A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-21, 1864
Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White, Savas Beatie
At the beginning of his first campaign in Virginia since becoming commander in chief of the Union Army, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant told Maj. Gen. George G. Meade on May 3, 1864, “Lee’s Army will be your objective: Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” That directive signaled a significant change in strategy. Until then Richmond had been the Army of the Potomac’s target, but henceforth Grant’s ultimate goal became the destruction of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. What followed was a campaign of attrition that tested the will of both sides, but brought the war to a victorious conclusion in less than a year.
After the first failure of their frontal attack through the Wilderness, Grant, Meade and his staff rode down to the intersection of the Brock Road and Plank Road, where Grant ordered the army southeast along the Brock Road toward the crossroads town of Spotsylvania Court House. According to co-authors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White, that would prove to be the most important crossroads of Grant’s life, underscoring the determination of the Union general Lee now faced.
Mackowski and White believe that the accidental wounding of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet on May 6 by his own men was a serious loss to Lee, since Longstreet had been one of his key assets in offense and defense—and Lee critically needed his defensive skill at Spotsylvania. They also argue that Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s role has been overestimated. Sheridan’s only success was at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, in which Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. One month later, Stuart’s successor, Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, would defeat Sheridan at Trevilian Station.
The photos and maps included throughout A Season of Slaughter will benefit battlefield tourists. In that regard, as well as its insightful examination of the campaign’s context, the book should be of great interest to Civil War enthusiasts.
Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.