Above: Illustration of the Battle of Spotsylvania. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Right: The fields of the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Battlefield.
We like this park alot. It's our favorite among the four units of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. There is a quiet, almost reverent take to the miles and miles of openness surrounding Spotsylvania. And while it represents the final action of the four, basically from May 8 to 20, 1864, just a couple days after the Wilderness, and was a bloody mess for the troops involved, just take one walk during twilight along the Bloody Angle.
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Battle of Spotsylvania Then
The importance of the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House had made the location important to General Robert E. Lee after he had left the jungle of the Wilderness. And even though it was a race to occupy it against Grant's determined follow, he had initially won that race. Over the next two weeks, the action at Spotsylvania, many times at close quarters around the area of the Mule Shoe and Bloody Angle, was a horrific display of Civil War fighting. By the end of those two weeks, there were 18,000 more Union soldiers added to the list of dead, wounded, and missing and 10,000 more for the Confederates.
Battle of Spotsylvania Timeline
May 7-8 - Grant pursued the fight after defeat at the Wilderness, marching his troops toward Spotsylvania Court House during the night.
May 8 - General Warren attacked what he thought were the cavalry of Fitzhugh Lee west of Brock Road, only to find out it was Anderson's corps. Warren's attack was repulsed.
May 10 - After both armies dug in their positions, twelve regiments of Colonel Upton attacked the Confederate Mule Shoe position with temporary success, but eventual repulse.
May 12 - General Grant used the temporary success by Upton for a larger next strategy against the position. He sent Hancock's corps into the South's position at the top of the Mule Shoe; they had mistakenly removed their cannon from the position. The Yankee soldiers captured most of the position in the dawn raid. By 9:30 a.m., however, Lee's forces had recaptured most of the southern line there with a counterattack. At this point, the Union 6th Corps joined the fight, which continued for 18 hours till 2:00 a.m. the next day. This battle within the Spotsylvania fight is known as the Bloody Angle.
Image above: Portion of the pencil drawing of the Battle of Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864, Edward Forbes. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Another morning view of the Spotsylvania Battlefield.
Battle of Spotsylvania Now
There won't be many people there, but you can almost hear the rumble of cannon thunder and musket fire whistling through the trees as darkness begins to set and fog begins to shroud on some summer nights. We get the feeling that many people who come to the Fredericksburg oriented park choose Spotsylvania to miss if they've got to miss one. It's the one that's not really close to anything, even though it is closer to Fredericksburg than either Chancellorsville or the Wilderness. However, it's location on lesser roads puts it a bit out of the way. You know, there's something nice about that.
Spotsylvania does not have a visitor center, but has an open air kiosk near the entrance that is manned in the summer by park rangers. There is a 45 minute walking tour at the Bloody Angle twice a day in the summer. And no matter what time of year, there is a five mile driving tour that allows you to wander this peaceful and respectful place at dawn or dusk to comtemplate the action here.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Battle of Spotsylvania T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great for fans of the Civil War and American History.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Visit Spotsylvania at dawn or dusk. As we noted above, there probably won't be many people there as you walk the trails of the Bloody Angle or other spots on the field, but you get a sense of the mayhem, perhaps even better in the silence. It's a wonderfully respectful and meaningful way to witness the battlefield, at least to us.
2. Summer park ranger tours of the Bloody Angle will add to your knowledge of the massive eighteen hour fight there and provide details and overview that are important to understanding just what went on here.
3. Drive into the town of Spotsylvania Court House. It's just down the road from the end of the driving tour and includes a lot of history, both from the time of the battle and beyond.
Photo above: Bethel Church, one of the period buildings in the small town of Spotsylvania Court House, near the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields.