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Spotsylvania Court House: Lull on the Eastern Front

from Chris

The rain that began on May 11 continued without letup for days. By May 15, Spotsylvania was well soggy. Grant continued to probe for an opening to get at Lee, but with the Federal cavalry away on a raid toward Richmond, Grant was left without his eyes and ears. As a result, his infantry had to grope blindly, hampering effective movement, made even more difficult by the foul weather.

Lee, too, sought information. He sent a division of troops under Joseph Kershaw on a “reconnaissance in force” along the Brock Road front to find the Federal right flank. Kershaw’s troops ran into David Bell Birney’s II Corps division, which made up the new right of the Federal army. After a tense engagement, Kershaw’s men withdrew, but not before learning valuable information about the Federal position.

Lee also sent a cavalry force under Thomas Rosser to collect information. Rosser’s men tried to circle behind the Federal army, aiming first down the Catharpin Road toward the old Chancellorsville battlefield. Along the way, they routed a regiment of Ohio cavalrymen, who sought the protection of the Federal wagon train in the army’s rear. Rosser’s men pursued, only to run into a deployment of United States Colored Troops. For the first time, USCT forces engaged with elements of the Army of Northern Virginia. This time, Rosser’s men were routed–an embarrassment so deep that Rosser refused to mention it in his report for the day.

Meanwhile, along Fredericksburg Road, the Union V Corps spent the day settling into their new position, initially laid out and fortified by the IX Corps. While no major fighting occurred, the property now known as Stevenson Ridge saw a lot of activity as V Corps forces re-fortified and troops along the front line skirmished with their Confederate counterparts.

(To be continued….)