Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

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Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Virginia Civil War History

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Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

DIVINING Grant's next move, Lee occupied the morning of the 7th in cutting a direct military road southward, through the forest, from the plank road toward Shady Grove church, south of the Ny, to the highway leading eastward to Spotsylvania Court House, so he could have a continuous march of his entire army, by its right flank, when the time came for again placing that army across some other road, leading toward Richmond, that Grant might desire to follow. Grant's inaction led Lee to suspect the movement that he had ordered, and when Stuart, later on, sent him word that Grant's trains were moving in the rear of his army, and word came from Ewell that the Germanna road had been abandoned, Sedgwick leaving his dead unburied and many of his wounded uncared for, Lee issued orders for Longstreet's corps to take up the line of march, at dark, along the new military road toward Spotsylvania Court House, be followed by Ewell withdrawing by Hill's rear, while the latter remained guarding the rear of the army.
        Anderson with the First corps, which, in Longstreet's absence, he now commanded, marched at 11 p.m., and, before daylight of the 8th, rested in a grove near Spotsylvania Court House, forming a strong support to the cavalry that was keeping back Grant's new advance. Ewell was held at the plank road, near Parker's store, until the early morning of the 8th, when the Second corps, with the exception of Early's division, which was left near Todd's Tavern in support of Hill, marched to a junction with the First corps near Spotsylvania Court House. Grant, in person, tarried with Hancock until noon, after sending minute instructions to his advance for marching beyond Spotsylvania Court House toward Richmond and Butler; but learning, soon after, that Warren had met with a severe check on the highway to Spotsylvania Court House, and that Lee, although having the longer march to compass, had won the race for position, and a second time blocked his "on to Richmond." During the night of the 7th, Fitz Lee, dismounting his cavalry division and using his men as infantry, had succeeded in throwing rude defenses of trees and rails across the Brock road, and had successfully driven back repeated attacks of the Federal advance, keeping Warren miles from the position which Grant had ordered him to occupy that night.
        Early on the morning of the 8th, Anderson moved the First corps about a mile to the northern front of Spotsylvania Court House, to support Fitz Lee's hard pressed cavalry, where his men, in an incredibly short time, threw up hasty breastworks and were ready for Warren's corps, as it advanced in assault, and to drive it back in a disastrous repulse. Stuart was on the field in person, for the last time, as it soon proved, to cheer the army of Northern Virginia on to victory, contributing, by his great tactical skill and ready but always practical advice, to Warren's defeat, and joining enthusiastically in the cheers of victory that followed the repulse of the Federal advance, making certain the holding of the position which Lee's superior energy had secured.
        At 1 p.m. of the 9th, Grant's dispatch, from "near" Spotsylvania Court House, to Halleck read: "If matters are still favorable with Butler, send all reinforcements you can. The enemy are now moving from our immediate front either to interpose between us and Fredericksburg or to get the inside road to Richmond." It is incredible that at that hour of the day the Federal general commanding did not know that, instead of moving from his immediate front, Lee was, at that very time, in line of battle across his front; since at 5 in the afternoon of the preceding day, he had arrived with Ewell, and, with his First and Second corps in position, had met a second Federal attack, which he had driven back, and Ewell, in a countercharge, had gained an advance of a half mile, on the right of the Catharpin road leading to Todd's tavern, while the First corps held his right, across the Brock road, leading to the same point along the divide between the Ny and the Po rivers, the two most northerly of the four, that, not far to the southeast, unite and make the Mattapony.
