Spotsylvania Exhibit Shelter
— North Wall —
No Turning Back
Defeated but undeterred, Grant abandoned Spotsylvania's blood-soaked fields on May 21 and continued south — toward Richmond and ultimate victory. In his wake he left a scarred landscape pitted with thousands of graves.
An Awful Arithmetic
If considered as one engagement, the fighting at Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House constitutes the bloodiest single battle in American history. Some 36,000 Union soldiers and 24,000 Confederates were killed, wounded, captured, or missing during the period of May 5 to May 21, 1864 — a staggering 30 percent of those engaged.
The tremendous loss of life outraged many in the North, some of whom labeled Grant a butcher. But the general understood his arithmetic. He could replace his losses, Lee could not. In time he would grind the Confederate army down to a point where it could no longer resist. Grant had engaged Lee in a war of attrition — a war the South could not win.
"...In the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces."
General George G. Meade, USA
Grant Leaves Spotsylvania
While the struggle for the Bloody Angle marked the apogee of fighting at Spotsylvania, it did not signify the battle's end. More than a week of combat still remained. On May 14, 18, and 19 the armies clashed again without decisive results. Although victory eluded him, Grant remained optimistic. Convinced the Confederates were "very shaky," he looked for an opportunity to deliver a blow that would shatter the Army of Northern Virginia beyond repair.
That blow would not come at Spotsylvania. His opportunities here exhausted, Grant on May 21 ordered the Army of the Potomac to leave Spotsylvania and march south toward the North Anna River, toward Richmond. Lee followed. The contest — already the deadliest of the war - would go on.
A Hard Road to Travel
Wilderness and Spotsylvania were opening battles in a yearlong campaign that only ended with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. Before reaching Appomattox the armies would clash again at North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and places in between. Thousands more would die before the fighting ceased.
"The great battle is not yet over, there is only a lull — the first for twenty-five days, the sullen roar of artillery even now reminds us that the last act of the bloody tragedy is yet to be enacted."
Captain Andrew J. McBride,
10th Georgia Infantry
Those Left Behind
Casualties at Spotsylvania were appalling. "The question became, pretty plainly, whether one was willing to meet death, not merely run the chances of it," wrote one Confederate soldier. These are the faces of just a few of the 4,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the battle. The graves pictured at the bottom of this panel belonged to Mississippi soldiers killed at the Bloody Angle.