Spotsylvania Exhibit Shelter
— West Wall —
If It Takes All Summer
Grant's failure to win the race to Spotsylvania led to two weeks of brutal combat. Aggressive and impatient, the Union commander relentlessly hammered away at the entrenched Confederate line, looking for weakness.
Less well known than the fighting at the Bloody Angle but no less costly, the combat at Laurel Hill produced upwards of 5,000 casualties. On three different days - May 8, 10, and 12 - Union troops charged across the fields surrounding Sarah Spindle's farmhouse in an effort to break Lee's entrenched lines. Each time they suffered defeat. "It was charge and fall back 6 to 8 times. We could get our men only so far," complained one officer.
"One good rush and their bayonets would have silenced our guns. But they could not face that hail of death any longer."
Private William M. Dame,
1st Company, Richmond Howitzers
The problem was terrain. In order to reach the Confederates, Union soldiers had to cross several hundred yards of open ground, all the while exposed to the bursting shells and whizzing bullets of the enemy. "The moment we rose from the ground a perfect hailstorm of ball from three sides were poured into us," wrote one Union soldier, "men fell by the dozens." Unable to crack the Confederate line at Laurel Hill, Grant cast his gaze further to the left - to the Muleshoe.
Faced with six miles of powerful Confederate earthworks, Grant at first sought to turn Lee's flanks. When, on May 10, those efforts encountered resistance, Grant mistakenly concluded that Lee had weakened the center of his line. That evening, Grant ordered an attack against the Confederate center.
At 6 p.m., 5,000 men commanded by Colonel Emory Upton dashed across 200 yards of open ground and breached the center of Lee's line. Although Southern counterattacks eventually recaptured the works, Upton's success gave Grant an idea. If 5,000 men could break the Confederate line, what might 20,000 men do?
"The struggle lasted only a few seconds. Numbers prevailed, and like a resistless wave, the column poured over the works...The column of assault had accomplished its task."
Colonel Emory Upton, USA