So many times, in writing about battles, the sources with which I have to work are very vague. We attacked here, or charged, or were fired upon, etc. We get the skeleton version or outline of what happened. While working on the role of Lane's brigade during the battle of the Wilderness, I came upon two accounts that give us a little more.
To lay our scene:
May 5, 1864 - It's dark and smoke hangs in the air. Lane's brigade has been ordered forward to try and stabilize the Confederate line near the Orange Plank Road. The 7th North Carolina, on Lane's left, has been cautioned that there are Confederate troops in their front. Capt. James G. Harris, writing on September 8, 1864, fills us in on the details of what happens next: "At this time owing to the darkness, smoke and density of the swamp, it was impossible to distinguish friend from foe. After remaining here for some time, it was discovered that a column was moving towards the plank road on our left, but supposing it to be McGowan's brigade little attention was paid it until our left wing having arrived within a few paces of it was ordered to surrender, and almost at the same instant, a destructive volley was poured into the regiment, which created some confusion." Harris goes on, in his 1893 account, to tell us that it was the 66th New York Volunteers that fired into the 7th North Carolina.
Lt. Simon Pincus wrote the official report of the 66th New York on September 10, 1864, two days after Harris drafted his. Pincus tells us that his regiment was "deployed in line of battle in the woods on the right of the Third brigade. The line was scarcely formed when the rebels came marching by the flank in front of my regiment, distant about 10 paces. It being dark, they were at first mistaken for friends, but the illusion was soon dispelled, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hammell gave the order to fire, which was promptly executed with fatal effect. It proved to be the Seventh North Carolina, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Davidson, who was captured..."
Two points of view, one Confederate and the other Federal, of the same dark moments in the Wilderness.