Friday, May 30, 2014

North Anna to Cold Harbor

When the armies of Grant and Lee again came to a halt in the entrenchments south of the North Anna River, Grant decided to move again. He would again move south east, trying to get around Lee's flank, keep close to the navy, and edge toward Butler's army on the Bermuda Hundred. The army successfully withdrew from their lines on the night of May 26, recrossing the North Anna and then turning the columns to march down stream. When Lee discovered the movement, he set his troops in motion in the same direction. He chose a good defensive position behind Totopotomy Creek, just a few miles north of Richmond. He was not, however, sure of what the Federal plans were, so he sent Wade Hampton's cavalry forward to reconnoiter.

Battle of Haw's Shop
Hampton met the Federal in a sharp engagement on May 28th at the Battle of Haw's Shop. There were about four thousand troopers on both sides, and the battle involved the Federals trying to dislodge the Southerners, who had dismounted and arrayed behind hastily build breastworks. After repulsing several attacks over seven hours, Hampton pulled his men back. They had fulfilled their mission, having learned that two crops had crossed the river. This was the largest cavalry battle in the east in nearly a year, but it was different than those which had gone before, as it was fought behind breastworks.

The next day Grant and Meade's army continued to push forward, and took up a position opposite Lee across Totopotomoy Creek. On 30th the Federals pressed Lee's lines. Meanwhile, Lee ordered Early to strike the Federal left flank. Robert Rodes successfully reached the flank and crushed the division placed there. But the attack stalled, and Early's other divisions were not able to provide adequate support. Stephen Ramseur, a new division commander, made a rash attack that was repulsed by the Federal artillery. At length Early called of the attacks.

Lee was disappointed to hear of Early's failure, but he was even more disturbed by another piece of news that he received – that a corps was being sent by Butler from the Bermuda Hundred to reinforce Grant. He needed to ensure that Grant did not use these troops to outflank him, so he ordered Fitzhugh Lee to scout with his cavalry out on the Confederate right. Lee's men rode towards Cold Harbor, where the next great battle of the Overland Campaign was destined to occur.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Battle of North Anna

Although the Union forces in the east were meeting defeat on almost every side, most recently at the Battle of Spotsylvania, Grant was not discouraged. One of his greatest strengths was his perseverance. Where others would have quickly retreated, Grant stayed and fought it out. Grant did not want to just move around Lee's right flank as he had done before, since the Confederates would just fall back to strong positions behind the North Anna River. So he sent Hancock's II Corps to move as a feint to try to lure Lee into attacking him on open ground. Lee did not fall for the trick. Instead he fell back behind the North Anna, and Grant missed hitting him on the road.

Grant moved forward at a more leisurely pace, and on May 23 the Federals arrived at the North Anna. They quickly realized that Lee had miscalculated. He believed that the Federals would not try a serious crossing of the North Anna, and the movement there was only a diversion to cover a flanking movement to the east. He had left the North Anna River crossings either lightly guarded, or not defended at all. Hancock's II Corps moved down the Telegraph Road toward Chesterfield Bridge, while to the west Warren moved to cross at Jericho Mills with his V Corps. Hancock's men found one small redoubt guarding the bridge. After an artillery bombardment they charged at 6 pm, drove the Confederates from their position, and captured the bridge before the rebels could burn it.

Pontoon at Jericho Mills
Upsteam at Jericho Mills Warren had forded the river without any resistance. As more troops crossed he formed his men in a battle line of three divisions. The Confederates got wind of this crossing, but the Confederates still believed it was a feint, and A. P. Hill sent only one division, that of Major General Cadmus Wilcox, to deal with the threat. They were greatly outnumbered, but they were able to drive the Federals back, throwing one division into panic. The attack was stalled by well placed Federal artillery, and then recoiled when a Federal brigade struck Wilcox's flank. Wilcox determined he could do nothing more against the Federal beachhead. Lee was upset that the Federals had made it across the river. He said to Hill, “[W]hy did you let those people cross here? Why didn't you throw your whole force on them and drive them back as Jackson would have done?”

