Battle Spotsylvania Court House: Characters


1) Ulysses S. Grant (Union)
  • 18th President of the US
  • Grant flanked Lee's Army of Virginia to the southeast and attempted to wedge the Union Army between Lee and Richmond at Spotsylvania. Lee's army got to Spotsylvania first and a costly and lengthy battle began that lasted 13 days. During the battle, Grant attempted to break through Lee's line of defense at the Mule Shoe, which resulted in one of the most violent assaults during the Civil War, known as The Battle of the Bloody Angle.
  • Unable to break Lee's line of defense after repeated attempts, Grant flanked Lee to the southeast east again at North Anna, a battle that lasted three days. This time the Confederate Army had a superior defensive advantage on Grant, however, due to sickness Lee was unable to lead the battle. Grant then maneuvered the Union Army to Cold Harbor, a vital railroad hub that was linked to Richmond, however, Lee was able to make strong trenches to defend a Union assault. During the third day of the 13-day Cold Harbor battle, Grant led a costly fatal assault on Lee's trenches, and as news spread in the North, heavy criticism fell on Grant, who was called "the Butcher", having lost 60,000 casualties in 30 days.

2) Col. Emory Upton (Union)
  • Although the Union troops failed again at Laurel Hill, an innovative assault attempt by Col. Emory Upton (Union) against the Mule Shoe showed promise.
  • Leading infantry to attack entrenched positions successfully at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House during the American Civil War, but he also excelled at artillery and cavalry assignments.
  • Upton led his brigade in the Wilderness, but his greatest contribution was at Spotsylvania Court House, where he developed a new tactic to attack the Confederate breastworks, one that would foreshadow tactics used in the trench warfare of World War I. Upton devised a tactic wherein columns of massed infantry would swiftly assault a small part of the enemy line, without pausing to trade fire, and in doing so attempt to overwhelm the defenders and achieve a breakthrough. The standard infantry assault employed a wide battle line advancing more slowly, firing at the enemy as it moved forward.
  • On May 10, 1864, Upton led twelve regiments in such an assault against the Confederate's Mule Shoe salient. His tactics worked and his command penetrated to the center of the Mule Shoe, but they were left unsupported and forced to withdraw in the face of enemy artillery and mounting reinforcements. Upton was wounded in the attack, but was promoted to brigadier general on May 12. On that same day, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock adapted Upton's columnar assault tactic to the entire II Corps to break through the Mule Shoe. Due to his wounds, Upton was forced to retire to Washington, D.C.
3) Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright (Union)
  • May 12: 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.
  • After General Sedgwick's death at Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, Wright assumed command of the VI Corps, receiving promotion as major general of volunteers (confirmed by the Senate this time) and brevet colonel in the regular army on May 12, 1864.
4) Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside (Union)
  • Burnside fought at the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, where he did not perform in a distinguished manner, attacking piecemeal and appearing reluctant to commit his troops to the frontal assaults that characterized these battles.
  • His distinctive style of facial hair is now known as sideburns, derived from his last name.
5) Maj. Gen. Meade (Union)
  • After Spotsylvania, Grant requested that Meade be promoted to major general of the regular army. In a telegram to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on May 13, 1864, Grant stated that "Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations. He and [William T.] Sherman are the fittest officers for large commands I have come in contact with."
  • On December 31, 1840, he married Margaretta Sergeant, daughter of John Sergeant, running mate of Henry Clay in the 1832 presidential election. They had seven children together (John Sergeant Meade, Col. George Meade, Margaret Butler Meade, Spencer Meade, Sarah Wise Meade, Henrietta Meade, and William Meade). Finding steady civilian employment was difficult for the newly married man, so he reentered the army in 1842 as a second lieutenant in the corps of topographical engineers

6) Robert E. Lee (Confederate)
  • Although beaten and unable to take Lee's staunch line defenses, Grant continued the Union offensive.)
  • Lee's troop strength – 52,000, casualties – 12,000

  • Hancock's troop strength – 100,000, casualties – 18,000
  • All three of his sons fought for the Confederacy.
7) Misc. Letter writing Confederate survivor of the Bloody Angle
  • This sector of the line, where the heaviest fighting of the day would occur, became known as the "Bloody Angle." As Union brigade after brigade slammed into the line.
  • At 4 a.m. on May 13, the exhausted Confederate infantrymen were notified that the new line was ready and they withdrew from the original earthworks unit by unit. The combat they had endured for almost 24 hours was characterized by an intensity of firepower never previously seen in Civil War battles, as the entire landscape was flattened, all the foliage destroyed.
  • The contending troops were periodically reduced to hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of battles fought during ancient times.
  • Surviving participants attempted to describe in letters, diaries, and memoirs the hellish intensity of that day, many noting that it was beyond words. Or, as one put it: "Nothing can describe the confusion, the savage, blood-curdling yells, the murderous faces, the awful curses, and the grisly horror of the melee." May 12 was the most intensive day of fighting during the battle, with Union casualties of about 9,000, Confederate 8,000; the Confederate loss includes about 3,000 prisoners captured in the Mule Shoe.

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