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Upton's charge, Spotsylvania.jpg


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Thought this was an excellent account of Col. Emory Upton's charge on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864. From the diary of Clinton Beckwith (pictured above) who enlisted in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry at the young age of 16 in 1862.


About 5 P. M. we moved over the works down into the woods, close up to our skirmishers (the 65th N. Y.), who were keeping up a rapid fire, and formed in line of battle. Regiment after regiment came up and formed in line, we being in the first or front line and the right of the column, the 96th Penn. On Our left and the 5th Maine On the left of the 96th. Behind us was the 49th Pennsylvania, behind it the 43d N. Y. and behind it the 2d Vermont. Behind the 5th Maine were in order the 5th Wisconsin, the 119th Pennsylvania and the 6th Vermont. The Rebel rifle pits were about two hundred and fifty yards in front of our skirmish line. They had no skirmishers out, ours having driven them in, but they were firing from their breastworks, on top of which they had logs to protect their heads. Our batteries (one on the right and three in the rear of us) were belching away at them, and they were answering but feebly. Occasionally the hum of a bullet and the screech of a shell gave notice that they were on the qui vive.

As soon as we were formed Colonel Upton, Major Galpin and the Adjutant came along and showed to the officers and men a sketch of just how the Rebel works were located, and we were directed to keep to the right of the road which ran from our line direct to theirs. It was a grass grown farm road leading to the main or Catharpin road, which was the road we wanted to get and hold. We were ordered to fix bayonets, to load and cap our guns and to charge at a right shoulder shift arms. No man was to stop and succor or assist a wounded comrade. We must go as far as possible, and when we broke their line, face to our right, advance and fire lengthwise of their line. Colonel Upton was with our regiment and rode on our right. He instructed us not to fire a shot, cheer or yell, until we struck their works.

It was nearly sundown when we were ready to go forward. The day had been bright and it was warm, but the air felt damp, indicating rain. The racket and smoke made by the skirmishers and batteries, made it look hazy about us, and we had to raise our voices to be heard. We waited in suspense for some time. Dorr I. Davenport with whom I tented, said to me, "I feel as though I was going to get hit. If I do, you get my things and send them home." I said, "I will, and you do the same for me in case I am shot, but keep a stiff upper lip. We may get through all right." He said, "I dread the first volley, they have so good a shot at us."

Shortly after this the batteries stopped firing, and in a few minutes an officer rode along toward the right as fast as he could, and a moment afterward word was passed along to get ready, then "Fall in," and then "Forward." I felt my gorge rise, and my stomach and intestines shrink together in a knot, and a thousand things rushed through my mind. I fully realized the terrible peril I was to encounter (gained from previous experience). I looked about in the faces of the boys around me, and they told the tale of expected death. Pulling my cap down over my eyes, I stepped out, the extreme man on the left of the regiment, except Sergeant Edwards and Adjutant Morse who was on foot. In a few seconds we passed the skirmish line and moved more rapidly, the officers shouting "Forward" and breaking into a run immediately after we got into the field a short distance.

As soon as we began to run the men, unmindful of, or forgetting orders, commenced to yell, and in a few steps farther the rifle pits were dotted with puffs of smoke, and men began to fall rapidly and some began to fire at the works, thus losing the chance they had to do something, when they reached the works to protect themselves. I got along all right and there were a number of us in the grass-grown unused road, and several were shot, but I could not tell who, because I was intent upon reaching the works. We were broken up some getting through the slashing and the abatis. By this time the Rebels were beginning to fire the second time, and a rapid but scattering fire ran along the works which we reached in another instant. One of our officers in front of us jumped on the top log and shouted, "Come on, men," and pitched forward and disappeared, shot. I followed an instant after and the men swarmed upon, and over the works on each side of me. As I got on top some Rebs jumped up from their side and began to run back. Some were lunging at our men with their bayonets and a few had their guns clubbed. Jim Johnston, Oaks and Hassett, were wounded by bayonets. One squad, an officer with them, were backing away from us, the officer firing his revolver at our men. I fired into them, jumped down into the pits and moved out toward them.

a-brigade-today-1809.jpg

Artwork of Upton's charge by Rick Reeves.

Just at this time, our second line came up and we received another volley from the line in front of us and the battery fired one charge of cannister. Colonel Upton shouted "Forward" and we all ran towards the battery, passing another line of works, and the men in them passed to our rear as prisoners, or ran away after firing into us. Continuing we ran over the battery taking it and its men prisoners, and on beyond, until there was nothing in our front, except some tents by the roadside and there was no firing upon us for a few moments, of any magnitude. I looked into the ammunition chest of the battery to see if I could find something to put in the vents of the guns to prevent their being fired again in case we had to leave them. There were several of our company there. I remember Jesse Jones and Dorr Davenport, Johnny Woodward, Judson A. Chapin and I think they took the wheels off one of the guns, and I broke off a twig in the vents of two guns, but we were ordered to go to the works and moved to the right.

While moving as ordered, some Rebel troops came up and fired a volley into us. We got on the other side of the rifle pits and began firing at them and checked their advance. It was now duskish and it seemed as though the firing on our front and to our right became heavier, and the whistle of balls seemed to come from all directions and was incessant. I said to the man next to me "I guess our men are firing from the first line. We had better go back there. I don't believe our men carried the works on the left." (We had been told that Mott's division and a division of the Ninth Corps were to charge immediately after us if we carried the works in our front.) He answered "The fire is all from the Rebs." In a moment a battery opened upon us and we fell back to the first line over which I got and came across some of the regiment. There were also some from the 5th Maine and a number of other regiments. We continued firing. We could now see the flashes of the guns and knew they were coming in on us. A great many of our men were shot in this locality, but I thought the wounded would all have a chance to get back. I knew that we could not stay there. The wounded between us and the Rebs were in terrible plight, and must all have been shot to pieces by the fire from both sides.

