A Fire in the Wilderness
May | 2021
A Fire in the Wilderness is a riveting account of the bloody first showdown
between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, a battle that sealed the fate of the
Confederacy and changed the course of American history.
In the spring of 1864, President Lincoln feared he might not be able to save the Union. The Army of the Potomac had performed poorly over the previous two years, and many northerners were understandably critical of the war effort. Lincoln assumed he’d probably lose the November election, and he firmly believed a Democratic successor would have sought peace immediately, spelling an end to the Union. A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a godforsaken forest roughly 65 miles from the nation’s capital.
The narrative follows four loyal men who fought to save the Republic in the Wilderness: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General Gouverneur Warren, Brigadier General James Wadsworth, and Private William Reeves. Their stories unfold over roughly two weeks in 1864, from the crossing of the Rapidan River on May 4 to the funerals of Reeves and Wadsworth on May 14 and May 21, respectively.
A Fire in the Wilderness isn’t just a dramatic and well-told military history, though. It’s also about politics and medical practice and how we commemorate fallen soldiers. Within minutes of the start of the fighting a Minie ball tore through Reeves’ cheeks. His experiences at a field hospital, and then on the grueling journey to a more secure hospital, vividly convey the state of the medical profession and battlefield triage. Nine days after an unsuccessful operation, Reeves was buried with full honors on the vast green lawns of Robert E. Lee’s former estate: Arlington National Cemetery. He was just the second battlefield casualty laid to rest there.