Near Spotsylvania in Spotsylvania County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
No Turning Back
Spotsylvania Exhibit Shelter
—North Wall —
Defeated but undeterred, Grant abandoned Spotsylvania's blood-soaked fields on May 21 and continued south -- toward Richmond and ultimate victory. In his wake he left a scarred landscape pitted with thousands of graves.
An Awful Arithmetic
If considered as one engagement, the fighting at Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House constitutes the bloodiest single battle in American history. Some 36,000 Union soldiers and 24,000 Confederates were killed, wounded, captured, or missing during the period of May 5 to May 21, 1864 -- a staggering 30 percent of those engaged.
The tremendous loss of life outraged many in the North, some of whom labeled Grant a butcher. But the general understood his arithmetic. He could replace his losses, Lee could not. In time he would grind the Confederate army down to a point where it could no longer resist. Grant had engaged Lee in a war of attrition -- a war the South could not win.
"...In the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces."
Grant Leaves Spotsylvania
While the struggle for the Bloody Angle marked the apogee of fighting at Spotsylvania, it did not signify the battle's end. More than a week of combat still remained. On May 14, 18, and 19 the armies clashed again without decisive results. Although victory eluded him, Grant remained optimistic. Convinced the Confederates were "very shaky," he looked for an opportunity to deliver a blow that would shatter the Army of Northern Virginia beyond repair.
That blow would not come at Spotsylvania. His opportunities here exhausted, Grant on May 21 ordered the Army of the Potomac to leave Spotsylvania and march south toward the North Anna River, toward Richmond. Lee followed. The contest -- already the deadliest of the war - would go on.
A Hard Road to Travel
Wilderness and Spotsylvania were opening battles in a yearlong campaign that only ended with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. Before reaching Appomattox the armies would clash again at North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and places in between. Thousands more would die before the fighting ceased.
"The great battle is not yet
Captain Andrew J. McBride,
10th Georgia Infantry
Those Left Behind
Casualties at Spotsylvania were appalling. "The question became, pretty plainly, whether one was willing to meet death, not merely run the chances of it," wrote one Confederate soldier. These are the faces of just a few of the 4,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the battle. The graves pictured at the bottom of this panel belonged to Mississippi soldiers killed at the Bloody Angle.
Location. 38° 13.149′ N, 77° 36.861′ W. Marker is near Spotsylvania, Virginia, in Spotsylvania County. Marker is on Grant Drive 0.1 miles north of Brock Road (County Route 613), on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Located at stop one (The Exhibit Shelter) on the driving tour of Spotsylvania Battlefield unit of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Marker is in this post office area: Spotsylvania VA 22553, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. The Battle of Spotsylvania (here, next to this marker); Grant Finds an Opening: May 12 (here, next to this marker); Testing the Line: May 8-10 (here, next to this marker); A Different Kind of War (here, next to this marker); The Death of Sedgwick (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Spotsylvania Campaign (about 400 feet away); a different marker also named Spotsylvania Campaign (about 400 feet away); Sedgwick (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Spotsylvania.
More about this marker. The background of the No Turning Back panel shows a pontoon bridge. At the bottom of the An Awful Arithmetic panel is a photograph of Confederate soldiers, killed in the May 19 fighting near Alsop house, lie in rows awaiting burial.
The bottom of the Grant Leaves Spotsylvania panel is a photograph of Grant and staff at Massaponax Church. Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan snapped this image at Massaponax Church on May 21 as the Union army was leaving Spotsylvania. Meade is seated on the pew at left, holding a map, with Grant
On the lower left of the A Hard Road to Travel panel is a photo of a bridge over the North Anna, captioned The armies' next collision was twenty-five miles south of Fredericksburg, on the banks of the North Anna River. Unwilling to attack Lee there, Grant again shifted south and headed for Cold Harbor. To the right is a map of the Overland Campaign. On the Those Left Behind panel are portraits of those killed during the Overland Campaign, seen superimposed over a photograph of a Confederate cemetery at Spotsylvania.
Also see . . . The Exhibit Shelter. National Park Service virtual tour stop. Note photos of the shelter with older markers on the walls. (Submitted on August 25, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
Categories. • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 25, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,025 times since then and 22 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on August 25, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. 8. submitted on August 24, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.