The Wilderness was particularly awful in several ways; it covered some of the same ground of the battle of Chancellorsville, so often there was fighting among the bones of the dead from that battle. There were also wildfires in the forests which killed a number of men.
My great-great-great-grandfather Norman DeFord Corser fought with the Fighting Fifth New Hampshire. They weren’t in the first two major battles of the Overland Campaign, but they were moved up for Cold Harbor, where Norman Corser was wounded for the second time (a wound sustained at Seven Pines kept him out of the fighting at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, where so many of his fellow soldering in the Fighting Fifth were killed).
Anyway, this is a good account of that first battle in the Overland Campaign:
Gen. Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Southern forces, attacked Grant’s forces on May 5, setting off two days of bloody fighting that left some 26,000 total casualties, making the Battle of the Wilderness one of the costliest engagements of the war. Many of the wounded, especially on that first day, were stuck in the underbrush, too far from the front lines to rescue. And so they moaned through the night.
Suddenly the haunting voice of a man in prayer rose above the cries of the wounded. One Union soldier who had nodded off to sleep after that first day of hellish fighting awoke to the sound with a start.
“I never before nor since heard such a prayer,” he noted years later. “It seemed, lying there in the darkness of the night in the woods, that his deep, sympathetic voice, mingled with the voices and groans of the dying ones, sounded as from some other world.”
The soldier recognized the voice. It belonged to Dennis Barnes, his captain, a square-shouldered, six-foot lumberman from New York who was on a self-appointed mission to rescue the wounded from his company after the day’s desperate fighting. Barnes was picking his way across the densely wooded landscape, exhausted and pained from an injury he had suffered to his hand. It was near midnight when he found a corporal who had succumbed to the gaping wound in his belly.