The new Wilderness Crossing Trail, a 1.4 mile walking trail stretching from Ellwood Manor to the Wilderness Tavern site, was officially opened to the public on June 1, 2013. The trail was a joint project between Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and the National Park Service. The following trail guide was produced by the NPS:
Long before war cemented the fame of the tangled Wilderness region, generations of immigration, farming, and industry shaped the landscape. Tobacco farming depleted the soil’s nutrients, and subsequent mining and iron furnaces consumed remaining forests. Once these industries lapsed, a thicket of woods blanketed the rolling piedmont. Courage and determination were required to farm here in the years before the Civil War, and few threads of roads connected small farms easily lost in “The Wilderness.” Begin your walk at Ellwood Manor, one of the few large plantations in the area. The clash of armies in 1863 and 1864 devastated this home, the surrounding valley, and the daily rituals of its quiet inhabitants.
Tour Stop 1 – Ellwood Driveway
To begin,walk forward from Ellwood’s front doors until you can see the depression of the original driveway to your right.
This road brought important visitors and news, carried goods, and guided soldiers who would forever alter the landscape and the lives of those who called Ellwood home.
Tour Stop 2 – Road to Parkers Store
Continue north on the entrance road to your left. At the bottom of the hill, turn left to follow the trail. Continue past the stream until you reach the paved road.
The Road to Parker’s Store intersected here with the now-abandoned Orange Turnpike. On the morning of May 5, 1864, soldiers of G. K. Warren’s Fifth Union Corps wound southward on the narrow Parker’s Store Road, hoping to clear the Wilderness, but a quick Confederate response provoked battle instead. Warren’s men engaged in the first combat of the Battle of the Wilderness, which overran this valley, as depicted by Union officer Morris Schaff:
“All up and down Wilderness Run, all over the once tilled fields of the Lacy farm…little fires are blinking as they burn low. Some are those of batteries, some of trains, and some, at the top of the ridge, those of the hospitals of the Fifth Corps, where the surgeons, with rolled-up sleeves, are at their humane tasks in the operating tents.”
From the Wilderness Tavern ridge ahead, Sergeant Henry Tisdale described the unfolding battle and its aftermath:
“To see brigades and regiments form in battle line, march to the woods to be mostly met with sheets of smoke and flame….Temporary hospitals all about us filled with maimed and wounded, trains of ambulances constantly filing by us, the blood trickling from some of them….It was with willing hands we mustered to help those we could bringing them food and water, and wet[t]ing their wounds with cool water.”
Tour Stop 3 – Wilderness Run
Follow the paved road to your right to reach the bridge across Wilderness Run.
Wilderness Run and its marshy tributaries served as Ellwood plantation’s lifeblood. The run supplied water to the plantation since its earliest days, and momentous events and visitors passed by its waters.
Tour Stop 4 – Orange Turnpike and Germana Plank Road Intersection
Once across Wilderness Run, continue about 200 feet. Stop just before you reach the farm lane. This is the historic intersection of the Orange Turnpike and the Germanna Plank Road. The Germanna Plank Road intersected from the northwest (your left), and you are rejoining the historic roadbed of the Turnpike.
In the early eighteenth century, Germanna Road became the first to connect the German immigrant settlement of Germanna to the more settled areas of the Rappahannock River to the southeast. Nearly a century later, efforts were underway for a new road to connect Fredericksburg with Orange to the west. Despite its convenient placement, the Orange Turnpike faced several problems, including Virginia red clay swallowing the crushed stone pavement and users who avoided toll gates. Greater troubles soon engulfed both roads, however.
Troops marched south and east on these roads during the 1863 Chancellorsville campaign and again during the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Once fighting ensnared the armies in the Wilderness in May 1864, both Union Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade and commander of all Union armies Ulysses S. Grant established nighttime headquarters to the northwest of this intersection. At these headquarters, both made decisions that shaped the war’s future, including Grant’s determination to advance despite the battle’s stalemate.
Tour Stop 5 – Wilderness Tavern Dependency
Cross over Lyons Lane (a private road—please do not walk along the road) to the trail climbing the hill in front of you. Stop by the chimney at the top of the hill. These remains are all that is left of a dependency building for Wilderness Tavern, which stood beneath modern Virginia Route 3.
The chimney and foundation stones here once served a dependency of Wilderness Tavern, a complex including a tavern, which stood across the Orange Turnpike (beneath modern Rt. 3), and several dependencies. These buildings stood watch above the intersection since the turn of the 19th Century, and at the time of the Civil War, the complex was the home of William and Rebecca Simms, their family, several workers, and ten slaves. The Simms family operated both the tavern and a store from the roadside, but by the 1860s, most of the tavern’s operations had concluded.
War arrived on the threshold of Wilderness Tavern in May 1863, as Union troops marched east to Chancellorsville. Days later, this area became the Confederate rear after Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s flank attack. When Jackson was accidentally shot on the evening of May 2, 1863, staff officers and doctors rushed him to a field hospital tent north of the tavern, where Dr. Hunter McGuire amputated Jackson’s left arm on the Simms’ kitchen table. After the surgery, Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy trod much of this trail to bury Jackson’s arm in his brother’s family cemetery at Ellwood.
In the years following the Civil War, the Tavern and its surrounding buildings were destroyed, except for this dependency, which accidentally burned in 1978. The road network changed first in 1925 and again in 1962. As you walk back toward Ellwood, consider the open vista full of soldiers or farm workers, along with the well-traveled roads that served as the lifeline of farmers and settlers and guided the steps of soldiers