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FROM-- SET FOUR, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

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21 Readings About the Great Battles of the Civil War #12-- Battle of Spotsylvania

       Battle of Spotsylvania-- (May 8-19, 1864), Union failure to smash or outflank Confederate forces defending Richmond, Va., during the American Civil War. Following the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6), Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved his left flank forward, engaging the Confederate forces of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. The battle raged for about a week and a half, and on May 20 Grant continued his march southeastward in a flanking movement toward the Confederate capital. His casualties were 18,000; Lee's, 11,000.

 
From Wikepedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Spotsylvania_Court_House

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Spottsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup
Battle of Spotsylvania [sic] by Thure de Thulstrup
Date May 8Ė21, 1864
Location Spotsylvania County, Virginia
 
Result Inconclusive
Belligerents
 United States (Union)  CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Ulysses S. Grant
George G. Meade
Robert E. Lee
Units involved
Army of the Potomac
IX Corps (Army of the Ohio)
Army of Northern Virginia
Strength
100,000 52,000
Casualties and losses

18,399

(2,725 killed
 13,416 wounded
 2,258 captured/missing)

12,687

(1,515 killed
 5,414 wounded
 5,758 captured/missing)

 


 

**U.S. Grant and the Overland Campaign (Click Here to read about the 3-prong battles plan)


Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8Ė21)

 


       At dawn on May 8, Fitzhugh Lee's cavalrymen staked out a defensive line on a low ridge that they dubbed "Laurel Hill." Reinforcements from Anderson arrived just as Warren's men pulled up within 100 yards to the north. Assuming only cavalry blocked his path, Warren ordered an immediate attack. Multiple attacks by the divisions of the V Corps were repulsed with heavy casualties. In the afternoon, Sedgwick's VI Corps arrived near Laurel Hill and extended Warren's line to the east. By 7 p.m., both corps began a coordinated assault but were repulsed by heavy fire. They attempted to move around Anderson's right flank, but were surprised to find that divisions from Ewell's Second Corps had arrived in that sector to repulse them again.

      Generals Meade and Sheridan had quarreled about the cavalry's performance throughout the campaign and their failures May 7Ė8 brought Meade's notorious temper to a boil. Sheridan told Meade that he could "whip Stuart" if Meade let him. Meade reported the conversation to Grant, who replied, "Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it." Meade deferred to Grant's judgment and issued orders to Sheridan to "proceed against the enemy's cavalry." Sheridan's entire command of 10,000 cavalrymen departed the following day. They engaged with (and mortally wounded) Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, threatened the outskirts of Richmond, refitted near the James River, and did not return to the army until May 24. Grant and Meade were left without cavalry resources during the critical days of the battle to come.

       Over the night of May 8Ė9, the Confederates erected a series of earthworks more than four miles long, highlighted by an exposed salient known as the "Mule Shoe" extending more than a mile in front of the main trench line. At about 9 a.m., Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick was inspecting his VI Corps line when he was shot through the head by a Confederate sharpshooter's bullet, dying instantly. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright.

       Grant ordered Hancock to cross the Po River and attack the Confederates' left flank, driving them back toward Burnside's position near the Ni River, while the rest of his command, in the center, watched for an opening to attack there as well. Hancock's II Corps advanced across the Po River, but he delayed his attack until the morning. This error was fatal to Grant's plan. That night, Lee moved two divisions of Jubal Early's corps from Spotsylvania Court House into position against Hancock. On the morning of May 10, Grant ordered Hancock to withdraw north of the Po, leaving a single division in place to occupy the Confederates in that sector, while the rest of his army was to attack at 5 p.m. across the entire Confederate line. At 2 p.m., Jubal Early decided to attack the division, which retreated across the Po without being captured, destroying the bridges behind them.

       While Hancock was in the Po sector, Warren requested permission from Meade to attack Laurel Hill at 4 p.m., uncoordinated with the rest of Grant's attack. Again the Laurel Hill line repulsed the Union troops with heavy losses. Grant was forced to postpone his 5 p.m. coordinated assault until Warren could get his troops reformed. Not informed of the delay, Brig. Gen. Gershom Mott of the II Corps moved his division forward at 5 p.m. toward the tip of the Mule Shoe. When his men reached the open field, Confederate artillery ripped them to shreds, and they retreated. At around 6 p.m., Col. Emory Upton led a group of 12 hand-picked regiments, about 5,000 men in four battle lines, against an identified weak point on the west side of the Mule Shoe. The plan was for Upton's men to rush across the open field without pausing to fire and reload, reaching the earthworks before the Confederates could fire more than a couple of shots. The plan worked well initially, but Generals Lee and Ewell were quick to organize a vigorous counterattack with brigades from all sectors of the Mule Shoe. No Union supporting units arrived. Upton's men were driven out of the Confederate works, and he reluctantly ordered them to retreat.