Colonel Upton asked for volunteers to make a rush on the Rebel battery, but did not get any. The undertaking looked too desperate. He asked for men from the 121st New York, saying, "Are there none of my old regiment here?" But there were only a few of us there and our cartridges were running low. I do not know how long we remained there firing. It seemed like an hour, but I don’t suppose it was. Finally word was passed along to fall back quietly to our skirmish line and back we started. Getting back into the open field, it was covered with dark forms lying on the ground, and many more moving back. I came at Once across a group and recognized Tom Parsons of the 5th Maine. He was shot through the wrist, both bones were crushed and he suffered terrible pain. Between him and another man was a wounded captain and Parsons said "For God’s sake help us back with him." Giving the man my gun, I stooped in front of the captain, and catching him by the legs hoisted him as gently as I could upon my back, carried him to the edge of the woods, and under shelter of our skirmish line, and there left him with some of his regiment. I kept on trying to find some of our own fellows.

Reaching the works we started from, I found one of the company. Back of the works a little ways, in the edge of the pines where our men were assembling was the 95th Pennsylvania. Occupying these works less than an hour we began to get some idea of the awful loss we had sustained. I looked around for Davenport, made inquiries, but could get no tidings of him. I went to the brigade hospital, and saw many of our regiment, shot in all shapes, but Dorr was not with them. Just as I was starting back, a Company I man said, "One of your company is lying in the woods just where we started to charge." I went out to the skirmish line again. There was some firing on the line by the Rebels. There were some wounded men out in the field, as we could tell by their cries and groans, and I went out a little way, passing several dead men, and helped bring in a badly wounded man. Realizing how hopeless it was to find Dorr, I came back, tired out and heartsick. I sat down in the woods, and as I thought of the desolation and misery about me, my feelings overcame me and I cried like a little child. After a time I felt better and went back to camp. I found the men, and talked over the charge for a long time.

On the morning of the 11th we mustered barely a hundred men. Captain Gordon I think was in command of the regiment. We changed our position a little on the 11th and as we glanced along the terribly thinned ranks and upon the shattered staff and tattered colors, we were filled with sorrow for our lost comrades, and deep forebodings for the future. A splendid regiment had been nearly destroyed without adequate results. In but a week's time, since leaving our pleasant camp on Hazel River, pitiless war had destroyed our bravest and best men. The loss of General Sedgwick had been keenly felt. He had ever been a source of pride to us and his calm courage and masterly military skill was an anchor of hope, and an abiding confidence in our ability to whip the foe!”

The weather too became bad, raining steadily, and increased the wretchedness of our physical and mental condition. I think at this time we were consolidated into a battalion of four companies. Colonel Upton had been made a brigadier general upon the field by General Grant, and a popular and hard won promotion it was; and at this time after years of mature reflection I know of no officer, who ever came within my knowledge, for whom I have a more abiding admiration and respect. He was in my judgment as able a soldier as ever commanded a body of troops, and I never saw an officer under fire who preserved the calmness of demeanor, the utter indifference to danger, the thorough knowledge of the situation, and what was best to do, as did Colonel Upton.​

- History of the 121st New York State Infantry by Isaac Oliver Best, pp. 128-34.


Small memorial to Upton's charge on the battlefield.

Uptons_Charge-N-4c_9095.jpg


Uptons_Charge-S-4c_9094.jpg
 

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AUG

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Clinton Beckwith also left a good account of the battle for the Mule Shoe/Bloody Angle on May 12.

It rained all night and by the smoky pine fires we could scarcely boil our water for coffee, or scorch our pork for our breakfasts. Then we moved some distance to the right and halted in the pines. At this place an officer rode up with a yellow tissue paper in his hand, and as we stood at attention, he read a congratulatory order from the general commanding; and we were informed that a Rebel division and twenty cannon had fallen into our hands that morning. While the men were cheered at the news, there was but little cheering. In a few moments we moved back, our company leading the regiment, passing on beyond our former position and in the direction of the heavy timber. Some of the boys said, "D---n those yellow paper orders. That means more fight," and about 9 o'clock we came under fire again.

Moving quickly forward we passed over an elevation that was swept by bullets, and rushed down to a line of works occupied by the 95th Pennsylvania of our brigade. The fog, rain and mist, loaded with smoke, obscured our view partially. The enemy's fire came from our right and front, but we were partially protected by their works and we kept up a continuous fire. This was the point where the Second Corps had carried their works early in the morning. Where we were, the works were V-shaped, the point or bottom of the V being toward us. We held the works from the point down the left side of the V as it faced us, and the Rebs held the right side and the works beyond towards where we charged on the night of the 10th. The Second Corps had been driven out just as the 95th Pennsylvania came up and held the works, until our regiment and the 5th Maine came to their support.

The ground on which we were was boggy and swampy, and we sank in the mud up to our ankles. Here all day long we kept up a constant fire. The wounded had to take care of themselves, officers as well as men, and many were killed. Captain Adams of our company lost an arm, and several others of our officers and men were wounded. A little after we went in, the Third brigade of our division joined us, also the Vermont brigade and the 49th New York and the 119th Pennsylvania. Some of the Vermonters came in where we were, and a line behind us fired over our heads.

Every time we were reinforced the Rebs seemed to put in a new line, and the firing would break out more fiercely. We nearly shot away the head logs on the works. A section of a regular battery, the 5th U. S. Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Metcalf, came up on a run, unlimbered, and ran the pieces as close to the Confederate works as they could be used effectively, and opened fire upon the crowded mass of Rebels in the angle with cannister. The Rebels elated by their success in forcing us back for a short space from their captured works, vainly endeavored to take the guns, and for a time withstood the terrible slaughter of the combined infantry and artillery fire, but finally gave up the attempt and sullenly retired. Not however until they had shot the men and horses, and in fact disabled the guns themselves with musketry fire.

