Spotsylvania Battlefield Tour

Map showing detail of Spotsylvania Battlefield
The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, fought from May 8-21, 1864, introduced a new kind of war to the armies. Soldiers experienced fighting that not even three years of warfare had prepared them for, and civilians who lived on the landscape found themselves stuck between the warring forces.

The battlefield includes shared public roads that may move at high speeds. Drive carefully. There are a few walking trails throughout the battlefield as well as historical earthworks and trenches. Please help preserve the battlefield by not walking on earthworks and remaining on the trails.

This route and audio tour is also available via the National Park Service app (available at the Apple Store and on Google Play).

1. Spotsylvania Battlefield Visitor Center

A sign for a battlefield tour, stop number 1.
The Spotsylvania Battlefield Exhibit Shelter is located at the beginning of the park driving tour road.

After the Battle of the Wilderness, US General Ulysses S. Grant decided to keep his army on the move. This decision, and Grant’s ability to match the aggressiveness of Confederate General Robert E. Lee would prove to shape the course of the war to come.

Both armies marched furiously after leaving the Wilderness. The Confederate Army reached the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House by a hair and blocked the US Army from moving further south. In position, both sides began setting up lines of defense and Grant considered his options for attacking Lee’s army.


Driving Directions to Upton's Road, Stop #2

Continue along Grant Drive for 0.6 miles to Tour Stop #2, Upton's Road, and park in the pull out on your right.

2. Upton's Road

Rectangular metal sign leading to trail through the woods where Upton's soldiers marched.
The trail here follows a route near the one US Colonel Emory Upton and his troops took on May 10, 1864.

Before the war, the small lanes and paths that crisscrossed the countryside were little more than mundane roads utilized by farmers. When the armies came, roads, no matter how small, became vitally important for moving troops into position. One such path is here—so unimportant before the war that it did not even have a name.

On May 10, 1864, Federal soldiers under the command of Colonel Emory Upton used the nondescript path to attack Confederate fortifications less than a mile away. From here, you may walk the half-mile roundtrip trail to the site of Upton’s attack.


Driving Directions to the Bloody Angle, Stop #3

Continue along Grant Drive for 0.3 miles to Tour Stop #3, Bloody Angle, and park in the lot to your left.

3. Bloody Angle

A concave shaped field in fall with a line of trees in the distance.
The Bloody Angle became the epicenter of hand-to-hand fighting on May 12, 1864.

Some of war’s most infamous fighting took place here over 24 hours, starting with a pre-dawn attack by nearly 20,000 Federal soldiers against the Confederate position known as the Muleshoe Salient. By the time the fighting ended here, there were almost 17,000 casualties between the two armies, and a bend in the earthworks became forever known as the Bloody Angle. The fighting here completely upended the norms of Civil War combat. Soldiers used to fighting for only short periods of time were thrown into the maelstrom for hours on end.

After the war, veterans returned to place monuments, marking their positions during the battle.

A series of walking trails go around those monuments and into the Bloody Angle. Be mindful that there are likely still soldiers buried within these trenches. Please be respectful by not walking on them.


Driving Directions to the Harrison House Site, Stop #4

Follow Grant Drive beyond the Bloody Angle (at the sharp curve near the Bloody Angle the road becomes Anderson Drive) and follow Anderson Drive for 0.4 miles to a fork in the road. Take a left at the fork to Tour Stop #4, Harrison House Site, and park in the pull out to your right.

If you take the fork to the right, it will lead you to the location of Lee's Last Line and reconstructed earthworks.

4. Harrison House Site

A pile of stone covered in grasses formerly a house site.
The Harrison House sat behind the Confederate line at the Muleshoe Salient.

The Harrison House, of which only the foundation remains, represents the common household transformed by the Civil War into a place of fighting and violence. On the morning of May 12, 1864, Robert E. Lee’s headquarters were situated near the front yard of the house, and from here, Confederate counter-attacks were launched towards the Bloody Angle. Out of sheer desperation, Lee himself tried to lead some of those attacks, attempting to stave off disaster and Confederate defeat.


Driving Directions to the McCoull House Site, Stop #5

Turn left on Gordon Drive, in about 400 ft turn left on McCoull Drive, and drive 0.2 miles to the parking area for Tour Stop #5, McCoull House.

5. McCoull House Site

The stone foundations of a house in a field.
Today these stones mark the location of the McCoull House Site.

When the Civil War began, 50% of Spotsylvania County's residents were enslaved. Even before the armies came here in the spring of 1864, people here felt the war’s effects.

Two enslaved people who lived here at the McCoull House fled to Union lines in 1862, part of the steady flow of almost 10,000 enslaved from the greater Fredericksburg area who made their way to freedom in 1862. Two years later, the war came right to the front steps of the McCoull House, and fighting swirled around the yard on May 12, and six days later on May 18.

By the time the fighting ended, a passerby wrote, “Of the woods, thinned and despoiled by the storm of iron and lead, only a ghostly grove of dead trunks and dreary limbs remained.”


Driving Directions to East Face of Salient, Stop #6

Drive back down McCoull Drive and turn left onto Gordon Drive. In 0.6 miles park in the pull out for Tour Stop #6, East Face of Salient.

6. East Face of Salient

A path with grass growing around it leading to a tree line.
A path connects the eastern face of the Muleshoe Salient with the Bloody Angle.

The tactics and strategy of warfare had changed by 1864. Earlier in the war, battles were marked by engagements maneuvering around open fields; by the time they reached Spotsylvania, armies were digging more and more elaborate trenches. The East Face of the Muleshoe Salient present some of the best-preserved trenches anywhere on the battlefield and the opportunity to examine the changing methods of warfare.


Driving Directions to Heth's Salient, Stop #7

Continue along the park road for 0.6 miles to Tour Stop #7, Heth's Salient, and park in the pull out to your right.

7. Heth's Salient

A small granite monument and interpretive sign and the side of a tree lined road.
Confederates held the earthworks here throughout the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

The importance of earthworks and trenches was evident here at Heth’s Salient. Despite being attacked numerous times throughout the battle, the Confederate defenses here never buckled. Throughout the battle the earthworks protected the Army of Northern Virginia’s right near the Fredericksburg Road. Federal soldiers attacking this position included the 17th Michigan, whose monument, dedicated in 1997, is located here.

The Confederate trenches are still visible about a quarter mile from this stop, but there are no established trails and reaching them requires walking through thick foliage.


Driving Directions to the Fredericksburg Road, Stop #8

Continue along the park road (now Burnside Drive) for 0.7 miles to Tour Stop #8, Fredericksburg Road, and park in the pull out to your right.

8. Fredericksburg Road

A road lines with trees leading to a highway.
At the end of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, both sides sought control of the Fredericksburg Road.

As the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House reached its conclusion, both sides looked to control the Fredericksburg Road. Whichever side possessed the road had the ability to help or hinder the arrival of reinforcements and supplies. The battle’s last fighting took place to determine which army owned the Fredericksburg Road. The United States Army of the Potomac maintained control of the valuable route. With the battle’s end on May 21, the armies marched away, leaving behind the catastrophic debris of the last thirteen days.

The memory of the battle and how it was commemorated took center stage in the latter years of the 1800s as veterans returned to put up monuments and preserve land where they had fought years before.


Last updated: October 3, 2022

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