MAY 13-16: GRANT REORIENTS HIS LINE
Once again, Grant had made a determined effort to break Lee's line
and failed. And once again, he refused to consider his setback a defeat.
He remained true to his strategic goal of applying unrelenting pressure
against the Army of Northern Virginia until it snapped. While his
soldiers gathered spoils from the battlefield on May 13, Grant laid the
groundwork for a major shift, planning to move the Fifth and Sixth Corps
behind the Second and past Burnside's left flank. His goal was to mass
his forces near the eastern approaches to Spotsylvania and renew battle
Weary Northerners slogged all night through a drenching downpour.
"The mud was deep over a large part of the route," an aide observed.
"The darkness was intense, so that literally you could not see your hand
held before your face." Early the next morning, elements from Ayres's
brigade occupied Myers' Hill west of the Fredericksburg Road and below
the Ni. The position overlooked much of the Rebel line and anchored
Grant's flank. Upton reached the hill shortly, and hot little
skirmishes flared around the elevation all day. Hindered by miserable
roads and his soldiers' exhausted condition, Meade could not organize an
assault against Spotsylvania. The army, an aide remarked, was "broken
and scattered and it was not practicable to get the command in condition
for offensive operations that day."
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GRANT MANEUVERS FOR POSITION: MAY 13-18|
In the wake of the Bloody Angle fighting, Lee withdraws Ewell's corps to
a new line below the Harrison House. On the night of May 13, Grant
begins sidling the army to the left, across the Fredericksburg Road,
resulting in a fight for Myers Hill. When Lee counters by shifting
Anderson's corps to the right, Grant orders Hancock and Wright to attack
the Confederate line below the Harrison House, hoping to catch Lee out
of position. Hancock and Wright find the Confederates firmly in place,
however, and their May 18 attacks are easily repulsed.
In point of fact, Grant had again missed a golden opportunity. Lee
had been slow to apprehend Grant's shift and had left the courthouse
hamlet lightly guarded. Toward day's end, however, he realized Grant's
intentions and shifted part of the First Corps to Spotsylvania Court
House. By May 15, Grant's line ran roughly north to south, from the
Landrum house to a point past Myers' Hill. Lee's army stretched from
behind the former salient across the Fredericksburg Road and on to
Snell's Bridge below Spotsylvania Court House.
"We have had five days' almost constant rain without any prospect
yet of its clearing up," Grant explained to Washington. "All offensive
operations necessarily cease until we can have twenty-four hours of dry
weather." A Confederate informed his family that "you can hardly imagine
how uncomfortable we are lying in the mud." He added that "for nearly
two weeks our men have been in line of battleexposed to all the
inclemency of weatherfirst the insufferable heat and now the
drenching rainsand yet they stand and fight." He closed with a
heartfelt plea. "I am worn out and wearied in mind, with continued
anxiety. Oh if it could all end, and this terrible turmoil cease!"