It was at this time that Capt. J. D. Fish of Company D, 121st, then acting as acting adjutant general to General Upton, was killed while engaged in bringing up cannister to the guns of the battery. It was also at this time that the works on both sides were crowded with combatants and the killing and wounding of the closely crowded men was awful. The smoke from the guns and bursting shells mingling with the mist and rain sometimes obscured the view of the Rebel works, close as they were. The accumulation of the dead and badly wounded increased the horror of the situation and added to the desperation of the combatants and their efforts to bring the battle to a conclusion. Where we occupied the reverse side of the breastworks, men would load and stick their guns over the head log and raising the butts of their pieces, fire down into the mass of men huddled on the opposite side. Now and then a soldier or an officer, crazed with excitement, would jump upon the parapet and fire down into the enemy, but they speedily paid the penalty of their reckless daring, by being shot, and falling to one side or the other.

Batteries behind and in front of us kept the air full of the shrieking noise of their projectiles, and a mortar battery behind us sailed shell after shell over us, and dropped them on the massed Rebels in the trenches. The rain fell continuously. Occasionally a lull would occur in the firing for a little time, and many Rebels, taking advantage of it, would raise a white flag and surrender themselves as prisoners. An incident of this kind would be followed by a burst of firing again, usually better directed than the preceding one, and so we stopped the white flag business, the last squad of surrendering Rebels, about thirty of them, getting the fire of both sides, nearly all being shot. So the battle continued. Ammunition was brought up on pack-mules, and served to us. Some of it would not fit our guns and the boxes with other emptied boxes, filled with dirt and placed in front of us, made some protection.

After noon the Rebels finding it useless to attempt to drive us back to our works, slackened their fire somewhat, but it was not till dark that the firing diminished below the roar of battle. It was a day never to be forgotten for its fierce fighting, bulldog tenacity and terrible slaughter.

Just before dark we got word for Upton’s men to assemble behind our rifle pits in the rear, and many went back, but I waited until after dark, preferring to stay where I was, than to run the gauntlet of the rain of bullets, that swept the ground up to the crest, or rise, in our rear.

This was the worst day’s experience I ever had, and it thoroughly disgusted me with war. Finding the regiment after a short search, I found Baldwin, Chapin and Tucker of my company and several others were there also. Being nearly starved we got some hot coffee and cooked some pork and crackers. We were all covered with mud and powder and Smoke and grime, hands parboiled with rain, and our clothing loaded with moisture. We presented a very tough appearance, but being very near exhaustion it was possible for us to huddle about the smoky pine fire with our rubber blankets over us and get some sleep, even though bullets and shells flew in close proximity to us, at frequent intervals during the night.

In the morning the Rebs were found to have fallen back from the "Bloody Angle" during the night, and the firing had almost stopped, but sharpshooters kept the curious, and carelessly inclined reminded of their skill.​

- History of the 121st New York State Infantry by Isaac Oliver Best, pp. 144-48.

Upton's Brigade at the Bloody Angle.jpg

Illustration of Upton's Brigade at the Bloody Angle from Battles & Leaders. A lot of the elements Beckwith mentions are depicted here, including the artillery pieces brought in to fire on the Confederate works and the pack mules hauling in ammunition.
 
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AUG

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Col. Emory Upton's official report of the attack on May 10:

On the afternoon of the 10th an assault was determined upon, and a column of twelve regiments was organized, the command of which was assigned to me. The point of attack was at an angle near the Scott House, about half a mile from the Spottsylvania road. The enemy’s entrenchments were of formidable character, with abatis in front, and surmounted by heavy logs, underneath which were loopholes for musketry. In the re-entrant to the right was a battery, with traverses between the guns. About 100 yards to the rear was another line of works, partly completed and occupied by another line of battle.

The position was in an open field, about 200 yards from a piece of woods. A wood road led from my position directly to the point of attack. The ground was looked over by General Russell and myself, and regimental commanders were also required to see it, that they might understand the work before them. The column of attack consisted of twelve regiments formed in four lines of battle, lying down in the piece of wood as soon as formed. The lines were formed from right to left as follows: First line: 121st NY, 96th PA and 5th ME. Second line: 40th PA, 6th ME and 5th WI. Third line: 43rd NY, 77th NY and 119th PA. Fourth line: 2nd, 5th and 6th VT.

Our position was so close that no commands were to be given in getting into position. The pieces of the first line were loaded and capped, those of the others were loaded only. Bayonets were fixed. The 121st New York and 96th Pennsylvania were instructed to turn to the right, and charge the battery. The 5th Maine was to wheel to the left and open an enfilading fire upon the enemy. The second line was to halt at the works and engage the front. The third line was to lie down behind the second and await orders. The fourth line was to advance to the edge of the wood and await the issue of the charge. All officers were instructed to repeat the command "Forward" constantly from the commencement of the charge until the works were carried.

At ten minutes before 6, Captain Dalton brought me the order to attack as soon as the column was formed, and stated that the artillery would cease firing at 6 p.m. Twenty minutes elapsed before all preparations were completed, when, at the command, the line rose, moved noiselessly to the edge of the woods, and then with a wild cheer rushed for the works. Through a terrible front and flank fire the column advanced quickly, and gained the parapet. Here occurred a deadly hand-to-hand conflict. The enemy sitting in their pits, with pieces loaded, and bayonets fixed, ready to impale those who should leap over, absolutely refused to yield the ground. The first of our men who tried to surmount the works fell pierced through the head by musket-balls. Others seeing the fate of their comrades, held their pieces at arm’s length and fired downwards, while others, poising theirs vertically, hurled them down upon the enemy, pinning them to the ground. The struggle lasted but a few seconds. Numbers prevailed, and, like a resistless wave, the columns poured over the works, quickly putting hors de combat those who resisted, and sending to the rear those who surrendered. Pressing forward and expanding to the right and left, the second line of entrenchments and the battery fell into our hands. The column of assault had accomplished its task. The enemy's lines were completely broken, and an opening had been made for the division that was to have supported, but it did not arrive.

Reinforcements arriving to the enemy, our front and both flanks were assailed. The impulsion of the charge being lost, nothing remained but to hold the ground. I accordingly directed the officers to form their men outside the works and open fire, and then rode back over the field to bring forward the Vermonters in the fourth line, but they had already mingled in the contest and were fighting with a heroism which has ever characterized that élite brigade. The 65th New York had also marched gallantly to the support of their comrades and was fighting stubbornly on the left.

Night had arrived. Our position was three-quarters of a mile in advance of the army, and, without prospect of support, was untenable.

Meeting General Russell at the edge of the wood, he gave me the order to withdraw. I wrote the order and sent it along the line by Captain Gordon of the 121st New York, in accordance with which, under cover of darkness the works were evacuated, the regiments returning to their former camps.

Our loss in this assault was about 1,000 in killed, wounded and missing. The enemy lost at least 100 at the first entrenchments, while a much heavier loss was sustained in his efforts to regain them. We captured between a 1,000 and 1,200 prisoners and several stands of colors. Captain Burhans of the 43rd New York had two stands of colors in his hands, and is supposed to have been killed while coming back from the second line of entrenchments. Many Rebel prisoners were shot by their own men [from stay bullets] while going to the rear. Our officers and men accomplished all that could be expected of brave men. They went forward with perfect confidence, fought with unflinching courage, and retired only on receipt of a written order, after having expended the ammunition of their dead and wounded comrades.​
 

bdtex

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It was nearly sundown when we were ready to go forward. The day had been bright and it was warm, but the air felt damp, indicating rain. The racket and smoke made by the skirmishers and batteries, made it look hazy about us, and we had to raise our voices to be heard.
Rick Reeves' print makes it look like they had more daylight than they actually did.
 
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The following is an account of the battle on May 10, 1864, from the Confederates side:

Occasional firing was heard the next morning and then at about ten o'clock a heavy cannonading commenced. It continued to grow and the terrible fire lasted all through the remainder of the day and would continue until about nine o'clock at night.[1] At about five o’clock that evening, the Confederates were suddenly attacked in their entrenchments where Dole’s Brigade was positioned. Union Colonel Upton had arranged his attacking force in four lines of three regiments each, the first line had loaded and capped their rifles, all others had loaded only. All had fixed bayonets. So tightly packed were Upton’s mass that intervals between the lines were only ten feet.[2] The Union troops pressed forward. Within an hour, their heavily massed columns succeeded in breaking through the salient at the positions occupied by Daniel's and Doles' brigades. Rushing through the breach, frenzied by their success, for a few moments the Federals poured a dreadful fire into the rear and flank of those brigades. It was a crisis of dreadful suspense and for a brief interval the worst fears prevailed on the part of the Confederates.[3] The enemy poured through the breach, captured quite a number of men on the extreme right of Daniel’s brigade, forcing the brigade to retire to avoid the enfilading fire, and causing them the temporary loss of sixteen pieces of artillery. The brigade slowly fell back firing as it retreated, the enemy advancing and taking possession of their abandoned guns. In a short time they were in line at right angles to the works; the enemy massing in great numbers in their front. It seemed even to the eye of a private soldier that a dangerous crisis was upon them. Suddenly a single horseman came dashing up to the rear of the 45th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. He was instantly recognized by the men who saw him, as General Ewell, the Corps commander. He had outstripped his staff officers who were following him, but not then in sight He halted in the rear of the Forty-fifth Regiment, and called out, "Don't run boys; I will have enough men here in five minutes to eat up every d—d one of them." His eyes were almost green. The line steadied and poured volley after volley into the enemy.[4]

Battle’s Brigade was positioned a few hundred yards north of the Harrison house and about three hundred yards south of the breach. Captain Williams of the 5th Alabama Infantry remembered the night of May 10, 1864, well. “The calm was broken by an order from General Rodes, who had ridden up as close as he could get, for “Battles’ Brigade to move forward quick.” Our brigade was standing left in front, which placed the Fifth Alabama the right regiment, and Company D the right company. We did not take time to form, but went in at a run. When we came out into the open fields someone said, “Which way General?” and Rodes replied, “into the pine thicket and retake those works.” In going into this thicket in front, we crossed a little branch bottom. There we met a good many artillerymen, waving their red caps, calling, ”Charge them Alabamians, charge them!” Company D was now in front and the fastest runner in front of the company with the rest of Battles’ Brigade coming as fast as possible. When we passed through the thicket, which I think, was not more than thirty yards wide, there was said to be three thousand Yankees not more than eighty yards in our front and nothing to break the view.”[1] The men of the 45th North Carolina of Daniel’s Brigade saw them coming. “Presently we heard a yell up the line in our rear as we stood, and Battle's Brigade of Alabamians were seen coming to our support. They ran down the line by us. We raised a yell and dashed forward.[2]

Captain Williams continues, “The men in Company D of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment took the first fire and not a man flinched. We halted a few seconds, and seeing reinforcements coming up moved on. Soon began the bravest fight I ever saw. Not a Yankee bent his body that I could see, and I know our men stood perfectly erect, loaded and fired. The fifth Alabama was now doing the principle fighting. It was melting away before the fire as a snow does before the summer sun. We asked no favors, and granted none. We returned shot for shot, and yell for yell. As the regiment was being thinned out, men from the Brigade would push forward and take their place. Every man left was square in front doing his duty. They saw their best friends shot down, but nothing daunting, moved forward slow but sure. We could see that when the Yankees fired their guns, they would move back among their men and load. Our men would fire, lower their guns to load, and then push forward to the front and fire once again. We had the advantage of them as we were fighting at the base of the angle, and the Yankees were in the apex. As we got nearer and nearer to each other, the roar of the musketry and the cheering of the men in the rear was deafening. Just about this time I heard a man at my side receive an awful blow to the head with a gun. I turned and saw it was one of the men from Dallas county (Company F) trying to kill a prisoner. I caught him by the coat and asked him, “What in the world are you treating that prisoner so, for?” He replied, “Captain, he was just in the act of shooting you.” We moved on, and when the company from Pickens county (Company H) got to where the Yankee was, he raised himself and shot and killed Lieutenant Smith (2nd Lieutenant David N. Smith) of that company. I was told that as quick as lightening, nine bayonets were thrust through the Yankee’s body. We gradually pushed them back until we were about twenty-five yards from each other. A dense smoke rested over us for a few seconds, and when it rose, those Yankees were going back over the works much faster than they came. The regiment made a rush for them and about one hundred and fifty of them threw down their guns and surrendered. Probably there were about fifty of them on the other side of the works that would not take the chances of crossing the little open field in front, and they crawled back over the works and surrendered to us. I think they were the most imprudent Yanks I had ever seen. They were not satisfied with trying to kill us with their own guns, but were trying to turn our own guns on us. They had captured a battery (four guns) when they captured the angle, but we pushed them back until they were standing so thick that they could not turn their guns on us. I never heard a cannon that evening, the noise was so great; but I learned after the fight that there were twelve cannon close up to us on one side and eight on the other, pouring grape in a perfect stream in the rear of those Yankees, cutting off all support from the assaulting forces. As the officer who told me this, afterwards said, “A humming bird could not have lived at the edge of that little field in the rear.”[3] When the men of the 5th Alabama came up to one of their batteries which the Yankees had taken for the moment, some of Federals, who were noticeably drunk, were working the guns furiously, firing upon their own retreating troops. When ordered to stop they refused saying they wanted to kill some of the rascals. The Confederates let them fire to their hearts content as our own men, being of the infantry, did not understand the workings of the guns.[4] The fighting had ended by 7:30 P.M. and had been some of the most vicious witnessed during the entire war. Colonel Josephus Hall of the 5th Alabama Infantry had been severely wounded in the arm. However, the excellent practice of the artillery, along with the prompt arrival of Battle’s Brigade and other troops at the point of danger, had soon turned the tide, and the briefly jubilant foe, inflamed with momentary success and whiskey were hurled as by a thunderbolt back to their own lines with a fearful penalty upon their temerity.[5]

