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tion with General Butler as early as possible, and be prepared to
meet any enemy interposing. The result of the three days' fighting
at the Old Wilderness was decidedly in our favor. The enemy hav-
ing a strongly intrenched position to fall back on when hard pressed,
and the extensive train we have to cover, rendered it impossible to
inflict the heavy blow on Lee's army I had hoped. My exact route
to the James river, I have not yet definitely marked out.

These lame excuses for his failures in the Wilderness
battles, are ample confessions that Lee had thoroughly
deranged Grant's confident plan of campaign. He was
no longer urging Meade to hunt for Lee, and was look-
ing anxiously for co-operation with Butler and the army
of the James.



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 Spottsyl-
vania 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, lead-
ing 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
Ijeen 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 Spottsylvania 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 Spottsyl-
vania Court House, forming a strong support to the cav-
alry 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 Spottsylvania Court
House. Grant, in person, tarried with Hancock until
noon, after sending minute instructions to his advance
for marching beyond Spottsylvania Court House toward
Richmond and Butler ; but learning, soon after, that War-
ren had met with a severe check on the highway to



Spottsylvania Court House, and that Lee, although hav-
ing the longer march to compass, had won the race for
position, and a second time blocked his "on to Rich-
jnond. " During the night of the 7 th, Fitz Lee, dis-
mounting 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 success-
fully 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 Spottsyl-
vania 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 disas-
trous 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, bj' 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 posi-
tion which Lee's superior energy had secured.

At I p. m. of the 9th, Grant's dispatch, from "near"
Spottsylvania Court House, to Halleckread: "If matters
are still favorable with Butler, send all reinforcements
you can. The enemy are now moving from our imme-
diate front either to interpose between us and Fredericks-
burg or to get the inside road to Richmond. " It is in-
credible 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 daj', 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
tip 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 incurved 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 Spottsylvania 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 Spottsylvania.
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 Spottsylvania-
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,
Bumside advanced across the Ny, on the road leading
from Spottsylvania Court House to Fredericksburg,
which he had reached by a circuitous march to the east-


ward, 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 ad-
vance 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 Spottsylvania
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 Bumside
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
Tipon Hancock's flank and rear, at dawn of the loth, just
^s 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 9 130 of the loth of May, Grant
dispatched to Washington, still from "near" Spottsylvania
Court House:

The enemy hold our front in very strong force and evince a strong
â– 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 Biamside'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 loth, in a way that needs no comment.

At noon of the day before, May 9th, C. A. Dana, assist-
ant 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 Spottsyl-
vania 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
Sedg^wick 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 divi-
sion 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 1 1 of the morning of the
loth, Grant began his massed attack on Lee's left, which
was met by Field's division and driven back by a wither-
ing 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 for-
ward 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 John-
son 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 loth, by Burnside's corps, on
the Fredericksburg road. There the Confederate artil-
lery 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 nth, 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 figbt 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 I ith, led Lee to the conclusion that Grant was about
to draw back from the Spottsylvania Court House field
of combat; so he made preparations to meet any new
movement he might attempt by ordering all the artil-
lery, placed in difficult positions, to be withdrawn to
where it could be quickly assembled for marching. Obey-
ing 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
iith-i2th 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 im-
portance 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 12 th. 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 Gulp's hill, at Gettysburg,
was on the alert and met this attack bravely ; but mus-
ketry 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 Han-
cock'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 contin-
uous since half past 4 of the morning, from the dawning
of the day, now swelled in volume as Gordon met Han-
cock 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 sal-
ient, 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' Missis-
sippians, McGowan's South Carolinians and Ramseur's
North Carolinians, and from opposite sides of these log
breastworks, a bloody struggle continued from early morn-
ing until late afternoon, with unflinching desperation on
either side, fairly filling the trenches and piling their bor-
ders, 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 informa-
tion, 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 intrenchments, 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 Spottsylvania 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. . . . Bumside's
troops generally have borne themselves like good soldiers. I should
here mention that only his white troops have been engaged, the col-
ored division having been kept in the rear to guard the trains.
Warren has gained nothing, ffis attacks were made in the forenoon,
with so much delay, that Grant and Meade were greatly dissatisfied ;

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 44 of 153)