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Civil War Series

The Battles of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

   

MAY 17-18: GRANT TESTS LEE AGAIN

On May 17, the Virginia sun finally peeked from behind the clouds. Soldiers hung their clothes out to dry and Grant pondered where to strike next. One school of thought held that Grant's buildup along the Fredericksburg Road must have induced Lee to weaken his line near the former salient. Grant found this argument persuasive and ordered the Second and Sixth Corps to attack there at sunrise the next morning. During the night, Hancock's men retraced their steps to the Landrum house, across from the Bloody Angle. By 4:00 A.M., they had formed to attack, supported by Sixth Corps elements to the right and Ninth Corps elements to the left.

Ewell's troops occupied the opposing works and had used the rainy interlude to perfect their entrenchments. In front of their position spread an extensive clearing, strewn with abatis and dominated by artillery. And this time, unlike on the twelfth, Ewell was ready. Blue-clad soldiers swarmed into the clearing to a now familiar story. Abatis and entanglements pinned them in place while Ewell's artillery blistered the field with a devastating barrage. The charge was destroyed by ordnance alone. Afterward, Confederate foot soldiers congratulated the artillerists and affectionately patted their guns.

GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT (NA)

Lee's decisive repulse of Hancock persuaded Grant to seek a new field of combat. As he had done after the Wilderness, Grant resorted to maneuver to extract Lee from his near impregnable position. Hancock was to march to the rail line between Fredericksburg and Richmond, then turn south. Grant hoped that Lee would follow. "If the enemy make a general move to meet this" Grant explained, "they will be followed by the three other corps . . . and attacked if possible before time is given to entrench."

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