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Civil War Series

The Battles of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

   

MAY 19: EWELL STUMBLES AT HARRIS'S FARM

Before Grant could spring his trap, Lee seized the initiative by sending Ewell on a reconnaissance in force to locate Grant's northern flank. On the afternoon of May 19, Ewell took the larger part of Rodes's and Gordon's divisions up Brock Road, past corpses moldering on the Spindle field, then northeast on the Gordon Road toward Fredericksburg. Around five o'clock that afternoon, he stumbled upon several heavy artillery regiments serving as infantry. For some of the "Heavies," this was their first exposure to combat. As fighting heated up, they were reinforced by the First Maryland returning from furlough. Meade pumped Birney's division into the fray, and a confused and bitter round of combat ensued.

ON MAY 18 GRANT STRUCK AT THE BASE OF THE MULESHOE. EWELL'S MEN, FIGHTING BEHIND EARTHWORKS LIKE THESE, EASILY REPULSED THE ATTACK. (LC)


(click on image for a PDF version)
THE ARMIES ABANDON SPOTSYLVANIA: MAY 21
Unable to crack Lee's entrenched line at Spotsylvania, Grant determines to pry him out of position by dispatching Hancock's corps to Milford Station. Before he can implement this plan, however, Ewell leads his depleted corps in a reconnaissance toward the Fredericksburg Road, resulting in a sharp fight on May 19 at the Harris farm (inset). When Ewell falls back to his previous position, Hancock starts for Milford Station, compelling Lee to abandon Spotsylvania and retreat south along the Telegraph Road.

Lee became increasingly concerned as Ewell became drawn into a major engagement far from the rest of the army. When firing sputtered out around 9:00 P.M., Ewell's soldiers immediately began working their way back to their former position. Many lost their way and were captured. The engagement at Harris's farm was a pointless and costly skirmish, and the "Heavies" had acquitted themselves well. Ewell lost over nine hundred men collecting intelligence that a cavalry squad could just as well have gathered.

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