previous next


Spotsylvania and the bloody angle

Quarles' mill, North Anna river — the goal after Spotsylvania


But to Spotsylvania history will accord the palm, I am sure, for having furnished an unexampled muzzle-to-muzzle fire; the longest roll of incessant, unbroken musketry; the most splendid exhibition of individual heroism and personal daring by large numbers, who, standing in the freshly spilt blood of their fellows, faced for so long a period and at so short a range the flaming rifles as they heralded the decrees of death. This heroism was confined to neither side. It was exhibited by both armies, and in that hand-to-hand struggle for the possession of the breast-works it seemed almost universal. It would be commonplace truism to say that such examples will not be lost to the Republic. --General John B. Gordon, C. S.A., in Reminiscences of the Civil war.

Immediately after the cessation of hostilities on the 6th of May in the Wilderness, Grant determined to move his army to Spotsylvania Court House, and to start the wagon trains on the afternoon of the 7th. Grant's object was, by a flank move, to get between Lee and Richmond. Lee foresaw Grant's purpose and also moved his cavalry, under Stuart, across the opponent's path. As an illustration of the exact science of war we see the two great military leaders racing for position at Spotsylvania Court House. It was revealed later that Lee had already made preparations on this field a year before, in anticipation of its being a possible battle-ground.

Apprised of the movement of the Federal trains, Lee, with his usual sagacious foresight, surmised their destination. He therefore ordered General R. H. Anderson, now in command of Longstreet's corps, to march to Spotsylvania Court House at three o'clock on the morning of the 8th. But the smoke and flames from the burning forests that surrounded [53]

Spotsylvania Court House: where Grant wanted to “fight it out” For miles around this quaint old village-pump surged the lines of two vast contending armies, May 8-12, 1864. In this picture of only a few months later, the inhabitants have returned to their accustomed quiet, although the reverberations of battle have hardly died away. But on May 7th Generals Grant and Meade, with their staffs, had started toward the little courthouse. As they passed along the Brock Road in the rear of Hancock's lines, the men broke into loud hurrahs. They saw that the movement was still to be southward. But chance had caused Lee to choose the same objective. Misinterpreting Grant's movement as a retreat upon Fredericksburg, he sent Longstreet's corps, now commanded by Anderson, to Spotsylvania. Chance again, in the form of a forest fire, drove Anderson to make, on the night of May 7th, the march from the Wilderness that he had been ordered to commence on the morning of the 8th. On that day, while Warren was contending with the forces of Anderson, Lee's whole army was entrenching on a ridge around Spotsylvania Court House. “Accident,” says Grant, “often decides the fate of battle.” But this “accident” was one of Lee's master moves.


Anderson's Camp in the Wilderness made the position untenable, and the march was begun at eleven o'clock on the night of the 7th. This early start proved of inestimable value to the Confederates. Anderson's right, in the Wilderness, rested opposite Hancock's left, and the Confederates secured a more direct line of march to Spotsylvania, several miles shorter than that of the Federals. The same night General Ewell at the extreme Confederate left was ordered to follow Anderson at daylight, if he found no large force in his front. This order was followed out, there being no opposing troops, and the corps took the longest route of any of Lee's troops. General Ewell found the march exhausting and distressing on account of the intense heat and dust and smoke from the burning forests.

The Federal move toward Spotsylvania Court House was begun after dark on the 7th. Warren's corps, in the lead, took the Brock road behind Hancock's position and was followed by Sedgwick, who marched by way of Chancellorsville. Burnside came next, but he was halted to guard the trains. Hancock, covering the move, did not start the head of his command until some time after daylight. When Warren reached Todd's Tavern he found the Union cavalry under Merritt in conflict with Fitzhugh Lee's division of Stuart's cavalry. Warren sent Robinson's division ahead; it drove Fitzhugh Lee back, and, advancing rapidly, met the head of Anderson's troops. The leading brigades came to the assistance of the cavalry; Warren was finally repulsed and began entrenching. The Confederates gained Spotsylvania Court House.

