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The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and…

The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern May… (1997)

by Gordon C. Rhea

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Overland Campaign (2)

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221381,451 (4.34)11
The second volume in Gordon C. Rhea's peerless five-book series on the Civil War's 1864 Overland Campaign abounds with Rhea's signature detail, innovative analysis, and riveting prose. Here Rhea examines the maneuvers and battles from May 7, 1864, when Grant left the Wilderness, through May 12, when his attempt to break Lee's line by frontal assault reached a chilling climax at what is now called the Bloody Angle. Drawing exhaustively upon previously untapped materials, Rhea challenges conventional wisdom about this violent clash of titans to construct the ultimate account of Grant and Lee at Spotsylvania.… (more)



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Helpful clear account of a confusing battle. However the book is pro-confederacy in the sense that most Civil War history is gives too much attention to The Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee. Lee could never win the war by himself in Northern Virginia. No matter how many victories he won, the strategic situation for the South continued to deteriorate. While the South lost everywhere else, Lee's campaigns were exercises in futility. If Lee was so great, why wasn't he made Commander in Chief of all the Confererate forces, as Grant was in the North? I know this book is focused on one particular battle, the very fact that so much effort is spent dissecting every detail of the battles in Northern Virginia represents a bias towards the Lost Cause mythology. ( )
  clarkland | Oct 19, 2015 |
This is the second volume in the series and describes some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War. In the epilogue the author does a good analysis of the campaign and the actions of the generals. Lee comes off a little better than Grant but the significant figure is that Lee lost one-third of his army while Grant lost one-quarter of his in the campaign to date. The absolute numbers for Grant were higher. At this point I am tired of reading about killing and will turn elsewhere. There is no glory in war only death and injury. The author's descriptions of battlefield scenes would give me PTSD if I had been there. I need a rest. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Jul 15, 2009 |
The 2nd in a series about Grant’s 1864 overland campaign.

In the Confederate (trenches), dead men lay on the ground and floated in pools of water, crimsoned with blood. The wounded sprawled in every attitude of pain. A soldier in the 1st South Carolina recollected that “in stooping or squatting to load, the mud, blood, and brains mingled, would reach up to my waist, and my head and face were spotted with the horrid paint.”

The Union fared no better.

In many places, the corpses had been “chopped into hash by the bullets, and appear(ed) more like piles of jelly than the distinguishable forms of life".

This description was of the fighting on the Confederate side of the salient known in popular histories of the Civil War as the Mule Shoe. It was a bulge in Lee’s lines that was the weakest point in his very formidable entrenchments. When Hancock’s 2nd Corps charged the salient on May 12, the last and most terrible day of 5 days of butchery, the salient was the scene of some of the most terrible fighting of the war. One particular angle of the salient was so lethal for both sides that it was named “Bloody Angle.” The fighting there was 20 continuous hours of Hell. “Gettysburg”, wrote a soldier from the Iron Brigade, “is a skirmish compared to this fight.”

That was Bloody Angle. But it was preceded by 5 days of carnage.

Much has been made about the omniscience of Lee, how he always knew what his enemy was going to do, his faultless performance in battles--Lee the God. The fact was that Lee the aristocrat made mistakes, plenty of them, and at times was outfoxed by the store clerk from Galena, IL, the quiet, ungod-like Grant. This was one such occasion. After the battle of the Wilderness, Lee was confident that Grant would attack again, while Grant made preparations to slip the entire Union Army between the Confederates and Richmond, forcing Lee out from the Wilderness into the open where the Union Army’s superior in numbers and artillery would make a difference. Even when Lee was informed that the Union Army was on the move, he believed, until the two armies actually met, that Grant was retreating towards Fredericksburg. By sheer accident, a part of the Confederate 1st Corps, led by General Anderson (Longstreet had been severely wounded in the Wilderness by his own men) arrive at a crossroads near the hamlet of Spotsylvania Court House literally minutes before the advance elements of Warren’s Union 5th Corps.

In one of his most serious mistakes, Grant agreed to Sheridan’s request to take the entire Union cavalry off to fight Stuart, leaving Grant without his intelligence force, which was to cost thousands in Union casualties. Stuart did indeed meet Sheridan, at Yellow Tavern--and was killed. That, however, was not a knock-out blow for the Confederate cavalry, since there were two nearly as capable commanders ready to take over--Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of the Confederate commander-in-chief. It was a diversion, and cost far more than it accomplished in terms of Union lives.

Rhea tells a gripping, sickening story--of mistakes, of suicidal charges on both sides, of the incredible bravery of the ordinary soldier, and most particularly, of what war is really like. In this book, Rhea’s prose does improve over his previous one, although the verbs “to gloat”, “to boast”, “to concede”, “to tumble back” are vastly overworked. The maps are superb, allowing the reader to follow the action at the brigade level and sometimes at the regimental level quite easily. There are times when the Order of Battle, given in the Appendix, comes in handy; because of the large numbers of names of commanders, especially on the Union side, it’s sometimes difficult to remember which unit belonged to what division or even corps. The battle was not complex--too often it was merely Grant insisting on hurling troops piecemeal against impregnable defenses--but Rhea tells the story in a straightforward way, using as in his previous book excerpts from letters, diaries, Official Records, and other sources to illuminate his points.

This is an excellent military history of a terrible battle. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Joycepa | Mar 14, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gordon C. Rheaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Scott, JulianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The spring of 1864 opened the American Civil War's fourth year.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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