The Confederate position on the bluffs running along the North Anna River had been compromised by the Union crossing. However, Lee and his chief engineer soon came up with a brilliant solution. Both Confederate flanks were pulled back into a V formation with the point resting on the river. That way they could keep the Federal forces divided, and hold one at bay while crushing the other. But at this critical moment Lee was sick and confined to his bed. “We must strike them a blow," he said in his tent, "we must never let them pass us again - we must strike them a blow." On May 24th the Federals continued to cross the river. Approaching the Confederate lines, they found them to be as strong as those at Spotyslvania. Instead of trying to attack, Grant ordered his army to dig in, and the campaign turned briefly into a stalemate. Probes were made at various places along the Confederate line, but nowhere was a weak point found where Grant and Meade could attack with a good chance of success. Grant, however, remained sanguine in his letters to Washington:
Lee's army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the actions of his Army show it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of entrenchments cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the morale over the enemy, and attack him with confidence. I may be mistaken but I feel that our success over Lee's army is already assured.

Chesterfield Bridge

Monday, May 19, 2014

Battle of Spotsylvania – Harris Farm

Confederate dead from May 19th
After his unsuccessful attack the previous day, Ulysses S. Grant decided to cease his efforts at Spotsylvania, and instead shift the army southeast. But before he could do that the Confederates went on the offensive. Robert E. Lee ordered Ewell on the right to locate the Union right. Ewell took most of two divisions to do this. Fighting broke out around the Harris farm, and darkness brought an end to the combat. That night Lee recalled Ewell, as he did not want to undertake a general engagement at that place, where Ewell could not be supported by the rest of the army.

Fallen Confederates
This fight signaled the end of the Battle of Spotsylvania. The casualties from this long and desperate battle were heavy. The Federals lost about 18,000 men, the Confederates 10,000 – 12,000. These casualties hit the Federal army had. The losses from Wilderness and Spotsylvania, combined with the loss of 20,000 men whose enlistments expired, left the Federals with half the number of effective troops as had started the campaign. The losses were even heavier on the Confederates. At Spotsylvania Lee lost about 23% of his army. Those were men the Confederacy may not be able to replace, and the casualty numbers would only grow as the Overland Campaign rolled on.  

Confederate soldier, shot in the knee and shoulder

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Battle of Yellow Bayou

As the Union General Nathaniel Banks attempted to retreat from his disastrous Red River Campaign, Richard Taylor continued to harass and attack Banks with his smaller Confederate force. The Federals had already escaped by the skin of their teeth at Bailey's Dam.150 years ago today the last battle of the campaign was fought along the Atchafalaya River. If Banks could cross this river, he would be safe from further Confederate attacks. But first his engineers had to build a bridge for the Union army to cross, and in the mean time Taylor arrived. The Federals went out to attack, and drove the Confederates for a time. Taylor counterattacked, and the fighting swayed back and forth for several hours. The fight was eventually brought to an end when the battlefield caught fire, and both sides withdrew from the fighting. Although the Confederates were not decisively defeated, they did not move forward again before Banks crossed the river to safety. In this fight the Federals lost about 350, the Confederates, 500.

Battle of Spotsylvania – Last Union Attack

After the desperate fighting around the Bloody Angle, the fighting at Spotsylvania simmered quietly for nearly a week. No major attacks were made, and the time was spent maneuvering and skirmishing. Grant again decided to shift his army east, and the Federals moved to strike Lee's right. But by the time the Union troops were ready to attack Robert E. Lee had recognized what was happening and shifted Anderson's First Corps from the left to the right.

After waiting a few days for the weather to clear, Grant ordered that an attack be made on the position of the Mule Shoe, now the Confederate left. He hoped that Lee had weakened that front when he shifted his position a few days before. The lines went forward at dawn on May 18. The Federals soon found that Ewell's Second Corps still held the works, which the Confederates had only strengthened in the intervening days. The assaults were driven back by artillery fire alone, as the Federals did not even come within rifle range of the works.  

Works at Spotsylvania

Friday, May 16, 2014

Butler on the Bermuda Hundred

Bermuda Hundred
Yet another attack in Virginia made in coordination with Grant's advance on Lee was an expedition led by Major General Benjamin Butler which set out to move by sea and threaten Richmond and cut Confederate supply lines. Butler landed with his Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred on May 5th.
His first priority was to establish a line of entrenchments across the Bermuda Neck, the space between the Appomattox and James Rivers, so that the rebels could not crush his army against the rivers. When he finished these me made several excursions, but none in enough force to drive off the Confederates guarding Richmond, Petersburg, or the railroad between them. The Confederate commander in the area, P. G. T. Beauregard, had scrambled to gather an army to meet him. The southern commanders handled their men well. D. H. Hill, a good fighter who had lost his command by quarreling with his commanders, volunteered to serve as a volunteer aid in the emergency.

Butler made several movements to attack Drewry's Bluff, a key position on the James River and on the Union path to Richmond, but he fumbled the plans and it was the Confederates who attacked first instead. Beauregard planned to hold Butler's forces at Drewry's bluff while another column was sent to hit him from the flank. When this attack was made 150 years ago today, when the flanking column hit light resistance its commander, Chase Whiting, became flustered and withdrew, and later turned over his command. Although Beauregard's plan to bag Butler did not go off, Butler was so frightened by the day's events that he withdrew to Bermuda Neck. There he remained for some time, working on strengthening his entrenchments. Butler, by his mistakes and incompetence, had been unable to make any use of the opportunities before him, and had allowed himself to be corked at the Bermuda Hundred by a force far smaller than his own.

Drewry's Bluff

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Battle of New Market

Several other columns in the eastern theater were advancing around this time in 1864, in connection with Grant's main attack in the Overland Campaign. One of these was an army of 10,000 men under Major General Franz Sigel who was moving down the Shenandoah Valley. His movement was to threaten Lee's flank and strike the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, and important supply line. When the Confederates received word of this advance, Major General John C. Breckinridge, former vice president of the United States, hurried to assemble forces to meet Sigel. He even called up the 247 young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute to join his army. With his forces gathered, Breckinridge headed north to meet the advancing Federal army.

The two armies met just south of the village of New Market mid morning on May 15, 150 years ago today. On both sides troops gradually arrived and deployed in line of battle. Breckinridge placed Imboden's brigade of cavalry on his right. He sent them forward to try to lure the Federals into an attack, but Colonel Augustus Moore, commanding the Union force until Sigel arrive, did not take the bait. Finally around noon the Confederates attacked. They successfully pushed the Federals back, and after halting to reorganize their line, resumed the attack. In the area of the Bushong farm the Confederate regiments, hit by heavy Union fire, broke and retreated. Breckinridge sent in the VMI cadets to fill this gap in the line.

At 3 pm the Confederates again surged forward and charged the Union position. Although they had been repulsed several times, this time the attack went home. The infantry broke under the Confederate pressure, and the artillery was left to retreat as best it could. Five guns fell into Confederate hands, including one captured by the cadets, after a now famous charge across the “Field of Lost Shoes,” where several of them lost their shoes in the mud. With this success, the battle was won for the Confederates. Breckinridge resupplied his men, but by the time he brushed away a rearguard he found the Federals had burned the bridge across the Shenandoah River, foiling his attempts at a pursuit.

Field of Lost Shoes. Source.
In this fight the Union lost 91 killed, 520 wounded and 225 captured. The Southerners suffered 43 killed, 474 wounded and 3 missing. This defeat was the end of this advance for the Federals. Sigel retreated in haste up the Valley, and Grant soon replaced him with David Hunter. The Confederates, after considering an invasion into Maryland, instead transferred Breckinridge's army to join Lee at the Battle of Cold Harbor.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Battle of Resaca

Battle of Resaca
While the fighting raged between Lee and Grant in Virginia, the campaign was also progressing in Georgia between William Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had held a strong position on Rocky Face Ridge, but Sherman outflanked him, and Johnston fell back to Resaca, arriving on May 13. The Confederates occupied a four mile long line, with each flank anchored on Camp Creek. The Federals began pressing the Confederate front on the morning of May 14, 150 years ago today. Sherman's plan was for his men to attack across a creek bed. But the attack was not properly supported and became disorganized, and did not make it across the creek. Many years later one Union soldier remembered it as an “insane, useless charge, ordered by an intoxicated officer.” Some hard fighting continued throughout the day. Meanwhile, Sherman had sent a Federal division to cut off Johnston's retreat. After further fighting on May 15, Johnston fell back because of this column's threat to his flank and the railroad. Yet again the Confederates in Georgia were retreating. The casualties from this battle were about 3,500 to 6,500 for the Federals, and 2,500 to 5,000 for the Confederates.  

