May 8-21, 1864….“Battle of Spotsylvania“
Attack: Grant has disengaged from Lee during the night and pushed his army toward the crossroads at Spotsylvania Courthouse southeast of “The Wilderness”.
Lee has elements of the CSA army that has reached Spotsylvania before the Union Army and he orders his Confederates to dig in for the coming assaults.
On May 8, units of Union Generals Warren and Sedgwick attack across a 4 mile front in areas known as the Laurel Hill and “The Mule Shoe” that later became known as the “Bloody Angle”.
Hand to hand fighting that lasted for over 24 hours became one of the terrible memories of that terrible “salient”. Rainy weather added to the delays in attacks and movements that were often confused and costly.
Grant will have several more attacks that will fail under Union Generals Burnside and Hancock. He will see his best strategy is with his last attack on May 18 under Hancock which fails again.
Grant sees his best opportunity is to disengage and maneuver to a new battlefield, southeast ..toward North Anna.
May 9, 1864…Union Major General John Sedgwick will be shot through the head and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter at 9:00 am while inspecting his troops. Sedgwick is the Highest Ranking Union Officer killed during the Civil War, a costly loss for the Union at the Battle of Spotsylvania.
Over 1,000 yards from the Confederate snipers, Sedgwick had just stated that “they couldn’t hit an elephant” at this distance. Seconds later he falls with a bullet below his left eye after chastising officers for seeking cover.
John Sedgwick’s Signature:
Much loved by his men who called him “Uncle John”, Grant was so stunned by the news of his sudden death that he asked repeatedly..”Is he really dead”!
Defense: Lee has beat Grant southeast to Spotsylvania Courthouse crossroads. He is able to set up fast defenses that will be strengthened over the next days as Grant attacks across his extended front. The attacks against his men on Laurel Hill on May 8 are pushed back as well as several attacks over the next days against several points on his 4 mile defensive line.
The western end of the “Mule Shoe” later known as the Bloody Angle is a heavy focus of defensive combat for the CSA for over 3 days as Grant attempts a grand assault against the whole Confederate line. Hancocks’ division at one point was so compressed that they turned into no more than a mob.
Lee was able to inspire his officers long enough to rally his officers at points when the Union had punched through, especially at the “Bloody Angle”.
Riding too close to the front with the 800 man “Texan Brigade” that stemmed a Union attack, Lee was leading the Texans himself when they stopped and Gordon insisted that Lee move to safety. The Texans stopped and chanted “Lee to the rear” until he and his well known horse Traveller did retire to the rear of the CSA to safety.
May 19 will bring Lee to his last defense of this battle when he intercepts Union elements at an area known as the Harris Farm. Grant is maneuvering between Fredericksburg and Richmond. Lee will engage again at North Anna and Cold Harbor as the Union Army moves like a great serpent toward Petersburg after retiring from the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Battle outcome: Undecisive ( Strategic Union victory as they move south)
Soldiers: Union -100,000 / CSA – 52,000
Casualties: Union-18,399(2,725 killed) / CSA-13,421(1,515 killed )
The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea
From the Battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse to the death of legendary Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern.