Profs & Pints Northern Virginia: The Battle of the Wilderness-Door tickets remain available

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Sunday, May 5 2024 3:00 PM 5:30 PM EDT

Advance ticket sales have ended but plenty of additonal tickets remain available at the door.

Profs & Pints Northern Virginia presents: “The Battle of the Wilderness,” on the pivotal clash between Lee and Grant in woods west of Fredericksburg, Va., with John Reeves, a former history instructor at several colleges and author of A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

In May of 1864, the future of the United States hinged on the Union Army’s success in an exceptionally brutal battle in an especially treacherous place, a desolate forest about 65 miles southwest of the nation’s capital. It was the first encounter between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant on the battlefield, and in both military and political terms, the stakes could not have been higher.

Come hear that brutal chapter of Civil War history—and all that was riding on it—explained in depth by John Reeves, a historian who has previously given a fascinating Profs and Pints talk on the indictment of Robert E. Lee after the war’s end.

He’ll discuss how the Union Army’s failure in the Battle of the Wilderness might have cost Lincoln reelection the following November, given the South its independence, and denied four million enslaved people their chance at freedom.

Reeves will also give a detailed account of that battle, among the most intense and gruesome in American history. Lee chose to take a stand here because he knew the dense vegetation would obstruct the Union’s artillery and give an advantage to members of his own ranks who knew the terrain. Gunfire filled the impenetrable forest with smoke, making it impossible to view the enemy, and caused the woods themselves to catch fire, so that hundreds of men burned to death. “It was as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of the earth,” wrote one officer. When the fighting finally subsided during the late evening of the second day, the usually stoical Grant threw himself down on his cot and cried.

The Battle of the Wilderness had no clear winner, but it helped seal the Confederacy’s fate. At the outset of it Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia remained capable of defeating Grant’s Army of the Potomac. But after two days of relentless fighting, Lee’s ability to launch offensive operations were greatly weakened. Along with comparing the military abilities of Lee and Grant, Reeves will consider their historical legacies and how they were shaped by this battle and other events. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)

Image: From "Battle of the Wilderness--Desperate fight on the Orange C.H. Plank Road, near Todd's Tavern, May 6th, 1864." a Kurz and Allison lithograph published in 1887. (Library of Congress / Wikimedia.)