The solemnity of the calm that followed a full twenty minutes after the men had recaptured the works was awe inspiring. The deafening roar of the artillery was hushed, and not a sound was to be heard except for the groans of the wounded. On about three quarters of an acre in the point of that angle there were more dead Yankees than the men had ever seen on twenty times that amount of space. In a great many instances, men had fallen wounded, only to be pinned to the earth by someone else that was killed and fell across their body. The men of the regiment went over and rolled the dead off the wounded, and in that way saved the lives of many that would have been crushed to death. There had been fights in which the men had come in such close quarters with the Yankees that bayonets were used. Prior to this fight Private Charlie Briggs of Company D, one of the company’s best soldiers and jolly, whole-souled fellow, threw his bayonet in the bushes. Captain Williams had heard it ring, and asked him why he did it. With his accustomed laugh and ready humour, he replied, “I’m not going to get close enough to a Yankee to stick him with that thing, or let one get close enough to stick me.” After the fight, Captain Williams asked him if he thought of his bayonet. He said he did, but made up his mind “to use the butt end of his gun for all it was worth.”

Not long after the end of the fighting, a Confederate band solemnly assembled near the works and played “Nearer My God to Thee.” A Yankee band replied with the “Dead March,” and the Confederates answered with “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” followed by full-throated rebel yells. Then “The Star Spangled Banner” wafted from the northern lines, accompanied by cheers, and the southerners replied with “Home Sweet Home.” “A united yell went up in concert from the men on both sides,” reminisced a Confederate soldier, “such a one as was never heard among the hills of Spotsylvania county before or since.”[6]


[1] Greensboro Record, July 30, 1903 “Captain Jonathan Whiteside Williams, His Life And Times With The 5th Alabama, C.S.A. Company “D”, Greensboro Guards

[2] Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65. Written by members of the Respective Commands, Edited by Walter Clark, Lieut. Colonel Seventieth Regiment, N.C.T. Vol. III. Published by the state. 1901. Pages 21-34)

[3] Greensboro Record, July 30, 1903 “Captain Jonathan Whiteside Williams, His Life And Times With The 5th Alabama, C.S.A. Company “D”, Greensboro Guards

[4] Letter of Eugene Blackford dated May 14, 1864

[5] Diary of a Confederate Officer (Chief of Staff, Ramseur's Brigade)

[6] “The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern May 7-12, 1864” by Gordon C. Rhea, page 176-177


[1] Memoirs of Henry Beck, 1864-1865, Battle's Brigade Rode's Division, 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, copied from the originals belonging to Mrs. H.M. Beck, Birmingham, by Birmingham Public Library. (Birmingham : The Library, 1940)

[2] “Warrior in Gray – General Robert Rodes of Lee’s Army” by James K. Swisher, page 171

[3]Diary of a Confederate Officer (Chief of Staff, Ramseur's Brigade)

[4] Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65. Written by members of the Respective Commands, Edited by Walter Clark, Lieut. Colonel Seventieth Regiment, N.C.T. Vol. III. Published by the state. 1901. Pages 21-34)
 
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#7
View attachment 187454

View attachment 187455

Thought this was an excellent account of Col. Emory Upton's charge on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864. From the diary of Clinton Beckwith (pictured above) who enlisted in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry at the young age of 16 in 1862.


About 5 P. M. we moved over the works down into the woods, close up to our skirmishers (the 65th N. Y.), who were keeping up a rapid fire, and formed in line of battle. Regiment after regiment came up and formed in line, we being in the first or front line and the right of the column, the 96th Penn. On Our left and the 5th Maine On the left of the 96th. Behind us was the 49th Pennsylvania, behind it the 43d N. Y. and behind it the 2d Vermont. Behind the 5th Maine were in order the 5th Wisconsin, the 119th Pennsylvania and the 6th Vermont. The Rebel rifle pits were about two hundred and fifty yards in front of our skirmish line. They had no skirmishers out, ours having driven them in, but they were firing from their breastworks, on top of which they had logs to protect their heads. Our batteries (one on the right and three in the rear of us) were belching away at them, and they were answering but feebly. Occasionally the hum of a bullet and the screech of a shell gave notice that they were on the qui vive.

As soon as we were formed Colonel Upton, Major Galpin and the Adjutant came along and showed to the officers and men a sketch of just how the Rebel works were located, and we were directed to keep to the right of the road which ran from our line direct to theirs. It was a grass grown farm road leading to the main or Catharpin road, which was the road we wanted to get and hold. We were ordered to fix bayonets, to load and cap our guns and to charge at a right shoulder shift arms. No man was to stop and succor or assist a wounded comrade. We must go as far as possible, and when we broke their line, face to our right, advance and fire lengthwise of their line. Colonel Upton was with our regiment and rode on our right. He instructed us not to fire a shot, cheer or yell, until we struck their works.

It was nearly sundown when we were ready to go forward. The day had been bright and it was warm, but the air felt damp, indicating rain. The racket and smoke made by the skirmishers and batteries, made it look hazy about us, and we had to raise our voices to be heard. We waited in suspense for some time. Dorr I. Davenport with whom I tented, said to me, "I feel as though I was going to get hit. If I do, you get my things and send them home." I said, "I will, and you do the same for me in case I am shot, but keep a stiff upper lip. We may get through all right." He said, "I dread the first volley, they have so good a shot at us."

Shortly after this the batteries stopped firing, and in a few minutes an officer rode along toward the right as fast as he could, and a moment afterward word was passed along to get ready, then "Fall in," and then "Forward." I felt my gorge rise, and my stomach and intestines shrink together in a knot, and a thousand things rushed through my mind. I fully realized the terrible peril I was to encounter (gained from previous experience). I looked about in the faces of the boys around me, and they told the tale of expected death. Pulling my cap down over my eyes, I stepped out, the extreme man on the left of the regiment, except Sergeant Edwards and Adjutant Morse who was on foot. In a few seconds we passed the skirmish line and moved more rapidly, the officers shouting "Forward" and breaking into a run immediately after we got into the field a short distance.

As soon as we began to run the men, unmindful of, or forgetting orders, commenced to yell, and in a few steps farther the rifle pits were dotted with puffs of smoke, and men began to fall rapidly and some began to fire at the works, thus losing the chance they had to do something, when they reached the works to protect themselves. I got along all right and there were a number of us in the grass-grown unused road, and several were shot, but I could not tell who, because I was intent upon reaching the works. We were broken up some getting through the slashing and the abatis. By this time the Rebels were beginning to fire the second time, and a rapid but scattering fire ran along the works which we reached in another instant. One of our officers in front of us jumped on the top log and shouted, "Come on, men," and pitched forward and disappeared, shot. I followed an instant after and the men swarmed upon, and over the works on each side of me. As I got on top some Rebs jumped up from their side and began to run back. Some were lunging at our men with their bayonets and a few had their guns clubbed. Jim Johnston, Oaks and Hassett, were wounded by bayonets. One squad, an officer with them, were backing away from us, the officer firing his revolver at our men. I fired into them, jumped down into the pits and moved out toward them.

a-brigade-today-1809.jpg

Artwork of Upton's charge by Rick Reeves.

Just at this time, our second line came up and we received another volley from the line in front of us and the battery fired one charge of cannister. Colonel Upton shouted "Forward" and we all ran towards the battery, passing another line of works, and the men in them passed to our rear as prisoners, or ran away after firing into us. Continuing we ran over the battery taking it and its men prisoners, and on beyond, until there was nothing in our front, except some tents by the roadside and there was no firing upon us for a few moments, of any magnitude. I looked into the ammunition chest of the battery to see if I could find something to put in the vents of the guns to prevent their being fired again in case we had to leave them. There were several of our company there. I remember Jesse Jones and Dorr Davenport, Johnny Woodward, Judson A. Chapin and I think they took the wheels off one of the guns, and I broke off a twig in the vents of two guns, but we were ordered to go to the works and moved to the right.

While moving as ordered, some Rebel troops came up and fired a volley into us. We got on the other side of the rifle pits and began firing at them and checked their advance. It was now duskish and it seemed as though the firing on our front and to our right became heavier, and the whistle of balls seemed to come from all directions and was incessant. I said to the man next to me "I guess our men are firing from the first line. We had better go back there. I don't believe our men carried the works on the left." (We had been told that Mott's division and a division of the Ninth Corps were to charge immediately after us if we carried the works in our front.) He answered "The fire is all from the Rebs." In a moment a battery opened upon us and we fell back to the first line over which I got and came across some of the regiment. There were also some from the 5th Maine and a number of other regiments. We continued firing. We could now see the flashes of the guns and knew they were coming in on us. A great many of our men were shot in this locality, but I thought the wounded would all have a chance to get back. I knew that we could not stay there. The wounded between us and the Rebs were in terrible plight, and must all have been shot to pieces by the fire from both sides.

Colonel Upton asked for volunteers to make a rush on the Rebel battery, but did not get any. The undertaking looked too desperate. He asked for men from the 121st New York, saying, "Are there none of my old regiment here?" But there were only a few of us there and our cartridges were running low. I do not know how long we remained there firing. It seemed like an hour, but I don’t suppose it was. Finally word was passed along to fall back quietly to our skirmish line and back we started. Getting back into the open field, it was covered with dark forms lying on the ground, and many more moving back. I came at Once across a group and recognized Tom Parsons of the 5th Maine. He was shot through the wrist, both bones were crushed and he suffered terrible pain. Between him and another man was a wounded captain and Parsons said "For God’s sake help us back with him." Giving the man my gun, I stooped in front of the captain, and catching him by the legs hoisted him as gently as I could upon my back, carried him to the edge of the woods, and under shelter of our skirmish line, and there left him with some of his regiment. I kept on trying to find some of our own fellows.

Reaching the works we started from, I found one of the company. Back of the works a little ways, in the edge of the pines where our men were assembling was the 95th Pennsylvania. Occupying these works less than an hour we began to get some idea of the awful loss we had sustained. I looked around for Davenport, made inquiries, but could get no tidings of him. I went to the brigade hospital, and saw many of our regiment, shot in all shapes, but Dorr was not with them. Just as I was starting back, a Company I man said, "One of your company is lying in the woods just where we started to charge." I went out to the skirmish line again. There was some firing on the line by the Rebels. There were some wounded men out in the field, as we could tell by their cries and groans, and I went out a little way, passing several dead men, and helped bring in a badly wounded man. Realizing how hopeless it was to find Dorr, I came back, tired out and heartsick. I sat down in the woods, and as I thought of the desolation and misery about me, my feelings overcame me and I cried like a little child. After a time I felt better and went back to camp. I found the men, and talked over the charge for a long time.

