Union 9th Corps would cause Grant to divert troops from the Mule Shoe action; the Confederate commander also wanted to silence or capture an enemy artillery position that was harassing Heth and Wilcox’s troops. Ironically, both attacks involved divisions commanded by generals of the same name, Orlando B. WILLCOX under Grant and Cadmus M. WILCOX under Lee. Tennessean J. H. Moore reported seeing Generals’ Robert E. Lee and Cadmus Wilcox in consultation as enemy shells exploding over and around them and their men that afternoon:
“After the second assault had been successfully met by the Tennessee Brigade in the angle (that morning), Gen. (Robert E.) Lee rode down our line from the left amid heavy artillery firing and stopped within fifty yards of our works. We all shuddered for his safety, and as with one voice we cried, ‘General Lee to the rear!’ Unmindful of our clamors and fears and his imminent danger, he held an animated consultation with Generals’ (Cadmus) Wilcox and (William) McComb, near where the 7th Tennessee Regiment was stationed…
General Lee with great animation, pointed in different directions, and then with his right hand and arm made a sweeping motion, as if to say, ‘Move your men to the right and rear, and attack the left flank of then enemy.’…At this time the entire force of sharp-shooters of Wilcox’s Division, under Lieut. (F. S.) Harris, together with a strong force of skirmishers commanded by Lieut. Byrd Wilmouth, were advanced into the pine woods (as)…a cover for the real attack—the movement that had been ordered by Gen. Lee.