General Edwards's brigade at the bloody angle.
by James L. Bowen, historian of the 37TH Massachusetts regiment.
In the article entitled “Hand-to-hand fighting at Spotsylvania
,” the author, while generally accurate and graphic, omits any reference to that brigade of the Sixth Corps (Colonel Oliver Edwards
's Fourth Brigade, Second Division) which was first engaged there, which was holding the key to the position when his own (Upton
's) brigade came upon the field, and which fought longer than any other brigade of the Sixth Corps engaged.
On that day the brigade had present for duty three small regiments, the 10th and 37th Massachusetts and the 2d, Rhode Island
When the First and Second Divisions of the Sixth Corps, which had been massed the previous evening, were summoned to the support of Hancock
, whose Second Corps had penetrated the Confederate
lines, General Wright
, who had just assumed command of the Sixth Corps, directed that the first brigade under arms and ready to move should lead the way. Edwards
's brigade was first in line and led the march of the corps.
It moved to the vicinity of the Landrum House
, passing the Confederate
generals and some of the prisoners who had been captured by Hancock
, and, reaching the edge of the woods facing the scene of action, came into line of battle facing by the rear rank, and advanced toward the captured works with the 10th Massachusetts on the right, the 2d Rhode Island in the center, and the 37th Massachusetts on the left.
The situation at this time was simply this: The force of the Second Corps' attack had of itself broken up the organization of that command; the mass of men had been withdrawn to the outer face of the Confederate
works and re-formed as well as possible under the circumstances.
By the time this was accomplished the Confederates
were prepared to undertake the recapture of the works they had lost.
Then it was that Edwards
's brigade moved forward and occupied the outer face of the intrenchments, relieving some troops already there and connecting with the Excelsior Brigade
As it came into position, it covered the nose or apex of the angle with the Rhode Island regiment, the 10th Massachusetts extending along the right face.
The brigade was scarcely in position when the Confederates
advanced to the attack, the ground being extremely favorable for their purpose.
On their side of the works it was wooded, and, in addition, scarcely forty yards to the rear of the fortifications was a hollow or ravine which formed a natural siege approach.
In that ravine, almost within pistol-shot of the Union
lines, they were enabled to form columns of assault entirely screened from view, and the resulting attack had the appearance of lines of battle suddenly springing from the bosom of the earth.
Three times in rapid succession their columns formed and rushed upon the angle, and as often did Edwards
and his 900 men repel them.
To the right of Edwards
's position, however, the defense was not so successful; the Union
troops were driven back from the intrenchments, and the enemy, crossing the works and taking position in a piece of woods, gave an enfilading fire on Edwards
's right, so severe and well directed that it threw the 10th Massachusetts into confusion.
It was at this time that Upton
's brigade came upon the field and, in the words of that officer himself, encountered so severe a fire that it was unable to occupy the intrenchments, but resting its left on them, near Edwards
's right, lay down and opened fire.
As soon as the development of the Union
line to the right relieved the flank fire somewhat, the 10th Massachusetts was returned to its place in the works, and throughout the remainder of that day the brigade held its position with a fire so deadly and well directed that no hostile lines of battle could live to cross the few yards between the works and the ravine spoken of. Once, indeed, by the use of a white flag the Confederates
came near accomplishing by stratagem what they had failed to do by force of arms.
This emblem of peace being displayed in front of the Fourth Brigade, an officer ranking Edwards
, but himself ranked by General Eustis
, who was present, unjustifiably ordered the Fourth Brigade to cease firing.
Instantly the purpose of the movement was shown by the dash of the Confederate
line of battle for the coveted works.
Fortunately, however, Edwards
and his command were on the alert, and repulsed the attack, but not until the hostile colors were for a moment planted on the works,--the only instance during the day in which anything like a line of battle was enabled to advance so far at that point.
Near night the brigade was relieved, but the 37th Massachusetts was almost immediately ordered back to hold the works, which had been vacated by a regiment of the Second Corps that was out of ammunition.
The guns of the 37th also were empty, but they pushed their bayonets under the head log, and held the works until a fresh supply of ammunition could be procured, when the firing was resumed and continued until 3 o'clock on the morning of the 13th.
This regiment was in action continually for more than twenty hours, during which time it fired over four hundred rounds per man. At one time its guns became so foul that they could no longer be used, many of them bursting in the hands of the men. As it was impossible to relieve the line, a regiment from the Second Corps exchanged guns with the 37th, enabling the latter to continue its fire.
It was in front of the right wing of this regiment and almost directly in the rear of the apex that the oak-tree, twenty-one inches in diameter, was cut down by bullets and fell within the Confederate
I believe every regiment that fought anywhere in that part of the field claims to have shot down this particular tree; but in truth no single organization is entitled to all the credit.
The tree fell during the night, near midnight in fact, and hours after the firing had virtually ceased on all parts of the line save at this vital point.
General Grant reconnoitering the Confederate position at Spotsylvania Court House.
From a sketch made at the time.
Mr. Reed, the artist, belonged to Bigelow's 9th Massachusetts battery, which, with a battery of the 5th Regular Artillery, was holding the Fredericksburg road (see map, p. 167) at the place where General Grant made his observation.
The troops seen in the background are the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers, who at the time were crossing the road from the left toward the right of the line.--editors. |
Beating the long roll. |