On the morning of the 11th we mustered barely a hundred men. Captain Gordon I think was in command of the regiment. We changed our position a little on the 11th and as we glanced along the terribly thinned ranks and upon the shattered staff and tattered colors, we were filled with sorrow for our lost comrades, and deep forebodings for the future. A splendid regiment had been nearly destroyed without adequate results. In but a week's time, since leaving our pleasant camp on Hazel River, pitiless war had destroyed our bravest and best men. The loss of General Sedgwick had been keenly felt. He had ever been a source of pride to us and his calm courage and masterly military skill was an anchor of hope, and an abiding confidence in our ability to whip the foe!”

The weather too became bad, raining steadily, and increased the wretchedness of our physical and mental condition. I think at this time we were consolidated into a battalion of four companies. Colonel Upton had been made a brigadier general upon the field by General Grant, and a popular and hard won promotion it was; and at this time after years of mature reflection I know of no officer, who ever came within my knowledge, for whom I have a more abiding admiration and respect. He was in my judgment as able a soldier as ever commanded a body of troops, and I never saw an officer under fire who preserved the calmness of demeanor, the utter indifference to danger, the thorough knowledge of the situation, and what was best to do, as did Colonel Upton.​

- History of the 121st New York State Infantry by Isaac Oliver Best, pp. 128-34.


Small memorial to Upton's charge on the battlefield.

Uptons_Charge-N-4c_9095.jpg


Uptons_Charge-S-4c_9094.jpg
View attachment 187454

View attachment 187455

Thought this was an excellent account of Col. Emory Upton's charge on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864. From the diary of Clinton Beckwith (pictured above) who enlisted in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry at the young age of 16 in 1862.


About 5 P. M. we moved over the works down into the woods, close up to our skirmishers (the 65th N. Y.), who were keeping up a rapid fire, and formed in line of battle. Regiment after regiment came up and formed in line, we being in the first or front line and the right of the column, the 96th Penn. On Our left and the 5th Maine On the left of the 96th. Behind us was the 49th Pennsylvania, behind it the 43d N. Y. and behind it the 2d Vermont. Behind the 5th Maine were in order the 5th Wisconsin, the 119th Pennsylvania and the 6th Vermont. The Rebel rifle pits were about two hundred and fifty yards in front of our skirmish line. They had no skirmishers out, ours having driven them in, but they were firing from their breastworks, on top of which they had logs to protect their heads. Our batteries (one on the right and three in the rear of us) were belching away at them, and they were answering but feebly. Occasionally the hum of a bullet and the screech of a shell gave notice that they were on the qui vive.

As soon as we were formed Colonel Upton, Major Galpin and the Adjutant came along and showed to the officers and men a sketch of just how the Rebel works were located, and we were directed to keep to the right of the road which ran from our line direct to theirs. It was a grass grown farm road leading to the main or Catharpin road, which was the road we wanted to get and hold. We were ordered to fix bayonets, to load and cap our guns and to charge at a right shoulder shift arms. No man was to stop and succor or assist a wounded comrade. We must go as far as possible, and when we broke their line, face to our right, advance and fire lengthwise of their line. Colonel Upton was with our regiment and rode on our right. He instructed us not to fire a shot, cheer or yell, until we struck their works.

It was nearly sundown when we were ready to go forward. The day had been bright and it was warm, but the air felt damp, indicating rain. The racket and smoke made by the skirmishers and batteries, made it look hazy about us, and we had to raise our voices to be heard. We waited in suspense for some time. Dorr I. Davenport with whom I tented, said to me, "I feel as though I was going to get hit. If I do, you get my things and send them home." I said, "I will, and you do the same for me in case I am shot, but keep a stiff upper lip. We may get through all right." He said, "I dread the first volley, they have so good a shot at us."

Shortly after this the batteries stopped firing, and in a few minutes an officer rode along toward the right as fast as he could, and a moment afterward word was passed along to get ready, then "Fall in," and then "Forward." I felt my gorge rise, and my stomach and intestines shrink together in a knot, and a thousand things rushed through my mind. I fully realized the terrible peril I was to encounter (gained from previous experience). I looked about in the faces of the boys around me, and they told the tale of expected death. Pulling my cap down over my eyes, I stepped out, the extreme man on the left of the regiment, except Sergeant Edwards and Adjutant Morse who was on foot. In a few seconds we passed the skirmish line and moved more rapidly, the officers shouting "Forward" and breaking into a run immediately after we got into the field a short distance.

As soon as we began to run the men, unmindful of, or forgetting orders, commenced to yell, and in a few steps farther the rifle pits were dotted with puffs of smoke, and men began to fall rapidly and some began to fire at the works, thus losing the chance they had to do something, when they reached the works to protect themselves. I got along all right and there were a number of us in the grass-grown unused road, and several were shot, but I could not tell who, because I was intent upon reaching the works. We were broken up some getting through the slashing and the abatis. By this time the Rebels were beginning to fire the second time, and a rapid but scattering fire ran along the works which we reached in another instant. One of our officers in front of us jumped on the top log and shouted, "Come on, men," and pitched forward and disappeared, shot. I followed an instant after and the men swarmed upon, and over the works on each side of me. As I got on top some Rebs jumped up from their side and began to run back. Some were lunging at our men with their bayonets and a few had their guns clubbed. Jim Johnston, Oaks and Hassett, were wounded by bayonets. One squad, an officer with them, were backing away from us, the officer firing his revolver at our men. I fired into them, jumped down into the pits and moved out toward them.

a-brigade-today-1809.jpg

Artwork of Upton's charge by Rick Reeves.

