Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 23, 1864

May 23, 1864


Battle of the North Anna River 

May 23-26, 1864


Day 1:  In another race, Grant and Lee force-march their troops to the North Anna River, where they hope to beat the other to the crossings.  But the Rebels already have possession of the crossings, so Lee’s troops cross to the south bank of the river.  Lee is convinced that the thrust to the North Anna is a feint by Grant.  But Grant is headed for the North Anna for sure.  The west column is Warren and Wright, intending to cross at Jericho Mills.  The east column is Hancock and Burnside, intending to cross at Ox Ford or Chesterfield Bridge near Hanover Junction.  Hancock is able to overwhelm a Rebel brigade and take the bridge.  Warren crosses at Jericho Mills nearly uncontested.  A.P. Hill only places one division there, Cadmus Wilcox’s.  Warren’s troops push across, and Wilcox’s division holds them and then makes a direct attack, but Warren’s troops push them back and keep the beachhead. 

Battle of the North Anna, May 23, 1864
maps by Wikipedia

This night, Lee decides to arrange his lines in a V-shaped wedge, with the apex anchored on the river at Ox Ford, in between the two main crossing points.  Lee’s plan is to split the Union wings, and attack either one wing or the other, and reinforce from the other. 


---In a letter to his wife penned this day, Gen. George G. Meade writes about the prospects of success:

We expected [this day] to have another battle, but the enemy refuses to fight unless attacked in strong entrenchments; hence, when we moved on his flank, instead of coming out of his works and attacking us, he has fallen back from Spottsylvania Court House, and taken up a new position behind the North Anna River; in other words, performed the same operation which I did last fall, when I fell back from Culpeper, and for which I was ridiculed; that is to say, refusing to fight on my adversary’s terms. I suppose now we will have to repeat this turning operation, and continue to do so, till Lee gets into Richmond.


---The New York Times publishes an editorial that is passionate on the question of Robert E. Lee’s personal honor, despite the genealogical errors:

The Chivalry of the Rebel Gen. Lee.

“When monkeys are gods, what must the people be?” ROBERT E. LEE, Commander of the rebel army, is deemed the paragon of Southern chivalry. The rebels have always been vain of being led by one of such pure blood, such stainless honor. Justly enough by their standard. But let us put him to a civilized test.

What is his blood? His grandfather, R.H. LEE, had the taint of treason in him. Writing in 1790, on the Federal Constitution, he said, “When we [the South] attain our natural degree of population, I flatter myself that we shall have the power to do ourselves justice, with dissolving the bond which binds us together.” His great uncle, “Light-Horse HARRY,” was stigmatized by JEFFERSON, who knew him well, as “an intriguer,” “an informer,” a “miserable tergiversator.” Maj.-Gen. CHAS. LEE, of Revolutionary memory, and a kinsman, was, as one may see by IRVING’s Washington, not only a calumniator of WASHINGTON, but was a plotter to supersede him; he was tried by court-martial, after the battle of Monmouth, was found guilty of disobedience of orders, misbehavior before the enemy, and disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief; was subsequently dismissed from the service in disgrace. . . . The great uncle, ARTHUR LEE, was the libeler of FRANKLIN and JAY and JEFFERSON, and is described by TUCKER, in his life of the latter, to have been “singularly impracticable in his temper and disposition.” The uncle, HENRY LEE, was in Congress at the time of the Presidential struggle between JEFFERSON and BURR, and, according to TUCKER, advised “desperate measures” to defeat the former; . . . It would be difficult to name an old family in this country, of any historical mark, whose “blood” has been shown to be of worse quality than that of the LEES of Virginia.

But it is not family that makes the gentleman, or the reverse. It is personal honor. Has ROBERT E. LEE this? We say emphatically that he has it not. He is deficient in its very first and most essential element — truth. He is as mendacious as BEAUREGARD himself. This can be proved incontestably, and that too without going back of the history of the last fortnight. . . . LEE deliberately and flagitiously lied. . . . No Commander of the Army of the Potomac has been guilty of anything of the kind. GRANT or MEADE would die on the spot before they would degrade their own manhood, and insult the manhood of their soldiers, by such deception.