Confederate entrenchments

Monday, May 12, 2014

Battle of Rocky Face Ridge

In Georgia the main Confederate army was under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. He placed his men in a strong position on Rocky Face Ridge. Major General William Sherman, the Union commander, needed to defeat his army or get past him to continue south towards Atlanta. Johnston hoped that Sherman would attack his position from the front, so he could defeat him in a defensive battle. Sherman, however, was not that foolish. Instead he skirmished with the Confederates on their front while another column moved around their southern flank. When Sherman withdrew all of his forces from Johnston's front to march around his flank, Johnston made a move that would become characteristic of the campaign – he retreated. Johnston was unwilling to risk an attack on Sherman and was unable to prevent a flanking movement, so he fell back towards Resaca 150 years ago today.

Atlanta Campaign

Battle of Spotsylvania – The Bloody Angle

As Confederates worked on a new line of entrenchments in rear of the Mule Shoe, the desperate fighting continued around those entrenchments for many hours. Horatio Wright, a Federal general, wrote of the fighting:
Our men would reach over the logs and fire into the faces of the enemy, would staff over with their bayonets; many were shot and stabbed through crevices and holes between the logs; men mounted the works, and with muskets rapidly handed them kept up a continuous fire until they were shot down, while others would take their places and continue the deadly work.

Particularly vicious was the fighting around a work called the Bloody Angle. Private David Holt of Mississippi wrote this vivid account of his experiences:
We were in the V-shaped salient that had traverses thrown up to prevent an enfilading fire. The line was mended, and we [had to] keep it mended. Soon the Yanks made a determined charge with fixed bayonets, but the mud fought for us as the “stars were against Sisera, and for Isarel.” The breastwork was in a bog, and to make a charge in such a place against a line of fierce men close up, who have no idea of giving way, was more than those gallant Yanks could do. 
The very trench in which Holt fought
Many of them were shot dead and sank down on the breastworks without pulling their feet out of the mud. Many others plunged forward when they were shot and fell headlong into the trench among us. Between charges we cleared the trench of dead and wounded and loaded all the guns we could get hold of for the next charge. I was shooting seven guns myself. We stacked them up against the breastwork with the butts on the trench, and when the Yanks came, we picked them up one by one and fired and sent them down again. Many times we could not put the gun to our shoulder by reason of the closeness of the enemy, so we shot from the hip.
All the time a drizzling rain was falling. The blood shed by the dead and wounded in the trench mixed with the mud and water. It became more than shoe deep, and soon it was smeared all over our clothes. We could hardly tell one another apart.

The exhausted Confederate troops were finally withdrawn to the new works at 3 am on May 13th. It had been some of the hardest fighting of the entire war. For nearly 24 hours the battle had raged in terrible conditions. In some places the two lines were separated by only the parapet of a trench. The landscape was decimated by the huge number of bullets fired. In the Smithsonian today you can see the stump of a 22-inch oak tree that was cut down solely by musket balls. The cost of human lives was also terrible. The trenches on both sides were filled with bodies, sometimes piled several deep in the mud. One Federal staff officer wrote this on the sight of the trenches:
The appalling sight presented was harrowing in the extreme. Our own killed were scattered over a large space near the "angle," while in front of the captured breastworks the enemy's dead, vastly more numerous than our own, were piled upon each other in some places four layers deep, exhibiting every ghastly phase of mutilation. Below the mass of fast-decaying corpses, the convulsive twitching of limbs and the writhing of bodies showed that there were wounded men still alive and struggling to extricate themselves from the horrid entombment. Every relief possible was afforded, but in too many cases it came too late. The place was well named the “Bloody Angle.”
It is estimated that the Federals lost 9,000 men on this one day of fighting – the Confederates 5,000, plus 3,000 prisoners lost at the beginning of the fight. On the Union side this was all for no purpose. Even with superior numbers Grant and Meade were unable to organize an attack that could defeat Lee's line. 

Bloody Angle

Battle of Spotsylvania – Lee to the Rear

The Federal attack on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania quickly won success, but the attack soon stalled. A rapid advance could only be maintained so long, and the Federals were not prepared for this rapid success and did not have troops on hand to quickly follow up. The Confederates did their best to use this respite. John B. Gordon commanded Ewell's reserve division, and he formed a line to close the salient, and prepared to counterattack to regain the lost works. Lee rode to the site of the crisis, and after approving Gordon's plans, quietly rode to the front of the line. It was apparent that he planned to lead the charge. One Confederate officer recorded what happened next:
Just then the gallant Gordon spurred to his side, seized the reins of his horse, and exclaimed, with deep anxiety: "General Lee, this is no place for you! Do go to the rear. These are Virginians and Georgians, sir -- men who have never failed -- and they will not fail now. Will you boys? Is it necessary for General Lee to lead this charge?" Loud cries of "No! no! General Lee to the rear! General Lee to the rear! We always try to do just what General Gordon tells us, and we will drive them back if General Lee will only go to the rear!" burst forth from the ranks. While two soldiers led General Lee's horse to the rear, Gordon put himself in front of his division, and his clear voice rang out above the roar of the battle, "Forward! Charge! and remember your promise to General Lee!
Gordon's men charged, and with hard fighting drove back the disordered Federals. Parts of the Mule Shoe were recaptured, but many Federals clung tenaciously to the entrenchments. More rebels charged in, but the fight soon ground to a standstill.

Grant ordered that attacks be made all down the line, hoping his men would find a weak spot somewhere. Many places were indeed weak, but the Union troops were unable to gain a foothold. Meanwhile, the fighting continued in the Mule Shoe, in the area which is now called Hell's Half Acre or the Bloody Angle. Confederate troops set to digging works that would straighten out the Mule Shoe salient, but until these were completed the Confederates would have to hold on in the bloody and often hand to hand fighting.

Battle of Spotsylvania – Federal Breakthrough

After Emory Upton's temporary breakthrough of the Confederate line, Grant had decided to make another attack on the Confederate lines at Spotsylvania, and it went forward at 4:30 am 150 years ago today. The Federal troops headed through the misty predawn darkness towards the part of the Confederate line dubbed the Mule Shoe. It was the center of the Confederate line, and curved on both sides to form a horseshoe shape. This position was inherently weak, as it could be attacked on both sides, but Confederate engineers believed that the risk was necessary to hold a piece of elevated ground. The Confederate troops manning the position were of the Stonewall Division. Once commanded by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, it was now under Allegheny Johnson.

Map of Grant's Attack
The position was worsened by a critical decision on the Confederate side. The previous day Lee interpreted some intelligence he received to mean that Grant was abandoning his position and on the move again. Therefore he ordered that the artillery be removed from the Mule Shoe in preparation for a Confederate movement. This supposition would turn out to be mistaken. Allegheny Johnson knew that his position would be weak without the guns, and he requested that the cannon be returned. Corps commander Richard Ewell approved the request, but the order was delayed and the artillery units had just started as the Federal attack came forward.

Dead Confederates
The troops of the Stonewall Division were awoken by a smattering of musketry from the pickets, giving warning of the Union advance. They hurried to get in position but surprised, greatly outnumbered, and without artillery support, they did not put up much of a defense. Within seconds the Yankees were over the parapet and driving back the Confederates in disarray. The Union troops rounded up hundreds of fleeing soldiers including Allegheny Johnson himself. The Confederate center was crushed. It was one of the greatest successes the Army of the Potomac had won in the entire war.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Battle of Yellow Tavern

In Overland Campaign in Virginia the commander of the Federal cavalry was Major General Philip Sheridan. As the campaign advanced Sheridan became dissatisfied with his role in the campaign. Meade was using the troopers for reconnaissance and shielding the army. That's not what Sheridan wanted to do. He preferred large scale raids instead of the other duties of the cavalry. So on May 8th he went directly to Grant and told him that he could go behind Lee's lines to crush JEB Stuart's cavalry, as well as cutting the Confederate supply line and threatening Richmond. Grant agreed, so the next day Sheridan took his 10,000 troopers around Lee's right.

Sheridan's Raid
Sheridan's over 10 mile long column quickly pressed south, destroying railroad equipment on the Virginia Central Railroad and cutting telegraph lines. Stuart hurried in pursuit with his 4,500, trying to out ride Sheridan and get between him and Richmond. He finally caught up and made a stand at Yellow Tavern, just 6 miles north of Richmond. The Confederates dismounted and occupied a low ridge along the road to Richmond. The battle was desperate, for the Federals not only greatly outnumbered Stuart's men, they also had many times the firepower. Most of the Union troopers carried repeating rifles which the south did not have in large quantities.

A critical moment in the battle occurred when the 1st Virginia successfully counterattacked, driving back advancing Union forces. Stuart was on the front lines, encouraging his men as they drove back the fleeing Federals. As they retreated one of them, probably John Huff of the 5th Michigan, aimed a pistol at Stuart and fired. The general was hit, and reeled in his saddle. Several subordinates, including Captain Gustavus Dorsey, ran to him. Stuart recognized how serious he had been hit, saying, “I'm afraid they've killed me, Dorsey.” However there was a battle still to be fought. The Confederate line was faltering, and Stuart ordered those around him, “Go back to your men and drive the enemy!”

Stuart was escorted from the field and the battle continued until night. The Confederates were unable to halt Sheridan's advance toward Richmond. “Go back!” Stuart shouted to troopers who retreated past him, “Go back! and do your duty as I have done mine, and our country will be safe. Go back! go back! I had rather die than be whipped.” Stuart was taken in an ambulance to Richmond. Doctors came to him, but there was little they could do. He died the next day. His final words were, “I am resigned; God's will be done.” He may have been the south's best cavalry commander in the war. This was not just because of his grand raids. He was very skilled in what Sheridan was unwilling to do – shielding the army and gathering information. When Lee received the news of Stuart's death he said with great sorrow, “General Stuart has been mortally wounded: a most valuable and able officer. He never brought me a piece of false information.”
Stuart's grave
Although the Federals had won at Yellow Tavern, they made little more progress. They did not attempt an attack on Richmond's defenses, and returned to Grant on May 24. Other than killing Stuart the raid accomplished little. The Federals would have been better served to have their cavalry with the army during those two weeks of active campaigning.  

Battle of Spotsylvania – Planning the Main Attack

The previous day the Federals had made several attacks, but in the end they were all unsuccessful. But in one attack Grant saw an opportunity. Emory Upton had been able to secure a foothold on the Confederate line, before being driven back because of lack of support. “A brigade today,” said Grant, “will try a corps tomorrow.” The day was spent planning an assault on the Mule Shoe, which would be made the next day.

On this day Grant also wrote to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, to update him on the progress of the campaign:
We have now entered the sixth day of very hard 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 the loss of the enemy must be greater. … I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. 

This line, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” became well known throughout the country as a slogan for the campaign. Grant would not retreat like other commanders of the army had done, he would fight it out to the bitter end.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Battle of Cloyd's Mountain

When Grant embarked on his Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee in Virginia several other armies moved in conjunction with him. One of these was the Army of West Virginia, commanded by Brigadier General George Crook. He set off through the mountains toward southwestern Virginia, aiming to destroy the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. The Confederates opposing him, and another Union army under William Averell with similar plans, were a few scattered units put under Brigadier General Albert Jenkins just the day before Crook's advance.

Jenkins gathered his men at Cloyd's Mountain in Pulaski County, deciding to make his stand at that strong position. Crook approached the position and decided against a head on assault as too costly. Instead he sent one brigade around the Confederate right while the other two remained in front to support them. The flanking force, under Colonel Carr White, was composed of green troops. They charged the Confederate flank, but were driven back by the Confederate fire. Nonetheless the two brigades, one of them under future president Rutherford B. Hayes, went forward anyway. They charged at 11 am, and made it all the way to the Confederate entrenchments. The southerners stood firm, and the fighting, which was often hand to hand, swayed back and forth. Jenkins did his best to shift troops back and forth to threatened points. Finally the Confederate line was broken when Jenkins was mortally wounded, Crook sent in two more regiments, and the White's flanking brigade made a renewed attack which made better progress.

This battle was small, with only 6,100 Federal troops on the field and 2,400 Confederate, but the fighting was very fierce. Crook lost 688 men, more than 10% of his army. Jenkins lost 538, almost a quarter of his army. After this victory Crook and Averell continued to move forward, and were able to destroy part of the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, cutting that important Confederate supply line.

Battle of Spotsylvania – Sedgwick Killed

After the Federals lost the race to Spotsylvania the previous day, both armies brought up more troops and worked on their entrenchments on May 9th. Lee's line was formed into a semi-circle to meet threats from several directions. The apex of the line was known as the Mule Shoe for it shape. Although it extended dangerously far from the main Confederate line, Lee's engineers believed this was necessary to hold a piece of high ground.

At around 9 pm Union Major General John Sedgwick went out to supervise the placement of artillery along his corps' line. There was one point along the line where Confederate sharpshooters about 1,000 yards away had been particularly active, and Sedgwick saw his men ducking and dodging as bullets whistled overhead. “What?" Sedgwick remarked, "Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Seconds later he was proved wrong, as a sharpshooter's bullet struck him just below the left eye. He may have been dead before he hit the ground. He was the highest ranking Federal casualty during the Civil War.

