In 1864, the field in front of you was partially forested. On May 8, Union cavalry galloped across this land to attack Spotsylvania Court House itself but soon came scrambling back in retreat.
At 4:35 A.M. on May 12, while almost 20,000 Union soldiers surged through a soggy mist toward the Bloody Angle, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered a supporting attack on "Heth's Salient," another bulge in the Confederate line about a half mile northwest of here. At 2 PM., by coincidence, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee also ordered a simultaneous assault from Heth's Salient to capture a Union artillery position.
A fresh division of Union troops advanced but became bogged down by rain and enemy artillery fire. Meanwhile, two brigades of Confederates marched past this point and slammed into the left of the stalled Union division about a quarter mile in front of you, driving the Federals back to their original position. Several Union units fought fiercely, however, and prevented a rout. About 1,500 men were killed, wounded, or captured that day on the Dabney farm.
With no success from his May 12 assaults, Grant attempted to outflank Lee in vain. On May 20, Grant once again disengaged his army and continued his march toward Richmond, forcing Lee to race to intercept him elsewhere. It was a tactic that Grant repeated several times on the road to Richmond.
"A small portion (of the 50th Pensylvania)?, rallying round their colors, gallantly fought their way out, contending hand-to-hand in many instances with bayonets and butts of guns."
—Lt. Col. Byron M. Cutcheon, 20th Michigan Infantry
"After my brigade captured the battery?we turned our whole attention to Burnside's column, which was taken by surprise as it advanced to the assault of the salient. Some part of my brigade became mixed up with the enemy, and for a time there was fighting at close quarters."
—Gen. James H. Lane, CSA
(lower left) Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's Union corps arrived nearby on the second day of battle, well-positioned to flank Lee's army. Instead, however, Burnside entrenched when his early advances encountered resistance.
(lower left) This sketch depicts one of Burnside's abortive attacks on May 9-10 on Spotsylvania Court House (visible in the center background between plumes of smoke). The Federals are shown advancing behind you (on the original Court House Road).
(lower right) At last, on May 12, Burnside launched an attack on Heth's Salient with a deadly result for his troops.