        During the night of the 8th, the Confederates threw up rude and irregular defenses along the emergency line which they had taken, a part of it after dark. On the morning of the 9th, Lee rode along the line that had been occupied, but was not favorably impressed with it. At Ewell's suggestion, a somewhat elevated point, projecting between some of the southward branches of the Ny, near the right center, was taken into the lines and occupied by artillery; orders were also given for providing a second line of defenses, beyond the incurred line, as taken, on the right. Lee's position, as now occupied, extended from the Po river on the southwest, where the Louisa road to Spotsylvania Court House and Fredericksburg crosses the big bend of that river, in the arc of a circle, eastward, across the Brock road and the Po-Ny watershed. to a branch of the Ny river; while from its right center sprang a horseshoe salient, northward, eastward 'and southward, around the crest of the spur between two small branches of the Ny and overlooking that river to the northeastward. Ewell's men were disposed within this salient, which conformed, in a general way, to a broad bend of the Ny. Hill's men were to extend the line to the left, to the Po, and Longstreet's were to extend it to the right, from the Bald hill southward and then southeastward, covering the front of Spotsylvania Court House and the roads leading to Fredericksburg, thus leaving open no way to the southward on which Grant could move toward Richmond, as he had planned on the 7th. Held back by Hampton and Early, the most of Hancock's corps had been detained on the Brock road, near and behind Todd's tavern, during the 8th, while Anderson with the First and Ewell with the Second corps were engaged with Grant's advance near Spotsylvania Court House.
        On the 9th, Grant sent Sheridan, with his cavalry, on a raid, moving from Alsop's at 4 in the morning, to first destroy Lee's ammunition train, then strike the James and open communication with Butler. Stuart safely guarded the ammunition train, but was not strong enough to prevent Sheridan passing his right and gaining the highway to Richmond. Early on the morning of the 9th, Burnside advanced across the Ny, on the road leading from Spotsylvania Court House to Fredericksburg, which he had reached by a circuitous march to the eastward, and was moving to strike Lee's right and rear. Early, temporarily in command of the Third corps, arrived in time to meet this attack, which had to advance across open fields, with infantry and artillery, and give it a handsome repulse. Thus brought into position, the Third corps held Lee's right, from the horseshoe salient around the front of Spotsylvania Court House; it also occupied a portion of the eastern front of the salient, while Ewell held the remainder of that front, its north projecting apex and its western face. Favorable positions for artillery were found throughout the line, which was made stronger with each passing hour while awaiting Grant's attack from the north and west, after .the repulse of that of Burnside from the east.
        Advancing on the 9th, Hancock took position on Grant's right and sent three divisions across the Po to menace Lee's left and rear from the west. These movements revealed to Lee that Grant intended to attack his entire front, and, with his superior numbers, which were double those of Lee, attempt to turn both his flanks. During the night of the 9th, in anticipation of Grant's attack, Lee sent Heth's division, of Hill's corps, across the Po, by a circuit to the southward, under the command of Early, who, moved into line across the Louisa road, fell upon Hancock's flank and rear, at dawn of the 10th, just as he was obeying Grant's recall to join in his proposed front attack. Heth severely punished Barlow's division, of Hancock's corps, on which his attack fell, and captured one of his guns, in this engagement, which became known as the "battle of Waite's Shop."
        About the time of the failure of Hancock's flanking movement to Lee's left, at 9:30 of the 10th of May, Grant dispatched to Washington, still from "near" Spotsylvania Court House:
        The enemy hold our front in very strong force and evince a strong determination to interpose between us and Richmond to the last I shall take no backward steps but may be compelled to send back to Belle Plain [below Aquia creek on the Potomac] for further supplies. Please have supplies of forage and provisions sent there at once and 50 rounds of ammunition (infantry) for 100,000 men. Send General Benham with the necessary bridge train for the Rappahannock river. We can maintain ourselves at least, and, in the end, beat Lee's army, I believe. Send to Belle Plain all the infantry you can rake and scrape. With present position of the armies, 10,000 men can be spared from the defenses of Washington, besides all the troops that have reached there since Burnside's departure. Some may also be brought from Wallace's department. We want no more wagons nor artillery.
        This dispatch tells the condition of things within Grant's lines and his view of the situation, on the morning of the 10th, in a way that needs no comment.
        At noon of the day before, May 9th, C. A. Dana, assistant secretary of war, who had joined Grant to watch events, reported to Secretary Stanton various matters that he had heard about, among others: General Wilson, with his division of cavalry, occupied Spotsylvania Court House yesterday morning for an hour; but as Warren's corps had not yet made its appearance, and as columns of rebel infantry were gaining position on both his right and left, he fell back to Alsop's. Prisoners were taken by Wilson, who reported that two divisions of Longstreet's corps had just come, they having marched all night. General Grant at once gave orders for attacking these troops with the whole of Warren's corps, to whose support Sedgwick was hurrying up, in order to destroy them before the rest of the rebel army could arrive. Warren, however, proceeded with exceeding caution, and when he finally did attack, sent a single division at a time and was constantly repulsed. The general attack, which Generals Grant and Meade directed, was never made, for reasons I have not yet been able to learn; but successive assaults were made upon this and that point in the rebel positions with no decisive results. The last assaults were made just before dark, when the fighting was very sharp General Grant's orders, last night, were not to renew the fighting to-day; but if, as now appears to be the case, Lee has left anything open in front of our right, by massing on our left, he may attack at this weakened point of their lines with a view of passing toward Richmond on that side.
        Hancock found Early, at the "open place" Grant was seeking, the next morning. At 11 of the morning of the 10th, Grant began his massed attack on Lee's left, which was met by Field's division and driven back by a withering fire of musketry and artillery. At 3 in the afternoon, a second massed attack was made on the First corps, near Lee's center, on the line of the Brock road, through the piney woods of the Po-Ny watershed. This also met a bloody repulse, after which the Confederates sprang over their breastworks and collected the guns and ammunition the enemy had left behind, and distributed these so that each Confederate was doubly armed. For a third time, near the close of the day, Grant made assault, with Hancock and Warren, against Lee's weak left. This front line, under Hancock, was driven back by Field's division, but his second line rushed bravely forward and leaped over the breastworks of Gregg's Texans, who, refusing to yield, obtained aid from an adjacent brigade, which turned on the flank of the bravely-fighting Federals and forced them to retreat from the stubborn fight they had made.
        At about the same hour of the closing day, Grant made assault on Ewell, along the western face of the great salient, a brigade of Sedgwick's corps attacking Dole's, in Ewell's center, and driving him from his works. The brigades of Daniel and Steuart then fell upon the flanks of Upton's Federal brigade, while those of Battle and Johnson met it in front. Upton tenaciously held against these what he had won; but when Gordon and Walker reinforced the attack on his flanks, he was compelled to retire with heavy loss. Ewell's guns, raking the front with furious fire, had prevented all attempts to reinforce the gallant Upton.
        The Confederate right, under Early, was also attacked, several times, during the 10th, by Burnside's corps, on the Fredericksburg road. There the Confederate artillery had full play on the Federal lines, as they essayed to cross the broad fields in front, and Pegram and Cutts, with their big guns, easily repulsed all of Burnside's attacks. Gen. F. A. Walker, commenting on Grant's tactics, writes: "To assault 'all along the line,' as was often done in the summer of 1864, is the very abdication of leadership."
        At 8:30 of the 11th, Grant dispatched to Halleck: We have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting, the result to this time in our favor. But our losses have been heavy, as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time eleven general officers, killed, wounded and missing, and probably 20,000 men ... I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. The arrival of reinforce ments here will be very encouraging to the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible and in as great numbers ... I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers, and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take. Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee's army being detached for the defense of Richmond.
        It was the condition of his own army and of his own method of campaigning and not Lee's, that Grant thus described. He little knew, although what he had so recently encountered should have taught him, the spirit of the men that, under Lee, confronted him.

