Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 10, 1864

May 10, 1864


Battle of Spotsylvania


May 8-21, 1864

Day 3:  Believing that Lee is weakening his left to reinforce his right, Grant orders Hancock to pull out of line and march toward the east, leaving only Gen. Barlow’s division in their former position on Grant’s right, south of the Po.  Gen. Early, now commanding the Third Corps (due to A.P. Hill’s ill health), does not attack immediately: only later, at 2:00 PM, does he send Heth’s division in to smash Barlow.  Barlow is overwhelmed, but does not allow his men to panic, as they withdraw in good order back across the Po River.  Grant cancels Hancock’s move, so he can go back to aid Barlow against Early’s attack.


Later in the evening, Warren attacks the enemy line in front of him.  But Warren attacks too early, at 4:00 PM, throwing off Grant’s plan for a general attack at 5:00 PM.  Warren is repulsed, and time is needed to pull his formations back and re-organize them.  So, Grant decides to delay the attack.  However, Gen. Mott’s division does not get the message, and advances alone toward the tip of the Mule Shoe, and enfilading artillery fire shreds Mott’s formations.  This division withdraws.  The general attack is slated to begin at 6:00 PM.
Eye-witness sketch of the fighting at Spotsylvania

Grant’s plan involves a broad attack all along the Confederate lines, around 5:00 pm.  Later in the day, 24-year-old Col. Emory Upton, a brigade commander, approaches the high command with a plan: for a double column of regiments (rather than a wide battle line) to move forward to puncture the “Mule Shoe” salient.  Grant gives his consent.  The plan goes forward, and Upton is given his own brigade plus several other regiments, totaling 12 regiments, about 5,000 men, organized into two columns of 6 regiments each.  At a signal, they rush a specific point of the Mule Shoe.  Rather than move forward in a long line, Upton’s group moves forward in this double column of regiments, breaks the Muleshoe salient, and pushes through.  The plan is a success, and Upton’s regiments peel off to one side and another to hold the gap open.  However, the expected reinforcements, which included Mott’s division, now shattered and in the rear, do not appear.  Upton calls for his men to retreat.  Upton himself is wounded, and within a few days he is promoted to brigadier general for his valor and innovativeness.

Emory Upton, later in the war, as a major general

Burnside advances on the Federal left, and encounters the Confederate line.  He is unaware that he faces only the division of Cadmus Wilcox, and that Wilcox has a large gap between him and Ewell’s Corps.  Burnside is in a position to flank Lee’s army and win the battle, possibly the war, but he is cautious and stops.  Since Grant and Meade have sent away all of Sheridan’s cavalry, there are no reliable scouting reports, and they do not realize the advantage they have.  Grant orders Burnside to connect his right with Wright’s (VI Corps) left; in doing so, Burnside necessarily pulls back for quite a distance, thus putting this advantage out of their reach.

---Stephen Minot Weld, a young officer in the Union army, in Virginia, writes in a letter home of his impressions of the day’s fighting:

Spottsylvania C. H., May 10, 1864.

Dear Hannah, — I am safe and sound so far, I am thankful to say. We have had the hardest battle of the war, with fearful loss on our side. We were in the second day’s fight in the battle of the Wilderness and had a mighty tough time of it. It was by far the hottest fire I have ever been under. Colonel Griswold was killed while behaving most nobly. We were in line of battle along the side of the road, when the Second Corps came rushing over our two right companies, throwing them into some confusion. Colonel Griswold ran up there with the color-bearer to rally the men, and while doing so was shot dead through the jugular vein. I then took command of the regiment, which had to fall back soon on account of being flanked. We had the rebs on three sides of us, and I held on as long as I possibly could, and then gave the order to fall back.

---Near Alexandria, another effort is made to raise the river water in the Red River, in order to float the stranded ships over the rapids and downstream to safety.  The USS Chillicote is able to float over, but the Carondelet gets hung up, hanging over the spillway, stern downstream.  The Mound City tries, and gets high-centered.  Col. Bailey, who had been supervising the contruction, goes to Col. Pearsall of the 99th U.S.C.T., and asks him if he has a plan.  Pearsall does, and tomorrow assumes supervision of the dams.

---Atlanta Campaign, Georgia:  Sherman decides to send his entire army through Snake Creek Gap, on his extreme southern (right) flank.  Meanwhile, the Confederate government decides to send Gen. Polk’s corps to reinforce Johnston in Georgia.

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