Spotsylvania C.H. and the North Anna River

Updated 2/24/05

Eastern ACW Books

Grant vs. Lee, Round 2. I disliked this battle even more than the Wilderness early on in my studies, but Gordon Rhea was once again responsible for changing my mind. It was more than just a series of failed charges against breastworks. Lee and Grant raced for the crossroads at Spotsylvania C.H., Grant by the Brock Road and Lee by cutting a new road (!!) through the trees about a mile west of and parallel to the Brock Road. Lee won and Union cavalry clashed with Rebels of Anderson's Corps at Laurel Hill to start the bloodshed. After that, Grant tried to feint at one point to draw Lee's troops, and then try to hit him somewhere else. The fighting saw Union Colonel Emory Upton devise new tactics which he used to successfully breach the Confederate line, only to be thrown out again when reinforcements were not forthcoming. And of course there is the "Mule Shoe" salient and the Bloody Angle, stressed as "more bloody than angle" to me by the Park Ranger giving a tour there this past summer. The list goes on, but the battles around Spotsylvania Courthouse were much more fascinating than I ever could have imagined them to be when I was younger (and before Rhea's book, of course). After Spotsylvania Grant again moved south and east around Lee's right, and the two armies clashed again at the North Anna River. Lee had set a trap there and planned to defeat part of Grant's army in detail, but he was bedridden at the time and did not want to have one of his subordinates direct a crucial battle. In the end, there was a little bit of fighting, but Grant then once again sidled south and east to a place called Cold Harbor.


The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern: May 7-12, 1864

Gordon C. Rhea
This is the second in Gordon Rhea's great series on the Overland Campaign. I never realized how much strategy was involved in the Battles around Spotsylvania. Also examined thoroughly is the bungling and awkward chain of command between Grant and Meade and the often fatal consequences it often had for thousands of Federals. Lee wasn't immune to mistakes, either. He took all of his artillery out of the "Mule Shoe" salient on the morning of May 12 because he thought Grant was moving and wanted his guns to have a head start. Unfortunately, Grant was planning a massive attack instead of moving, and the almost 24-hour long battle for the Mule Shoe costed Lee around 8,000 men he could ill-afford to lose. Rhea also manages to talk about Sheridan's Cavalry Raid and the Battle of Yellow Tavern, where J.E.B. Stuart was killed. The maps ar plentiful and excellent as always. If you want to understand the events of May 7-12, 1864, buy this book! 483 pp., 30 maps

The Spotsylvania Campaign: May 7-21, 1864

John Cannan
This is another "Great Campaigns" book, and should be left to beginners who just want to learn more about the battle at first. The maps aren't very good and only go down to the brigade level a few times. One interesting thing is a sidebar cataloging the way Union troops were wounded during the campaign. Despite the well-known hand-to-hand fighting which occurred all along the "Mule Shoe", only a handful of Union soldiers were injured by bayonets, with the vast majority being killed by the good old-fashioned bullet. This would make a good first book on the campaign. But after you get this and are comfortable with the fighing around Spotsylvania, be sure to pick up Rhea's book. 240 pp., 12 maps

The Spotsylvania Campaign

Gary W. Gallagher (editor)

Various Authors

Another of Gallagher's Essay series, which if you've been reading all of my reviews up to this point, you know is a recommended book. There are 8 essays in this book, and most deal with tactical or strategic considerations. Gordon Rhea is present, writing an article on G.K. Warren and his problems with Corps Command. Both Bob Kricks are also present, with the elder Bob expounding on Rebel experiences in the Bloody Angle, and the younger Bob telling us what the Rebels thought of Sheridan's Cavalry raid. I enjoyed all of the other essays in this book as well, and any fan of the Overland Campaign should have a similar experience, I would think. 272 pp., 8 maps
William D. Matter
New 2/24/05 I will review this book after I have read it. 455 pp.

To The North Anna River: Grant and Lee May 13-25, 1864

Gordon C. Rhea

Here is the third of Gordon Rhea's fine series. The book starts where the second one ended: in the trenches north of Spotsylvania Court House the morning after the massive assault on the "Mule Shoe" salient. Grant basically decided to spread Lee as far as possible and then strike what looked like Lee's weak points. For days, up until May 18 and the last assault in fact, Grant and Lee played a tense guessing game about where the next blow would land. After the failed attack on the 18th over the remnants of the "Mule Shoe", and a battle at Harris farm in which the Union "Heavies" performed extremely well, Grant disengaged yet again on the 22nd. Lee beat him to the south bank of the Anna River and set a trap. Lee put his center directly on the North Anna River and had his left and right fan out to form an upside down "V". When Grant's troops crossed the bridges to the left or right of Lee's center, they would be isolated from the rest of Grant's Army, while the whole time Lee's two flanks could be easily and quickly reinforced. Lee had planned to attack when enough troops crossed on one side or the other, but he fell sick and the opportunity fell away. Rhea also talks about Sheridan's Cavalry and their adventures just outside the gates of Richmond. The book ends with Grant contemplating yet another slide south and east, to a crossroads called Cold Harbor. The maps are excellent and there are a ton of them. The maps seem to get better in every book in the series so far, and I hope that continues with Cold Harbor. 505 pp., 29 maps