The simple truth is that the very fact of a soldier’s abandoning his flag involves an abandonment of character. LEE received his military education from the Government, had been constantly honored and trusted by the Government, and it was the extreme of perfidy in him to turn traitor against the Government. . . . It is not morally possible to perpetrate this supreme crime without wrenching and in fact breaking down the whole moral nature. Treason cannot be committed on any scale without its malignity extending to every part of the moral constitution. Fidelity lies at the very core of sound character, and when that rots, all rots.

May 22, 1864

May 22, 1864

---Atlanta Campaign:  Sherman flanks Johnston again, going around his flank at Altoona and marching toward Dallas, Georgia.

---In Virginia, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac are once again in a race for the next vantage point: the crossings of the North Anna River.  Hancock’s corps continues their march, and eventually Wright (VI Corps) and Burnside (IX Corps) head south on the Telegraph Road.  But the Confederates have anticipated Grant’s move: Breckinridge and his small division, fresh from victory at New Market, are at the North Anna crossings, and so are two brigades of cavalry under Gen. Fitz Lee.  Grant’s several columns get tangled in the nighttime woods, and Lee (having discovered that Grant is no longer in his fortifications at Spotsylvania) begins to move swiftly southward.


---Maj. Stephen Minot Weld, of the Army of the Potomac, writes in his journal of the march for the North Anna:

Sunday, May 22. — We marched until 4 or 5 this morning. We passed through Guinea Station, and halted in a ploughed field beyond it. We passed through the most beautiful and fertile part of Virginia that I have yet seen. The trees were all in leaf, and the corn and wheat well started. The country is rolling, with numerous streams intersecting it. I hear that we are the rear guard, with the trains. . . .

May 21, 1864

May 21, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 13:  By this evening, Grant finally gets Hancock’s flank march going, as he heads southward.  But Lee does not take the bait: instead, tomorrow he marches a parallel course to shadow the Federals and hopefully block them from their next target. 

This battle has been one of the bloodiest battles in the War.  It has been the longest battle in the war, being 14 days of constant engagement between the two armies.  Going into the battle, Grant has 100,000 troops under his active command, and Lee has no more than 52,000.  But a total of almost 32,000 casualties makes this one of the most costly of battles for either side.  Confederate Victory.




Horace Porter, an aide-de-camp to Gen. Grant, writes his own impressions of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, particularly of the fight at the Bloody Angle on May 12:

The opposing flags were in places thrust against each another, and muskets were fired with muzzle against muzzle.  Skulls were crushed with clubbed muskets, and men stabbed to death with swords and bayonets thrust between the logs in the parapet which separated the combatants.  Wild cheers, savage yells, and frantic shrieks rose above the sighing of the wind and the pattering of the rain, and formed a demoniacal accompaniment to the booming of the guns as they hurled their missiles of death into the contending ranks.  Even the darkness of night and the pitiless storm failed to stop the fierce contest, and the deadly strife did not cease till after midnight.

May 20, 1864

May 20, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 12:  On this date, Hancock’s II Corps finally goes into motion, heading south toward Hanover Court House, in a bid to draw Lee out to attack.

---Bermuda Hundred Campaign:  Gen. Benjamin Butler’s attempted strike at Petersburg and Richmond is doomed to failure by lack of initiative.  By this point, Butler has allowed Beauregard’s troops to bottle him up behind his own fortifications at Bermuda Hundred.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, USA

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, some years later, writes in his Memoirs:

I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler's line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place.

May 19, 1864

May 19, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 11—Harris Farm:  Instead of launching his new flank march by the left, Grant is faced with a move by Lee taking the initiative: Lee suspects that Grant’s right flank may not be secure, and so order Ewell, with two of his divisions (Rodes and Gordon), to march up the Brock Road, and then to turn east and hopefully find the Federal flank in the air, and crush it:  the result would be that Grant would be cut off from his line of communication and Washington.  Ewell’s force runs into a division of “heavies”: the Heavy Artillery regiments that were converted to infantry, and who were green troops.  Fighting ensues, but the Heavies hold until more veteran infantry comes up, including Gen. Birney’s division.  The fighting continues until nearly 9:00 PM, and Lee decides not to risk the matter any further, and so orders Ewell to withdraw.  As he does so, he loses a number of troops in the dark.  Ewell loses over 900 men to no avail.

