What could possibly stop a war? A white flag being raced and waved by either of the party? A leader coming in front and raising both of his hands in surrender? Maybe some civilians protesting to stop the chaos? How about two men in a fistfight in the middle of the gunfire and artillery bombardment? To the soldiers of the American Civil War, it was no doubt the last one. Both sides paused one time to get a front-row seat view when two men engaged in a fistfight over a gulley that made the war stop, at least for a while.

Battle of the Wilderness

Battle of the Wilderness. (Kurz & Allison, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

It was during the Battle of the Wilderness of the American Civil War that the barfight-style wrestling match went down between May 5 and 7, 1864. This battle was the first of Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant’s 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against General Robert E. Lee and the whole Confederate Army in Northern Virginia. The area had dense woods that were often filled with mist and fog, making it hard for the troops of both sides to spot their enemies. It also made attacking a challenge, as soldiers would have to rely and fire on sound instead of visual cues. There was a small clearing between the two sides called the Saunders Field. Obviously, soldiers wouldn’t want to go out on that open clearing unless they’d want to commit suicide— the area was full of holes from artillery shells from both sides and the grass was afraid to grow for fear of catching a bullet.

The Confederate soldiers had a bit of advantage, as they were familiar with the terrain. When all was said and done, both armies would end up suffering heavy casualties: around 29,000. More than 17,000 from the Union and about 11,000 from the Confederate army.

Skirmish in the Saunders

An account written by cavalryman John Worsham of the Twenty-first Virginia Infantry recalled how the skirmish ensued in the middle of the gun fires in his book called “One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry.”