52: Chapter LII.
<< 51: Chapter LI. || 53: Chapter LIII. >>
The Mattapony River is formed by the junction of the Mat, the
Ta, the Po and the Ny rivers, the last being the northernmost of
the four. It takes its rise about a mile south and a little east
of the Wilderness Tavern. The Po rises south-west of the place,
but farther away. Spottsylvania is on the ridge dividing these
two streams, and where they are but a few miles apart. The
Brock Road reaches Spottsylvania without crossing either of
these streams. Lee's army coming up by the Catharpin Road, had
to cross the Po at Wooden Bridge. Warren and Hancock came by
the Brock Road. Sedgwick crossed the Ny at Catharpin Furnace.
Burnside coming by Aldrich's to Gates's house, had to cross the
Ny near the enemy. He found pickets at the bridge, but they
were soon driven off by a brigade of Willcox's division, and the
stream was crossed. This brigade was furiously attacked; but the
remainder of the division coming up, they were enabled to hold
their position, and soon fortified it.
About the time I received the news of this attack, word came
from Hancock that Early had left his front. He had been forced
over to the Catharpin Road, crossing the Po at Corbin's and
again at Wooden Bridge. These are the bridges Sheridan had
given orders to his cavalry to occupy on the 8th, while one
division should occupy Spottsylvania. These movements of the
enemy gave me the idea that Lee was about to make the attempt to
get to, or towards, Fredericksburg to cut off my supplies. I
made arrangements to attack his right and get between him and
Richmond if he should try to execute this design. If he had any
such intention it was abandoned as soon as Burnside was
established south of the Ny.
The Po and the Ny are narrow little streams, but deep, with
abrupt banks, and bordered by heavily wooded and marshy
bottoms—at the time we were there—and difficult to cross
except where bridged. The country about was generally heavily
timbered, but with occasional clearings. It was a much better
country to conduct a defensive campaign in than an offensive one.
By noon of the 9th the position of the two armies was as
follows: Lee occupied a semicircle facing north, north-west and
north-east, inclosing the town. Anderson was on his left
extending to the Po, Ewell came next, then Early. Warren
occupied our right, covering the Brock and other roads
converging at Spottsylvania; Sedgwick was to his left and
Burnside on our extreme left. Hancock was yet back at Todd's
Tavern, but as soon as it was known that Early had left
Hancock's front the latter was ordered up to Warren's right. He
formed a line with three divisions on the hill overlooking the Po
early in the afternoon, and was ordered to cross the Po and get
on the enemy's flank. The fourth division of Hancock's corps,
Mott commanding, was left at Todd's when the corps first came
up; but in the afternoon it was brought up and placed to the
left of Sedgwick's—now Wright's—6th corps. In the morning
General Sedgwick had been killed near the right of his
intrenchments by rebel sharpshooters. His loss was a severe one
to the Army of the Potomac and to the Nation. General H. G.
Wright succeeded him in the command of his corps.
Hancock was now, nine P.M. of the 9th of May, across the left
flank of Lee's army, but separated from it, and also from the
remainder of Meade's army, by the Po River. But for the
lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night he would
have attempted to cross the river again at Wooden Bridge, thus
bringing himself on the same side with both friend and foe.
The Po at the points where Hancock's corps crossed runs nearly
due east. Just below his lower crossing—the troops crossed at
three points—it turns due south, and after passing under Wooden
Bridge soon resumes a more easterly direction. During the night
this corps built three bridges over the Po; but these were in
The position assumed by Hancock's corps forced Lee to reinforce
his left during the night. Accordingly on the morning of the
10th, when Hancock renewed his effort to get over the Po to his
front, he found himself confronted by some of Early's command,
which had been brought from the extreme right of the enemy
during the night. He succeeded in effecting a crossing with one
brigade, however, but finding the enemy intrenched in his front,
no more were crossed.
Hancock reconnoitered his front on the morning of the 10th, with
the view of forcing a crossing, if it was found that an
advantage could be gained. The enemy was found strongly
intrenched on the high ground overlooking the river, and
commanding the Wooden Bridge with artillery. Anderson's left
rested on the Po, where it turns south; therefore, for Hancock
to cross over—although it would bring him to the same side of
the stream with the rest of the army—would still farther
isolate him from it. The stream would have to be crossed twice
in the face of the enemy to unite with the main body. The idea
of crossing was therefore abandoned.
Lee had weakened the other parts of his line to meet this
movement of Hancock's, and I determined to take advantage of
it. Accordingly in the morning, orders were issued for an
attack in the afternoon on the centre by Warren's and Wright's
corps, Hancock to command all the attacking force. Two of his
divisions were brought to the north side of the Po. Gibbon was
placed to the right of Warren, and Birney in his rear as a
reserve. Barlow's division was left south of the stream, and
Mott of the same corps was still to the left of Wright's
corps. Burnside was ordered to reconnoiter his front in force,
and, if an opportunity presented, to attack with vigor. The
enemy seeing Barlow's division isolated from the rest of the
army, came out and attacked with fury. Barlow repulsed the
assault with great slaughter, and with considerable loss to
himself. But the enemy reorganized and renewed the assault.
