Just outside Spotsylvania, in the first week of May, 1864, the Union Army crossed the Rapidan River and entered what would come to be called the Battle of the Wilderness, the first of a series of horrific battles that, over the next year and through attrition, would vanquish the Confederacy. The casualties on both sides from this point on would be so high that even those in support of the war, those leading troops to the grinder, began to question their own will to continue hostilities. The shadow of this doubt was darkest over the long Virginia nights that May, when the forest floor kindling, set alight by the the aftermath of exploding shells, grew into firestorms that consumed the screaming wounded strewn about the battleground, unable to move.
One might think this horror would have satisfied the human hunger for war, but the Union campaign proved to be only a rehearsal for World War I and much of the killing to come in the following century. The Union Pickets that first arrived on the scene, as above, were likely hardened by more than three years of war, but still could not have understood the template they were about to establish for conflicts to come. The bloodbath waiting for these pickets suggests that their ignorance might have been a blessing to them.