Rebel dead from the fight at Harris Farm

---The Red River Campaign is officially over as the bulk of Banks’ troops cross the Atchafalaya Bayou on a make shift bridge made on steamboats.

---Atlanta Campaign:  Johnston’s plan at Cassville to waylay Sherman’s easternmost column fails as Gen. Hood, whose corps is to spring the trap, fails to be in the right place at the right time, having been distracted with what Hood thought was a threat on his flank.  The Confederates retreat across the Etowah River, and do not contest the Federals’ crossing.


---A Democrat newspaper in Seneca County, New York, publishes an editorial typically critical of the way the Lincoln government is waging war, and especially with Gen. Grant’s lack of more tangible success:

The advance of our armies towards the Confederate capital is resisted with a stubbornness and determination wholly unexpected. After ten days contest, the most sanguinary and bloody of the whole war, hostilities cease, with both armies occupying precisely the same grounds they did at the commencement of the battle. GRANT with all his superior forces fought Lee ten days at Spottsylvania Court House, without driving him from his first line of entrenchments. A perusal of the details show the fighting to have been of the most desperate character. The result of the contest up to Wednesday night of last week was wholly adverse to our armies. On Thursday HANCOCK gained, or seemed to, at least, a decided advantage over the enemy, but the advantage was not followed up and the rebels recovered the lost ground. On Friday the struggle was more determined and bloody on both sides than on any other of the preceding days, at the close of which hostilities ceased with no advantage gained on either side. To all intents and purposes, then, GRANT’s first campaign may be considered a failure. – SIGEL in the Shenandoah Valley, with a large force, intending to co-operate with GRANT in the capture of the rebel capital, has been repulsed by BRECKINRIDGE with a heavy loss of men and guns. BUTLER down on the James river is held in check by BEAUREGARD. A severe fight occurred at Paltas creek [Proctor's Creek?] on Monday between the forces under these two generals, but, according to the telegraph, without any decisive result.

---Louis Leon, a soldier in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry, writes in his diary of the heavy losses in his regiment so far at Spotsylvania:

May 19—Saw Darnell, of my company, to-day. He was just from the front. He brings us very bad news. Our General Daniels was killed, which is certainly a great loss to us, for he was a good and brave man, also our major of the 53d, Iredell, and my captain, White, all killed. Colonel Owens, my colonel, was mortally wounded, and quite a number of my company were killed and wounded. He says there is only seven of our company left, and that our Lieutenant-Colonel Morehead is commanding Daniels’ Brigade.

May 18, 1864

May 18, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 10:  Very little happens today on the respective armies’ fronts.  Grant re-orders his lines, and conceives of a plan to send one corps marching to his left down the railroad to Richmond, and hoping that Lee will take the bait and follow this corps, while Grant follows, in the hopes of catching Lee in a trap.  He plans to put this in execution tomorrow.

Cannons on the Spotsylvania Battlefield

May 17, 1864

May 17, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 9:  Deciding that today may finally allow him to move troops on fairly solid roads, Grant wants to continue the countermarch to attack the Confederate right.  But, realizing that Lee probably knows about his movement already, he instead orders Hancock’s II Corps and Wright’s VI Corps to attack the Mule Shoe salient once again, thinking that these lines would be weakened.  However, Lee is not caught by surprise in the least.  As the Federals attack, their lines are shredded by well-placed artillery, and finally the attacks are called off. 

Modern-day reenactors commemorate the battle.

Adairsville, Georgia:  The Confederate cavalry fights an effective rearguard action as Johnston’s Army of Tennessee moves southward, looking for a good place to deploy on the defense.  At Adairsville, he stops, and Gen. Thomas readies a force to attack his position.  There is maneuvering and skirmishing, and some all-out combat between troops from Howard’s IV Corps Federals and the gray-coats of Hardee’s corps.  But that night, Johnston decides that the position is untenable and moves on.  Near Cassville, further south, Johnston stops and sense an opportunity to hurt Sherman’s juggernaut.

