Spotsylvania Exhibit Shelter
— West Wall —
Assault on the Muleshoe
Emory Upton's success on May 10 prompted Grant to repeat the attack on a much larger scale. This time the target of the assault was the Muleshoe Salient, a huge outward bulge in the center of the Confederate line. If Grant could break through at the Muleshoe, he would cut Lee's army in two and possibly destroy it.
"Every Confederate realized the desperate situation and every Union soldier knew what was involved. For a time, every soldier was a fiend. The attack was fierce — the resistance fanatical."
Private John Haley, 17th Maine Infantry
The May 12 attack was at first widely successful. At dawn General Winfield S. Hancock's Second Corps overran the Confederate line, scooping up 3,000 prisoners, two generals, and 20 cannon. Lee struck back furiously in an attempt to drive the Union soldiers from the works. For 20 hours the two sides grappled with one another in a pouring rain. The Union army fought to win; the Confederates, to survive.
The Bloody Angle
The May 12 fighting centered on a turn in the Confederate logworks that became known as the "Bloody Angle." There men crossed bayonets in hand-to-hand combat, brained one another with the butts of their guns, and exchanged point-blank fire over the works. Bodies piled up three, four, even five deep in the crimsoned mud. One participant described it simply as "a seething, bubbling, roaring hell of hate and murder."
Neither side yielded an inch — the Confederates sacrificing their lives so that Lee could build a new line across the base of the Muleshoe Salient. "There is a point in battle beyond which flesh and blood cannot pass," explained one soldier, "and we had reached that point." Finally, after more than 20 hours of combat, Lee's new line was ready, and he withdrew his battered troops from the Bloody Angle, leaving behind a landscape of unspeakable horror.
"...frenzy seemed to posses the yelling, demonic hordes on either side, as soft-voiced tenderhearted men in camp, fought like wild beasts, to destroy their fellow man."
Lieutenant Robert S. Robertson
Union Staff Officer