Just at this time, our second line came up and we received another volley from the line in front of us and the battery fired one charge of cannister. Colonel Upton shouted "Forward" and we all ran towards the battery, passing another line of works, and the men in them passed to our rear as prisoners, or ran away after firing into us. Continuing we ran over the battery taking it and its men prisoners, and on beyond, until there was nothing in our front, except some tents by the roadside and there was no firing upon us for a few moments, of any magnitude. I looked into the ammunition chest of the battery to see if I could find something to put in the vents of the guns to prevent their being fired again in case we had to leave them. There were several of our company there. I remember Jesse Jones and Dorr Davenport, Johnny Woodward, Judson A. Chapin and I think they took the wheels off one of the guns, and I broke off a twig in the vents of two guns, but we were ordered to go to the works and moved to the right.

While moving as ordered, some Rebel troops came up and fired a volley into us. We got on the other side of the rifle pits and began firing at them and checked their advance. It was now duskish and it seemed as though the firing on our front and to our right became heavier, and the whistle of balls seemed to come from all directions and was incessant. I said to the man next to me "I guess our men are firing from the first line. We had better go back there. I don't believe our men carried the works on the left." (We had been told that Mott's division and a division of the Ninth Corps were to charge immediately after us if we carried the works in our front.) He answered "The fire is all from the Rebs." In a moment a battery opened upon us and we fell back to the first line over which I got and came across some of the regiment. There were also some from the 5th Maine and a number of other regiments. We continued firing. We could now see the flashes of the guns and knew they were coming in on us. A great many of our men were shot in this locality, but I thought the wounded would all have a chance to get back. I knew that we could not stay there. The wounded between us and the Rebs were in terrible plight, and must all have been shot to pieces by the fire from both sides.

Colonel Upton asked for volunteers to make a rush on the Rebel battery, but did not get any. The undertaking looked too desperate. He asked for men from the 121st New York, saying, "Are there none of my old regiment here?" But there were only a few of us there and our cartridges were running low. I do not know how long we remained there firing. It seemed like an hour, but I don’t suppose it was. Finally word was passed along to fall back quietly to our skirmish line and back we started. Getting back into the open field, it was covered with dark forms lying on the ground, and many more moving back. I came at Once across a group and recognized Tom Parsons of the 5th Maine. He was shot through the wrist, both bones were crushed and he suffered terrible pain. Between him and another man was a wounded captain and Parsons said "For God’s sake help us back with him." Giving the man my gun, I stooped in front of the captain, and catching him by the legs hoisted him as gently as I could upon my back, carried him to the edge of the woods, and under shelter of our skirmish line, and there left him with some of his regiment. I kept on trying to find some of our own fellows.

Reaching the works we started from, I found one of the company. Back of the works a little ways, in the edge of the pines where our men were assembling was the 95th Pennsylvania. Occupying these works less than an hour we began to get some idea of the awful loss we had sustained. I looked around for Davenport, made inquiries, but could get no tidings of him. I went to the brigade hospital, and saw many of our regiment, shot in all shapes, but Dorr was not with them. Just as I was starting back, a Company I man said, "One of your company is lying in the woods just where we started to charge." I went out to the skirmish line again. There was some firing on the line by the Rebels. There were some wounded men out in the field, as we could tell by their cries and groans, and I went out a little way, passing several dead men, and helped bring in a badly wounded man. Realizing how hopeless it was to find Dorr, I came back, tired out and heartsick. I sat down in the woods, and as I thought of the desolation and misery about me, my feelings overcame me and I cried like a little child. After a time I felt better and went back to camp. I found the men, and talked over the charge for a long time.

On the morning of the 11th we mustered barely a hundred men. Captain Gordon I think was in command of the regiment. We changed our position a little on the 11th and as we glanced along the terribly thinned ranks and upon the shattered staff and tattered colors, we were filled with sorrow for our lost comrades, and deep forebodings for the future. A splendid regiment had been nearly destroyed without adequate results. In but a week's time, since leaving our pleasant camp on Hazel River, pitiless war had destroyed our bravest and best men. The loss of General Sedgwick had been keenly felt. He had ever been a source of pride to us and his calm courage and masterly military skill was an anchor of hope, and an abiding confidence in our ability to whip the foe!”

The weather too became bad, raining steadily, and increased the wretchedness of our physical and mental condition. I think at this time we were consolidated into a battalion of four companies. Colonel Upton had been made a brigadier general upon the field by General Grant, and a popular and hard won promotion it was; and at this time after years of mature reflection I know of no officer, who ever came within my knowledge, for whom I have a more abiding admiration and respect. He was in my judgment as able a soldier as ever commanded a body of troops, and I never saw an officer under fire who preserved the calmness of demeanor, the utter indifference to danger, the thorough knowledge of the situation, and what was best to do, as did Colonel Upton.​

- History of the 121st New York State Infantry by Isaac Oliver Best, pp. 128-34.


Small memorial to Upton's charge on the battlefield.

Uptons_Charge-N-4c_9095.jpg


Uptons_Charge-S-4c_9094.jpg
Very interesting rendition of events at the Mule Shoe. I visited the Spotsylvania courthouse battlefield and read what Shelby Foote had to say and indeed a good shot that took "Uncle John" Sedgewick's life.
 

WJC

Brigadier General
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#8
View attachment 187454

View attachment 187455

Thought this was an excellent account of Col. Emory Upton's charge on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania, May 10, 1864. From the diary of Clinton Beckwith (pictured above) who enlisted in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry at the young age of 16 in 1862.
Thanks for posting Mr. Beckwith's vivid account!
 

Rio Bravo

First Sergeant
Joined
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Messages
1,428
Location
Suffolk, U.K.
#9
Then it was time. A member of the 5th Maine remembered the moment: “Colonel Upton’s clear voice rang out,
‘Attention, Battalions ! Forward, double-quick! CHARGE!’ “
Swift blazing Flag of the Regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These Men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Messages
18,396
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#11
Thank you for these accounts. Read narratives whenever I can get my hands on them, trying to get a clearer idea of who was where, and what happened. Two grgrgrandfathers, weirdly, wounded there, one at the Bloody Angle, 126th OVI, the other, 50th PA. You read these, wonder how either lived through it.
 



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