The Wilderness is one of those battles where we believed how it must have looked, with two armies stumbling forward toward each other through the underbrush and woods that eventually took fire … a hell on earth. Winslow Homer’s representation suggests just how hard it was to move toward and fire upon an enemy that was hard to see.
Yet some early representations of the clash emphasized far more open terrain than one might assume … as well as offering images of battle lines surging forward (this image might well be of the opening action at Saunders Field):
Of course, some artists offered scenes largely for domestic consumption. Soon after the battle one could have this image:
As for the Brock Road, its fortifications drew the attention of artists at the time …
Most of these images conform to our impression of what battle must have looked like on May 5-6, 1864. Still, in some cases there seems to be too much order, and many of the figures seem somewhat stilted. With a few exceptions (you can see some of them in previous posts), modern artists have not taken up the challenge of representing what happened here visually, and indeed some of the most power impressions I have of the battle come from reading various accounts and letting my mind’s eye do the work.