Spotsylvania Court House: The Armies Move South

A map on a wayside panel in Spotsylvania National Battlefield shows the alignment of the armies during the second half of the battle, prior to their withdrawals from Spotsy.

from Chris

Think of the village of Spotsylvania Court House as sitting at the center of a clock. Brock Road, where the armies first clashed on the morning of May 8, sits at roughly 10 o’clock. The Mule Shoe, scene of the horrific hand-to-hand battle on May 12, sits at roughly …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: The Battle of Harris Farm

A historical marker along modern Rt. 208 marks the area where Confederates broke through the Federal supply line on Fredericksburg Road.

from Chris

The main action on Spotsylvania’s eastern front opened on May 9 during the battle of the Ny River. Ten days later, in a fight that brought the battle full circle, the last major action of the battle also happened on the eastern front—or, more accurately, in the rear, rather than the front.

Robert E. Lee, discontent to …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: Grant’s Next Attack

from Chris

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 …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: The Weather Finally Breaks

From Chris

“We have had five days’ almost constant rain without any prospect yet of its clearing up,” Ulysses S. Grant told Washington on May 16. “The roads have now become so impassable that ambulances with wounded can no long run between here and Fredericksburg. All offensive operations necessarily cease until we can have twenty-four hours of dry weather.”

During the waiting game, the army nonetheless found ways to stay busy. “”[T]he army was employed in constant reconnoitering and skirmishing, …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: In the Pits

from Chris

“All day in pits,” wrote on officer with the 95th New York infantry on May 14, referring to his men’s time in the earthworks. On May 15, he wrote the same: “All day in pits.” On May 16, he wrote the same again: “All day in pits.”

The pits, indeed. The rain that had begun on May 11 continued through the 16th, continuing to dampen activity along the Fredericksburg Road.

“Spent the day getting affairs in order,” V …

 

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 …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: Myer’s Hill

Looking up Myer’s Hill from near the Ni River. Initial V Corps attacks would have come from the right, moving uphill.

from Chris

On May 14, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant planned to throw his V and VI Corps against the Confederate left flank in an early morning attack. As it was, Mother Nature worked against him. As his men tried to shift into their new positions, the rain that had started on May 11 continued to drench them. “The mud …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: All Quiet on the Eastern Front

May 13, 1864, was a rainy day on the battlefield.

from Chris

The morning of May 13 saw carnage across the Spotsylvania battlefield unlike anything the armies had before seen. Once the fighting at the Mule Shoe settled down and Lee settled into his new fall-back position, Union forces took stock of their situation. The cries and moans of the injured drifted across the muddy landscape and through the devastated forests. Otherwise, fighting quieted all along the line.

During the …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: The Mule Shoe and Heth’s Salient

Historian Gordon Rhea at Heth’s Salient during the 2019 CVBT Annual Conference

from Chris

May 12 would see some of the worst fighting of the Overland Campaign—some would say of even the entire war.

Federals launched an attack against the tip of a horse-shoe shaped portion of the Confederate line that has since become known as the Mule Shoe Salient. For 22 consecutive hours, the armies locked in combat, much of it hand-to-hand, in the pouring rain. In some places, …

 

Spotsylvania Court House: “Sad but Heroic Hearts”

from Chris

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 …