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.  


Post a Comment