Birney was now moved to the high ground overlooking the river
crossings built by our troops, and covered the crossings. The
second assault was repulsed, again with severe loss to the
enemy, and Barlow was withdrawn without further molestation.
General T. G. Stevenson was killed in this move.
Between the lines, where Warren's assault was to take place,
there was a ravine grown up with large trees and underbrush,
making it almost impenetrable by man. The slopes on both sides
were also covered with a heavy growth of timber. Warren, before
noon, reconnoitered his front twice, the first time with one and
the second with two divisions. He was repulsed on both
occasions, but gained such information of the ground as to
induce him to report recommending the assault.
Wright also reconnoitered his front and gained a considerably
advanced position from the one he started from. He then
organized a storming party, consisting of twelve regiments, and
assigned Colonel Emory Upton, of the 121st New York Volunteers,
to the command of it. About four o'clock in the afternoon the
assault was ordered, Warren's and Wright's corps, with Mott's
division of Hancock's corps, to move simultaneously. The
movement was prompt, and in a few minutes the fiercest of
struggles began. The battle-field was so densely covered with
forest that but little could be seen, by any one person, as to
the progress made. Meade and I occupied the best position we
could get, in rear of Warren.
Warren was repulsed with heavy loss, General J. C. Rice being
among the killed. He was not followed, however, by the enemy,
and was thereby enabled to reorganize his command as soon as
covered from the guns of the enemy. To the left our success was
decided, but the advantage was lost by the feeble action of
Mott. Upton with his assaulting party pushed forward and
crossed the enemy's intrenchments. Turning to the right and
left he captured several guns and some hundreds of prisoners.
Mott was ordered to his assistance but failed utterly. So much
time was lost in trying to get up the troops which were in the
right position to reinforce, that I ordered Upton to withdraw;
but the officers and men of his command were so averse to giving
up the advantage they had gained that I withdrew the order. To
relieve them, I ordered a renewal of the assault. By this time
Hancock, who had gone with Birney's division to relieve Barlow,
had returned, bringing the division with him. His corps was now
joined with Warren's and Wright's in this last assault. It was
gallantly made, many men getting up to, and over, the works of
the enemy; but they were not able to hold them. At night they
were withdrawn. Upton brought his prisoners with him, but the
guns he had captured he was obliged to abandon. Upton had
gained an important advantage, but a lack in others of the
spirit and dash possessed by him lost it to us. Before leaving
Washington I had been authorized to promote officers on the
field for special acts of gallantry. By this authority I
conferred the rank of brigadier-general upon Upton on the spot,
and this act was confirmed by the President. Upton had been
badly wounded in this fight.
Burnside on the left had got up to within a few hundred yards of
Spottsylvania Court House, completely turning Lee's right. He
was not aware of the importance of the advantage he had gained,
and I, being with the troops where the heavy fighting was, did
not know of it at the time. He had gained his position with but
little fighting, and almost without loss. Burnside's position
now separated him widely from Wright's corps, the corps nearest
to him. At night he was ordered to join on to this. This
brought him back about a mile, and lost to us an important
advantage. I attach no blame to Burnside for this, but I do to
myself for not having had a staff officer with him to report to
me his position.
The enemy had not dared to come out of his line at any point to
follow up his advantage, except in the single instance of his
attack on Barlow. Then he was twice repulsed with heavy loss,
though he had an entire corps against two brigades. Barlow took
up his bridges in the presence of this force.
On the 11th there was no battle and but little firing; none
except by Mott who made a reconnaissance to ascertain if there
was a weak point in the enemy's line.
I wrote the following letter to General Halleck:
Near Spottsylvania C. H.,
May 11, 1864—8.3O A.M.
MAJOR-General HALLECK, Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington,
We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result
up to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been
heavy as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time
eleven general officers killed, wounded and missing, and
probably twenty thousand men. I think the loss of the enemy
must be greater—we having taken over four thousand prisoners in
battle, whilst he has taken from us but few except a few
stragglers. I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons
for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to
fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
The arrival of reinforcements here will be very encouraging to
the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible, and
in as great numbers. My object in having them sent to Belle
Plain was to use them as an escort to our supply trains. If it
is more convenient to send them out by train to march from the
railroad to Belle Plain or Fredericksburg, send them so.
I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to
the mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers,
and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take.
Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee's
army being detached for the defence of Richmond.
U. S. GRANT,
And also, I received information, through the War Department,
from General Butler that his cavalry under Kautz had cut the
railroad south of Petersburg, separating Beauregard from
Richmond, and had whipped Hill, killing, wounding and capturing
many. Also that he was intrenched, and could maintain
himself. On this same day came news from Sheridan to the effect
that he had destroyed ten miles of the railroad and telegraph
between Lee and Richmond, one and a half million rations, and
most of the medical stores for his army.
On the 8th I had directed Sheridan verbally to cut loose from
the Army of the Potomac and pass around the left of Lee's army
and attack his cavalry and communications, which was
successfully executed in the manner I have already described.
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