Field Trip #2: Spotsylvania Battlefield
Photos by Michael Aubrecht (10/06) Information source: NPS


The Battle of Spotsylvania, sometimes referred to as "The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse," was the second engagement in U.S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. It was fought in the Rapidan-Rappahannock river area of central Virginia, a region where more than 100,000 men on both sides fell between 1862 and 1864. The battle was fought from May 8 to May 21, 1864, along a trench line some four miles long, with the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee making its second attempt to halt the spring offensive of the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Taking place less than a week after the bloody, inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse pitted 52,000 Confederate soldiers against a Union army numbering 100,000. Below are some of the key spots that are located on the battlefield and at the nearby Confederate Cemetery. For more information, visit NPS Fredericksburg.


Spotsylvania Battlefield

The engagement that took place at Spotsylvania Court House featured some of the most ferocious and desperate combat of the entire War Between the States. After several days of sporadic fighting, both sides came to a grinding halt at the "Bloody Angle," where they fought for over 20 hours in a terrible downpour of rain and constant small arms fire.



15th New Jersey Monument

This stone monument located at the Bloody Angle testifies to the enduring courage and bravery that was sustained for over 20 hours by the 15th Regt. NJ Volunteers, who participated in the longest single engagement of the Civil War. In the midst of a major rainstorm, men were engaged in hand-to-hand and so close in fight that not even darkness put an end to it.


Bloody Angle

Here, throughout the afternoon and well into the night, Yankee and Rebel fought each other with relentless determination. Nearby, a 22-inch oak tree, whittled in two by the incessant musket and artillery fire, gave testimony to the tenacity of both sides. Its terrible slaughter seemed to signal a shift in both the Northern and Southern force's perception of the war.


The Mule Shoe

On May 8th, Confederate Gen. Edward "Old Alleghany" Johnson's division built this outer line of entrenchments. These low earthen mounds are all that remain of the original works. During the battle however, these trenches stood shoulder high, were reinforced with logs, and had walls running back from the main line every 20 feet.


General John Sedgwick

General John Sedgwick was one of the Army of the Potomac's best-loved commanders. A monument to this fallen general stands at the main entrance to the National Park at Spotsylvania. Ironically, he was killed by a sniper's bullet moments after telling his men, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."



Lee's Line and Earthworks

Near the center of Robert E. Lee's final line stood a heavily fortified area. It contained some of the most extensive earthworks and heavy cover yet constructed by his engineers. By 1864, soldiers on both sides had become experts in the building of field fortifications, which played a vital role in the outcome of the conflict.



Confederate Cemetery

When the Civil War ended, hundreds of Confederate sons lay in crudely marked graves scattered over the four nearby battlefields. Local women concerned about these unattended plots formed a charity group called the Spotsylvania Memorial Association. In 1866, they established a Confederate Cemetery on five acres near the Court House.


C.S.A. Soldier Monument

More than 600 soldiers lie buried amid the quiet and peaceful surroundings of Spotsylvania's Confederate Cemetery. In the center of the plot stands a tall granite shaft, crowned by a lone sentry who silently watches over the dead. A dedication to his southern comrades is inscribed on one side with the saying "Lest We Forget" on the other.


Jeff Davis Legion

An elite group of cavalrymen known as the "Jeff Davis Legion" fought bravely at The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. They were comprised of three squadrons: five Alabama companies, three Mississippi companies, and two Georgia companies. Several of their fallen comrades are buried here in the Spotsy Confederate Cemetery.


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