Throughout the day there was continual skirmishing between the troops, as the Northerners attempted to break the line of the Confederates. But the men in gray stood firm. Every advance of the blue was repulsed. Lee again blocked the way of Grant's move. The Federal loss during the day had been about thirteen hundred, while the Confederates lost fewer men than their opponents. [55]

Meade and Sedgwick — before the advance that brought Sedgwick's death at Spotsylvania To the right of General Meade, his chief and friend, stands Major-General John Sedgwick, commanding the Sixth Army Corps. He wears his familiar round hat and is smiling. He was a great tease; evidently the performances of the civilian who had brought his new-fangled photographic apparatus into Camp suggested a joke. A couple of months later, on the 9th of May, Sedgwick again was jesting — before Spotsylvania Court House. McMahon of his staff had begged him to avoid passing some artillery exposed to the Confederate fire, to which Sedgwick had playfully replied, “McMahon, I would like to know who commands this corps, you or I? ” Then he ordered some infantry before him to shift toward the right. Their movement drew the fire of the Confederates. The lines were close together; the situation tense. A sharpshooter's bullet whistled — Sedgwick fell. He was taken to Meade's headquarters. The Army of the Potomac had lost another corps commander, and the Union a brilliant and courageous soldier.


The work of both was now the construction of entrenchments, which consisted of earthworks sloping to either side, with logs as a parapet, and between these works and the opposing army were constructed what are known as abatis, felled trees, with the branches cut off, the sharp ends projecting toward the approaching forces.

Lee's entrenchments were of such character as to increase the efficiency of his force. They were formed in the shape of a huge V with the apex flattened, forming a salient angle against the center of the Federal line. The Confederate lines were facing north, northwest, and northeast, the corps commanded by Anderson on the left, Ewell in the center, and Early on the right, the latter temporarily replacing A. P. Hill, who was ill. The Federals confronting them were Burnside on the left, Sedgwick and Warren in the center, and Hancock on the right.

The day of the 9th was spent in placing the lines of troops, with no fighting except skirmishing and some sharpshooting. While placing some field-pieces, General Sedgwick was hit by a sharpshooter's bullet and instantly killed. He was a man of high character, a most competent commander, of fearless courage, loved and lamented by the army. General Horatio G. Wright succeeded to the command of the Sixth Corps.

Early on the morning of the 10th, the Confederates discovered that Hancock had crossed the Po River in front of his position of the day before and was threatening their rear. Grant had suspected that Lee was about to move north toward Fredericksburg, and Hancock had been ordered to make a reconnaissance with a view to attacking and turning the Confederate left. But difficulties stood in the way of Hancock's performance, and before he had accomplished much, Meade directed him to send two of his divisions to assist Warren in making an attack on the Southern lines. The Second Corps started to recross the Po. Before all were over Early made [57]

Bloody angle.

McCool's house, within the “Bloody angle.” The photographs were taken in 1864, shortly after the struggle of Spotsylvania Court House, and show the old dwelling as it was on May 12th, when the fighting was at flood tide all round it; and below, the Confederate entrenchments near that blood-drenched spot. At a point in these Confederate lines in advance of the McCool house, the entrenchments had been thrown forward like the salient of a fort, and the wedge-shaped space within them was destined to become renowned as the “Bloody angle.” The position was defended by the famous “Stonewall Division” of the Confederates under command of General Edward Johnson. It was near the scene of Upton's gallant charge on the 10th. Here at daybreak on May 12th the divisions of the intrepid Barlow and Birney, sent forward by Hancock, stole a march upon the unsuspecting Confederates. Leaping over the breastworks the Federals were upon them and the first of the terrific hand-to-hand conflicts that marked the day began. It ended in victory for Hancock's men, into whose hands fell 20 cannon, 30 standards and 4,000 prisoners, “the best division in the Confederate army.” Flushed with success, the Federals pressed on to Lee's second line of works, where Wilcox's division of the Confederates held them until reenforcements sent by Lee from Hill and Anderson drove them back. On the Federal side the Sixth Corps, with Upton's brigade in the advance, was hurried forward to hold the advantage gained. But Lee himself was on the scene, and the men of the gallant Gordon's division, pausing long enough to seize and turn his horse, with shouts of “General Lee in the rear,” hurtled forward into the conflict. In five separate charges by the Confederates the fighting came to close quarters. With bayonets, clubbed muskets, swords and pistols, men fought within two feet of one another on either side of the entrenchments at “Bloody angle” till night at last left it in possession of the Federals. None of the fighting near Spotsylvania Court House was inglorious. On the 10th, after a day of strengthening positions on both sides, young Colonel Emory Upton of the 121st New York, led a storming party of twelve regiments into the strongest of the Confederate entrenchments. For his bravery Grant made him a brigadier-general on the field.

The apex of the battlefield: McCool's house, within the “bloody angle.”

Confederate entrenchments near “bloody angle”

[58] a vigorous assault on the rear division, which did not escape without heavy loss. In this engagement the corps lost the first gun in its most honorable career, a misfortune deeply lamented by every man in the corps, since up to this moment it had long been the only one in the entire army which could make the proud claim of never having lost a gun or a color.

