Battle Spotsylvania Court House: Summary


Rain was a big factor – Bloody Angle was epic – May 17 abatis defense was interesting as well.

Lee successfully staved off back-to-back Northern attacks at the Battle of the Wilderness and now the two week Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Conversely Grant’s unsuccessful May, 1864 in which he incurred 60,000 casualties in 30 days brought him heavy criticism from the northern press.

The second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign.
  • Grant's army disengaged from Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army and moved to the southeast, attempting to lure Lee into battle under more favorable conditions.

  • Elements of Lee's army beat the Union army to the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House and began entrenching. Fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, 1864, as Grant tried various schemes to break the Confederate line. In the end, the battle was tactically inconclusive, but with almost 32,000 casualties on both sides, it was the costliest battle of the campaign.

  • On May 8, 1864 Union leaders unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge the Confederates from Laurel Hill, a position that was blocking them from Spotsylvania Court House.

  • On May 10, 1864 Grant ordered attacks across the Confederate line of earthworks, which by now extended over 4 miles. Although the Union troops failed again at Laurel Hill, an innovative assault attempt by Col. Emory Upton (Union) against the Mule Shoe showed promise.

  • Grant used Upton's assault technique on a much larger scale on May 12 when he ordered 15,000 men to assault the Mule Shoe. The Union was initially successful, but the Confederate leadership rallied and repulsed his incursion. Attacks by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright on the western edge of the Mule Shoe, which became known as the "Bloody Angle," involved almost 24 hours of desperate hand-to-hand fighting, some of the most intense of the Civil War.

  • Grant repositioned his lines in another attempt to engage Lee under more favorable conditions and launched a final attack on May 18, which made no progress.

  • A Confederate reconnaissance in force by Confederate at Harris farm on May 19 was a costly and pointless failure.

  • On May 21, 1864 Grant disengaged from the Confederate Army and started southeast on another maneuver to turn Lee's right flank, as the Overland Campaign continued toward the Battle of North Anna. This effectively ended the lengthy Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

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