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Spottsylvania Court-house, battle of

Lee was evidently satisfied, at the close of the battle of the Wilderness in 1864, that he could not maintain a further contest with Grant on the ground he (Lee) had chosen, so he retired beyond intrenchments, where he was found standing on the defensive by the skirmish-line of the Nationals, sent out at daybreak on Saturday morning, May 7. There had been sharp skirmishing the day before. A charge had been made on Hancock's corps, when 700 of his cavalry were captured. Grant had no desire to renew the conflict there, and after dark that night he put his army in motion towards Spottsylvania Court-house, 15 miles southeast from the battle-field. Warren and Sedgwick took the direct route by the Brock road, and Hancock and Burnside, with the trains, by a road farther east. The march was slow, for many obstacles—such as felled trees and opposing troops—were in the way. Lee had anticipated Grant's moverent, and was pushing on by a parallel road towards the same destination. His advance, under General Anderson, continued the march all night, and reached the vicinity of Spottsylvania. Court-house and intrenched before Warren came up. By the evening of the 8th Lee's whole force was intrenched on a ridge around Spottsylvania Court-house, facing north and east.

The following day was spent by Grant in making dispositions for attack, and by [337]

Scene of Sedgwick's death.

Lee in strengthening his position. There had been sharp fighting the day before (May 8) between Warren and a force of the Confederates. Warren held his position until relief arrived from Sedgwick, when the Confederates were repulsed. The Nationals lost about 1,300 men. The commanders of several regiments fell. One Michigan regiment went into battle with 200 men, and came out with 23. The day was intensely hot, and many suffered from sunstroke. Monday, the 9th, was comparatively quiet in the morning. There was skirmishing nearly all day. In the afternoon General Sedgwick was killed by the bullet of a sharp-shooter while superintending the planting of cannon on a redoubt, and his command of the 6th Corps devolved on Gen. H. G. Wright. Towards night Grant ordered another advance on the Confederates. The divisions of Gibbon and Birney, of Hancock's corps, crossed a branch of the Po River, and had a severe struggle. Hancock attempted to capture a wagon-train. He had made a lodgment with three divisions, and was pushing forward, when he was recalled for other service. On his return he was attacked, and lost heavily. The woods between a part of his troops and the river had taken fire, and many of his men perished in the flames.

That night Lee's army occupied Spottsylvania Court-house, and stood squarely across the path of the intended march of the Army of the Potomac towards Richmond. Everything was in readiness for battle on the morning of the 10th. The main attack by the Nationals was against Lee's left centre, strongly intrenched on Laurel Hill, wooded, and surrounded by a dense growth of cedar. It was the strongest point in the Confederate line. In two attacks the Nationals were repulsed with heavy loss. At 5 P. M. the 2d and 5th Corps moved to the attack. The conflict was fearful, and the Nationals were repulsed. The assault was repeated an hour later, with a similar result. In the two attacks, nearly 6,000 Unionists had fallen, while not more than 600 of the Confederates had been disabled. The [338] enterprise was abandoned. Farther to the left, a portion of the 6th Corps carried the first line of the Confederate intrenchments, and captured 900 prisoners and several guns. Then the first day's real battle at Spottsylvania Court-house was ended.

On the morning of the 11th Grant wrote to the Secretary of War: “We have now

Spottsylvania Court-House.

ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting. The result to this time is much in our favor. Our losses have been heavy, as well as those of the enemy. I think those of the enemy must be greater. We have taken over 5,000 prisoners by battle, while he has taken from us but few, except stragglers. I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer.” The 11th was mostly spent in preparing for another battle. Grant determined to strike Lee's right centre where it appeared most vulnerable. The night was very dark and stormy. He moved at midnight, and Hancock took a position within 1,200 yards of the Confederate line. He stormed it at 4 A. M. on the 12th. He burst through the lines, and, after a hand-to-hand conflict inside the trenches, captured 4,000 men, and drove his adversaries through the woods towards the village. At the second line of intrenchments Hancock's men, having lost their organization, were forced to retire to the first, which they held with the aid of the 6th Corps. Five times during the day Lee attempted to dislodge Hancock, but was repulsed each time, with heavy loss. So fierce had been the battle that one-half of the forest within range of the musketry was destroyed by bulletwounds. A tree 18 inches in diameter was entirely cut in two by musketballs. The scene of the engagement was afterwards known as “the field of the bloody angle.” Meanwhile Burnside, on the

The field of the bloody angle.

[339] left, and Warren, on the right, had made attacks on Lee's wings, but were repulsed. At midnight Lee withdrew to his second line, and Hancock finally held the works he had captured in the morning, with twenty-two guns. So ended the battle of Spottsylvania Court-house. The official report of the National losses, from the crossing of the Rapidan (May 4) to the close of the battle on May 12, gave a total of 29,410 men; of whom 269 officers and 3,019 enlisted men were killed, and nearly 7,000 had been made prisoners. See wilderness, battle of the.

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