But the great event of the 10th was the direct assault upon the Confederate front. Meade had arranged for Hancock to take charge of this, and the appointed hour was five in the afternoon. But Warren reported earlier that the opportunity was most favorable, and he was ordered to start at once. Wearing his full uniform, the leader of the Fifth Corps advanced at a quarter to four with the greater portion of his troops. The progress of the valiant Northerners was one of the greatest difficulty, owing to the dense wood of low cedartrees through which they had to make their way. Longstreet's corps behind their entrenchments acknowledged the advance with very heavy artillery and musket fire. But Warren's troops did not falter or pause until some had reached the abatis and others the very crest of the parapet. A few, indeed, were actually killed inside the works. All, however, who survived the terrible ordeal were finally driven back with heavy loss. General James C. Rice was mortally wounded.

To the left of Warren, General Wright had observed what he believed to be a vulnerable spot in the Confederate entrenchments. Behind this particular place was stationed Doles' brigade of Georgia regiments, and Colonel Emory Upton was ordered to charge Doles with a column of twelve regiments in four lines. The ceasing of the Federal artillery at six o'clock was the signal for the charge, and twenty minutes later, as Upton tells us, “at command, the lines rose, moved noiselessly to the edge of the wood, and then, with a wild cheer and faces averted, rushed for the works. Through a terrible front and flank fire the column advanced quickly, gaining the parapet. Here occurred a deadly hand-to-hand [59]

Union artillery massing for the advance that Ewell's attack delayed that same afternoon: Beverly house, May 18, 1864 The artillery massing in the meadow gives to this view the interest of an impending tragedy. In the foreground the officers, servants, and orderlies of the headquarters mess Camp are waiting for the command to strike their tents, pack the wagons, and move on. But at the very time this photograph was taken they should have been miles away. Grant had issued orders the day before that should have set these troops in motion. However, the Confederate General Ewell had chosen the 18th to make an attack on the right flank. It not only delayed the departure but forced a change in the intended positions of the division as they had been contemplated by the commander-in-chief. Beverly House is where General Warren pitched his headquarters after Spotsylvania, and the spectator is looking toward the battlefield that lies beyond the distant woods. After Ewell's attack, Warren again found himself on the right flank, and at this very moment the main body of the Federal army is passing in the rear of him. The costly check at Spotsylvania, with its wonderful display of fighting on both sides, had in its apparently fruitless results called for the display of all Grant's gifts as a military leader. It takes but little imagination to supply color to this photograph; it is full of it — full of the movement and detail of war also. It is springtime; blossoms have just left the trees and the whole country is green and smiling, but the earth is scarred by thousands of trampling feet and hoof-prints. Ugly ditches cross the landscape; the debris of an army marks its onsweep from one battlefield to another.

[60] conflict. The enemy, sitting in their pits with pieces upright, loaded, and with bayonets fixed ready to impale the first who should leap over, absolutely refused to yield the ground. The first of our men who tried to surmount the works fell, pierced through the head by musket-balls. Others, seeing the fate of their comrades, held their piece's at arm's length and fired downward, while others, poising their pieces vertically, hurled them down upon their enemy, pinning them to the ground. . . . The struggle lasted but a few seconds. Numbers prevailed, and like a resistless wave, the column poured over the works, quickly putting hors de combat those who resisted and sending to the rear those who surrendered. Pressing forward and expanding to the right and left, the second line of entrenchments, its line of battle, and a battery fell into our hands. The column of assault had accomplished its task.”

The Confederate line had been shattered and an opening made for expected support. This, however, failed to arrive. General Mott, on the left, did not bring his division forward as had been planned and as General Wright had ordered. The Confederates were reenforced, and Upton could do no more than hold the captured entrenchments until ordered to retire. He brought twelve hundred prisoners and several stands of colors back to the Union lines; but over a thousand of his own men were killed or wounded. For gallantry displayed in this charge, Colonel Upton was made brigadier-general.

The losses to the Union army in this engagement at Spotsylvania were over four thousand. The loss to the Confederates was probably two thousand.

During the 11th there was a pause. The two giant antagonists took a breathing spell. It was on the morning of this date that Grant penned the sentence, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” to his chief of staff, General Halleck.