       Despite his reverses on May 10, Grant had reason for optimism because of the partial success of Upton's innovative assault. He planned to use the same tactics with Hancock's entire corps. On the Confederate side, Lee received some intelligence reports that made him believe Grant was planning to withdraw toward Fredericksburg. If this happened, he wanted to follow up with an immediate attack. Concerned about the mobility of his artillery to support the potential attack, he ordered that the guns be withdrawn from Allegheny Johnson's division in the Mule Shoe to be ready for a movement to the right. He was completely unaware, of course, that this was exactly the place Grant intended to attack. Johnson requested to Ewell that his artillery be returned, but somehow the order did not reach the artillery units until 3:30 a.m. on May 12, 30 minutes before Hancock's assault was planned to start.

       Hancock's assault started at 4:35 a.m. on May 12 and easily crashed through the Confederate works. Despite the initial success at obliterating much of the Mule Shoe salient, there was a flaw in the Union planóno one had considered how to capitalize on the breakthrough. The 15,000 infantrymen of Hancock's II Corps had crowded into a narrow front about a half mile wide and soon lost all unit cohesion, becoming little more than an armed mob. Following the initial shock, the Confederate leadership at all levels began to react well to the Union onslaught and reinforcements were rushed in to stem the tide.  As Hancock bogged down, Grant sent in reinforcements, ordering both Wright and Warren to move forward. The VI Corps division of Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Neill headed for the western leg of the Mule Shoe, at the point where it turned to the south. This sector of the line, where the heaviest fighting of the day would occur, became known as the "Bloody Angle." Heavy rain began to fall, and both sides fought on the earthworks slippery with both water and blood. Warren's attack at Laurel Hill began on a small scale around 8:15 a.m.

       For some of his men, this was their fourth or fifth attack against the same objective and few fought with enthusiasm. They were repulsed again. Burnside advanced against the eastern leg of the Mule Shoe before dawn, materially aiding Hancock's breakthrough. At 2 p.m., Grant and Lee coincidentally ordered simultaneous attacks in this stalemated sector. The advance by Union Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox's division was stopped as Brig. Gen. James H. Lane's brigade moved forward and hit them in the flank. Throughout the afternoon, Confederate engineers scrambled to create a new defensive line 500 yards further south at the base of the Mule Shoe, while fighting at the Bloody Angle continued day and night with neither side achieving an advantage. At 4 a.m. on May 13, the exhausted Confederate infantrymen were notified that the new line was ready, and they withdrew from the original earthworks unit by unit. The combat they had endured for almost 24 hours was characterized by an intensity of firepower never previously seen in Civil War battles, as the entire landscape was flattened, all the foliage destroyed. May 12 was the most intensive day of fighting during the battle, with Union casualties of about 9,000, Confederate 8,000; the Confederate loss includes about 3,000 prisoners captured in the Mule Shoe.

       Despite the significant casualties of May 12, Grant was undeterred. He planned to reorient his lines and shift the center of potential action to the east of Spotsylvania, where he could renew the battle. He ordered the V and VI Corps to move behind the II Corps and take positions past the left flank of the IX Corps. On the night of May 13Ė14, the corps began a difficult march in heavy rain. Grant notified Washington that, having endured five days of almost continuous rain, his army could not resume offensive operations until they had 24 hours of dry weather. The weather finally cleared on May 17. Grant ordered the II Corps and the VI Corps to attack against the Mule Shoe area again at sunrise, May 18. Unfortunately for the Union plan, the former Confederate works were still occupied by Ewell's Second Corps and they had used the intervening time to improve the earthworks and the obstacles laid out in front of them. Unlike on May 12, they were not caught by surprise. As Hancock's men advanced, they were caught up in abatis and subjected to artillery fire so devastating that infantry rifle fire was not necessary to repulse the attack. Wright and Burnside had no better luck in supporting attacks. Grant decided to abandon the Spotsylvania area. He ordered Hancock's II Corps to march to the railroad line between Fredericksburg and Richmond, and then turn south. With luck, Lee might take the bait and follow, seeking to overwhelm and destroy the isolated corps. In that case, Grant would chase Lee with his remaining corps and strike him before the Confederates could entrench again. Before Hancock began to move, Lee ordered Ewell to conduct a reconnaissance in force to locate the northern flank of the Union army. Ewell fought near the Harris farm with several units of Union heavy artillery soldiers who had recently been converted to infantry duty before he was recalled by Lee. Grant's intended advance of Hancock's corps was delayed by the Harris farm engagement, so the troops did not begin their movement south until the night of May 20Ė21. Lee did not fall into Grant's trap of attacking Hancock, but traveled on a parallel path to the North Anna River.


