At daylight on May 18, Gourverneur K. Warren ordered a cannonade all along his line. Twenty-six guns came to bear in a thundering roar.
The “whole army having moved off to our right to make an assault on the enemy,” he wrote, he opened the artillery bombardment in support of the assault. It was also intended to discourage Confederates from making a counter-attack of their own along his line, which was now stretched thin to cover the works abandoned by the VI Corps when they moved into position for the assault.
To Warren’s right, Ambrose Burnside filled the gap between the V Corps and the rest of the army taking part in the attack. Burnside, too, was attacking, once more making a push against the Confederate line at Heth’s Salient where the Federals had come to grief on the afternoon of May 12.
In essence, that left Warren to cover the line across the Fredericksburg Road—with his support logistics occupying the property now known as Stevenson Ridge—and southeast to the Massaponnax Church Road. Grant has originally wanted to attack there, but a recon by the VI Corps on May 16 found the Confederate defenses too strong. Thus, Grant had opted to attach to the north, across the same plain his army had advanced across on May in its attack against the Mule Shoe.
Warren’s bombardment did no go unanswered. “This occasioned a brisk artillery duel between myself and Hill’s corps,” Warren said.
V Corps artillerist Charles Wainwright said the Confederates countered with twenty pieces of their own. “The engagement was brisk for near three-quarters of an hour, and the practice on both sides was very accurate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Grant’s main attack bogged down quickly. “Our forces found the enemy prepared and strongly posted on the write,” Warren reported, “and made no serious attack.”
In the end, Warren said, “Our army moved back to where it was the day before.” In support of their return, Warren’s artillery kept up fire “at intervals during the day without any express object,” Wainwright said, “and with no perceptible result, except the silencing of the enemy’s guns.” (For more on that attack, check out this post at Emerging Civil War.)
Grant realized he had exhausted his options at Spotsylvania. Every time he moved, Lee—with the benefit of interior lines—seemed to effectively counter. However, Grant had transportation advantages of his own: he controlled many of the roads out of Spotsylvania, including the important Massaponnax Church Road to the southeast of the Fredericksburg Road. That route would allow him to repeat the maneuver that took the Federal army out of the Wilderness two weeks earlier: they could go around Lee’s right and once more move south toward Richmond in the hope of drawing Lee out.
Grant cut the orders to begin a move, but before he could, Lee would oblige Grant’s wishes and come out from behind his works for battle.
(To be continued….)