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Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 1864

Posted 10/10/2022

   After the Battle of the Wilderness in early May 1864, Union Lt. General U. S. Grant began his famous, “Move by the left flank” which was used all the way to Richmond and Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.

  Grant’s army was now on the outskirts of a small village called Spotsylvania Courthouse in northern Virginia. Hoping to take the town before the arrival of the Confederates, Grant’s army was late getting to the town, and found the roads at the town were being held by Confederate cavalry under Jed Stuart. Stuart’s  cavalry was holding a prized position called Laurel Hill when Confederate leadership including Kershaw, Ewell and Anderson arrived with their Confederate armies. The battles for Laurel Hill were a major part of the Spotsylvania campaign.

  Next came Union Colonel Upton’s charge on Doles salient on May 10 in which the 49th Pennsylvania participated, as well as several other Union regiments. The salient being defended, on the most part, by Georgians. Upton’s men, after several errors on the part of Union leadership, other than Upton’s, were able to pierce the Confederate salient capturing 913 enlisted men and 37 Confederate officers but were not able to take the salient.

  In Doles salient, once the place was pierced, Captain Wombacker of the 49th Pennsylvania, amidst all the fighting going on in and outside the salient began to ask everyone for a “rat-tail file or a nail” in order to spike confederate guns inside the works. One of the men of 49th, Company B, responded to the Captain, “This is a h_____l of a place to ask for a file!” The captain received several laughs for his comment. (Westbrook, 1898)

  John H. Worsham of the 21st Virginia seemed to be everywhere during the battle, eventually being ordered back to some breast works that his regiment had built a couple days before May 10. Once back at that location, the men of the 21st Virginia found that their previous breast works were  now occupied by a very large number of Union soldiers. As the men of the 21st approached the works, they found one lone Confederate from Alabama who was standing behind a large pine tree, loading and firing as deliberate, Worsham says, as firing at a target. He was keeping Hancock’s force back at this point. (Worsham, 1912)

   John Worsham reports later of this Alabamian, “It should be remembered that when we took our position in their front, we found one lone Confederate who was keeping up a steady fire on them! This man had captured a Yankee knapsack which he had strapped to his back. Soon after our arrival he stopped firing, and said he wanted to see what it had in it, and that he needed a change of underclothing very badly. Taking off the knapsack, he opened it, and from the remarks he made as he took out each article and inspected it, he seemed to have gotten possession of a big clothing store with a notion store thrown in! He selected a suit of underclothing, laid them aside, then replaced the remainder in the knapsack, fastened that, then deliberately undressed, taking off every piece of his clothing, even his socks, put on the clean ones, donned his old uniform, quietly took his gun, brought it up to his shoulder, took deliberate aim and fired, and loaded and fired as long as we were there” (Worsham, 1912). Such was the Civil War.

  The battle at  Spotsylvania evolved into a massacre such as never been seen in warfare in the United States up to that time. The Mule Shoe salient, and the “Bloody Angle” were parts of the battle that caused thousands on both sides to be killed, wounded, and missing.

  Here we have an eagles wing from a war period flagstaff finial that was reported to have been recovered a number of years ago by a detectorist on private property on the Spotsylvania battlefield. The image is furnished by Kyle Wilson, Lebanon, Illinois. The piece is 4.17” tall and 1.54” wide at the wing. There is no way of knowing exactly which style eagle may have been used for the finial by just observation of the wing.

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  Here we have a spade style flagstaff finial that was also recovered by a detectorist several years ago on private property on the Spotsylvania battlefield. This piece is 4.49” tall and 3.40” wide at the wing portion of the piece.

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Kyle Wilson, Lebanon, Illinois, Image


(Westbrook, 1898)

(Worsham, 1912)

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