        The shifting about of troops in the Federal lines, on the 11th, led Lee to the conclusion that Grant was about to draw back from the Spotsylvania Court House field of combat; so he made preparations to meet any new movement he might attempt by ordering all the artillery, placed in difficult positions, to be withdrawn to where it could be quickly assembled for marching. Obeying this order, General Long withdrew the guns from the northern portion of the great salient, so that Edward Johnson's division, at its apex, was left on guard with only muskets and two pieces of artillery. Near midnight, of the 11th-12th of May, Johnson discovered, through the dense foggy mist then prevailing, that the Federal troops were massing in his front, and asked General Ewell to have the supporting artillery returned. Not fully realizing the importance of time under the existing conditions, Ewell gave orders, not for the immediate return of the guns, but that they should be returned at daybreak of the 12th. Before that time arrived, Hancock's superb corps, in solid mass, rushed upon the apex of the salient, expecting to carry it by assault. Johnson's command, a mere remnant of the division that had stormed Culp's hill, at Gettysburg, was on the alert and met this attack bravely; but musketry alone was not sufficient to drive back Hancock's many, massed battalions, which swarmed over the log breastworks and captured Johnson and 2,800 of his men. Just then, the batteries that had been ordered back came forward at a gallop, but only in time to fall into Hancock's hands and add their twenty cannon to his captures.
        Flushed with victory, the Federal columns prepared to continue their assault, by dashing forward, through the salient, to the southward; but Lane's brigade, on Ewell's right, which had not been involved in the capture, as had Steuart's on its left, faced about, and, pouring a rapid and well-directed fire upon Hancock's advancing left flank, forced it to recoil. Promptly forming his men across the base of the salient, and taking direction from the noise of the advancing fire of the Federals, Gordon made ready to go forward and meet and drive back the Federal onset. At this juncture, Lee, roused from his quarters in the rear of the salient, by the mighty roar of the conflict in progress, came riding rapidly to Gordon's line and quietly took position to lead it forward. Gordon, in a tone clear, but not loud, spoke out: "This is no place for General Lee." His men caught the words and instantly shouted, "General Lee to the rear," while Gordon, his mobile face showing the incarnation of heroic daring, fairly shouted to General Lee: "These men are Georgians and Virginians. They have never failed you; they will not fail you now." Just then a veteran stepped from the ranks, and seizing his bridle turned "Traveler" backward, and again the imperative order came from his soldiers: "Lee to the rear," and as he obeyed, Gordon's men rushed forward to death and to victory.
        The steady roar of the battle, which had been continuous since half past 4 of the morning, from the dawning of the day, now swelled in volume as Gordon met Hancock in the pine thickets embraced within the salient. The Federal left was soon thrust back and Gordon held the works on the east. Ewell hurried forward Ramseur's brigade, which had occupied the extreme left of the salient, in attack upon Hancock's right; while from Early's command, the Third corps, came the brigades of McGowan and Harris, following up the advance of Gordon and Ramseur. Lee, remaining where Gordon had left him, again rode forward to lead Harris' Mississippians, who, seeing this, in turn shouted: "Lee to the rear," as they followed up Ramseur's attack on Hancock's right.
        These rapid combinations and charges of Lee's men soon drove Hancock outside the salient, and only left him in possession of the outer trenches at its apex and along its northern front. Two divisions, from the Sixth corps, were hurried forward to support Grant's line along the northern and northwestern side of the salient. These engaged in combat with the brigades of Harris' Mississippians, McGowan's South Carolinians and Ramseur's North Carolinians, and from opposite sides of these log breastworks, a bloody struggle continued from early morning until late afternoon, with unflinching desperation on either side, fairly filling the trenches and piling their borders, on each side, with the slain and the wounded, and giving to this portion of the famous salient the name of "the Bloody Angle."
        Grant continued to hurl division after division and corps after corps ;in fierce and continuing attack, upon every portion of Lee's line. The Fifth and part of the Sixth corps were charging his left, while Burnside, with another corps, was charging his right. A division of the Fifth corps was added to Hancock's attack in the center. Lee had not another man to spare, but the few hardy veterans that sustained the keystone of this arch of defense, held it with a desperate and unyielding courage unsurpassed in the annals of human conflicts.
        The Federal engineers had, by careful triangulations, mapped the great salient and, guided by this information, batteries were so placed, in all available positions, as to bring cross-fires to bear upon its defenders. Big mortars were placed in position that dropped their heavy shells into the Confederate lines. Cannon were dragged to the front, and their muzzles thrust through or across the Confederate log entrenchments, and fired upon Lee's three brigades of heroes, who, unhesitatingly, stood to their assigned duty. Infantrymen, from opposite sides of the works, climbed up and fired into the faces of their opponents; they grappled one another and attempted to drag each other across the breastworks; bayonet thrusts were made through crevices; the continuous musketry fire cut off large trees standing in the line of the works; the dead and the dying had to be flung to the rear to give room for the living, fighting ones, in the trenches; and, to add to the horrors of the combat, a cold, heavy rain set in and partly filled the trenches, where the combatants stood, until they seemed to fairly run with blood.
        Lee's charges and lines of defense were greatly strengthened by his grandly served artillery, which, when not assigned to fixed positions, hastened to the battle, took every point of vantage it could find, and poured shot and shell, with telling effect, into every portion of Grant's advancing lines, breaking their ranks and often driving them to the rear. Wherever they found an open front, where they would not fire on their comrades, the unaided artillery drove back Federal attacks. The writer, who was on this field of awful combats, does not believe that human ear ever listened to a more steady and continuous roar of musketry and artillery than that which rose from that field of fierce contention, from the dawning of the day until late in the afternoon. The slackening fight continued until night closed the scene, when Hancock withdrew his surviving and nearly exhausted veterans from the ditch in which they had fought so long, leaving but a regiment behind as a picket. Gordon's men worked throughout the succeeding night, throwing breastworks across the base of the salient, and not until near the dawn of the 13th were Lee's well-nigh exhausted men withdrawn from the long-held and much-fought-for horseshoe salient, to find rest behind the new works their comrades had constructed, thus straightening his front and giving him a shorter and more formidable line than he had held before. Notwithstanding the capture of Johnson's division, at the opening of the combat, Lee's losses, from his 50,000 present, were only some 8,000 men; but these were 18 per cent of his army. Grant had thrown twenty-two brigades against Lee's center, at the salient, but had failed to reach his rear, and had really gained nothing but great losses for his strenuous efforts; from his 100,000 in hand, 16,000 were killed or wounded.
        At 6:30 of the afternoon of the 12th, after the close of the famous battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Grant dispatched to Halleck: "The eighth day of battle closes ... The enemy are obstinate and seem to have found the last ditch. We have lost no organization," etc.
        Dana, a half hour later, telegraphed to Stanton:
        The battle has raged without cessation throughout the day. Wright and Hancock have borne the brunt of it Burnside's troops generally have borne themselves like good soldiers. I should here mention that only his white troops have been engaged, the colored division having been kept in the rear to guard the trains. Warren has gained nothing. His attacks were made in the forenoon; with so much delay, that Grant and Meade were greatly dissatisfied; but when they were made they were unsuccessful, though attended with considerable loss. The rebel works in his front were very strong, and finally, at about 1 o'clock, the chief portion of his troops were withdrawn from his lines and brought to the support of Wright.
        It was then intended to attempt a grand assault, with a very powerful column under Wright, at about 5 o'clock; but when the men were brought up, they were so tired from the long day's work, and the chances of success were so much short of certainty, that General Wright advised General Meade to postpone the attempt, and accordingly the obstinate battle was allowed to pause here. The results of the day are, that we have crowded the enemy out of some of his most important positions ... Our troops rest to-night upon the ground they have so victoriously fought for. At 8 next morning, May 13th, Dana telegraphed again: Lee abandoned his position during the night--whether to occupy a new one in the vicinity or to make a thorough retreat is not determined ... Though our army is greatly fatigued, from the enormous efforts of yesterday, the news of Lee's departure inspires the men with fresh energy. The whole force will soon be in motion, but the heavy rain of the last thirty-six hours renders the roads very difficult for wagons and artillery ... The proportion of severely wounded is greater than either of the previous days' fighting. This was owing to the great use made of artillery.
        At 6 in the afternoon of the same day, he dispatched:
        The impression that Lee had started on his retreat, which prevailed at the date of my dispatch this morning, is not confirmed. Our skirmishers have found the rebels along the whole line, and the conclusion now is, that the retrograde movement of last night was made to correct their position after the loss of the key-points taken from them yesterday, and they are still before us in force. Of course we cannot determine, without a battle, whether their whole army is still here, and nothing has been done to-day to provoke one. lt has been necessary to rest the men, and accordingly we have everywhere stood upon the defensive.
        He then claimed that, in changing his lines, Lee had uncovered the roads leading southward along his right, and that Grant had ordered Meade to withdraw Warren from the right and Wright from the center, around to the left, turn Lee's flank, and force him to move southward.
        On the evening of the 12th, that ever-to-be-remembered day of fearful carnage, the sad news came to Lee of the death of Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart, the "Jeb" Stuart of the Confederacy and of history, who had fallen, the day before, at the Yellow tavern, a few miles to the north of Richmond, in repulsing an attempt of Sheridan to capture that city. Fully occupied with the enemy in his front, Lee waited until the quiet of the 20th before officially announcing to his army the great loss he had sustained, a loss only second, in its far-reaching consequences, to that of "Stonewall" Jackson. In his tribute to this grand leader of his cavalry corps, he said:
        Among the gallant soldiers who have fallen in this war, General Stuart was second to none in valor, in zeal, and in unflinching devotion to his country. His achievements form a conspicuous part of the history of this army, with which his name and services will forever be associated. To military capacity of a high order and to the nobler virtues of the soldier, he added the brighter graces of a pure life, guided and sustained by the Christian's faith and hope. The mysterious hand of an all-wise God has removed him from the scene of his usefulness and fame. His grateful countrymen will mourn his loss and cherish his memory. To his comrades in arms he has left the proud recollection of his deeds and the inspiring influence of his example.
        Notwithstanding Grant's recorded assertion, "I never maneuver, '"he spent from the 13th to the I8th of May in front of Lee, maneuvering and waiting for reinforcements, until he had rested his "tired" men, and 25,000 fresh troops were added to his numbers. On the 14th, at 7:10 of the morning, his dispatch read:
        The very heavy rains of the last forty-eight hours have made it impossible to move trains of artillery. Two corps were moved, last night, from our right to the left, with orders to attack at 4 a.m., but owing to the difficulties of the roads. have not fully got into position. This, with the continued bad weather, may prevent offensive operations today.
        The next morning he again telegraphed:
        The very heavy rains of the last three days have rendered the roads so impassable that little will be done until there is a change in the weather, unless the enemy should attack, which they have exhibited but little inclination to do for the last week. I believe it would be better to strengthen the corps here, with all reinforcements coming, than to have them formed into separate commands.
        The next morning he dispatched:
        We have had five days of almost constant rain without any prospect yet of its clearing up. All offensive operations necessarily cease until we can have twenty-four hours of dry weather. The army is in the best of spirits and feels the greatest confidence in ultimate success .... The promptness with which you have forwarded reinforcements will contribute greatly to diminishing our mortality list and insuring a complete victory. You can assure the President and secretary of war, that the elements alone have suspended hostilities, and that it is in no manner due to weakness or exhaustion on our part.
        An attack was made by Grant on the morning of May 18th, with his Second and Sixth corps, in another attempt to break Lee's center. Advancing to Lee's new line, which had excluded the great salient, these 12,000 Federals were broken, in retreat, by the heavy fire of twenty-nine of Lee's guns, before they came within rifle range. In like manner Burnside's simultaneous attack on Lee's right was similarly repulsed. Grant could find no weak point for breaking through, so he drew back, farther to his left, and sought for a third road to Richmond. On the next day, the 19th, Lee sent Ewell around Grant's right, to ascertain what he was doing. In this movement Ewell was repulsed, with a loss of 900 men, but he had detained Grant another day in front of Spotsylvania Court House and inflicted a severer loss than he himself suffered, as Grant confessed.
        On the afternoon of May 19th, Grant wrote: "I shall make a flank movement early in the morning, and try to reach Bowling Green and Milford station," and wished his base, in that event, changed to Port Royal. At 10 p.m., of the same day, he again wrote: "The enemy came out on our right, late this afternoon, and attacked, but were driven back until some time since dark. Not knowing their exact position, and the danger our trains at Fredericksburg will be in if we move, I shall not make the move designated for to-night, until their designs are fully developed." On the 20th he reported that his casualties of the previous day were 196 killed, 1,090 wounded, and 240 missing.
        When Grant began his forward movement, on the 4th of May, he not only ordered Butler forward, but also directed Sigel, in the Shenandoah Valley, to make a simultaneous advance to capture Staunton and break Lee's communications with the Shenandoah Valley, with the 6,500 men and 28 guns in his command. Apprised of this movement, Lee ordered Gen. John C. Breckinridge to collect at Staunton the infantry and cavalry outposts that had wintered in the mountains west of the Great valley, and had called upon the governor of Virginia to add to these the cadets from the Virginia military institute, and with these march down the valley to meet this new irruption. Breckinridge had some 4,500 men, including Gen. John Daniel Imboden's cavalry and McLaughlin's artillery company with eight guns. These met Sigel at New Market, on the 15th of May, and completely routed him, capturing six guns and nearly 900 prisoners. Breckinridge's infantry made a front attack, aided by the artillery, while Imboden fell on Sigel's flank. The mere boys from the institute fought like veterans in this, their first engagement. Halleck telegraphed to Grant, on the 17th: "Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run. Never did anything else." The day before, Grant received the unwelcome news that the "army of the James," under Gen. Ben Butler, from which he expected so much assistance, and which he was longing to join, had been successfully repulsed from a position it had gained on the railroad between Richmond and Petersburg, and driven back into the angle between the James and the Appomattox, where, as Grant says in his official report, "his army, therefore, though in a position of great security, was as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond, as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked."

