- Jul 19, 2016
- Spotsylvania Virginia
Ambrose Ransom Wright courtesy Wikipedia
In April 2020, I posted a thread titled Civil War Churches under The Traveler’s Companion forum. The war time church that essay focused on, Zion Methodist Church, has a rich history, that I only outlined in that essay.
In 2017-18, my friend Patrick Sullivan (Spotsylvania Memory blog) and I worked together to document the history of Zion. While on that project Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Historian, John Hennessy shared a story about Zion with Patrick. I found that bit of information so intriguing, I decided to post it here.
The battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse began on May 8, about two miles north of the Courthouse along Laurel Hill. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on May 12th., Grant attempted to shift his line for the next nine days searching for a weakness in the southern defenses.
Stationed about a mile south of the Courthouse, at the critical crossroads of Brock and Massaponax Church Roads, was Zion. A.P. Hill had pressed the little church into service on May 9th as his headquarters. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on the 12th Lee moved his headquarters nearly two miles south, from the Edgar Harrison house to the grounds at the Courthouse. While at his new position, he frequently met with his corps commanders at Zion church.
On May 15, Meade ordered an assault along Myers Hill, about one mile east of the courthouse, by Horatio Wright’s Corps. The ground was held by a token regiment of the 9thVirginia Cavalry. The dismounted horsemen were quickly driven back by to Zion by overwhelming odds of an entire Union 6th Corps. General Ambrose Wright’s brigade of Georgians, who were stationed near the church, was ordered to make a reconnaissance toward Myers Hill. This movement was not well executed by General Wright, and upon encountering stiff resistance after marching a short distance down Massaponax Church Road, he led his brigade back to their starting point near Zion.
Lee was napping “on a board” at Zion when an outraged General Hill demanded he be awakened to hold a court of inquiry to investigate Wright’s conduct. Lee’s reply to Hill exemplified the temperament and wisdom for which the Confederate commander was well known:
“These men are not an army; they are citizens defending their country. General Wright is not a soldier; he is a lawyer. I cannot do many things that I could do with a trained army. The soldiers know their duties better than the general officers do, and they have fought magnificently. Sometimes I would like to mask troops and then deploy them, but if I were to give the proper order, the general officers would not understand it; so, I have to make the best of what I have and lose much time in making dispositions. You understand all of this, but if you humiliated General Wright, the people of Georgia would not understand. Besides, whom would you put in his place? You’ll have to do what I do. When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time.”
Hill dropped the matter and the court of inquiry was not convened.
Ambrose Wright began studying law in 1840, at the age of fourteen. When Georgia succeeded from the Union, Wright was a part of a delegation sent to Maryland to help convince the state to succeed. When the effort failed, he returned to Georgia and enlisted as a private. His company was assigned to the Third Georgia Volunteers, where he was elected colonel. Once in Virginia, he became a brigade commander, where he demonstrated leadership skills at Antietam, and Chancellorsville. On July 2nd , at Gettysburg, his brigade is credited by some historians as having penetrated deeper into the Union lines than any other that day. In his official report, Wright attributed his lack of greater success to other commanders not giving him better support. He was court-martialed for his injudicious comments after Gettysburg, and his wartime commander, General Richard H. Anderson, is alleged to have said that Wright had "too much dash," adding that "a little more coolness would bring better results."
Wright’s brigade at Spotsylvania Courthouse consisted of 3rd, 22nd.,48th. Georgia Regiments, and the 2nd and 10th Georgia Battalions.
Interesting enough, A.P. Hill had committed major parts of his Corps to battle a few months earlier only to meet devastating results because he failed to determine the federal strength before sending his men to battle. Lee, did to Hill, exactly as he recommended to Hill concerning Wright.
My (2x)-great grandfather was a member of the 9th VA cavalry assigned to protect Myers Hill.