During this time Sheridan, who had brought the cavalry [61]

The ones who never came back These are some of the men for whom waiting women wept — the ones who never came back. They belonged to Ewell's Corps, who attacked the Federal lines so gallantly on May 18th. There may be some who will turn from this picture with a shudder of horror, but it is no morbid curiosity that will cause them to study it closely. If pictures such as this were familiar everywhere there would soon be an end of war. We can realize money by seeing it expressed in figures; we can realize distances by miles, but some things in their true meaning can only be grasped and impressions formed with the seeing eye. Visualizing only this small item of the awful cost — the cost beside which money cuts no figure — an idea can be gained of what war is. Here is a sermon in the cause of universal peace. The handsome lad lying with outstretched arms and clinched fingers is a mute plea. Death has not disfigured him — he lies in an attitude of relaxation and composure. Perhaps in some Southern home this same face is pictured in the old family album, alert and full of life and hope, and here is the end. Does there not come to the mind the insistent question, “Why?” The Federal soldiers standing in the picture are not thinking of all this, it may be true, but had they meditated in the way that some may, as they gaze at this record of death, it would be worth their while. One of the men is apparently holding a sprig of blossoms in his hand. It is a strange note here.

[62] up to a state of great efficiency, was making an expedition to the vicinity of Richmond. He had said that if he were permitted to operate independently of the army he would draw Stuart after him. Grant at once gave the order, and Sheridan made a detour around Lee's army, engaging and defeating the Confederate cavalry, which he greatly outnumbered, on the 11th of May, at Yellow Tavern, where General Stuart, the brilliant commander of the Confederate cavalry, was mortally wounded.

Grant carefully went over the ground and decided upon another attack on the 12th. About four hundred yards of clear ground lay in front of the sharp angle, or salient, of Lee's lines. After the battle this point was known as the “Bloody angle,” and also as “Hell's Hole.” Here Hancock was ordered to make an attack at daybreak on the 12th. Lee had been expecting a move on the part of Grant. On the evening of the 10th he sent to Ewell this message: “It will be necessary for you to reestablish your whole line to-night .. . Perhaps Grant will make a night attack, as it was a favorite amusement of his at Vicksburg.”

Through rain and mud Hancock's force was gotten into position within a few hundred yards of the Confederate breast-works. He was now between Burnside and Wright. At the first approach of dawn the four divisions of the Second Corps, under Birney, Mott, Barlow, and Gibbon (in reserve) moved noiselessly to the designated point of attack. Without a shot being fired they reached the Confederate entrenchments, and struck with fury and impetuosity a mortal blow at the point where least expected, on the salient, held by General Edward Johnson of Ewell's corps. The movement of the Federals was so swift and the surprise so complete, that the Confederates could make practically no resistance, and were forced to surrender.

The artillery had been withdrawn from the earthworks occupied by Johnson's troops on the previous night, but [63]

Aftermath of Spotsylvania Court House

If we should take out the grim reminder of war's horrors, the dead man on the litter with the stiff upturned arms, we should have a charming picture of a little Virginia farm, a cozy little house with its blossoming peach trees in the garden and the big Chinaberry tree shading the front yard. But within a stone's throw lie scores of huddled heaps distressing to gaze upon. Only a few hours before they had been living, breathing, fighting men; for here occurred Ewell's fierce attack on the 18th of May. The little farm belonged to a widow by the name of Allsop, and the garden and the ground back of the barns and outbuildings became a Confederate cemetery. Soldiers grow callous to the work of putting friends and foemen to rest for the last long sleep. Evidently this little squad of the burying detail have discovered that this man is an officer, and instead of putting him in the long trench where his comrades rest with elbows touching in soldierly alignment, they are giving him a grave by himself. Down at a fence corner on the Allsop farm they found the dead Confederate of the smaller photograph. He was of the never-surrender type, this man in the ragged gray uniform, one of the do or die kind that the bullets find most often. Twice wounded before his dauntless spirit left him was this gallant fellow; with a shattered leg that he had tied about hastily with a cotton shirt, he still fought on, firing from where he lay until he could see no longer, and he fell back and slowly bled to death from the ghastly wound in the shoulder. There was no mark on him to tell his name; he was just one of Ewell's men, and became merely a number on the tally sheet that showed the score of the game of war.

Digging a lonely grave — after Spotsylvania: Allsop's farm.

Just “one of Ewell's men” : dead Confederate at Allsop's farm after Spotsylvania.

[64] developments had led to an order to have it returned early in the morning. It was approaching as the attack was made. Before the artillerymen could escape or turn the guns upon the Federals, every cannon had been captured. General Johnson with almost his whole division, numbering about three thousand, and General Steuart, were captured, between twenty and thirty colors, and several thousand stands of arms were taken. Hancock had already distinguished himself as a leader of his soldiers, and from his magnificent appearance, noble bearing, and courage had been called “Hancock the superb,” but this was the most brilliant of his military achievements.

