(west side of Marker):————————————————-
The Fight for North Anna
On May 21, 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant directed the Army of the Potomac away from Spotsylvania Court House in a turning movement toward Hanover Junction, today known as Doswell. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, had checked Grant's southward advance at the Wilderness, May 5-6, and at Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-20, 1864. Grant was determined to continue his advance and maintained relentless pressure on the Confederate Army by threatening the vital rail junction in Hanover County.
Lee deployed his army along the North Anna River to cover Hanover Junction and met reinforcements coming from Confederate victories at New Market and Drewry's Bluff. With these fresh troops, Lee now had an opportunity to defeat the Union Army and halt its advance on Richmond. The timing was critical. If Grant succeeded in forcing Lee closer to the Confederate capital, Lee would lose his ability to maneuver and his army would suffer the inevitable result of a long-term siege.
Attack on Ox Ford
Grant attacked across the North Anna River late on the afternoon of May 23, 1864, piercing the river line at Jericho Mill and at Telegraph Bridge. With the river line breached, Lee altered his defensive plan and formed an "Inverted V" defensive position anchored at Ox Ford. On May 24, Grant advanced the Union army across the river and fell into the defensive trap set by Lee and his "Inverted V."
By late afternoon of May 24, Grant's army was divided into three parts, separated by the bends of the North Anna River. The Union Fifth and Sixth Corps were in position at Jericho Mill. The Ninth Corps was on the north bank of the river, unable to cross at Ox Ford, and the Second Corps was on the South bank by the Fox House. Lee now had an opportunity to attack portions of the Union Army before reinforcements could cross the river and assist. But the Confederate attack was never made, as Lee was struck down by illness and confined to his tent.
Grant discovered the precarious position of his army on the evening of May 24, and entrenched his men to cover any Confederate attack. The armies faced one another for the next two days before Grant again withdrew the Army of the Potomac in another turning maneuver to Totopotoomy Creek, less than a days march of Richmond. The last great opportunity to hold back the Union Army in Virginia passed, and the end of the war was now in sight.
The walking tour of the Confederate earthworks still allow you to observe the strength of Lee's position and the futility of the Union attack. The tour indicates the "Inverted V", which was the key to Lee's position, as well as the point where Ledlie's Brigade attacked the Confederate lines on May 24th.
(East side of Marker):
The North Anna Battlefield
Welcome to the Ox Ford portion of the North Anna Battlefield. Here for three days in May, 1864, the fate of the United States and the Confederacy lay in these woods and fields along the North Anna.
The painting on the left depicts the Union attack at Ox Ford on May 24, 1864. Members of the 57th Massachusetts Infantry are shown rallying around their colors under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Chandler. They are part of Brigadier James H. Ledlie's Brigade attacking across an open field in a futile attempt to capture the high ground overlooking Ox Ford. Ledlie, who had consumed a large quantity of alcohol, disobeyed direct orders in sending his brigade into combat against impossible odds. His 1,300 men faced an entrenched Confederate division. The attack immediately became a trap for the Union soldiers, who vainly tried to retreat as the Confederates fired upon their exposed position in the open field. A violent thunderstorm added to the suffering of the Federal Infantrymen.
Colonel Chandler is shown rallying his men against the approach of the Mississippi Infantry, advancing from the Confederate breastworks. Recognizing that the only hope for a successful withdrawal was to delay the Confederate counterattack, Chandler attempted to form a line of battle in the field. Before he could do so, the 17th Mississippi opened a devastating fire on the soldiers from Massachusetts, mortally wounding Chandler and driving his men from the field. Two hundred Federals were captured along with a stand of colors. Chandler's men attempted to carry him from the field, but he ordered them to leave him, saying "You can do nothing for me, save yourselves if you can." The Colonel commanding the 17th Mississippi comforted Chandler in his tent overnight. He returned Chandler's personal effects after the battle so that they could be forwarded to his mother, making a Federal remark that "Such an act of chivalry deserves a better cause."