The Battle of Spotsylvania was part of a campaign by the Union to push back the Confederate Army deep into Virginia. The campaign was called the Overland Campaign and eventually led to the Siege of Petersburg and the end of the Civil War.
Battle of Spotsylvania by Kurz & Allison
When did it take place?
The battle took place over a number of days from May 8 to May 19, 1864. It was the second major battle of the Overland Campaign and occurred shortly after the Battle of the Wilderness.
Who were the commanders?
The Union Army of the Potomac consisted of 100,000 soldiers led by generals Ulysses S. Grant and George Meade. The Confederate Army of Virginia was nearly half the size with only 52,000 soldiers. They were led by General Robert E. Lee.
Before the Battle
President Lincoln had promoted General Grant to lead of all the Union armies earlier in the Spring. Grant came up with a plan called the Overland Campaign. His main goal was not to capture a city or land, but to destroy the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee.
General Grant began the campaign in early May, marching his army into Virginia. There he met General Lee's army and fought the Battle of the Wilderness. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. However, rather than retreat, the Union Army marched to Spotsylvania, hoping to get between the Confederate Army and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.
The two armies met again in battle near Spotsylvania on May 8, 1864. The Confederates dug in and waited for the Union to attack. Grant's army attacked several times over the next few days.
On May 12, Grant massed his soldiers for a major attack on the center of the Confederate line. They smashed through the line and split the Confederate Army down the middle. However, the Confederates didn't give up. They fought fiercely and managed to hold off the Union army. Over the next 20 hours the fighting was terrible. The rain started pouring down and much of the fighting was hand-to-hand. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives. The place of the fiercest fighting became known as the "Bloody Angle."
Eventually, the Confederate soldiers were able to fall back to a new defensive line. Over the next several days, Grant and the Union army tried to outflank Lee's army, but they were unsuccessful. The last of the fighting in the battle ended on May 19 as Grant began to move his army further south.
Neither side won the battle, but General Grant had made his intentions clear. He wasn't going to stop until he destroyed Lee's army. While the Union suffered more casualties than the Confederacy (around 18,000 for the Union and 12,000 for the Confederacy), Grant had a lot more troops and hoped to wear down Lee's army over time through attrition.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
The Battle of the Wilderness took place only a few days before the Battle of Spotsylvania from May 5th to the 7th 1864.
The week of May 5 to May 12 in 1864 was the worst week for the Union in terms of casualties during the Civil War.
The shooting was so intense at Bloody Angle that a 2-foot thick oak tree was cut down by rifle fire. You can see the stump of the tree at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
General John Sedgwick was killed during the battle. He was the highest ranking Union officer to be killed while fighting during the Civil War.