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Civil War Series

The Battles of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

   

MAY 8: WALSON OCCUPIES SPOTSYLVANIA COURTHOUSE

While Warren sparred south along Brock Road, Wilson's Union cavalry division trotted toward Spotsylvania Court House on an easterly route along the Fredericksburg Road. Wilson's troopers entered the hamlet around 8:00 A.M. and found it unprotected. The young cavalry commander recognized that he was superbly located. By sweeping north on Brock Road, he could take the Confederates on Laurel Hill in the rear.

Wilson dispatched a brigade under Colonel John B. McIntosh up Brock Road. Stuart had a single regiment to spare, which bravely but unsuccessfully attempted to detain McIntosh. Meanwhile, Anderson learned of Wilson's threat and dispatched infantry above and below Spotsylvania Court House to catch the Union cavalry division. At the last moment, a courier arrived from Sheridan and directed Wilson to withdraw. With Rebels lashing his rear guard, Wilson retired up the Fredericksburg Road as he had come.

HOT-TEMPERED PHIL SHERIDAN CHAFED FOR AN OPPORTUNITY TO FIGHT JEB STUART'S CONFEDERATE CAVALRY IN A PITCHED BATTLE HE WOULD SOON GET HIS CHANCE. (LC)

The confrontation ended with Sheridan proclaiming that he could whip Stuart if Meade would only let him, then stomping out of the tent.

Wilson's near capture brought Meade's and Sheridan's simmering feud to a boil. In Meade's opinion, Sheridan had thoroughly botched his assignment to clear the road to Spotsylvania. As Sheridan saw it, Meade had meddled in his management of the cavalry and had nearly gotten Wilson captured. Sheridan stormed over to Meade's tent in a hot rage. According to an aide who witnessed the encounter, Meade had "worked himself into a towering passion regarding the delays encountered in the forward movement." Another witness described Sheridan's language as "highly spiced and conspicuously italicized with expletives." The confrontation ended with Sheridan proclaiming that he could whip Stuart if Meade would only let him, then stomping out of the tent.

Meade walked to Grant's tent and repeated the conversation, including Sheridan's remarks about beating Stuart if Meade would only let him. "Well, he generally knows what he is talking about," Grant answered, and added: "Let him start right out and do it."

At 1:00 P.M., Sheridan received orders directing him to concentrate his command and "proceed against the enemy's cavalry." During the rest of the afternoon, he gathered his units at Alrich's and provisioned them for an early march.

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