* also Laurel Hill, Po River, and Bloody Angle (May 10); Salient or Bloody Angle (May 12-13); Piney Branch Church (May 15); Piney Branch Church (May 15); Harrison House (May 18); Harris Farm (May 19)
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, USA
Gen. Robert E. Lee, CSA
Grant had around 100,000 men; Lee marginally over half that.
In the fierce fighting the Union lost 18,000 men, the Confederates 12,000.
After fighting Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to a draw at the Wilderness on May 5th and 6th, General Grant pushed south in an attempt to outflank Lee and move on to Richmond. When Lee learned that Grant had put the Army of the Potomac in motion, he did the same, with an eye on Spotsylvania Court House, where many vital roads converged.
J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry was the first to arrive at Spotsylvania Court House on May 8, but were quickly attacked by Philip Sheridan’s cavalry Corps. Stuart’s cavalry held off Sheridan and Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps (who had reinforced Sheridan) until Richard Anderson, who was commanding the wounded Longstreet’s Corps, arrived and pushed the Federals back. Later in the day, John Sedgwick’s Corps and Warren’s Corps launched an attack against Anderson. But Richard Ewell’s Corps had reinforced Anderson, and the attack was repulsed.
By the 9th, Lee occupied most of the high ground in the vicinity of Spotsylvania with both his left and right flanks secure on the Po River. Both sides dug in; Anderson’s Corps held the left, Ewell’s the center in what would become known as the “Mule Shoe Salient,” and A. P. Hill’s Corps (commanded temporarily by Jubal Early) held the right of the Confederate line. The Confederate works were quickly and strongly built. On the Union side, Burnside faced Early, Wright (who had just taken command after Major General Sedgwick was killed by a Confederate sniper) faced Ewell, and Warren fronted Anderson.
Then next day, May 10, Grant launched several attacks against the Confederate positions. The most successful, led by Colonel Emory Upton, reached the Confederate works. Unsupported, the attack was eventually repelled with heavy casualties in the Union ranks. All the others the Federals conducted that day were also repulsed.
On May 11, Grant allowed Philip Sheridan and his cavalry to make a run for Richmond. As they attempted to ride around the Confederate Army, J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavalry stopped them at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. However, it was the south that lost the most that day, as J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded.
On May 12, the Union II corps, led by Winfield Scott Hancock, led an assault of 18,000 men against the “Mule Shoe Salient.” The “Mule Shoe” should have been one of Lee’s strongest positions, but the night before, he had moved most his artillery out of the salient, fearing an attack at another spot along his lines. Lee threw division after division into the fight in an effort to stop the Union attack. But the fighting, some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combat of the war, continued all day and into the night. The area of the worst fighting was on the northwest corner of the “Mule Shoe” and would become known as “The Bloody Angle.” With the “Mule Shoe” weakened, the Federals overran the Confederate defenders, driving them back to new positions at the base of the salient. The Confederates lost nearly 3,000 men and 20 cannon captured.
Rain suspended the fighting for several days, but on May 18, Grant made another attempt to break the Confederate lines. By now Lee’s position was just too strong. Grant tried out flanking Lee one more time, but was stopped by Ewell’s Corps.
Grant finally realized he could not break the Confederate line nor destroy the Confederate army where it stood. So, on May 19, Grant pushed the Army of the Potomac south towards the North Anna River in an attempt to drive south of Lee. But Lee would again stop him.
Content provided by:
American Battlefield Protection Program, Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service.