Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Spotsylvania Courthouse panoramas: The Bloody Angle

      Savage, hand-to-handing fighting took place at The Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864.
              "In this angle of death the dead and wounded rebels lie ... literally in piles." 

Remove the monuments and cut the grass and brush and the scenes above might pass for a golf course fairway or a city park in Anywhere, USA. But this is hallowed ground -- ground where Yankees and Rebels slugged it out in savage, and sometimes hand-to-hand, fighting beginning May 10, 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Two days later, a 1,300-man brigade of South Carolinians defended The Bloody Angle -- a slight angle in the Rebel earthworks -- for 18 hours in a downpour against thousands of Yankees. A New York Times correspondent eloquently described the horror of battle in the May 18, 1864 edition:

Close-up of the 15th New Jersey monument at the
 Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.
So terrific was the death-grapple, however, that at different times of the day the rebel colors were planted on the one side of the works and ours on the other, the men fighting across the parapet. Nothing during the war has equaled the savage desperation of this struggle, which was continued for fourteen hours, and the scene of the conflict, from which I have just come, presents a spectacle of horror that curdles the blood of the boldest. The angle of the works at which [General Winfield Scott] HANCOCK entered, and for the possession of which the savage fight of the day was made, is a perfect Golgotha. In this angle of death the dead and wounded rebels lie, this morning, literally in piles -- men in the agonies of death groaning beneath the dead bodies of their comrades. On an area of a few acres in rear of their position, lie not less than a thousand rebel corpses, many literally torn to shreds by hundreds of balls, and several with bayonet thrusts through and through their bodies, pierced on the very margins of the parapet, which they were determined to retake or perish in the attempt. The one exclamation of every man who looks on the spectacle is, 'God forbid that I should ever gaze upon such a sight again.'

In early April, John Cummings of the superb Spotsylvania Civil War blog served as my Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield guide. He explained the fighting at The Muleshoe salient, showed me where Rebels were buried in the woods and gently (and correctly) reminded me not to walk on what remains of the earthworks. John's passion for the battlefield and excellent photographic analysis of it (see here, here and especially here) make his blog well worth visiting. Speaking of worth visiting, the National Park Service is holding 150th anniversary events commemorating the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Several of the NPS tours, which begin Thursday, will be held in real-time, 150 years after the momentous events occurred.

Monument to McGowan's Brigade of South Carolinians who defended 
The Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864.
The "gulley" in the monument base represents the trench behind the earthworks defended
 by McGowan's brigade. During the battle, which was fought in a downpour, the 
trench filled with water -- and corpses.

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