The termination of the war and the fate of the Union hung in the
balance in May of 1864 as Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia
and Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac clashed in the Virginia
countryside--first in the battle of the Wilderness, where the
Federal army sustained greater losses than at Chancellorsville, and
then further south in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Courthouse,
where Grant sought to cut Lee's troops off from the Confederate
capital of Richmond.
This is the first book-length examination of the pivotal
Spotsylvania campaign of 7-21 May. Drawing on extensive research in
manuscript collections across the country and an exhaustive reading
of the available literature, William Matter sets the strategic
stage for the campaign before turning to a detailed description of
tactical movements. He offers abundant fresh material on race from
the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, the role of Federal and Confederate
calvary, Emory Upton's brilliantly conceived Union assault on 10
May, and the bitter clash on 19 May at the Harris farm. Throughout
the book, Matter assesses each side's successes, failures, and lost
opportunities and sketches portraits of the principal
The centerpiece of the narrative is a meticulous and dramatic
treatment of the horrific encounter in the salient that formed the
Confederate center on 12 May. There the campaign reached its
crisis, as soldiers waged perhaps the longest and most desperate
fight of the entire war for possession of the Bloody Angle--a fight
so savage that trees were literally shot to pieces by musket fire.
Matter's sure command of a mass of often-conflicting testimony
enables him to present by far the clearest account to date of this
immensely complex phase of the battle.
Rigorously researched, effectively presented, and well supported by
maps, this book is a model tactical study that accords long overdue
attention to the Spotsylvania campaign. It will quickly take its
place in the front rank of military studies of the Civil War.