Monday, April 23, 2007
Shooting broke out briefly when the Federals reached Spotsylvania, but the Federals were so tired from double-time marching that they could scarcely do more than stumble toward the Confederate line. That night and next day, both armies built strong breastworks—usually a stack of logs with a 'head log' at the top, leavig space beneath to shoot through. There was only light skirmishing on 10 May, but men still died.
Lee's lines followed the shape of a large, irregular crescent. In the middle was a bulging salient the soldiers cubbed the 'mule shoe'; history woold remeber it as "Bloody Angle," for a sharp turn in the line.
As dusk approached, Colonel Emory Upton convinced Grant to let him take a crack at the salient. Grant gave him a brigade, with which Upton set out at a dead run toward the salient. A spearhead of Federals drove right through a rain of bullets and leapt over the breastworks, some of them pitching in their bayoneted rifles like harpoons; Upton had broken through the very center of the Confederate line. All he needed was some reinforcements which were already on their way. But a wall of Southern artillery turned back the reinforcements and Upton had to fall back with heavy losses. He did however, bring a thousand prisoners with him. This manuver convinced Grant that the salient was vulnerable. "A brigade today—we'll try a corps tomorrow," he said.
Heavy rains on the 11th prevented any action of consequence. The morning of 12 May was drizzly and foggy. The guns which protected the center had been moved to the right of the Confederate line, with a promise that they would be back by morning, but the guns had not arrived. Only 5,000 rebs were all that held the center of the line. The silence was broken by cheering in the distance, when out of the fog rolled 20,000 Federals, the entire II corps. There was no stopping them, the yankees flowed right over the breastworks. Lee sent reinforcements to the center and the counterattack fell onto the disorganized Federals like a thunderclap, driving them back over the breastworks, and there the Yankees stayed.
The battle near the "angle" was probably the most desparate engagement in the history of modern warfare, and presented features that were absolutely appalling. It was primarily a savage hand to hand fight across the breastworks. Rank after rank was riddled with shot and shell and bayonet-thrusts, and finally sank, a mass of torn and mutilated corpses; then fresh troops rushed madly forward to replace the dead, and so the murderous work went on and on. Even the darkness of night and the pitiless storm failed to stop the fierce contest, and the deadly strife did not cease till well after midnight.
If courage were all that a nation required, there was courage enough at Spottsylvania, on either side of the entrenchments, to have made a nation of every State in the Union.
Chaplain Alanson A. Haines of the Fifteenth New Jersey Regiment stated: With Dr. Hall our good and brave surgeon, I found a place in the rear, a little hollow with grass and a spring of water, where we made hasty preparations to receive the coming wounded. Those that could walk soon began to find their way in of themselves, and some few were helped in by their comrades as soon as the charge was over and a protion withdrawn. It was a terrible thing to lay some of our best and truest men in a long row on the blankets, waiting their turn for the surgeon's care. Some came with body wounds and arms shattered, and hands dangling. At ten o'clock, with the drum corps, I sought the regiment to take off any of our woundd we could gind. On my way, met some men carrying Orderly-Sergeant Van Gilder, mortally wounded, in a blanket. With his hand all blood, he seized mine, saying, 'Chaplain, I am going. Tell my wife I am happy.' At two o'clock a.m. I lay down amid a great throng of poor, bleeding sufferers, whose moans and cries for water kept me awake..."
Early the next morning, the Confederates pulled back to a new line, and the Union forces claimed the breastworks with its heaps of dead and wounded. More than 7,000 Yankee soldiers had fallen, and probably as many as 10,000 Rebels.
Skirmishing and maneuvering continued at Spotsylvania for another seven days. Then on 19 May, Grant once again attempted to move his army around the Confederate flank toward Richmond. And again, Lee raced to stop the Army of the Potomac.
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