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Civil War Series

The Battles of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

   

MAY 13: THE ARMIES ASSESS THE FIGHT AT THE BLOODY ANGLE

Combat continued unabated at the Bloody Angle all day and into the night. Not until 4:00 A.M, on May 13 did Lee inform his troops holding the salient that the new earthworks had been completed. Unit by unit, the exhausted gray-clad troops retired to new fortifications behind the Harrison house.

The sun rose on May 13 over a frightful scene. A soldier from New York wrote his parents that "we have fought one of the greatest battles ever fought. Neither party has been yet badly beaten, though I think the Johnnies have had the worst of it." Curious to examine the battlefield, he wandered into the salient, now in Union hands. Bodies sprawled everywhere. "The rifle pits were literally chocked with them," he observed, "some of them still breathing." He tried to explain his emotions to his family. "My feelings while looking at the bodies of our dead enemies were not of joy alone," he wrote. "I thought of how many hopes were bound up in the lives of those men whose broken bodies were lying helpless on that muddy field. I had no enmity towards those men, not even any for their living companions who from the woods beyond were even then occasionally sending a whistling bullet after us. They are brave and believe in the cause they fight for."

GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE (LC)

A 22-INCH-WIDE OAK TREE THAT STOOD DIRECTLY BEHIND THE BLOODY ANGLE WAS LITERALLY CUT DOWN BY THE HAIL OF BULLETS. TODAY A SEGMENT OF THE TREE IS ON EXHIBIT AT THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION. (SMITHSONIAN)

Grant's aide Horace Porter viewed May 12's handiwork in dismay. "Our own killed were scattered over a large space near the 'angle,'" he recounted, "while in front of the captured breastworks the enemy's dead, vastly more numerous than our own, were piled upon each other in some places four layers deep, exhibiting every ghastly phase of mutilation." He added that "below the mass of fast-decaying corpses, the convulsive twitching of limbs and the writhing of bodies showed that there were wounded men still alive and struggling to extricate themselves from their horrid entombment."

Lee's artillery chief Brigadier General William N. Pendleton wrote his daughter that "in general, we have been quite successful against General Ulysses." He conceded that "by accident night before last, however, they gained an advantage which will partially encourage them." The loss of the salient, he explained, "is the only mishap of consequence," and he went on to conclude that "no army in the world was ever in finer condition after two days continuous fighting." Captain T. J. Linebarger gave his family a more candid appraisal. "Grant is not like other Yankees," he warned. "Half such a whipping would have sent McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, or Meade crossing to the other side of the Rappahannock, but Grant may join us in battle at any moment." As Captain Linebarger assessed the situation, "It seems that Grant is determined to sacrifice his army or destroy Lee's."

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