Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

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The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania, was the second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. The battle was fought in the Rapidan-Rappahannock river area of central Virginia, a region where more than 100,000 men on both sides fell between 1862 and 1864.

The battle was fought May 8–21, 1864, along a trench line some four miles (6.5 km) long, with the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee making its second attempt to halt the spring offensive of the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Lt. Gen. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Taking place less than a week after the bloody, inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, it pitted 52,000 Confederate soldiers against a Union army numbering 100,000.

The most intense fighting took place on May 12—a 23-hour battle over a section of fortifications which was known as the Mule Shoe, and, afterwards, as the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania.


The Race for Advantage

After the Battle of the Wilderness, in which Lee delayed the Union advance, Grant decided to take advantage of the position he held, which allowed him to slip his army around Lee's right flank and continue to move south toward the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He already had troops on the move by the night of May 7, just one day after the Wilderness fighting ended, and on May 8, he sent Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren and his V Corps to take Spotsylvania, 10 miles (16 km) to the southeast.

However, Lee anticipated Grant's move and sent forces to intercept him: cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and the First Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson (its usual leader, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, had been wounded in the Wilderness). The Confederates won the race to Spotsylvania, and on May 9, each army began to take up new positions north of the small town. As Union forces probed Confederate skirmish lines on May 9 to determine the placement of defending forces, Union VI Corps commander Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter; he was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright.

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