May 8, 1864: The Battle of Spotsylvania Begins

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_07

Grant, undaunted by his losses at the battle of the Wilderness, sent his army racing down Brock Road on the night of May 7-8 to seize the crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House and get between Lee and Richmond.

Lee was unsure of Grant’s plan, reasoning that Grant would either be heading east towards Fredericksburg or moving south.  In either case it was obvious to Lee that the Spotsylvania Court House crossroads would be essential and sent his cavalry ahead to delay the advance of the Union troops and to seize the crossroads.  He also ordered the First corps under its new commander General Richard Anderson to seize the crossroads.

Union cavalry under Sheridan was bogged down during the nights in running battles with the Confederate cavalry.

By dawn on May 8 the Confederates had control of the crossroads.  Fighting ensued throughout the day as Confederate and Union arriving units were fed into  battle with the Confederates beating off badly coordinated Union attacks.  As night fell, both armies began to dig in and prepare fortifications.

 

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_09

The Union and Confederate armies would spend another 11 days at Spotsylvania, with more bloody fighting to come.  Here is Lee’s brief reports to the Secretary of War regarding the fighting on May 8.

NEAR SPOTSYLVANIA COURT-HOUSE, Via Orange Court-House, May [8], 18642.30 p.m.

Hon. JAMES A. SEDDON.

       After a sharp encounter with the Fifth Army Corps (Warren’s) and Torbert’s division of cavalry, General R. H. Anderson, with the advance of the army, repulsed the enemy with heavy slaughter and took possession of the Court-House. I am the more grateful to the Giver of all victory that our loss is small.

R. E. LEE, General.


HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, May 8, 18649 p.m.

Hon. SECRETARY OF WAR

       After the repulse of the enemy from Spotsylvania Court-House this morning, receiving re-enforcements, he renewed the attack on our position, but was again handsomely driven back.

R. E. LEE

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.