Monday, May 12, 2014

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The exhausted Confederate troops were finally withdrawn to the new works at 3 am on May 13th.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


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