A Letter from a Soldier at Spotsylvania

Spotsylvania Co.  Virginia 
May the 11th 1864 

Dear Father and Mother, 

   Once more I am permitted to seat myself for the intention of writing you a few lines.  But whether I will be able to send it through or not, I can not tell.  I am not as well as I wish but I am so I can do my duty and keep around etc.  We have been out of our winter quarters some 7 or 8 days and I have been in battle.  Today is the 7th and it is one of the hardest fights ever was known on this continent.  It beats Gettysburg or Anteitim or Bull Run or anything else and it is not over yet.  Our brigade has been very lucky.  They have not lost but 21 killed and wounded out of our Regít.  My captain is killed again and Beck is wounded very bad and one or two more out of our Co was wounded at the same time by a shell.  The boys donít think Beck will live.   He had the flesh shot off of his hip and one had his toes shot off the same time and some others out of Co F.  I inquired after Andrew Jorden in his Co.  One of the men told me he was wounded through the foot and sent to Washington before we left Bandy Station. 

     The weather is a getting very warm down here now.  Sometimes it is so hot I cannot hardly stand it.  We are on one road to Richmond and Butler  is in the rear of Richmond.  He had taken Petersburg  etc.  Our boys was never in better spirits than at present.  We are sure of success if God is for us.  Well I am enjoying myself first rate.  My trust is in God and I have had a season of secret prayer every day since I left my winter quarters.  Have you received that memoradom I sent home? Let me know as soon as possible.  We donít expect to get any mail very soon.  Not until this campaign is over anyway.  This is all I can think of at present so I will bring my letter to a close hoping it may reach your hands & find you all enjoying Godís blessing.  Keep up good courage and donít think I am a going to get killed for I feel as though if I am called I am ready to go.   Death must come sometime and it makes but little difference where a man dies if he has the right feeling.  Father, Mother, Uncles, and Aunts remember me at the throne of Grace and I will you.  Read this to those who wish to hear it and tell them (that are unconverted) to seek the Savior when he may be found.


A Letter from a Soldier at Spotsylvania

Spotsylvania Co.  Virginia 
May the 11th 1864 

Dear Father and Mother, 

   Once more I am permitted to seat myself for the intention of writing you a few lines.  But whether I will be able to send it through or not I can not tell.  I am not as well as I wish but I am so I can do my duty and keep around etc.  We have been out of our winter quarters some 7 or 8 days and I have been in battle.  Today is the 7th and it is one of the hardest fights ever was known on this continent.  It beats Gettysburg or Anteitim or Bull Run or anything else and it is not over yet.  Our brigade has been very lucky.  They have not lost but 21 killed and wounded out of our Regít.  My captain is killed again and Beck is wounded very bad and one or two more out of our Co was wounded at the same time by a shell.  The boys donít think Beck will live.   He had the flesh shot off of his hip and one had his toes shot off the same time and some others out of Co F.  I inquired after Andrew Jorden in his Co.  One of the men told me he was wounded through the foot and sent to Washington before we left Bandy Station. 

     The weather is a getting very warm down here now.  Sometimes it is so hot I cannot hardly stand it.  We are on one road to Richmond and Butler  is in the rear of Richmond.  He had taken Petersburg  etc.  Our boys was never in better spirits than at present.  We are sure of success if God is for us.  Well I am enjoying myself first rate.  My trust is in God and I have had a season of secret prayer every day since I left my winter quarters.  Have you received that memoradom I sent home? Let me know as soon as possible.  We donít expect to get any mail very soon.  Not until this campaign is over anyway.  This is all I can think of at present so I will bring my letter to a close hoping it may reach your hands & find you all enjoying Godís blessing.  Keep up good courage and donít think I am a going to get killed for I feel as though if I am called I am ready to go.   Death must come sometime and it makes but little difference where a man dies if he has the right feeling.  Father, Mother, Uncles, and Aunts remember me at the throne of Grace and I will you.  Read this to those who wish to hear it and tell them (that are unconverted) to seek the Savior when he may be found.
                                                            Truly your son Simon B. Cummins

From:  http://pasty.com/book/diary.html


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