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The plan went terribly awry. First, Hancock had to finish extricating his corps from the Po and resume his post on the western end of the Union formation.

Then, mid-afternoon, Warren announced that he could successfully attack Laurel Hill. The army-wide offensive was delayed until p. The postponement, however, threw another part of the intended offensive out of whack. Identifying a finger of woods that reached within two hundred yards of the Confederate line, Upton arranged twelve crack regiments into a compact formation comprised of four lines of troops.

The first line was to charge without pausing, leap onto the rebel earthworks, shoot and bayonet the defenders, and push left and right to widen their lodgment. The second line was to pile in, followed by the third line, while the fourth line remained in the woods as a reserve. Shortly after p.

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Ewell rode toward the tumult, excitedly barking orders and pulling on his moustache. The earlier order postponing the attack, however, had never reached Mott; assuming that the offensive was still scheduled for p. Many elected to run the gantlet of enemy fire, dragging wounded comrades with them. Of the nearly five thousand soldiers who made the charge with Upton, more than a thousand did not return.


Once more, as in the Wilderness, the Army of the Potomac had let him down. Generals had faltered, orders had gone astray, and Meade had neglected to achieve even the semblance of coordination. What if the assaulting force were larger? What if the attack had occurred just before sunrise, magnifying the element of surprise?

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A cavalryman at headquarters overheard the Union commander discussing the possibilities with his aides. The result was a bulge half a mile wide and half a mile deep, pointing toward the Federals.

The protuberance resembled a mule shoe, and the soldiers called it by that name. In military parlance, the Mule Shoe was a salient, a feature notoriously difficult to defend. Lee and his engineers, however, decided to hold the Mule Shoe because it occupied high ground. Lee directed Ewell to pack the salient with artillery, thirty pieces in all.

The sky darkened on May 11, and rain fell in torrents. Apprised of mounting enemy activity, Lee mistakenly concluded that Grant was retreating. Aggressive as ever, Lee wanted his army poised to harass Grant during his withdrawal. To facilitate his pursuit, he ordered the cannon extracted from the Mule Shoe and brought back nearly two miles to firm roads at Spotsylvania Court House. The marching column kept breaking, and officers flailed about, cursing as they tried to reunite the pieces. No one on the Union side knew how strongly the rebel earthworks were manned, and even the half-mile stretch between the staging area at the Brown house and the Mule Shoe was a mystery.

Mud-spattered Federals filed into the Brown house fields all night. By midnight, persistent reports from outposts convinced Johnson that Grant was preparing to attack, and he asked Ewell for his artillery back. Out of an abundance of caution, however, he, too, ordered the artillery returned to the salient by daylight. Not until a. The road was only faintly illuminated by dawn as the guns started toward the front, horses straining and wheels slipping in muddy ruts.

The downpour slowed to a drizzle, and mist drifted over the fields around Mr. Half a mile south, aides roused Allegheny Johnson and warned that enemy soldiers were approaching. In parts of the salient, stunned defenders surrendered with scarcely a fight; other sectors witnessed horrific hand-to-hand combat as Federals battered their way along the trench line behind the works. Three thousand Confederates fell prisoner, along with the guns that had rolled in from Spotsylvania Court House.

Twenty thousand Federal troops were now shoe-horned into the tip of the salient. Men milled about, seizing prisoners and collecting mementos from abandoned rebel camps. In an attempt to maintain the initiative, Hancock urged his officers to regroup and pursue the defeated enemy. But the offensive was stymied. Confederate leadership within the Mule Shoe was also in shambles.

Johnson was a prisoner, and volatile Richard Ewell, his superior, seemed beside himself, cursing and whacking retreating soldiers across their backs with his sword. As Lee saw it, his best option was to abandon the Mule Shoe and prepare a new line on high ground a mile to the rear, near the home of the Harrison family.

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  7. To buy time, part of his army would have to hold off the entire Union offensive. In past battles, Lee generally delegated responsibility to his subordinates. Longstreet, however, was seriously wounded in the Wilderness, Hill was sick, Ewell seemed incapable of exerting intelligent leadership, and Stuart had ridden off to fight Sheridan.

    This time, Lee could not delegate; he had to personally select the units necessary to recapture the Mule Shoe. Advancing through a veritable blizzard of musketry, the North Carolinians drove the Northerners from the earthworks in front of them and wedged into a short sector of trenches. From this high ground, Union troops could enfilade the western leg. Simply put, whoever controlled the elevation would command the earthworks that Lee so desperately needed to occupy. Buffeted by intense fire, they piled into fortifications next to Ramseur, closer by yards to critical high ground and vulnerable to the deadly plunging fire.

    Then came Mississippians under Brigadier General Nathaniel Harrison Harris; Union musketry forced them to seek cover in entrenchments to the right of the Alabamians, extending the recaptured earthworks closer to the critical high ground. It was now a.

    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865

    Determined to recapture the high ground, the Union high command launched a welter of counterattacks. Coehorn mortars heaved shells in high, curving arcs behind the Confederate line, and Union artillery fired into the works at point-blank range. The plain became a field of blue-clad corpses, many pulverized into mush, and many soldiers broke under the strain and stood erect, firing slowly and deliberately until Confederate balls cut them down.

    The scene on the rebel side was equally horrific. Soldiers who lived through the experience described the horror of the combat. Few had any desire to return to the place they later named the Bloody Angle.

    War Diary of Luman Harris Tenney. — Daily Observations from The Civil War

    Night brought no slackening of fire, and the same four rebel brigades that had recaptured the works that morning held grimly on. For them, life had evolved into killing and dying, a slow-motion dance in a ghoulish paste of mud and corpses. The sun rose over a scene of carnage that shocked even hardened veterans. The fighting on May 12 had gained Grant a few acres of bloodstained Virginia soil. But tactically, the Union commander had gained nothing, and Lee now faced him from his strongest position yet.

    The initial assault was well conceived, but no one anticipated what needed to be done once the attacking force had penetrated the rebel line.

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    No organized body of troops stood ready to exploit the breach, and the inevitable confusion engendered by the charge and the capture of the rebel defenders took the steam out of the offensive. Surprisingly, neither Grant nor Meade visited the front or designated a subordinate to coordinate the various corps.

    The battle also revealed much about Lee. But his ability to maintain his composure, react to crisis, and micromanage his troops had been impressive. Also impressive was the tenacity of his soldiers, who had repulsed a vastly larger force and held their ground. May 12 was the bloodiest day of the campaign thus far. Some 9, Confederates and an equal number of Federals had been killed, wounded, or captured. After forty hours reached Weston at two P. Fed, watered and marched for Platte City at six P. Five letters. Major was fired at. Letter from Will Hudson.