(Related reading below.)
Source: Confederate Military History, Vol. 3, Chapter XXV.

Recommended Reading: The Battles For Spotsylvania Court House And The Road To Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864. Description: The second volume in Gordon C. Rhea's peerless five-book series on the Civil War's 1864 Overland Campaign abounds with Rhea's signature detail, innovative analysis, and riveting prose. Here Rhea examines the maneuvers and battles from May 7, 1864, when Grant left the Wilderness, through May 12, when his attempt to break Lee's line by frontal assault reached a chilling climax at what is now called the Bloody Angle. Drawing exhaustively upon previously untapped materials, Rhea challenges conventional wisdom about this violent clash of titans to construct the ultimate account of Grant and Lee at Spotsylvania. Continued below.

About the Author: Gordon C. Rhea is also the author of The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864; To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864, winner of the Fletcher Pratt Literary Award; Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864, winner of the Austin Civil War Round Table’s Laney Prize, and Carrying the Flag: The Story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy’s Most Unlikely Hero. He lives in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, with his wife and two sons.

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Recommended Reading: The Spotsylvania Campaign: May 7-21, 1864 (Great Campaigns). Description: A very detailed examination of the Spotsylvania Campaign. A dramatic study of the campaign and the clash of the titans - Robert E. Lee against Ulysses S. Grant – and it is a book that you will refuse to put down. Continued below.

About the Author: John Cannan has established a reputation among Civil War writers in a remarkably short time. His distinctions include three books selected by the Military Book Club. He is the author of The Atlanta Campaign, The Wilderness Campaign, and The Spotsylvania Campaign. Cannan is an historic preservation attorney residing in Baltimore.


Recommended Reading: The Spotsylvania Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War) (Hardcover). Description: The Spotsylvania Campaign marked a crucial period in the confrontation between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in Virginia. Waged over a two-week period in mid-May 1864, it included some of the most savage fighting of the Civil War and left indelible marks on all involved. Approaching topics related to Spotsylvania from a variety of perspectives, the contributors to this volume explore questions regarding high command, tactics and strategy, the impact of fighting on officers and soldiers in both armies, and the ways in which some participants chose to remember and interpret the campaign. They offer insight into the decisions and behavior of Lee and of Federal army leaders, the fullest descriptions to date of the horrific fighting at the "Bloody Angle" on May 12, and a revealing look at how Grant used his memoirs to offset Lost Cause interpretations of his actions at Spotsylvania and elsewhere in the Overland Campaign. Continued below...

