On May 7, 1864, after two days of brutal fighting ended in a stalemate at The Wilderness, Union Gen. Grant set out on a night march toward Spotsylvania to secure this gateway to Richmond. Lee followed, and the two armies clashed on Laurel Hill near Spotsylvania Court House. Both sides dug in for two weeks of trench warfare along six miles of earthworks. Grant ordered attacks on the center of the Confederate line, as well as a salient known as Muleshoe and a turn in the Confederate trenches which, after a day and a night of brutal combat, would become known as The Bloody Angle. The Union attack on the Muleshoe was the longest sustained battle of the Civil War and by itself produced 17,000 casualties. Grant was unable to break the Confederate line, and after combined casualties of 32,000 men, Grant abandoned the field and resumed the march toward Richmond.
Visiting the Spotsylvania Battlefield
Your best bet to tour The Battle of Spotsylvania is to start at the National Park Service Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield exhibit shelter. Here there are interpretive signs and Spotsylvania History Trail maps. The history trail is a 7-mile driving and walking tour of the major battle sites that features interpretive panels at each stop. You can either walk or drive the entire trail or combine walking and driving in a personalized tour that suits your time and interest. The walking trails are a little hilly in places but provide stable footing on a mowed grass track. The history trail begins at the exhibit shelter and takes you past The Bloody Angle, the Muleshoe Salient, and the McCoull House ruins as well as several other areas of major battle actions. The scenic park road and trails are popular with hikers, runners and cyclists. Picnic areas are located within the park along the driving tour, and restrooms are located at the exhibit shelter.
Pictured at the top: A 22-hour long battle ensued at The Bloody Angle, a bend in the Confederates' Muleshoe Salient. The New York and New Jersey monuments stand silent on the battlefield today.
The monument reads, "Erected by the State of New Jersey to mark the portion of the Confederate line held by the 14th Georgia Regiment and assaulted May 12, 1864, by the 15th Regiment New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward L. Campbell. Engaged, 429. Loss-116 killed, 158 wounded, 38 missing."
A salient is a fortification that juts out into enemy territory but is exposed to fire from multiple directions. The walking trail along the east face of the salient now stands peaceful and silent on the battlefield.
The McCoull house that once stood on this site was riddled with bullet holes and became the burial ground for nearly 1,500 Union soldiers.
McCool's [i.e. McCoull's] house, G.O.Brown, 1861 (Library of Congress)