"Toughest Fight Yet"
The ground before you was hotly contested for two full weeks during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. From May 8 to May 21, 1864, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sought to drive the Confederates from their earthworks and cripple Gen. Robert E. Lee's army, leaving the Southern capital vulnerable to capture and ending the three-year old Civil War.
On May 7, both armies had marched southeast from the densely forested region known as the Wilderness, where Grant had ended a bloody and inconclusive battle by maneuvering around Lee's army. Lee met him here, near Spotsylvania Court House, where both sides quickly built earthworks.
To your left, Confederate earthworks anchored the right flank of Lee's defensive position, continuing more than a mile north before bulging around the "Mule Shoe Salient," then turning southwest for more than two miles. All along these lines, both sides traded blows but were unable to make any lasting gains.
The most intense fighting (by some accounts, the most violent of the entire war) occurred at the Mule Shoe Salient, where Union forces broke through on May 12. They captured thousands of Southerners but were unable to exploit their foothold in the Confederate lines.
"I wanted to get between [Lee's] army and Richmond if possible; and, if not, to draw him into the open field."
—Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA
"We ? [fought] desperately not dreaming of [capture] until we were completely surrounded by their overwhelming numbers."
—Pvt. James McCown, 5th Virginia Infantry
(lower left) In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant (right) received command of all Union armies and came to Virginia to challenge Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (left).
(upper right)"The Bloody Angle" in the Mule Shoe Salient witnessed the battle's hardest fighting. The Confederates barely held off the Federal assault, fighting with bayonets in the pouring rain. The artist justifiably titled his sketch "The Toughest Fight Yet."
(lower right)Throughout the battle, whenever Grant tried to outflank the Confederates, Lee extended his earthworks, forcing Grant to choose between costly attacks or stalemate. This style of combat characterized the last year of the Civil War.