---Kate Cumming, a nurse with the Confederate army, in Georgia, writes in her diary about the ongoing campaign, and the efforts to help the wounded:

May 17.—There has been fighting near Dalton for some days. Our army has left that place, and is moving down, drawing the enemy with it. We are told that the enemy are suffering severe losses. I went to Atlanta on the 15th instant, in company with some ladies and gentlemen of this place. . . . That morning was one of the gloomiest I ever passed. It was damp and cheerless; and, look which way I would, the prospect was dreary. Hundreds of wounded men, dirty, bloody, and weary, were all around us. And when I thought of the many more which were expected, I was filled with despair, and felt like humbling myself in the dust, and praying more earnestly than ever before, that God would send us peace. . . .

We remained nearly all day in an old car, expecting to get on to the front. There was a relief committee, from Lagrange, in the same car with us. I observed that several such committees were in Atlanta, from every part of Georgia. The good people of Newnan had supplied us with quantities of every thing. In the afternoon, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Auld and myself went to the cars, on their arrival from the front; and O, what a sight we there beheld! No less than three long trains filled, outside and in, with wounded. Nearly all seemed to be wounded in the head, face, and hands. I asked some one near me why this was. They replied, because our men had fought behind breastworks.

There were ladies at the depot with baskets filled with edibles of all kinds, and buckets of milk, coffee, and lemonade; and I noticed many had wines. I observed a number of old gentlemen assisting— the only manner in which they could serve their country. I noticed one in particular, an aristocratic-looking gentleman, who wore a white linen apron.

The ladies in Atlanta have been doing this work ever since the commencement of the war. They have had tables set at the depot for the benefit of the soldiers. Our party went to the distributing hospital; there we found plenty of work. A number of the Atlanta ladies were there before us, dressing wounds. I commenced to dress one man’s hand, which was badly wounded. (Strange as it may seem, this was the first wound I had ever dressed. I had always had plenty of other work to do.) Just as I had got through, Dr. Jackson, who had gone with us from Newnan, requested me to come and assist him. We were in an immense hall, crowded with wounded; some walking about, others sitting on the floor—all waiting to have their wounds dressed. . . .

It was a bright, moonlight night, and there were some folks who came into the hospital with provisions for the men. Dr. Wellford and a number of us took them and went all over, to see if we could find any in want, but nearly all had been supplied.

The men were lying all over the platform of the depot, preferring to remain there, so as to be ready for the train which would take them to other places.

I was informed that there were about seven or eight hundred wounded who had come in that evening. . . .

I kept my first promise, and as Mrs. H. did not feel very well, I went to the hospital by myself. While crossing the depot I met my friend, Mr. Gribble, and he accompanied me to it. On arriving there I found that no more wounded had come, but there were many there already, for whom I made toddies.

The scene which presented itself to me in the large room where we had been the night before was sickening.

There was pile after pile of rags, just as they had been taken from the wounds, covered with blood and the water used in bathing them. All of the attendants were too much exhausted to clean up. . . .

May 16, 1864

May 16, 1864

---Bermuda Hundred Campaign:  Battle of Drewry’s Bluff:  Beauregard sends Gen. Whiting and his command in a flank march to take Butler’s army in the rear, while Gen. Ransom and his division press the Federal right flank, under Gen. “Baldy” Smith.  Ransom’s attack is beaten off, and he waits for Whiting to get in position to trap the Yankees between them.  Gen. Butler has, meanwhile, ordered Gen. Gillmore to attack the Rebel line, but Gillmore stalls and dawdles, and finally launches his attack just as Butler has decided to withdraw Smith’s troops on Gillmore’s flank.  Whiting, in the meantime, turns north at Port Walthall, but encounters a Union brigade under Adelbert Ames, who holds his ground.  Convinced that the Confederates in the rear would annihilate them, Butler orders both of his corps to abandon the field, march back south to their defenses, and get safe behind them.  Confederate Victory.

---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 9:  Gen. Lee realizes that Grant intends to attack his right, and so begins to shift part of Anderson’s First Corps in that direction.  Sporadic skirmishing continues, as both armies suffer in the mud.

---Union soldier John W. Derr writes home to his family during a brief respite in the ongoing Battle of Spotsylvania:

Spotsylvania Court House, Va.

May 16th, 1864

My Dear Father and Mother,

             I take this present opportunity to inform this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I hope this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  You must excuse me for not writing to you any sooner because we was busy this two last weeks after the rebels.  We had two pretty hard fights since.  We are out and are now laying on the battle field for the six last days firing at the rebels and are fighting with them every day.  But all the boys from around there are safe yet as much as I know.  But John Boyer got wounded today but it ain’t very bad.  It is only a flesh wound through the left leg above the knee.  And John D. Weikel is missing.  Nobody knows anything about him and I don’t know where he is or where he got to.  He got away from us in the morning that we went into the battle.  He was along when we advanced in line of battle.  Thank God that I am safe yet and I hope that I always may get through safe.  We have some hard nuts to bite.  But I hope we will be successful in taking Richmond for we are bound to have it or else all die.  This is the cry all through the Army.  I also seen some of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  I seen Daniel Derr and Elias Derr and Isaac Yarnall and Emanuel Bolich and they are all well and look hearty.  So I must close this few lines for it is getting dark and I have no more to write for this time.  This few lines from your beloved son.
                                                                                                John W. Derr

---Oliver Willcox Norton, an officer in a black regiment, writes home to his sister.  One historical point of interest:

This mail brings us the good news that colored soldiers are at last to get their dues in the matter of pay. The paymaster was here a week ago and offered the heroes of Olustee $7 a month. Most of them would not take it. Only those very much in need of money did so.

May 15, 1864

May 15, 1864

---Battle of New Market, Virginia:  In the Shenandoah Valley, Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, back in command, leads a small army of 10,000 men up the Shenandoah Valley, intending to link up with another force making its way over the mountains from West Virginia.  Sigel has a division of infantry under Gen. Sullivan and a division of cavalry under Gen. Julius Stahel.  Facing him, at first, is only John S. Mosby’s partisan rangers, who are wreaking chaos along the Federal supply line, but also a thin brigade of troopers under John Imboden.  Soon, Gen. John C. Breckinridge is sent to cobble together a force of just over 4,000 men---two brigades of infantry under Echols and Wharton, and the small cavalry brigade under John Imboden.  Also present are the 247 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, who also bring two cannons.  By the day of the battle, Sigel’s force had shrunk to 6,275, due to detaching units to garrison and guard key points in the Valley as the Federals advanced.  Sigel takes up position just north of New Market. 
Breckinridge decides to attack first, so he marches his men from 8 miles south of New Market northward.  The artillery of both sides engages in a duel while Breckinridge places his troops, and finally the Southern line moves forward, around 2:000 PM.  As they advanced, the Federal artillery creates havoc in the Confederate center, scattering a couple of regiments temporarily.  Breckinridge orders the VMI cadets forward, who advance in disciplined fashion, and ably blend into the line to fill the gap.  Lt. Col. Shipp, the commander, goes down with a wound, and so the Cadets are led by Cadet Captain Henry A. Wise as the Rebels continue to advance.  Imboden’s cavalry momentarily flanks the Union line, and the unsteadiness of the Union line encourages the Rebels to push on.  Renewed artillery action from the Federals brings the Rebel line to a halt.  Encouraged in turn, the Federals dash forward in a charge, but meet the Rebels once again, advancing and firing as they come.  The Federals lose heart and stability, and flee the field.  Even the VMI Cadets charge, through a muddy field, where many of them lose their shoes.  They capture part of a Yankee battery, as Sigel’s army retreats in disarray.  Confederate Victory.

Losses:     Killed     Wounded     Capt/Missing   Total

U.S.             96               520                220                       836

C.S.              43               474                3                            520


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 8:  Today, the blue-coated troops of Warren’s corps, intended to hit the Rebels on the right flank, are still moving, and therefore not ready, due to the heavy rains and quagmire roads.  There is skirmishing mostly at Piney Branch Church, constant combat, but Grant understands that he can do little until the rains let up.

A strangely incongruous rendition of the Battle of Resaca--or so we are told.

---Atlanta Campaign—Battle of Resaca, Georgia, Day 3:  On this day, Sherman orders Thomas to attack the Rebel right, under John Bell Hood.  Schofield, Hooker, and divisions from the Army of the Cumberland strike at the Confederate positions, with some success.  But Johnston loses his interest in this fight when he learns that he has been flanked by Sweeney and other Union troops via the new pontoon bridge over the Oostanaula River.  The Rebels decamp and head south.  The battle is essentially a draw, although Sherman is able to force Johnston to withdraw, and Johnston beat off every attack by the Federals.  Draw.
Civil War Trust
Used by permission.