Sedgwick wounded

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Battle of Spotsylvania Begins

Having decided to move to Spotsylvania, Grant's men continued to march in that direction on the night of May 7th. At the front Sheridan's cavalry had to clear the road of Confederate cavalry. Lee was not certain where Grant was going, but ordered Richard Anderson, who had taken over Longstreet's corps, to move in the direction of Spotsylvania. He did not tell him the movement was urgent, but Anderson moved early, at 10 pm on May 7th, to escape the stinking bodies and burning forest on the Wilderness battlefield.

Early on May 8th, 150 years ago today, the Federal cavalry renewed their efforts to clear the road to Spotsylvania. Fitzhugh Lee's men, after a gallant stand, withdrew from their barricades and took up a new position on Laurel Hill, just northwest of Spotsylvania. He sent for Anderson to help, and at this point the Confederates' early movement paid off. Before long infantry were flying into the cavalry positions, just as Warren's V Corps arrived to attack. Warren did not know that the Confederates had infantry on the field, and ordered his troops to press forward. The men were tired and hungry from their long march, but Warren shouted, “Never mind the cannon! Never mind the bullets! Press on and clear this road! It’s the only way to get your rations!" The Federals charged, but at 60 yards the Confederates unleashed volley after volley. The bluecoats fell back and tried again, but again they were beaten back. Warren, seeing more Confederate infantry arriving, halted his attacks and told Meade of the situation.

Lines at Spotsylvania
Meade could not believe that the Confederates had arrived on the field so soon. He ordered John Sedgwick to join Warren and continue the attacks. Much time was spent in preparing the lines, and by the time they advanced at 6 pm, Ewell's Corps had joined Anderson's on the battlefield. The Federal assault was a disaster. Orders were confused, units lost their way, and only one division and one brigade ended up attacking. This weak force had no chance of breaking the Confederate line, and the Federals were soon broken.

They day had been a provident success for the Southerners. The Federal movement had been detected, and infantry was on hand to meet it. They had won the race for Spotsylvaia, and the attack which the Union had spent so long planning turned out to be an embarrassing failure.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wilderness to Spotsylvania

After his unsuccessful attacks on May 6, Grant decided that further efforts on this front would be useless. The Confederates had dug strong entrenchments, and he did not want to attack them. Instead, he decided to try to march around Lee's right. Moving down the Brock Road towards Spotsylavnia Court House, he hoped to get his men between Lee and Richmond, forcing the Confederates to fight on ground favorable to the Federals.

Movement to Spotsylvania
As the Union troops began their march, many believed that Grant was retreating just like all the other failed army commanders before him. But when they turned towards Spotsylania, they were disabused of that idea. “Instantly all of us heard a sigh of relief,” wrote one infantry man. “We marched free. The men began to sing. The enlisted men understood the flanking movement.” Grant would not turn back. Although he had been unable to crush Lee's army, there would be no turning back.

Unburied bones in the Wilderness
In this battle, the Federals reported 2,246 killed, 12,037 wounded and 3,383 captured, totaling 17,666. These numbers were likely low, as high casualty numbers were bad for public opinion on the home front. The Confederates lost about 11,000 men. Although Grant's losses were much higher, he could better afford to loose them. The Confederate supply of manpower was nearly exhausted, and they had little opportunity to raise more troops. A few more victories like this one, and Lee's army would be destroyed.

Entrenchments in the Wilderness

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Battle of the Wilderness – Gordon Attacks

On the other side of the field there was only desultory fighting throughout the day. However one Confederate commander, John B. Gordon, had a plan to strike the Federal forces. He scouted around the Union right flank and found it unguarded. Confederates could move undetected and roll up the Union right, as Longstreet as their left. He presented this plan to Ewell, who did not approve it for most of the day because of reports of a force that could strike Gordon in the rear.

The Wilderness
Finally just before sunset the plan was approved. Gordon set out on his march with his own and two other brigades, totaling around 4,000 men. They silently deployed and then charged. The Federals were completely surprised. The two flank brigades were completely unprepared and were driven into headlong retreat. But this was all Gordon could accomplish. It was nearly impossible to keep an attack organized in the woods, especially at night. By the time another attack was made it was 10 pm, and the Federals were able repulse it. Gordon believed that the delay in implementing his plan prevented a complete Confederate victory on that day:
[H]ad [the attack] been made at an early hour in the day instead of at sundown, the 6th of May would have ended in the crushing defeat of General Grant's army.