On May 11, 1864, a pall of disappointment and discouragement sat over what is now Stevenson Ridge.
First, the death of Brig. Gen. Stevenson on the previous day had knocked the wind out of the IX Corps’s sails. Then, a late-afternoon push into Spotsylvania Court House ended in an inexplicable withdrawal. The corps had made gains that put the army as close to the village as it would ever get during the two-week battle, but army commander Ulysses S. Grant got cold feet. He thought the IX Corps too exposed and vulnerable and so ordered it back to its previous, more secure position, erasing the day’s gains.
Such swings in fortune hurt morale. Then it started to rain on May 11, making the mood of the men even worse. “[T]he drenched earth and dripping trees made our positions anything but a comfortable one,” a Maine soldier wrote.
Burnside spent the late part of the day and into the drippy night preparing for a dawn assault against a portion of the Confederate line known as the Mule Shoe.
“With anxious hearts the men stood around their camp-fires in the pitiless storm,” one Federal soldier wrote, “speculating as to the chances of the morrow, and with sad but heroic hearts wondering if they should survive the terrible carnage which they knew well was before them.”
Dawn will bring renewed fighting, some of the most up-close and personal—and terrible—of the war.
(To be continued….)