Losses:  U.S.    4,000                 C.S.            2,800

---Col. Walter Taylor, Gen. Lee’s own adjutant, writes home to his wife about the fighting at Spotsylvania:

. . . After we were established here, the enemy attacked every portion of our lines at different times, and with the one exception mentioned, were invariably hansomely repulsed & severely punished. The 12th was an unfortunate day for us – we recovered most of the ground lost but cd not regain our guns. This hurts our pride – but we are determined to make our next success all the greater to make amends for this disaster. Our men are in good heart & condition – our confidence, certainly mine, unimpaired. Grant is beating his head against a wall. His own people confess a loss of 50,000 thus far. He is moving tonight – we expect a renewal of the battle tomorrow. God has been good & kind, & has miraculously preserved me. Asking a continuance of his blessings & mercy & committing you, my precious one, to His Protective care, I remain yours as ever


Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 14, 1864

May 14, 1864


---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 7:  Grant’s grand flank march continues, as do the rains.  Grant has ordered an attack on this day, but Meade’s troops are sluggish and, in the mud, unable to get there.  There is little fighting today.

---Atlanta Campaign—Battle of Resaca, Georgia, Day 2:  Having probes the Confederate lines all along the front of Johnston ‘s position, Sherman  orders a series of attacks by most his corps.  First, about 11:30 AM, attacks from Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps and Schofield’s XXIII Corps, both on the left, get underway.  Camp Creek is hard to cross, with steep banks and, reportedly, quicksand in places, so the Federal attacks move forward slowly.  One of Schofield’s brigades does not even get past Camp Creek.  Palmer’s XIV Corps sends forward Baird’s and Johnson’s divisions, but they are also driven back.  John “Black Jack” Logan sends forward an attack from his XV Corps also, but to no avail.  The fighting dies down around 3:00 PM.

Later, in the evening, Johnston notices that the Federal flank is exposed, or “in the air”, and order Gen. John Bell Hood to attack.  Hood sends forward Stevenson’s and Stewart’s divisions, who have some success in driving back Stanley’s two-brigade division.  But Gen. Hooker, who has not been engaged yet today, is ordered to send relief from his XX Corps, and so he sends Alpheus Williams’ division, which arrives in time to stop Hood’s assault and drive his troops back to their fortifications.

Meanwhile, all day long Gen. Thomas Sweeney’s division has marched southward to a ferry on the Oostanaula River, beyond the Union right flank, in an attempt to cross the force that could threaten the railroad and turnpike that were the Confederate line of supply.  Sweeney’s men contest a fairly heavy force of Southerners on the south bank of the river, but are finally able to get a pontoon bridge across.  After a hotly contested crossing, the Federals held the south bank of the river, ready for Sherman’s splanned crossing the next morning.
(Maps courtesy of The Civil War Trust,
Used by permission)

May 13, 1864

May 13, 1864

---Atlanta Campaign:  Battle of Resaca---Day 1:  After a week of skirmishing along Rocky Face Ridge, and Dug Gap, Sherman decides that there is more promising prospects farther south, toward Resaca.  McPherson’s army is pushing toward Resaca, and has been joined by Schofield.  Sherman has withdrawn from in front of Dalton and rushed down to Resaca---but Johnston has divined Sherman’s purpose and move, and is there at with his troops deployed on the hills overlooking the town as the Federals make the opening attacks on the Confederate positions.  Skirmishing as the opening probes of the battle occurs in several places, but no major actions result, as both armies jockey for position and wait for the other side to make a major move.  Johnston’s army is in a strong position, and Sherman is reluctant to attack him there.

---Battle of Spotsylvania, Day 6:  Hours before dawn, Lee’s troops pull back into the newly-fortified line across the base of the Mule Shoe salient, and skirmishing and firefights continue along that sector of the line.  In the meantime, Grant intends to shift the ground of the battle and conduct an attack beyond the far right of the Confederate right flank.  So, he order Warren’s V Corps and Wright’s VI Corps on a long, circular countermarch behind the lines to swing over to the east, behind Hancock’s and Burnside’s lines.  But the rain continues, and this movement ends up taking nearly 3 days, due to the bad condition of the roads, and the soldiers’ exhaustion.

