It is now six o’clock of Saturday, May 2, 1863, a lovely spring evening. The Eleventh Corps lies quietly in position. Supper-time is at hand. Arms are stacked on the line; and the men, some with accoutrements hung upon the stacks, some wearing their cartridge-boxes, are mostly at the fires cooking their rations, careless of the future, in the highest spirits and most vigorous condition. Despite the general talk during the entire afternoon, among officers and rank and file alike, of a possible attack down the pike, all but a few are happily unsuspicious of the thunder-cloud gathering on their flank. There is a general feeling that it is too late to get up much of a fight to-day.
The breastworks are not very substantial. They are hastily run up out of rails from the fences, logs from barns in the vicinity, and newly felled trees. The ditch skirting the road has been deepened for this temporary purpose. Abattis, to a fair extent, has been laid in front. But the whole position faces to the south, and is good for naught else.
Nor were our men in those days as clever with the spade as we afterwards became. This is clearly shown in the defences.
There is some carelessness apparent. Ambulances are close by the line. Ammunition-wagons and the train of pack-mules are mixed up with the regiments. Even a drove of beeves is herded in the open close by. All these properly belong well to the rear. Officers’ servants and camp-gear are spread abroad in the vicinity of each command, rather more comfortably ensconced than the immediate presence of the enemy may warrant.
The ground in the vicinity is largely clearing. But dense woods cover the approaches, except in some few directions southerly. Down the roads no great distance can be seen; perhaps a short mile on the plank road, not many hundred yards on the turnpike.
Little Wilderness Church, in the rear of the position, looks deserted and out of place. Little did its worshippers on last sabbath day imagine what a conflict would rage about its walls before they again could meet within its peaceful precincts.
There may be some absence of vigilance on the part of the pickets and scouts; though it is not traceable in the reports, nor do any of the officers concerned remember such. But the advanced line is not intrenched as Miles’s line in front of Hancock has been. Less care, rather than more carelessness, is all that can be observed on this score.
Meanwhile Jackson has ranged his corps, with the utmost precaution and secrecy, in three lines, at right angles to the pike, and extending about a mile on either side. All orders are given in a low tone. Cheering as “Old Jack” passes along is expressly prohibited.
Rodes, commanding D. H. Hill’s division, leads, with Iverson’s and Rodes’s brigades to the left of the road, and Doles’s and Colquitt’s to the right. Rodes’s orders to his brigades are to push on steadily, to let nothing delay or retard them. Should the resistance at Talley’s Hill, which Rodes expects, render necessary the use of artillery, the line is to check its advance until this eminence is carried. But to press on, and let no obstacle stand in the way, is the watchword.