The Battle of Spotsylvania: Thursday, May 12, 1864
Slaughter at the Bloody Angle

Bloody Angle DioramaAs a result of their early morning assault, General Hancock's men would wrest a portion of the Confederate works in their front from their determined adversaries. However, due in part to the sturdy traverses erected at regular intervals in the Confederate earthworks, the men in gray held a significant portion of the ground they possessed the night before. General Lee understood the tenuous nature of their hold on this ground and ordered the construction of a new line a short distance behind. But this would take time. So, for now, his men must stand and the killing would continue.

Confederate Lt. General Richard Ewell would in a precise yet somewhat detached manner relay his views on the events of these two day's fighting, including the removal of artillery from the Mule Shoe Salient which sealed the fate of the tenacious but outnumbered defenders.

Dead Confederate soldier at Spotsylvania"Wednesday, May 11, it rained hard all day and no fighting took place. Toward night the enemy were reported withdrawing from Anderson's front and were heard moving to our right. Scouts stated them to be retiring to Fredericksburg. I received orders to withdraw the artillery, which was done along Johnson's front. Soon after midnight Major-General Johnson reported the enemy massing before him, and General Long was directed to return the artillery to the intrenchments, and General Gordon ordered to be ready to support Johnson. Different artillery was sent back, and owing to the darkness and to ignorance of the location it only reached the lines in time to be taken. The enemy attacked in heavy force at earliest dawn, and though gallantly resisted, their numbers and the want of artillery enabled them to break through our lines, capturing Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson, Brig. Gen. G. H. Steuart, about 2,000 men, and 20 pieces of artillery. The smoke of the guns and the mist kept the air dark until a comparatively late hour, thereby assisting the enemy, as he was enabled to mass his troops as he chose. They poured through our lines in immense numbers, taking possession to the right and left of the Salient and keeping up a constant fire of artillery and musketry for twenty-four hours.

Bloody AngleGeneral Gordon was heavily engaged--one brigade broken, and its commander (Robert D. Johnston) wounded, but he held his ground, drove out the enemy in his immediate front by a strong effort, and regained a portion of our works to the right of the Salient. Their main effort was evidently against Rodes' position to the left of the Angle, and here the fighting was of the most desperate character. General Rodes moved Daniel's brigade from its works to meet the enemy. General Kershaw extended so as to allow Ramseur to be withdrawn, and as Daniel's right was unprotected Ramseur was sent in there. He retook the works to Daniel's right along his whole brigade front by a charge of unsurpassed gallantry, but the Salient was still held by the enemy, and a most deadly fire poured on his right flank. Accordingly Harris' (Mississippi) brigade, which came to my assistance about 9 a.m., was sent to Ramseur's right, but as it still failed to fill the trenches, McGowan's (South Carolina) brigade, which arrived an hour later, was ordered to the same point. Only part of this brigade succeeded in reaching the trenches and joining Harris' brigade. Spite of the terrible flank fire to which they were yet exposed, the brave troops of these three brigades held their ground till 3 a.m. of May 13, when ordered back to the new line. General Daniel was killed and General Ramseur severely wounded early in the day, but the latter refused to leave the field.

Reconstructed BreastworksThe nature of the struggle will be apparent from the fact that after the loss of Johnson's division (before sunrise) my force barely numbered 8,000, the re-enforcements about 1,500 more. General Edward Johnson estimated the enemy's force at this part of the field at over 40,000, and I have every reason to believe this a moderate calculation. The engagement was spoken of in Northern papers as a general attack by their army. It was met only by my corps and three brigades sent to my aid, and after lasting with unintermitted vigor from 4.30 a.m. till 4 p.m. of May 12, ceased by degrees, leaving us in possession of two-thirds of the works first taken from us and of four of the captured guns, which the enemy had been unable to haul off. These guns were withdrawn by hand to the McCool house, and General Long was directed to send after them at night. Major Page, whom he instructed to get them, left the duty to an ordnance sergeant, who failed to find them, and they were again allowed to fall into the enemy's hands.

As it was unadvisable to continue efforts to retake the Salient with the force at my command, a new line was laid out during the day by General Lee's chief engineer some 800 yards in rear of the first and constructed at night. After midnight my forces were quietly withdrawn to it and artillery placed in position; but his efforts and losses on the 12th seemed to have exhausted the enemy, and all was quiet till May 18, when a strong force advanced past the McCool house toward our new line. When well within range General Long opened upon them with thirty pieces of artillery, which, with the fire of our skirmishers, broke and drove them back with severe loss. We afterward learned that they were two fresh divisions, nearly 10,000 strong, just come up from the rear." [9]