Cannon at the modern-day Spotsylvania battlefield
---Gen. Sheridan, who is pursued by Confederate troops that try to pin him against the Chickahominy River, escapes this entanglement, and moves downstream.

---Alexandria, Louisiana:  At last, Col. Bailey’s dam on the Red River is completed, and the remainder of Porter’s boats in the river are able to float over the cataracts.  Porter’s fleet escapes to safety.  Gen. Banks’ troops begin evacuating the town, also.


---Judith White McGuire, of Richmond, writes in her journal of the news of Stuart’s death:

May 13.—General Stuart died of his wounds last night, twenty-four hours after he was shot. He was a member of the Episcopal Church, and expressed to the Rev. Dr. Peterkin his resignation to the will of God. After much conversation with his friends and Dr. P., and joining them in a hymn which he requested should be sung, he calmly resigned his redeemed spirit to the God who gave it. Thus passed away our great cavalry general, just one year after the immortal Jackson. This seems darkly mysterious to us, but God’s will be done.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 12, 1864

May 12, 1864


Battle of Spotsylvania



May 8-21, 1864

Day 5:  At about 4:35 AM, Hancock’s troops, three divisions under Birney, Mott, and Gibbon, in that order, advance in a column of divisions over the open ground before the Mule Shoe.  Barlow’s somewhat battered division advances also, on the left flank of the other column.  Hancock’s column clambers over the earthworks and smashes into Jones’ brigade and nearly vaporizes it; they next hit Steuart’s brigade, decimating it and capturing Gen. Steuart himself. 
Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864
The Federals then roll over the brigades of Monaghan and John Walker (the Stonewall Brigade), both of which are suddenly decimated: nearly every man either died where he stood or was captured.  The Stonewall Brigade ceases to exist.  Alleghany Johnson, the division commander, is also captured.  Some of the Southern artillery has just been wheeled up when the Federal attack captures all 20 guns in the battalion.  Blue-coated soldiers fill up the Mule Shoe, but the attacking regiments are somewhat disorganized, however.  Hancock soon finds that he has 15,000 men crowded into the Mule Shoe, and no plan for how to exploit his break.  The Federal impetus bogs down. 

A badly inaccurate, although characteristic, portrayal of the Battle of Spotsylvania

Soon, the Confederates gather their wits and begin to respond.  Gen. Lee arrives, and finds that there is nothing between the Federal II Corps and the area behind his lines.  Lee calls upon Gen. John B. Gordon to bring his division and move up to plug the gap.  Gordon sends the brigade of Robert D. Johnston first, followed by Evans.  Gen. Rodes sends a brigade to strike the west leg of the Mule Shoe, and Wright (VI Corps) sends in a division of Federals under Thomas Neill, who smash into the western face.  In response, Gen. Mahone (C.S.) sends in two brigades to meet the VI Corps bluecoats.  Wright then sends in David Russell’s division.  Soon, here at the “Bloody Angle”, by 8:00 AM, rain begins falling in torrents again, and both armies find themselves on either side of the fortifications, a line of stacked logs, which is all that separates the combatants.  The ground becomes slippery with rain and blood, and soldiers are stabbing their foes through the cracks between the logs, and they are passing loaded rifles up to the men at the wall, who fire without aiming over the tops.  The struggle becomes a remorseless, bestial killing spree. 
The Bloody Angle
Wounded men slip and fall, and are trampled by their own comrades into the mud, and after a while the men are treading on bodies rather than earth.  South Carolina veteran Berry Benson writes his memories of this part of the fight:  “Where the lines overlapped, the men said they and the enemy both fired without showing their heads above the work, which was certain death. Guns were loaded, held up to the breastwork, depressed, and the trigger pulled with the thumb. One man told me he several times took in his hand the barrel of a gun pointing down on him, held it up till it was fired and then let it go.”

Meanwhile, Confederate engineers quickly throw up a new line of fortifications across the base of the salient, which is completed by the early hours of May 13.

At the same time, Burnside sends in Gen. Potter’s division to put pressure on the east face of the Mule Shoe.  Lee sends a patchwork of several brigades to stop Potter.  On the right flank, Grant orders Warren to push forward once again, at the costly Laurel Hill area, and attack the Rebel line there.  Warren does so, but is repulsed with heavy losses. 

As night falls, Lee leaves the salient in the hands of the Federals.  The rain continues to fall.  The Yankees suffer 9,000 casualties on the day, and the Confederates lose 8,000, but 2,000 of those as prisoners.

---Maj. Gen. JEB Stuart dies today from his wounds.  He is only 31 years old, and Lee’s most trusted commander of cavalry.

---George Michael Neese, of the Confederate artillery, writes in his journal his account of what he saw and heard in the day’s battle:

After we were firing about an hour a shell from the Yankee battery exploded right in front of my gun, and I saw a good-sized fragment that was whizzing fearfully and searching for something to kill. It came right at me as though I was its sure game, but I quickly jumped across the trail of my gun in order to clear the path for the little whirling death machine that was after me and was ready to call me its own dear Rebel. It passed me with a shrill snappish ping, and with a thud it ripped up the ground just in rear of where I had been standing; if I had not seen it coming and quickly jumped out of its path it would have struck me square in front just below the breast, which would have undoubtedly labeled me for transportation to the silent city. But a miss is as good as a mile, and when the fragment that was courting familiarity had passed over me I jumped back to my place at the gun, and the very next shell I fired struck and exploded a limber chest in the Yankee battery; immediately after I fired I saw a dense telltale column of smoke shoot up in the air from the enemy’s position, and then I knew that my shell had done some ugly work among the ammunition boxes of our brethren in blue.

We had no way of ascertaining the extent of damage that the explosion scattered around, but it must have been considerable, as it silenced the Yankee battery for the remainder of the evening; if they were satisfied to wind up our little act in the great tragedy by ringing down the curtain for a little explosion I am sure that I had enough, and was willing and glad to quit.

After the firing ceased we held our position until nearly dusk, and when we left the field the Yankee battery was still in the breastwork from which it fired at us this afternoon — until we planted a young volcano among their ammunition chests.

During the battle I saw a Yankee shell explode in front of one of our batteries. The butt end of the shell struck one of the drivers in the breast and went through him; when it struck him he jumped up about a foot from the saddle, then fell to the ground stretched out in full length, and never struggled.

The battle-field of Spottsylvania Court House is undulating and diversified by hills and hollows, woods and fields, brushwood and thicket. It rained nearly all day, and sometimes when the rain poured down the hardest and almost in torrents the musketry was heaviest. It looked as if Heaven were trying to wash up the blood as fast as the civilized barbarians were spilling it.


---Private Daniel Holt of Mississippi writes of his experience in the battles at the Bloody Angle, and of the inhumane horror of it:

We were in the V-shaped salient that had traverses thrown up to prevent an enfilading fire. The line was mended, and we [had to] keep it mended. Soon the Yanks made a determined charge with fixed bayonets, but the mud fought for us as the “stars were against Sisera, and for Israel.” The breastwork was in a bog, and to make a charge in such a place against a line of fierce men close up, who have no idea of giving way, was more than those gallant Yanks could do.

Many of them were shot dead and sank down on the breastworks without pulling their feet out of the mud. Many others plunged forward when they were shot and fell headlong into the trench among us. Between charges we cleared the trench of dead and wounded and loaded all the guns we could get hold of for the next charge. I was shooting seven guns myself. We stacked them up against the breastwork with the butts on the trench, and when the Yanks came, we picked them up one by one and fired and sent them down again. Many times we could not put the gun to our shoulder by reason of the closeness of the enemy, so we shot from the hip.

All the time a drizzling rain was falling. The blood shed by the dead and wounded in the trench mixed with the mud and water. It became more than shoe deep, and soon it was smeared all over our clothes. We could hardly tell one another apart.


---Gen. Butler begins to push his columns out of Bermuda Hundred again, turning north along the west bank of the James River, striking toward the Confederate fortifications at Drewry’s Bluff, the last defensive spot that can stop a Union Navy incursion up to Richmond.