Meet the Contributors:
—William A. Blair, Grant's Second Civil War: The Battle for Historical Memory
—Peter S. Carmichael, We Respect a Good Soldier, No Matter What Flag He Fought Under: The 15th New Jersey Remembers Spotsylvania
—Gary W. Gallagher, I Have to Make the Best of What I Have: Robert E. Lee at Spotsylvania
—Robert E. L. Krick, Stuart's Last Ride: A Confederate View of Sheridan's Raid
—Robert K. Krick, An Insurmountable Barrier between the Army and Ruin: The Confederate Experience at Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle
—William D. Matter, The Federal High Command at Spotsylvania
—Carol Reardon, A Hard Road to Travel: The Impact of Continuous Operations on the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia in May 1864
—Gordon C. Rhea, The Testing of a Corp Commander: Gouverneur Kemble Warren at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania

Recommended Reading: If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania (Hardcover). Description: The termination of the war and the fate of the Union hung in the balance in May of 1864 as Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac clashed in the Virginia countryside—first in the battle of the Wilderness, where the Federal army sustained greater losses than at Chancellorsville, and then further south in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Courthouse, where Grant sought to cut Lee's troops off from the Confederate capital of Richmond. This is the first book-length examination of the pivotal Spotsylvania campaign of 7-21 May. Continued below.

Drawing on extensive research in manuscript collections across the country and an exhaustive reading of the available literature, William Matter sets the strategic stage for the campaign before turning to a detailed description of tactical movements. He offers abundant fresh material on race from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, the role of Federal and Confederate cavalry, Emory Upton's brilliantly conceived Union assault on 10 May, and the bitter clash on 19 May at the Harris farm. Throughout the book, Matter assesses each side's successes, failures, and lost opportunities and sketches portraits of the principal commanders. The centerpiece of the narrative is a meticulous and dramatic treatment of the horrific encounter in the salient that formed the Confederate center on 12 May. There the campaign reached its crisis, as soldiers waged perhaps the longest and most desperate fight of the entire war for possession of the Bloody Angle—a fight so savage that trees were literally shot to pieces by musket fire. Matter's sure command of a mass of often-conflicting testimony enables him to present by far the clearest account to date of this immensely complex phase of the battle. Rigorously researched, effectively presented, and well supported by maps, this book is a model tactical study that accords long overdue attention to the Spotsylvania campaign. It will quickly take its place in the front rank of military studies of the Civil War.


Recommended Reading: Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: In the study of field fortifications in the Civil War that began with Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War, Hess turns to the 1864 Overland campaign to cover battles from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor. Drawing on meticulous research in primary sources and careful examination of trench remnants at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Bermuda Hundred, Hess describes Union and Confederate earthworks and how Grant and Lee used them in this new era of field entrenchments.


Recommended Reading: To the North Anna River: Grant And Lee, May 13-25, 1864 (Jules and Frances Landry Award Series). Description: With To the North Anna River, the third book in his outstanding five-book series, Gordon C. Rhea continues his spectacular narrative of the initial campaign between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in the spring of 1864. May 13 through 25, a phase oddly ignored by historians, was critical in the clash between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. During those thirteen days—an interlude bracketed by horrific battles that riveted the public’s attention—a game of guile and endurance between Grant and Lee escalated to a suspenseful draw on Virginia’s North Anna River. Continued below.

From the bloodstained fields of the Mule Shoe to the North Anna River, with Meadow Bridge, Myers Hill, Harris Farm, Jericho Mills, Ox Ford, and Doswell Farm in between, grueling night marches, desperate attacks, and thundering cavalry charges became the norm for both Grant’s and Lee’s men. But the real story of May 13–25 lay in the two generals’ efforts to outfox each other, and Rhea charts their every step and misstep. Realizing that his bludgeoning tactics at the Bloody Angle were ineffective, Grant resorted to a fast-paced assault on Lee’s vulnerable points. Lee, outnumbered two to one, abandoned the offensive and concentrated on anticipating Grant’s maneuvers and shifting quickly enough to repel them. It was an amazingly equal match of wits that produced a gripping, high-stakes bout of warfare—a test, ultimately, of improvisation for Lee and of perseverance for Grant.

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