Pressing onward across the first defensive line of the Confederates, Hancock's men advanced against the second series of trenches, nearly half a mile beyond. As the Federals pushed through the muddy fields they lost all formation. They reached close to the Confederate line. The Southerners were prepared for the attack. A volley poured into the throng of blue, and General Gordon with his reserve division rushed forward, fighting desperately to drive the Northerners back. As they did so General Lee rode up, evidently intending to go forward with Gordon. His horse was seized by one of the soldiers, and for the second time in the campaign the cry arose from the ranks, “Lee to the rear!” The beloved commander was led back from the range of fire, while the men, under the inspiration of his example, rushed forward in a charge that drove the Federals back until they had reached the outer line of works. Here they fought stubbornly at deadly range. Neither side was able to force the other back. But Gordon was not able to cope with the entire attack. Wright and Warren both sent some of their divisions to reenforce Hancock, and Lee sent all the assistance possible to the troops struggling so desperately to restore his line at the salient.

Many vivid and picturesque descriptions of this fighting at the angle have been written, some by eye-witnesses, others by able historians, but no printed page, no cold type can [65]

In one long burial trench: one of the fearless Confederates It fell to the duty of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery of General Tyler's division to put under ground the men they slew in the sharp battle of May 18th, and here they are near Mrs. Allsop's barn digging the trench to hide the dreadful work of bullet and shot and shell. No feeling of bitterness exists in moments such as these. What soldier in the party knows but what it may be his turn next to lie beside other lumps of clay and join his earth-mother in this same fashion in his turn. But men become used to work of any kind, and these men digging up the warm spring soil, when their labor is concluded, are neither oppressed nor nerve-shattered by what they have seen and done. They have lost the power of experiencing sensation. Senses become numbed in a measure; the value of life itself from close and constant association with death is minimized almost to the vanishing point. In half an hour these very men may be singing and laughing as if war and death were only things to be expected, not reasoned over in the least.

[66] convey to the mind the realities of that terrible conflict. The results were appalling. The whole engagement was practically a hand-to-hand contest. The dead lay beneath the feet of the living, three and four layers deep. This hitherto quiet spot of earth was devastated and covered with the slain, weltering in their own blood, mangled and shattered into scarcely a semblance of human form. Dying men were crushed by horses and many, buried beneath the mire and mud, still lived. Some artillery was posted on high ground not far from the apex of the salient, and an incessant fire was poured into the Confederate works over the Union lines, while other guns kept up an enfilade of canister along the west of the salient.

The contest from the right of the Sixth to the left of the Second Corps was kept up throughout the day along the whole line. Repeatedly the trenches had to be cleared of the dead. An oak tree twenty-two inches in diameter was cut down by musket-balls. Men leaped upon the breastworks, firing until shot down.

The battle of the “angle” is said to have been the most awful in duration and intensity in modern times. Battle-line after battle-line, bravely obeying orders, was annihilated. The entrenchments were shivered and shattered, trunks of trees carved into split brooms. Sometimes the contestants came so close together that their muskets met, muzzle to muzzle, and their flags almost intertwined with each other as they waved in the breeze. As they fought with the desperation of madmen, the living would stand on the bodies of the dead to reach over the breastworks with their weapons of slaughter. Lee hurled his army with unparalleled vigor against his opponent five times during the day, but each time was repulsed. Until three o'clock the next morning the slaughter continued, when the Confederates sank back into their second line of entrenchments, leaving their opponents where they had stood in the morning.

All the fighting on the 12th was not done at the “Bloody angle.” Burnside on the left of Hancock engaged Early's [67]

Bethel church-waiting for orders The couriers lounging around the church door will soon be galloping away with orders; for it is the 23d of May, and, the afternoon before, Burnside, with his Ninth Corps, arrived and took up his headquarters here, within ten miles of the North Anna. In the “sidling” movement, as the Confederate soldiers called it, begun by Grant on May 19th, the corps of Hancock and Warren were pressing forward to Guiney's Station through a strange country, over roads unknown to them, while the corps of Burnside and Wright were still demonstrating against the Confederates at Spotsylvania. Here was an opportunity for Lee to take the initiative, and with his whole force either attack Wright and Burnside, or, pushing forward by the Telegraph Road, strike Hancock alone, or at most Hancock and Warren. But Lee, fearing perhaps to risk a general contest, remained strictly on the defensive, moving his troops out along the Telegraph Road to make sure of keeping between his adversary and Richmond. Meanwhile, Burnside, followed by Wright, marched on the evening of the 21st, and next day came up with Grant's headquarters at Guiney's Station. Here he found Grant sitting on the porch, reading the despatch that told of Sherman's capture of Kingston, Georgia, and his crossing of the Etowah River. Burnside was ordered forward to Bethel Church and thence to Ox Ford, on the North Anna, there on the 24th to be held in check by Lee's faultless formation.

[68] troops and was defeated, while on the other side of the salient Wright succeeded in driving Anderson back.

The question has naturally arisen why that “salient” was regarded of such vital importance as to induce the two chief commanders to force their armies into such a hand-to-hand contest that must inevitably result in unparalleled and wholesale slaughter. It was manifest, however, that Grant had shown generalship in finding the weak point in Lee's line for attack. It was imperative that he hold the gain made by his troops. Lee could ill afford the loss resistance would entail, but he could not withdraw his army during the day without disaster.

The men on both sides seemed to comprehend the gravity of the situation, that it was a battle to the death for that little point of entrenchment. Without urging by officers, and sometimes without officers, they fell into line and fought and bled and died in myriads as though inspired by some unseen power. Here men rushed to their doom with shouts of courage and eagerness.

The pity of it all was manifested by the shocking scene on that battlefield the next day. Piles of dead lay around the “Bloody angle,” a veritable “Hell's Hole” on both sides of the entrenchments, four layers deep in places, shattered and torn by bullets and hoofs and clubbed muskets, while beneath the layers of dead, it is said, there could be seen quivering limbs of those who still lived.

General Grant was deeply moved at the terrible loss of life. When he expressed his regret for the heavy sacrifice of men to General Meade, the latter replied, “General, we can't do these little tricks without heavy losses.” The total loss to the Union army in killed, wounded, and missing at Spotsylvania was nearly eighteen thousand. The Confederate losses have never been positively known, but from the best available sources of information the number has been placed at not less than fifteen thousand. Lee's loss in high officers was very [69]

The redoubt that Lee let go This redoubt covered Taylor's Bridge, but its flanks were swept by artillery and an enfilading fire from rifle-pits across the river. Late in the evening of the 23d, Hancock's corps, arriving before the redoubt, had assaulted it with two brigades and easily carried it. During the night the Confederates from the other side made two attacks upon the bridge and finally succeeded in setting it afire. The flames were extinguished by the Federals, and on the 24th Hancock's troops crossed over without opposition. The easy crossing of the Federals here was but another example of Lee's favorite rule to let his antagonist attack him on the further side of a stream. Taylor's Bridge could easily have been held by Lee for a much longer time, but its ready abandonment was part of the tactics by which Grant was being led into a military dilemma. In the picture the Federal soldiers confidently hold the captured redoubt, convinced that the possession of it meant that they had driven Lee to his last corner.

[70] severe, the killed including General Daniel and General Perrin, while Generals Walker, Ramseur, R. D. Johnston, and McGowan were severely wounded. In addition to the loss of these important commanders, Lee was further crippled in efficient commanders by the capture of Generals Edward Johnson and Steuart. The Union loss in high officers was light, excepting General Sedgwick on the 9th. General Webb was wounded, and Colonel Coon, of the Second Corps, was killed.

Lee's forces had been handled with such consummate skill as to make them count one almost for two, and there was the spirit of devotion for Lee among his soldiers which was indeed practically hero-worship. All in all, he had an army, though shattered and worn, that was almost unconquerable. Grant found that ordinary methods of war, even such as he had experienced in the West, were not applicable to the Army of Northern Virginia. The only hope for the Union army was a long-drawn-out process, and with larger numbers, better kept, and more often relieved, Grant's army would ultimately make that of Lee's succumb, from sheer exhaustion and disintegration.

The battle was not terminated on the 12th. During the next five days there was a continuous movement of the Union corps to the east which was met by a corresponding readjustment of the Confederate lines. After various maneuvers, Hancock was ordered to the point where the battle was fought on the 12th, and on the 18th and 19th, the last effort was made to break the lines of the Confederates. Ewell, however, drove the Federals back and the next day he had a severe engagement with the Union left wing, while endeavoring to find out something of Grant's plans.

Twelve days of active effort were thus spent in skirmishing, fighting, and countermarching. In the last two engagements the Union losses were nearly two thousand, which are included in those before stated. It was decided to abandon the attempt to dislodge Lee from his entrenchments, and to move [71]

“Walk your horses” : one of the grim jokes of war as played at Chesterfield bridge, North Anna The sign posted by the local authorities at Taylor's bridge, where the Telegraph Road crosses the North Anna, was “Walk your horses.” The wooden structure was referred to by the military as Chesterfield bridge. Here Hancock's Corps arrived toward evening of May 23d, and the Confederate entrenchments, showing in the foreground, were seized by the old “Berry Brigade.” In the heat of the charge the Ninety-third New York carried their colors to the middle of the bridge, driving off the Confederates before they could destroy it. When the Federals began crossing next day they had to run the gantlet of musketry and artillery fire from the opposite bank. Several regiments of New York heavy artillery poured across the structure at the double-quick with the hostile shells bursting about their heads. When Captain Sleeper's Eighteenth Massachusetts battery began crossing, the Confederate cannoneers redoubled their efforts to blow up the ammunition by well-aimed shots. Sleeper passed over only one piece at a time in order to diminish the target and enforce the observance of the local law by walking his horses! The Second Corps got no further than the ridge beyond, where Lee's strong V formation held it from further advance.

[72] to the North Anna River. On the 20th of May the march was resumed. The men had suffered great hardships from hunger, exposure, and incessant action, and many would fall asleep on the line of march.

On the day after the start, Hancock crossed the Mattapony River at one point and Warren at another. Hancock was ordered to take position on the right bank and, if practicable, to attack the Confederates wherever found. By the 22d, Wright and Burnside came up and the march proceeded. But the vigilant Lee had again detected the plans of his adversary.

Meade's army had barely started in its purpose to turn the Confederates' flank when the Southern forces were on the way to block the army of the North. As on the march from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, Lee's troops took the shorter route, along main roads, and reached the North Anna ahead of the Federals. Warren's corps was the first of Meade's army to arrive at the north bank of the river, which it did on the afternoon of May 23d. Lee was already on the south bank, but Warren crossed without opposition. No sooner had he gotten over, however, than he was attacked by the Confederates and a severe but undecisive engagement followed. The next morning (the 24th) Hancock and Wright put their troops across at places some miles apart, and before these two wings of the army could be joined, Lee made a brilliant stroke by marching in between them, forming a wedge whose point rested on the bank, opposite the Union center, under Burnside, which had not yet crossed the river.

The Army of the Potomac was now in three badly separated parts. Burnside could not get over in sufficient strength to reenforce the wings, and all attempts by the latter to aid him in so doing met with considerable disaster. The loss in these engagements approximated two thousand on each side.

On the 25th, Sheridan and his cavalry rejoined the army. They had been gone since the 9th and their raid was most [73]

Where Grant found out his mistake At those white tents above Quarles' Mill dam sits Grant, at his “General headquarters” on the 24th of May, and he has found out too late that Lee has led him into a trap. The Army of Northern Virginia had beaten him in the race for the North Anna, and it was found strongly entrenched on the south side of the stream. The corps of Warren and Wright had crossed at Jericho Mills a mile above Quarles' Mill, and Hancock's crossing had been effected so easily at the wooden bridge just below Quarles' Mill. Grant had reenforced both wings of his army before he discovered that it was divided. Lee's lines stretched southward in the form of a V, with the apex resting close to the river. The great strategist had folded back his flanks to let in Grant's forces on either side. This and the following pictures form a unique series of illustrations in panorama of the futile crossing of the North Anna by the Federals.


The undisputed crossing at North Anna: three views of the pontoon-bridge laid for the cross of the corps of Warren and Wright at Jericho ford.

These pictures show the pontoon-bridge laid for the crossing of the corps of Warren and Wright at Jericho Ford, about four miles farther upstream than the Chesterfield or Taylor's bridge. The Federals met with no opposition at this crossing, their sharpshooters being able to keep off the Confederates, while the pontonniers were at work. In the first two pictures the old Jericho Mill stands on the north bank. On the eminence above it is the Gentry house and other dwellings, past which the ammunition-train is winding down the road to the crossing. Warren's Fifth Corps was soon to need its ammunition. The infantry were all across by 4:30 in the afternoon of May 23d and, advancing over the ground seen in the lower picture, formed their lines on the edge of a wood half a mile beyond the south bank. The artillery was posted on the ridge. Before Warren could get into position Lee sent the whole of Hill's Corps against him. A brigade of Cutler's division was forced back, but after some sharp fighting the Confederates were driven back into their trenches, leaving many killed and wounded, and five hundred prisoners.

The undisputed crossing at North Anna: the old Jericho Mill on North bank; the Gentry house is on the eminence above while the ammunition train approaches the pontoon bridge

The undisputed crossing at North Anna: the old Jericho Mill on North bank; the Gentry house is on the eminence above while the ammunition train approaches the pontoon bridge

The pontoon-bridge laid for the crossing of the corps of Warren and Wright at Jericho ford: view from the other side of the river from the first to images.


The rear guard.

Thus the Federals held the approaches to their pontoon-bridge at Jericho Mill during the sultry days of May (24-26) while Grant was making up his mind that Lee's position could not be successfully attacked. The corps of Warren and Wright have all crossed the bridge, followed by the wagon-trains. Guards have been posted on either bank. The felled timber on the north bank was cut so as to allow the Federal reserve artillery to command the bridge. At either end sit two sentinels ready to challenge perfunctorily any straggler who may pass. The rest of the men have stacked arms and given themselves up to idleness, stretching their improvised. shelters to shield them from the broiling sun. One man by the old mill is bathing his feet, weary with the long march.

The rear-guard: the pontoon-bridge laid for the cross of the corps of Warren and Wright at Jericho ford.


Captured redan and Taylor's bridge on the North Anna.

Across this insecure foot-bridge Hancock's troop had to pass in the attack on the Confederate works which commanded Taylor's bridge on the North Anna. A tongue of land formed by the junction of Long Creek with the larger stream was the position chosen for the redan which is seen topping the ridge in the first picture. Birney's division advanced across the bare and barren plain of the little peninsula, and pressing across the shaky little foot-bridge at the double-quick, swept up the sharp height seen in the first picture, while three sections of Tidball's battery covered the assault of Pierce and Egan. As their line approached, the Confederates abandoned the redan and fled. The Federals, digging footholds in the parapet with their bayonets, clambered up and planted their colors. In taking the second picture the camera was placed within the Confederate works looking toward the ground over which the Federals approached. The fresh earthworks in the foreground were hastily thrown up to strengthen the redan, which was originally built during the Chancellorsville campaign.

Confederate works at Taylor's bridge on the North Anna: the redan is visible.

The captured redan and the bridge: Confederate works at Taylor's bridge on the North Anna, looking from the Confederate works towards the Federal attack.


Pontoon bridges below Taylor's bridge on the North Anna.

On the pontoon-bridge in the second picture crossed Smyth's division of the Second Corps on the morning of May 24th. Forming in line of battle on the south bank, they advanced and carried the Confederate works that commanded Taylor's or the Chesterfield bridge above. The Confederates at once brought up reenforcements and attacked Smyth, who, also reenforced, held his position during a furious rain-storm until dark. Until the pontoons were laid, Grant could not get his army across the North Anna in sufficient force to make the attack he contemplated. The second picture shows one of the two pontoon-bridges laid below Taylor's bridge so that its defenders could be driven off and the Federal troops enabled to use it. The railroad bridge below Taylor's had been destroyed, but still farther downstream was an old foot-bridge. A short distance above here the pontoons were laid. They can be seen in the first picture beyond the pontonniers in the foreground, who are at work strengthening the foot-bridge so that it, too, can be used for the passage of the troops that were to retreat from the embarrassing predicament into which Lee had lured them.

Pontoon bridges below Taylor's bridge on the North Anna.

Pontoon bridges below Taylor's bridge on the North Anna: where the battle-line went over

[78] successful. Besides the decisive victory over the Confederate cavalry at Yellow Tavern, they had destroyed several depots of supplies, four trains of cars, and many miles of railroad track. Nearly four hundred Federal prisoners on their way to Richmond had been rescued from their captors. The dashing cavalrymen had even carried the first line of work around Richmond, and had made a detour down the James to communicate with General Butler. Grant was highly satisfied with Sheridan's performance. It had been of the greatest assistance to him, as it had drawn off the whole of the Confederate cavalry, and made the guarding of the wagon trains an easy matter.

But here, on the banks of the North Anna, Grant had been completely checkmated by Lee. He realized this and decided on a new move, although he still clung to his idea of turning the Confederate right. The Federal wings were withdrawn to the north side of the river during the night of May 26th and the whole set in motion for the Pamunkey River at Hanovertown. Two divisions of Sheridan's cavalry and Warren's corps were in advance. Lee lost no time in pursuing his great antagonist, but for the first time the latter was able to hold his lead. Along the Totopotomoy, on the afternoon of May 28th, infantry and cavalry of both armies met in a severe engagement in which the strong position of Lee's troops again foiled Grant's purpose. The Union would have to try at some other point, and on the 31st Sheridan's cavalry took possession of Cold Harbor. This was to be the next battleground.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 23rd (8)
12th (8)
May 18th (6)
10th (6)
May 24th (4)
May 12th (4)
May 7th (4)
May 18th, 1864 AD (2)
May 12th, 1864 AD (2)
May 8th, 1864 AD (2)
1864 AD (2)
May 28th (2)
May 26th (2)
May 20th (2)
May 19th (2)
May 11th (2)
May 9th (2)
May 6th (2)
May (2)
25th (2)
23rd (2)
21st (2)
9th (2)
7th (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: