Photo story: The shattered, bullet-riddled oak stump is witness to the American bloody civil war (Left). A burial party of civil war soldiers fallen in the wilderness of Spotsylvania near Fredericksburg, Virginia (Right).
When Union Army Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant came east in 1864, his objective was to destroy General Robert Edward Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia even at the cost of large casualties for the Army of the Potomac which was the major Union army in the eastern warzone. Grant was different than his predecessor Union commanders as they used retreat when hit hard. But Grant did not pull back even after the blow of the costly Battle of the Wilderness fought May 5-7, 1864. He pressed on south toward Richmond knowing that Lee would have to put his army into risk in the battle to save his capital and hoped to catch the Confederate army in the open.
But Lee was quite fast for Grant. Before Grant could reach anywhere near, he quickly reached Spotsylvania Court house well within time for his troops to build four miles long reinforced earthworks. The line of the confederates had a mile long land fortification bending outwards in the shape of an inverted U and was called the ‘Mule Shoe’. The large oak tree stood at the front of it.
Lee’s heavy defenses at Spotsylvania were attacked by Grant over and over again. On May 12, 1864 the heaviest raid came when Union army stormed the earthworks and flooded into the Mule Shoe. The two armies got engaged into deadly battle as Lee also sent reinforcements. It is considered to be the longest uninterrupted battle of the Civil War which went on violently throughout the day and on into the night. The Union attack started to lose momentum after twenty hours of damaging disorder that shattered the oak tree to the stump pictured above, surrounded by piles of fallen soldiers.
Lieutenant colonel Horace Porter, Aide to General Grant, visited the site which was named thereafter as the Bloody Angle, and described the bloodbath as ‘horrid entombment’. He said that below the mass of fast-decaying corpses, the intense movement of limbs and bodies displayed that there had been wounded men still alive who had been struggling to free themselves from the horrible tomb. He said “Every relief possible was afforded, but in too many cases it came too late.”
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